Module 3: Quality course structure and content

3.7 Using open educational resources (OERs)

Concerning copyright

When sourcing content for your online course, you need to be mindful of copyright—specifically, you need to understand when you can freely use content and when permission from the copyright holder must be obtained. It is generally easier to use/seek permission to use content that will be posted behind a password (e.g., an LMS or other password-protected site). Regardless of copyright status, resources should always be properly cited.

Broadly speaking, in the education sector in Canada, you can use the following types of content in your online course without seeking permission (unless, of course, permission is explicitly stated as required):

  • links to legal/legitimately posted content
  • content in the public domain
  • insubstantial amounts of content
  • content copied under a Copyright Act exception (e.g., the Fair Dealing exception)
  • materials licensed by your institution’s library, according to the terms of the license
  • materials with permissible site terms
  • content with an open license (such as Creative Commons licenses)

Take note!  Just because a work is available on the internet does not mean that it is in the public domain or that it is openly licensed. For more information about any of the categories of use listed above, see the Guide for Instructors page on the Copyright at Waterloo site.

Seeking help with copyright

If you have questions about the copyright status of a particular resource you want to use, a good place to start is with your institutional librarians, who often have expertise in particular disciplinary resources.

In this module, we will explore the last category of copyright-free use: educational resources that use open licenses, such as the Creative Commons (CC) copyright licenses.

What are Creative Commons licenses?

Creative Commons licenses offer creators “a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their creative work” (Creative Commons, n.d.). These licenses provide a way for creators to grant users rights to use or adapt their work (provided that they follow the conditions outlined in the license), while still retaining the copyright to their works.

A (meta)example of a CC-licensed open educational resource

How we did this in this course

This course is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0), which means that users can

  • share (i.e., copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format) and
  • adapt (i.e., remix, transform, and build upon the material)

provided that the following usage conditions are met:

  • attribution (i.e., appropriate credit is given, a link to the license is provided, and an indication of whether changes were made is included);
  • noncommercial (i.e., the course may not be used for commercial purposes), and
  • sharealike (i.e., if the material is remixed, transformed, or built upon, the new contribution must be distributed under the same license as the original).

You will notice, in the reference sections throughout this course that we have indicated where we have adapted material from other CC-licensed resources in order to meet the “attribution” condition associated with the license.

What are open educational resources? (OERs)

OERs are educational resources to which their creators have assigned an open license, (e.g., a Creative Commons license), allowing other educators to use the material freely, provided that the conditions outlined in the license are met.

OERs are an increasingly popular choice for online course designers and authors, as they save authors time by allowing them to build on work that has already been created and save learners money when they are used in place of pricey textbooks.

An EDII perspective on OERs

OERs not only increase the accessibility of postsecondary education to learners from a financial perspective, but they also often provide more functionally accessible forms of course content for learners who require assistive devices or have other forms of learning accommodations.

The trick, of course, is finding quality OERs that speak to your learning outcomes.

Thankfully, OERs are flourishing online, with many options for high-quality content across the disciplines. Below, we’ve curated a partial list, derived in large part from eCampusOntario’s Extend, Curator module: Spotlight on Repositories. (The original work is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International license.)

Where to find OERs

OERs can be found in OER referatories or OER repositories. A referatory is a website that links out to content hosted elsewhere. Repositories host resources on their own servers. You may find the same OER located both in a referatory and a repository.


The following referatories provide good starting places for finding OERs:

McMaster University’s OER by Discipline Guide

A reference list of OERs, mainly focused on open textbooks, organized by subject area and disciplines including Sciences, Social Sciences, Business, Humanities, and Engineering.

University of Ottawa’s OER by Discipline Guide (Version 2.0 – June 2022)

A list of suggested OERS for courses offered at the University of Ottawa, curated by university librarians and organized by discipline, including Arts, Education, Engineering, Health Sciences, Law, Medicine, Science, Social Sciences, and Management Science.

Mason OER Metafinder (MOM)

Developed by the George Mason University Libraries, the Mason OER Metafinder searches through about 15 sources dedicated specifically to collecting and indexing open educational resources, as well as other sources on the web that include free or public domain resources, such as the Library of Congress.

OASIS (Openly Available Sources Integrated Search)

Developed by the State University of New York Geneseo Library, OASIS searches open content from over 100 different sources that collect open educational resources. You can filter by subject, type, license, source, and whether a resource is peer-reviewed.

Open Waterloo presents a variety of open-access resources across the disciplines (Arts, Engineering, Environment, Math, Science).

