OER Toolkit : Section 1 – Introduction

OER Toolkit : Section 1 – Introduction

This Toolkit has been developed to support teachers, curriculum writers and e-learning areas within Departments of Education, Catholic Education Commissions and Associations of Independent Schools, to understand and make use of open educational resources (OER) to create curriculum resources. The Toolkit specifically looks at how to find and use OER and how to license these resources for incorporation into new learning resources.

In June 2014 the Australian Education, Early Childhood Development and Youth Affairs Senior Officials Committee (AEEYSOC, now AESOC) approved the amendment of the terms of use and copyright notices of the websites and publications of all Australian Departments of Education. This required the Departments of Education websites and publications to comply with the Australian Governments Open Access and Licensing Framework (AusGOAL) to reflect best practice for OER and open access. The Catholic Education Commissions and the Associations of Independent Schools are also moving towards Creative Commons and are beginning to license their learning resources and websites under Creative Commons licences.

To comply with AusGOAL, the least restrictive Creative Commons licence must be applied unless circumstances prevent it. In most cases this will be the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC-BY). This reflects best practice and is the National Copyright Unit’s recommended Creative Commons licence. If you want to use a more restrictive licence or a different Creative Commons licence, contact the National Copyright Unit to discuss your options.

The CC-BY licence makes it easier for teachers by:

  • removing complex copyright issues and concerns
  • enabling educators to reuse, remix and adapt resources without concern
  • making it free to copy and share materials for any reason and
  • removing the barriers of only being allowed to use a certain percentage of a resource and having to keep it behind a password protected system.

Creative Commons licences make it easier and safer for educators to reuse materials. They have been applied to an enormous range of materials already, and they can be used in the classroom in novel ways, generally without restriction.

It’s important to remember that frequently, resources which are free to access are not necessarily free to reuse, remix or adapt. Those rights are generally reserved by the copyright owner. Creative Commons licences enable educators to reuse, remix and adapt resources since the copyright owner has already given permission to everyone.

For additional information on Creative Commons see: https://smartcopying.edu.au/applying-a-creative-commons-licence/

1.1 What are Open Educational Resources?

Open Education Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or released with intellectual property licences that facilitate the free use, adaptation and distribution of resources. For more information see the UNESCO definition of OER.

OER resources are licensed under Creative Commons (CC) licences and in particular the CC-BY (Attribution) and CC-BY-SA (Share Alike) licences are used. Further information about Creative Commons can be found at: https://www.smartcopying.edu.au/open-education/creative-commons.

OER are not restricted to one format and can include hard copy and digital text, audio, video, images, interactive multimedia and combinations of these. OER can cover all levels of a learning plan from a single learning object to an entire course. They include worksheets, curriculum materials, lectures, homework assignments, quizzes, class activities, pedagogical materials, games and many more resources from around the world. OER’s fundamental values are that they are free for anyone to use and can be freely distributed, adapted, translated, remixed and improved.

OER meet the ‘5Rs Framework,’ meaning that users are free to:

Retain: Users have the right to make, archive, and “own” copies of the content
Reuse: Content can be reused in its unaltered form
Revise: Content can be adapted, adjusted, modified or altered
Remix: The original or revised content can be combined with other content to create something new and
Redistribute: Copies of the content can be shared with others in its original, revised or remixed form.

Why Open Education Resources are good for Australian schools, teachers and students

Australia’s copyright framework has been subject to extensive review over recent years. These reviews have been consistently highlighted the need for a more flexible and adaptive framework to facilitate access to, and dissemination of, creative content in the digital environment.

It is estimated that the school system spends between $940 million – $1 billion per annum acquiring educational content. These resources cannot be modified, shared or remixed by teachers and students except in very limited circumstances.

Another big problem is that many teachers believe that they are allowed to use material made freely available on the internet for free in their classes and at their school. Freely available internet materials are works made available online with no commercial intent or expectation of payment.

While ordinary Australians use materials on the internet such as online TV guides, fact sheets and government [missing word] for free every day, the vast majority of freely available internet materials used under the statutory licences are still paid for by schools.2

Generally, the only material that is free for teachers and schools to use from the internet is online material that is licensed under Creative Commons.

