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Open Educational Resources: Glossary of Terms

This guide is designed to assist in the exploration, identification, evaluation, selection, and adoption of Open Educational Resources

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5Rs: a set of fundamental rights attached to all openly licensed content: retain, reuse, revise, remix, and redistribute 


Accessibility: design that ensures products, devices, services, or environments are usable by people who experience disabilities 

Accommodation: the provision of equal opportunity and access for all (face to face, online, and in hybrid courses). May include incorporating alternative versions of content or alternative presentation of instructional materials.  

Adapt: to modify an original work so that the work serves a new use or purpose; for example, a novel may be adapted into a screenplay or a programmer may adapt (modify) software so that it functions in a different way. The copyright applied to the work determines whether or not adaptation is permitted. 

Adopt: to accept or make use of something, to appropriate; for example, to include an OER in the assigned readings for a course 

Alternative Text (alt text): text that describes an image and the content it includes; correct use of alt text is a required component of WCAG 2.0 

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life 

ADA compliance: adherence to all pertinent elements of the ADA  

Attribution: a statement that ascribes a work to its artist, author, or creator and that specifies the rights or licensing terms for lawful use of the content by others. Attributions generally include the title of content (linked to the original source); the named author, creator, owner, and/or copyright holder; if applicable, a Creative Commons license type and version (linked to the license) or other license type; and, if applicable, a copyright symbol with date and copyright holder. 


Captions (closed captioning)a word-for-word, real-time text version of the audio content of a video, animation, or other multimedia resource. See WCAG 2.0 for requirements; see also Transcript 

Controlled Vocabulary: a set of standardized terms used to enter or retrieve information from a system 

Copyright: the exclusive legal right of an originator or an assignee to print, publish, perform, film, or record literary, artistic, or musical material, and to authorize others to do the same  

Create (an OER): to digitize and openly license original material 

Creative Commons: a global nonprofit organization that enables sharing and reuse of creativity and knowledge through the provision of free legal tools. The term is also frequently applied to a specific set of licenses that explicitly allow for the legal use, sharing, repurposing, and/or remixing of content; or to the body of works that carry such a license. 

Curation — see Digital Curation 


Derivative: a work based upon one or more preexisting works, such as a translation, musical arrangement, dramatization, fictionalization, motion picture version, sound recording, art reproduction, abridgment, condensation, or any other form in which a work may be recast, transformed, or adapted. A work consisting of editorial revisions, annotations, elaborations, or other modifications which, as a whole, represent an original work of authorship, is a derivative work. See also No-Derivatives 

Digital Asset: an item of any nature or format stored and managed in a digital asset management system or repository 

Digital Asset Lifecycle: the various states of or processes applied to an asset, such as creation, management, modification, distribution/publication, and preservation/archive; see also Digital Curation 

Digital Asset Management: tasks and decisions surrounding the ingestion, annotation, cataloging, storage, retrieval, and distribution of digital assets. The term may also describe a system used for these purposes. 

Digital Curation: the selection, preservation, maintenance, collection, and archiving of digital assets which establishes, maintains and adds value to repositories of digital data for present and future use.


Fair Use: a doctrine in U.S. copyright law that allows certain limited uses of a protected work without the rights holder’s permission. Uses permitted under the doctrine include criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, or research. Four factors enter into determinations of fair use: 1) the purpose and character of the use; 2) the nature of the copyrighted work; 3) the amount and substantiality of the work used; and 4) the effect the use has on the work’s value. See also Intellectual Property


Intellectual Property: the ownership a person or entity has in creations of the human mind, such as a concept or idea. All intellectual property must be fixed in some tangible form. There are three types of intellectual property: copyrights, trademarks, and patents. 

Interoperability: a characteristic of a product or system to work with other products or systems, at present or future, in either implementation or access, without any restrictions. Interoperability permits communication and the exchange of information between separate and different systems or products. 


