Open Education Resources leverage the expertise of educators to develop and deliver high-quality content to students. This session will cover a framework for implementing OERs in a district. It’s a bit expansive, but we want to provide a general idea of the work involved with creating OERs.

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OETC Presentation

I. An introduction to OERs

What are OERs?

OERs are freely shared.

Open is the key word here. As in, resources are not restrictive. The internationalist in me likes the Cape Town Open Education Declaration:

“Open educational resources should be freely shared through open licences which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone. Resources should be published in formats that facilitate both use and editing, and that accommodate a diversity of technical platforms. Whenever possible, they should also be available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet.”

Licenses and copyrights run a range. Being good law abiding educators, we need to pay attention to those licenses and copyrights on materials we use to teach students. Open Education Resources make this possible. More importantly, OER allows us to build on what others have created.

II. Pre-Planning

Roadmaps are good. They make life easier. If you intended to create a rather large OER, you’ll want to answer some key questions.

There is no substitution for a good roadmap.

  1. Who will be involved in the project? If more than one, you’ll want to seriously consider collaboration software (Google Docs, etc.). What are folks’ roles (editor, writer, researcher, developer, etc.)
  2. What is your timeline? What big milestones? Do you want to consider different project management styles (Google Sprints, Agile Planning, etc.)?
  3. Do you have any funds to help the project? Funding helps with research, creation, and (sometimes) licensing.

For the purpose of this session, we are using a case study for writing an American History OER.

III. Research

Along with writing, research is the most challenging aspect of creating OERs. This is particularly true because you need to consider:

  1. The quality of your source materials and
  2. The rights/license of your source material

The issue of quality is typically addressed by the authority of the folk doing the research. History teachers write history OERs, science teachers Science OERs.

For licensing, we always recommend using materials that fall under the Public Domain or are licensed with Creative Commons. This keeps things simple and (hopefully, avoids future legal issues down the road).

Helpful Tools for Research

Important Note

Remember to document your sources even with Creative Commons materials. There are variations of Creative Common licenses. Some of these licenses require attribution.

IV. Outline & Writing

We’re big believers in outlining as it makes writing clear and precise. Once you’ve gathered your resources, begin outlining your OER. Try different arrangements. And remember to seek input from other experts and editors.

Helpful Tools for Outlining

  1. Workflowy (our personal favorite).
  2. Google Docs
  3. Trello (different type of outlining tool)

When it comes to writing, it’s difficult to beat Google Docs for collaboration, commenting, and editing.

We consider it good form to have a dogeared copy of “The Elements of Style” near your computer. (Or go modern as Amazon has a $.99 Kindle Edition).

Helpful Tools for Writing

  1. Google Docs
  2. Ulysses and/or Bear. For those who like a pure (and thoughtfully creative) writing experience, these are excellent apps. Unfortunately, they’re only available on Apple platforms.
  3. is also a pure and beautiful editor that is browser-based (and open-source).
  4. Grammerly (love this little app)

V. Platform & Design

Where will your OER live? There are countless locations and formats for OERs. How will your OER display? What will it look like?

A platform is the hosting mechanism for your OER. Platforms can be simple (for example, a website that allows you download the OER as a PDF) to robust (a website that allows you to mix and match resources). Sometimes you can cross host platforms (more on that in a bit).

Platform Options

  1. Google Sites: Google’s version of website creation
  2. Various Learning Management Systems like Blackboard, Moodle, Schoology, Classroom, etc.
  3. OER Commons: A wonderful authoring (and sharing) platform for creating OER content. OER Commons does the best – in our opinion – at achieving authoring + mixing in a platform.
  4. Amazon or Google Books
  5. WordPress: The platform that runs the internet. WordPress can be customized, shared, and genuinely molded to do whatever you want. Its challenge is that in involves learning curves.
  6. Abre: Abre is open and allows authoring, mixing, and integration with other sources. It can be foundational to schools.

For this session, we’ll demo three platforms that we use for OERs: WordPress, Abre, and Google Sites.