General repositories

BCCampus OpenEd

This repository hosts robust open textbook and open course materials collections, licensed under Creative Commons licenses. Resources can be adapted to meet your learning outcomes according to the terms of the CC license. The site also includes an Open Education Self-Publishing Guide to help you prepare to write and publish your own open textbook.

Commonwealth of Learning’s Open Access Repository (OASIS)

The Commonwealth of Learning is an intergovernmental organization that promotes the development and sharing of open learning materials among Commonwealth member states and institutions. Resources are licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 4.0 and can be freely downloaded for reuse and adaptation with attribution to COL (with exceptions noted).


Based in the United Kingdom, CORE is committed to aggregating open access research from across the globe. With full text access to over 6 million articles and metadata for an additional 70 million, you can access the latest work from colleagues and leaders in your discipline from around the world.

eCampusOntario H5P Studio

The eCampusOntario H5P Studio allows Ontario educators to create, share, and discover over 45 different types of interactive activities, which can be embedded into a learning management system (LMS). Many of the resources carry an open license, and the platform allows you to adapt these resources to better suit your teaching and learning needs.

eCampusOntario Open Library

The eCampusOntario Open Library hosts open educational resources for the postsecondary sector. The library has over 500 resources spanning from textbooks to syllabi. All the resources in the Open Library have an open license.


Started in 2008 at the University of California Davis, LibreTexts is one of the largest and most visited online textbook platforms, hosting 13 library disciplines ranging from chemistry to the workforce to the humanities.


One of the first and still one of the largest, MERLOT or Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching, aggregates 19 different types or categories of resources. There is initial vetting by MERLOT volunteers combined with the ability of peers to assess each resource.

MIT Open Courseware:

Beginning in 2000, MIT has been committed to contributing its courses and accompanying resources online for free (CC BY-NC-SA). With 2,400 courses in the repository, educators can browse and borrow material relevant to their own courses. Features to note include “Instructor Insights” by MIT lecturers and professors and the newly implemented filter or search by “instructional approach,” which allows you to limit your search to resources that promote active learning, model design process, or support reflective practice.

OER Commons

OER Commons hosts open educational resources of various formats (e.g., activities, lessons, interactions, etc.). You can filter by subject area, educational level, media format/type, and accessibility, to name a few.

Public Domain Review:

Founded in 2011, this is an online journal and not-for-profit project dedicated to the exploration of curious and compelling works from the history of art, literature, and ideas. The focus is on works which are now in the public domain, i.e., that vast commons of out-of-copyright material that everyone is free to enjoy, share, and build upon without restriction.

The University of Waterloo also provides lists of OER repositories on the following sites:

Discipline-specific repositories

Business: MIT Sloan School Teaching Resources Library

Simulations from the Sloan School of Business at MIT are complex but highly engaging and rewarding. These simulations are more suitable as a central component of a course rather than as a supplementary resource.

Engineering: Canadian Engineering Education Association OERs

Explore the Canadian Engineering Education Association (CEEA)’s OER Special Interest Group, whose goal is

[t]o support the development, use, and dissemination of open educational resources (OER) for engineering, and provide central place for CEEA-ACEG members to find collaborators for OER projects among other Canadian engineering educators” (CEEA-ACEG, n.d.).

Also, be sure to take a look at their instructor Quick Guides on a variety of topics.

English as a Foreign Language (EFL) Open Education Database

This site aggregates 50 comprehensive resources on EFL, dividing its list into specific topics of concern for learners.

Open Culture

Open Culture brings together high-quality cultural and educational media for the worldwide lifelong learning community. Its mission is to centralize this content, curate it, and provide access to this high-quality content whenever and wherever users want it.

Psychology: The Noba Project

Noba is an open and free online platform that provides a high-quality, flexibly structured psychology resources for instructors and students. Noba has also curated the various modules into a number of “ready-made” textbooks that instructors can use as-is or edit to suit their needs.

Image repositories

Activity: Curate a list of open educational resources (OERs) to use

Learning outcomes:
This activity is directly aligned with Course Learning Outcome (CLO) 6: Structure and present your online content and assessments in ways that facilitate student learning and foster a sense of community.

Browse the repositories and referatories referenced in this section, and curate a list of OERs that you can use to deliver some (or all) of your course content. Document your choices below.

Option 1: Download the My OER List [DOCX] worksheet to create a Word version to complete offline.

Option 2: Complete the activity in-line below. If you wish to save your in-line results, be sure to download your work by clicking the Export tab at the bottom of the left-hand navigation bar in the activity before moving on.

Please note, this activity is intended for your own reflection and learning. Your responses are private and are deleted when you refresh or navigate away from this page.


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