Inside the Classroom

5 Questions to Evaluate Open Educational Resources

These days, students and their parents expect information to be immediately available. And while the internet has a wealth of resources, users are rightfully not always confident in their accuracy. Furthermore, many works are protected by copyrights, which prevent them from appearing online in their entirety. So educators must find creative ways to meet students’ expectations of easily accessible digital resources while still adhering to copyright laws and strict budgets. As a result, open educational resources (OERs) are gaining popularity among teachers and students. Here we look at five questions you may have as you evaluate open educational resources to help you consider the best way to provide materials to use in your classrooms.

1) What is an Open Educational Resource?

Defined as teaching materials that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license, OERs can be valuable resources in the classroom. And unlike other free resources, OERs specifically can be modified, adapted, saved, and redistributed without express permissions from the copyright holder, which means many educators customize these resources to meet the needs of their students. Some organizations have even created repositories and communities that help educators evaluate open educational resources, collaborate with other educators, and find the materials best suited for their needs.

Examples of OERs:

  • Video and audio lectures
  • Lesson plans
  • Interactive simulations
  • Game-based learning programs
  • Resources such as photos, sounds, and diagrams
  • Books in the public domain

2) How do I know if something is an OER?

It can be tricky to identify if a resource qualifies as an OER. Copyrights are automatically applied to anything created in a tangible form, and unless clearly marked, all resources must be considered under copyright, and therefore not an OER. There are seven different license types from Creative Commons, ranging from public domain to all rights reserved. Resources classified as being in the public domain have no restrictions, and those with Creative Commons Attribution (BY) can be shared and remixed as long as attribution is given. But the other five license types may only allow the licensed work to be freely used, but not altered or repurposed, so it’s important to fully understand the restrictions of the copyright before working with any material found online. However, the Open Education Consortium, OER Commons, and MERLOT have all created repositories of open resources to make it easier to find OER materials.

3) How can I evaluate Open Educational Resources for quality?

As available content has increased exponentially, the tasks of information searching, selection, adaptation, and evaluation have taken the place of developing new content. Educators must be confident in the quality of any resource they present in the classroom, and evaluating an OER is no different. Regardless of whether the material is open or proprietary, educators can use the same criteria they currently use to evaluate textbooks, videos, or lesson plans before implementing them in their classrooms.

For educators in Common Core states, the Common Core State Standards worksheet is a good starting point to help identify if the OERs cover the standards. The EQuIP and Achieve OER Rubrics can also be used to provide a more detailed evaluation of the quality of the resource and its adherence to various standards. If you are in a state that does not follow Common Core, there may be similar rubrics to use in your evaluation process, and the Achieve OER Rubrics can also be applied to resources outside of math and English language arts.

Some additional questions to consider when you evaluate open educational resources or any other material before introducing it in to your curriculum are:

  • Is the focus of the resource aligned with the standards?
  • Does this resource have coherence? Does it help students to think across grades and link to major topics within the grades?
  • Is the resource rigorous? Does it address conceptual understanding, procedural skill, and application?

4) Can an OER replace my core curriculum?

Most districts are using open resource materials as a supplement to an existing curriculum or program. Some teachers use OERs for enrichment activities for students struggling with a concept or to demonstrate a lab in a science course. Houston Public Schools and some others have curated collections of OERs to make it easier for their teachers to find materials for their grade level and subject. Very few districts are using OERs in place of traditional textbooks as maintaining the digital curricula requires a significant time commitment to review and catalog all of the materials for teachers, and making sure students are learning everything they need to to adhere to the state standards is no small task either. Many of these benefits can be reaped from education technology products presented in a high-quality, customizable format. And by using an accredited provider, educators know that the materials included within a course are standards-aligned, up-to-date, and legally licensed.

5) What’s the best way to incorporate OERs into my curriculum or classroom?

If you decide to incorporate OERs into your classroom, it’s best to start small, perhaps with some supplemental activities outside of the core curriculum. Here are some things to consider as you evaluate open educational resources:

  • Check that your school’s or district’s instructional materials adoption policies recognize OERs as legitimate classroom resources.
  • Verify the resource is either in the public domain or has the Creative Commons BY license.
  • Thoroughly review the materials with the available review instruments you use for all materials used in your classrooms to ensure they meet your school’s and district’s standards.
  • If you create new resources, consider making them openly licensed by following the Creative Commons procedures to share your work.

Wrapping It Up

Educators have been sharing lesson plans and worksheets forever, so it’s only logical that this sharing go to a bigger scale as enabled by technology. Pinterest is filled with teachers sharing their creative lesson plans and interactive learning activities, and many would argue that students and educators have benefited from this collaborative community. But when educators evaluate open educational resources as replacements for traditional materials, they need to be mindful of several things. OERs do not go through the same review, editing, or accreditation of textbooks and pay-for-use education technology products, making them less reliable. Additionally, the cost of printing can make these “free” resources quite pricy, and it can be difficult to get additional information about resources if educators have questions. As OERs continue to gain popularity, some institutions are discussing instituting a formal review process to ensure their quality, but until then, educators need to use discretion and caution when evaluating when and how to incorporate OERs into their curriculum.


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Open educational resources: A guide to finding and users OERS in the classroom. (n.d.). In Goucher College Library. Retrieved from

Schulte, L. (2018, May 22). The pros and cons of OER. Direct Network. Retrieved from

Soots, B. (2014). Evaluating OER quality and standards alignment: It may be free, but is it any good? Retrieved from

Sparks, S. D. (2017, March 28). What is OER? Answers to 5 questions about open educational resources. Education Week. Retrieved from

About the Author


Emily Kirk

After growing up in the Phoenix area, Emily escaped the heat to study in Flagstaff where she graduated from Northern Arizona University with a BA in Art History. She went on to work and study at The University of Phoenix, earning her MBA. After volunteering to teach English in Chile for a semester, she worked in sales and marketing for a major ocean freight carrier. Throughout her career, Emily has also taught ballet, so she is thrilled to be part of the Where Learning Clicks team where she can combine her love of teaching and business acumen to help transform classrooms.