WordPress is the world’s largest Content Management System (and, frankly, is awesome). In one of our examples, we use the following setup:

  1. WordPress Core install
  2. Aesop Story Engine Plugin for delivering chapters
  3. plugin and platform for writing
  4. ACF for metadata shares


Abre is an education platform that hosts learning apps for districts. In one of our examples we Abre in the following setup:

  1. Library of OER books for students to read and download
  2. Mapping of OER into curriculum maps and analytics

Google Sites

Google’s solution to creating beautiful, but simple, websites.

On the Subject of Design

Design matters. Aesthetics really matter. Poorly designed OERs will detract from learning. Before tackling the design element of your OER, it’s important to brush up on key rules for designing online content. This is beyond the scope of this session, but worth dropping a reference link.

VI. Metadata and Tagging

While not technically required, we think it’s good to add metadata to your OER content appropriately.

Metadata is key to making your OER available to others.

What is metadata? Metadata is additional data surrounding your content that allows others (usually through the internet) what, exactly, you’ve created. If you want others to find, use, and build on your OER (which is kind of the point), it helps to provide metadata so others kind use the OER.

Examples of Metadata

  • Type of license
  • Subject
  • Author
  • Source
  • Standards and Type

Creative Commons makes this incredibly easy by giving you code you can copy/paste into your OER.

In our example, we’ve gone and added the Creative Commons code to our OER.

VII. Ditch the Silo

The largest issue we face as technology directors is the silo effect of systems. School districts are complex organizations with many moving parts. The parts need to talk with each other. Frequently they don’t.

The last thing we want is OERs to add to this complexity. Districts use different Learning Management Systems, Student Information Systems, Devices, Operating Systems, and personnel with different skill sets. OERs need to be as agnostic and portable as possible to account for these different conditions.

Progressive Web Apps

Reliable and transferable web apps that package an OER.

Epub (ePub 3)

Epub (.epub) is a standard specifically designed for ebooks. It will work on pretty much on any device and does not require an internet connection to read the content.


We’re not big fans of PDFs as they remove the ability to use of audio and video in an OER. They also limit remixing. That said, PDFs are portable.

API (Application Program Interface)

This is a bit of a technical concept, but APIs allow different platforms and programs to talk with each other. In essense, APIs serve as translators. When a platform that host OERs has an API, you can easily bring that OER into other platforms.

For our demonstration, we’ll be using ePub and APIs as the methods for ditching the siloes.

VIII. Go Big

OERs are great, but ideally, we would like them to actively participate in the learning pathway of students. The question is how?

This is where Abre supports OERs as part of a larger learning context. As mentioned, Abre is a platform that hosts learning apps that can use OERs to support instruction. With our history example, it works like so:

  1. A teacher uses the curriculum app for planning a learning pathway. The curriculum app plans for Chapter 3, section 2 (OER) for students today.
  2. The teacher delivers a formative assessment with the Abre assessment app.
  3. A subset of students do poorly on the formative. Abre recommends students to an OER that addresses skill gaps.

In short, OERs fit the larger ecosystem of learning.

IX. Funding

Can OERs make money if they’re open? Or a slightly different question, can people creating OERs make money?

We would say yes. It requires a different view on revenue.

First, we should point out that many of us who work on OERs are funded by tax dollars. You can make the case that OERs are the expected results of government investments. We personally think local, state, and federal governments would do well to invest into OERs through employing quality educators.

It’s a better return on the dollars spent.

All that said, there are different funding ideas for OER. Some possible ideas:

  1. Offer to host OERs on their own customized platform. Districts pay for access to the platform – the hosting if you will.
  2. Offer customization on already existing OERs. Don’t like the cover image on an OER title? Pay $5 to update it to your school logo.
  3. Offer scope of work to develop an OER from scratch. A district gets an OER at the of the work (with an open CC license), but they’ve paid for the labor of developing the OER.
  4. Offer a subscription service for an OER. By joining the service, districts get updates on the OER (and a degree of support).

X. The Wrap Up

Open is good for education. It allows students and teachers to build on previous knowledge without encountering the walls of proprietary knowledge silos. It allows districts to adopt and adapt resources to the particular needs of their students and communities without some of the worries that arise from copyright.

We hope you’ve found this session enjoyable and a good place for starting your OER journey.