Currently, the schools’ national copyright fees paid to collecting societies are approximately $91.5 million a year.3

Open Education Resources can provide the following benefits:

  • Safer: It is much safer for teachers to use Open Education Resources (OER) as they are free to reuse, remix, redistribute and adapt education resources without running the risk of breaching the complex copyright exceptions and copyright licence rules.
  • Internet compatible: It is better adapted to the Internet and the freedom which the Internet provides to copy, distribute, adapt and remix resources.
  • Enabler: Resources which are free to access are not necessarily free to reuse, remix or adapt. There are many online sources of information which can be freely accessed but often the right to adapt or remix is reserved to the copyright owner. Embedding third party content in education resources also prevents that content from being shared and copied without permission of the copyright owner. OER enables educators to reuse, remix and adapt resources since the copyright owner has already given permission to everyone.
  • Accessible: It is easy to access openly licensed materials with over 2 billion CC-licensed works as of 2023 and many searchable online databases of CC-licensed work available.
  • Collaborative: It encourages collaboration between educators and creates communities based on sharing of education resources which can increase the quality of materials and the development of ideas.
  • Cheaper: It helps to save money on the national copyright fees and school budgets and administrative costs of seeking permission and allows education resources to be shared freely online with very low transaction costs.
  • Equitable: It offers equal access to knowledge for everyone and allows for education resources to be adapted for minorities and those with disabilities.
  • Better learning: Recent studies demonstrates that students with access to OER outperform those using traditional closed textbooks

OER in Australia

There is growing use and creation of OER in Australia. The Australian Departments of Education have licensed their websites and publications under CC BY 4.0 where possible. For example, see Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia and the Australian Government Department of Education.

Other OER initiatives include Education Services Australia licensing more than 1600 digital learning resources from the national digital resources collection under CC licences (with hopefully many more to come). ACARA, The Australian Curriculum Reporting and Assessment Authority, has licensed the Australian Curriculum (http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/) and the National Assessment Plan (http://www.nap.edu.au/) under a CC BY 4.0 licence. The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority licenses the Victorian Curriculum F-10 website and Curriculum Planning Portal under Creative Commons. The Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority licenses its content under Creative Commons. NCU expects to see more and more publicly funded educational resources licensed under Creative Commons licences.

1.2 Free vs. Open

‘Open’ has a wider meaning than something “that is available for free”. There is a wealth of free-to-view content available on the Internet, but the majority of it is not free to reuse, share or build upon. For schools and teachers, those features are extremely important. This is where ‘open’ comes in.

Openly licensed resources come with clear permissions and specific licensing terms that have been provided up front, so that school staff, or anyone else, can reuse them, and, depending upon the licence terms, edit and adapt them to best suit their teaching aims, and the needs of their learners. These adaptations can also be freely shared with others.

The engagement with OER is a global movement, which includes many developing regions of the world, where open approaches contribute to the aim of achieving access to quality education for all. Educators all around the world create and use OER, and are exploring and practising open educational approaches. Some examples of online open / OER resource repositories are listed Section 2.

1.3 What is an open licence?

Open content, including OER, is reusable. The permissions that enable material to be reusable are expressed through a particular type of licence called an open licence, which is applied by the rights holder, whom grants others the permission to use, access and re-distribute the material with few restrictions.

For example, a set of lesson plans made available on a website under a Creative Commons licence can be viewed, printed and shared by anybody. The majority of Creative Commons licences also provide permission to adapt and change the material, and to share your adapted material online or in print.

1.4 Creative Commons Licences

The most common open licences for copyrighted material have been developed by Creative Commons. There are 6 Creative Commons licences, and each have slightly different, but standardised permissions. See the image below that illustrates the different licences and the range of permissions;

Creative Commons License Spectrum’ by Shaddim is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 Licence.

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization resident in the United States dedicated to promoting better identification, negotiation and reutilisation of content to enable creativity and innovation.

