Creative Commons and Open Educational Resources

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Ihe Internet and digital technologies have transformed how people learn. Educational resources are no longer static and scarce, but adaptable and widely available, allowing educational institutions, teachers, and learners to actively participate in a global exchange of knowledge via Open Educational Resources (OER). Creative Commons (CC) provides the legal and technical infrastructure essential to the long-term success of OER, making it possible for educational resources to be widely accessible, adaptable, interoperable, and discoverable.

Creative Commons Facilitates Innovation and Collaboration in Education

CC licenses help educators to broaden the impact of their own educational resources, to customize resources made similarly available by others to suit their own curriculum needs and the needs of their students, and to easily search for and find relevant OER. For example:

CC enables translation of educational resources into different languages. A growing number of creators of educational resources are self-distributing their works openly via the Internet. When educational resources are released under a CC license permitting adaptations, anyone interested in the subject matter may translate those resources and otherwise customize them for local needs. For example, CC-licensed courses made available by MIT OpenCourseWare have been translated into at least 10 languages, including Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, French, German, Vietnamese, and Ukrainian.

CC enables educational resources to evolve and be improved through peer and student edits. CC licensed OER are living documents that can be built upon and improved not only by authors and publishers, but by colleagues and students as well. For example, when a University of Michigan professor was unsatisfied with currently available textbooks in his area of computer science, he was able to use an existing openly licensed textbook as the basis for developing a new book that met his needs, by changing the overall focus of the book, adding his own original content, and restructuring the original text.

CC enables easier discovery of educational resources on the web. CC licenses provide the legal infrastructure that allows OER to be shared, but there is an important technical component to sharing successfully as well. Creators of OER want to make sure their work is visible to users, and learners and educators need to be able to find resources relevant to their chosen subject. CC has further broadened the impact of OER by embedding each of its licenses with software code that makes the license terms machine-readable—that is—discoverable by a search engine. In addition to creating licenses that can be indexed by prominent search engines such as Google and Yahoo!, CC is also exploring ways to provide scalable search and discovery for educational resources on the web via its search prototype, DiscoverEd.

These are just a few examples of the kinds of innovative educational activity that CC’s legal and technical tools have enabled–not to mention opening up opportunities for new business models in educational publishing (e.g., CK-12 Foundation, Flatworld Knowledge, and Bloomsbury Academic, which publish textbooks and scholarly journals under CC licenses), new methods for professional development (e.g., the Siyavula project, helping South African teachers learn to share and collaborate around new curricular standards) and democratizing teaching and learning (e.g., Peer 2 Peer University, a grassroots education project for peers by peers).

How Creative Commons Makes Sharing, Adapting and Finding OER Easy

CC offers creators a simple, standardized way to grant copyright permissions to their work. CC licenses are built on top of copyright law, allowing creators to change their copyright terms from the default "all-rights-reserved" to "some rights reserved." Creators may choose among a suite of six CC licenses that are free-of-charge, easy to use, and help to standardize what is "open" on the Internet.

All CC licenses require Attribution, or credit, back to the original creator (though never with the suggestion of sponsorship or endorsement). In addition, a creator may choose one or more of the following terms:

Non-Commercial. Allows others to copy, distribute, display and perform the work for non-commercial purposes only.

Share Alike. Allows others to distribute derivative works but only on the same terms as the original.

No Derivatives. Allows others to copy, distribute, display, and perform only verbatim copies of the work — but not to make derivative works based on it.

CC is a global standard. CC licenses are the most widely used open content licenses in the world, and have been legally and linguistically adapted to more than 50 jurisdictions worldwide. Government bodies, universities, and libraries around the world leverage CC licenses to increase access to, and the impact of, their educational resources. For example, see European Schoolnet, a group of 31 Ministries of Education in the EU making educational resources available under CC-BY, The OpenCourseWare Consortium, a collaboration of over 200 universities world-wide making high quality courses available under CC licenses, and, partnering with national library consortia to educate librarians about CC.

CC licenses are available in three different formats. The first is a summary deed that simplifies the terms of each license into a few universal icons and non-technical language. The second is the legal terms of the license itself, which have been vetted by a global team of legal experts. And finally, the machine-readable code enables search and discovery.

The Success of OER Depends on Legal and Technical Interoperability

The OER movement is poised to greatly further global access to and participation in education, but only if a critical mass of educational institutions and communities interoperate legally and technically via Creative Commons. This will require institutions, teachers, and policymakers in all arenas to implement and recommend use of CC’s tools for educational resources.

Find more information about CC, including helpful FAQs and videos at



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