License: a form of legal permission granted by a copyright owner to another person or entity (the “licensee”) to exercise one or more of the exclusive rights of the original copyright ownership - such as the right to reuse, redistribute, or revise the work - under very specific terms and restrictions. For example, someone who wanted to make a movie adaptation of a copyright-protected novel would have to request permission from the copyright owner and get a license to do so. 


Metadata: data that describes other data. For example, image metadata may include size, resolution, and date of origin; whereas text metadata may include word count, author name, keywords, and creation date. Metadata is frequently stored in predefined tags or fields, but any attribute of an asset can be considered metadata. 

Mobile Responsive Design: a layout that automatically adjusts based on the device in use, in order to retain legibility across a wide range of display proportions and sizes.


No-Derivatives: a licensing condition of a Creative Commons license that restricts the copying, distribution, display, and/or performance of the work to complete, unaltered copies; sometimes shortened to “no-derivs” or “ND” 


Open Access: free, immediate, online availability of any form of digital content, which can be reused generally free of copyright limitations and licensing requirements. A designation of “open access” can still bear some restrictions; Creative Commons licensing is one way to ensure that others can reuse these articles as they wish. 

OpenCourseWare (OCW): postsecondary educational materials that are freely and openly available on the Internet. OCW, which are organized by course for use by students and other learners, often include course planning materials and evaluation tools, in addition to subject-specific content. 

Open Educational Resource (OER): any openly licensed learning material for use in education and research; OERs are used to support learning topics 

Open License: a license that grants an individual or entity the right to access, reuse, and redistribute a work with few or no restrictions. Note that the permissions granted by any open license to a work depends on the language of that license, and some are more “open” than others. Creative Commons licenses are open licenses. 

Open Source: (in OER contexts) publicly accessible, and permitted to be freely modified and shared 

Operable: providing access to all materials without use of the mouse. Required features include time for users to read and interact with content, content that will not induce seizures, and a clear way for users to navigate through and to content. See also WCAG 2.0


Public Domain: an ownership status applied to items that 1) are property of the U.S. government and thus may be freely used by the public; or 2) were once under copyright but whose copyright has expired based on U.S. copyright law, making the work freely available to the public to use, modify, and redistribute without permission or compensation. 


Redistribute: to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others 

Remix: to combine the original or revised content with other materials to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup) 

Retain: to make, own, and control copies of the content (e.g., download, duplicate, store, and manage) 

Reuse: to use content in a wide range of ways (e.g., in a class, in a study group, on a website, in a video) 

Reviseto adapt, adjust, modify, or alter content (e.g., translate content into another language) 

Robust: compatible with other tools; see also WCAG 2.0 


Self-Contained: consisting of content and navigation that are independent of other materials; containing all information and functionality necessary for a user to access and interact with it without requiring access to any other OER, asset, site, module, source, external technology, or application.

ShareAlike: one of the limitations that may be attached to a Creative Commons license, requiring that anyone who reuses, remixes, modifies, and/or redistributes that work must publish and distribute the new work under the same license as the original.


Technical Standards: a set of attributes that enable integration and interoperability of an asset with others. Commonly used technical standards include HTML5, SCORM, IMS Common Cartridge, open licensing, and open file formats. 

Third-Party Content: (in OER contexts) any image, table, exhibit, excerpt, or other component element whose copyright owner is different from that of the resource as a whole 

Transcript: a written version of content presented in a visual or multimedia format, such as an animation, cartoon, or video. Transcripts can be read by a screen reader. See also Captions


Versiona form of an asset that is distinct from its source due to intentional modifications (minor or significant), requiring changes to the asset’s attributes; see also Revise

Version Control: the management of asset versions and the changes made to assets that result in the creation of distinct assets; see also Version, Revise 


WCAG 2.0: web content accessibility guidelines developed by the World Wide Web Consortium, requiring content to meet four standards: perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust. For details on each, refer to the WCAG 2.0 documentation online.  

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