Considerations for Using or Creating OER

Learning Objectives

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Assess your teaching materials for the potential to release as OER.
  • List 3 key considerations to keep in mind before adopting an OER.

Transforming your course to include OER can be as simple as switching one material for another or as radical as completely changing your teaching style. This chapter outlines some key considerations and questions you should ask yourself before adopting or creating OER.[1]

How will using OER improve your course?

When integrating OER into your course, you have the opportunity to critically evaluate your methods and alter them to better meet your needs. One way to go about this is to use backward design for your project.

Backward design is a framework for planning your course around its intended outcomes.[2] There are three stages to the backward design process:

  1. Identify desired results,
  2. Determine acceptable evidence, and
  3. Plan learning experiences and instruction.[3]

You might notice that this approach does not end with “create and/or curate educational content.” Instead, it ends with more planning. The purpose of backward design is not to be done with your course transformation in a quick 3-step process. Instead, it asks instructors to question the processes and materials they currently use and to start over by plotting out what is needed to meet your course outcomes.


  • What do I want my students to learn?
  • How will I communicate to students that the concepts I present are valuable?
  • How will I assess my students’ understanding of core concepts? (See our Assessing Course Outcomes chapter for help)

Thinking critically about the purpose of your course and the learning outcomes you want your students to meet is one way to ensure that you provide an excellent learning experience for your students.

Who is your audience?

Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to use OER in your course, it’s important to consider your target audience(s).


  • Do you have a primary audience? For example, majors or non-majors.
  • Does your audience belong to a specific geographic location or ethnicity?
  • Are there cultural differences you need to consider before creating your OER? (See our Diversity & Inclusion chapter for help)

Although your OER may be used by educators around the world, you can create it with your local audience in mind. One of the great things about open licenses is that it grants users the right to adapt your work. Because of this, educators in other countries can translate your OER into their native language or add examples relevant to their cultural context.

Does the OER you need already exist?

It is generally a good idea to look around at what content is available for your course before creating something new. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The OER you want to create/use may already exist in the format you want.
  2. Your own teaching materials could be adapted for use as OER. For example, lecture notes can be an invaluable teaching aid for courses with no excellent textbooks available.


  • What changes would you need to make to share your own content as an OER?
  • What types and formats of OER are you looking for?
  • Where should you begin your search? (See the Finding Open Content chapter for help)

How will you disseminate your course OER?

Whether you are using an OER as-is or creating something from scratch, one of the first considerations you should take into account is how you will share the resource(s).


  • Will you host created OER in an institutional repository or a third-party platform?
  • How will you make evident when you (or other creators) post updates to the content?
  • During your class, how will students access the OER?

What expertise is required to use or create OER?

Creating an OER can be a considerable amount of work, especially if you’re starting from scratch. It’s important to consider all aspects for your project including instructional design, technology, and graphics before you jump in.


  • What aspects of the project are you most and least comfortable with?
  • What support is available at your university to help you structure, develop, and disseminate your project?
  • Is there support available to make your OER accessible in multiple formats?

Integrating an existing OER into your curriculum doesn’t need to be a one-man job. Instructional designers and librarians can provide guidance to help you incorporate open resources into your course. At Iowa State University, you can get support creating OER from the ISU Digital Press. At other universities, you may have more or less support available. Please reach out to your library or another office on campus that manages OER support to learn more.

Could your OER be easily reused or repurposed?

One of the primary benefits of OER is that they are reusable. When adopting an existing OER, you’ll want to choose one that isn’t so specific that it can’t be adapted to your needs. Similarly, if you create your own OER, making it easy to adapt will broaden its use among other instructors.


  • In what formats could you make your OER available? (See our Tools & Techniques for Creating OER chapter for help)
  • What formats are you used to working with for your own work?
  • Is your chosen OER designed in such a way that you can pick and choose what content to use?

This chapter outlined some considerations to keep in mind when transforming your course to use OER. One aspect of OER not covered here, however, is how to make an OER “open” and what that means. To answer that question, in the next chapter we’ll discuss the role that copyright plays in an OER’s development and dissemination.

  1. Attribution: This chapter was adapted from "Considerations before using or creating an OER" from The ABOER Starter Kit, by Technologies in Education at the Faculty of Education, the University of Alberta, available under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
  2. AvenuesdotOrg. "Grant Wiggins - Understanding by Design, Part 1." Youtube video, 10:51. February 28, 2013.
  3. Wiggins, Grant and McTighe, Jay. Understanding by Design. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.


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The OER Starter Kit Copyright © 2019 by Abbey K. Elder is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.