The Creative Commons licences have been designed to offer a flexible and straightforward way for copyright holders to declare the things that they will allow others to do with their content, in advance. This removes the need for the one-on-one negotiations usually required to form a licence agreement between two people, because that’s not always possible on the Internet. Creative Commons licences are not an alternative to copyright. They enable you to manage your copyright to best suit your needs.

CC NZ has produced a short video clip explaining CC Licences.

For additional information on Creative Commons, see the Smartcopying website: https://smartcopying.edu.au/creative-commons-information-pack-for-teachers-and-students/ and https://smartcopying.edu.au/short-explainers-on-cc-and-oer/.

1.5 Remixing with Creative Commons

Creative Commons licences are great for educators because they allow you to “remix” content: all Creative Commons licences allow you to combine licensed content without modification, and most of the licences also allow you to modify and adapt content as well.

Remixing is often associated with music. In the 1980s, musicians mixed and mashed old jazz, blues and reggae records, before adding their own beats and raps to create a whole new sound — and Hip Hop emerged. Since then, thousands of musicians have built on these early experiments, creating an extraordinarily rich global culture of remix music.

Because culture always builds on the past, just about all creative work is a kind of remix. Remixing also happens in other areas, such as research and, of course, education: scientists, artists and teachers all build on the past to create new material and make new discoveries. With the development of the Internet, the range of materials available for remix and reuse is larger than ever. In the digital age, it has become much easier to make innovative new works; and supporting learners to be creative (including by creating digital art, music and film) is important. Of course, this can cause problems when it comes to keeping track of who made what — and who owns what.

So, while borrowing and adapting is part of the creative process, educators have a responsibility to set the example and to take the time to credit the work of others. Giving credit also places the work in its context, which may benefit its users.

For additional information on remixing images, see Appendix 1, and for remixing generally see Appendix 4.

1.6 Types of Creative Commons Licences

The Creative Commons licences consist of four usage conditions, which are mixed and matched to form a suite of 6 licences. We recommend the Creative Commons Attribution Licence (CC-BY) because it enables the optimal reuse of content.

Publishing under a Creative Commons licence is easy. First, choose the conditions that you want to apply to your work:

Attribution. All CC licences require that others who use your work in any way must attribute it – i.e. must reference the work, giving you credit for it – the way you request, but they must not do so in a way that suggests you endorse them or their use of the work. If they want to use your work without giving you credit or for endorsement purposes, they must get your permission first.
NonCommercial. You let others copy, distribute, display, perform and (unless you have chosen NoDerivatives) modify and use your work for any purpose other than commercially. If they want to use your work commercially, they must get your permission first.
NoDerivative Works. You let others copy, distribute, display and perform only original copies of your work. If they want to modify your work, they must get your permission first.
Share Alike. You let others copy, distribute, display, perform and modify your work, as long as they distribute any modified work on the same terms. If they want to distribute modified works under other terms, they must get your permission first.


Based on your choices, you will get a licence that clearly indicates how you intend for other people to reuse your material.

CC BY Licence Icon Attribution CC-BY
View License Deed | View Legal Code
CC BY SA Licence Icon Attribution Share Alike CC-BY-SA
View License Deed | View Legal Code
BY ND CC licence Attribution NoDerivatives CC-BY-ND
View License Deed | View Legal Code
CC BY NC Licence Icon Attribution NonCommercial CC-BY-NC
View License Deed | View Legal Code
BY NC SA Creative Commons Licence Attribution NonCommercial Share Alike CC-BY-NC-SA
View License Deed | View Legal Code
BY NC ND Creative Commons Licence Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivatives CC-BY-NC-ND
View License Deed | View Legal Code


If you would like to use a Creative Commons-licensed work in a way that is not permitted by the licence, you can ask the copyright holder for permission. Copyright holders are free to offer permission for additional uses as they wish.

The following poster by Creative Commons Poland is very helpful in understanding the licences and what you are able to do under the various licences:

Quick Guide to Creative Commons

Creative Commons licences work as “Some rights reserved” rule instead of “All rights reserved” rule. CC offers a diverse set of licence conditions – the freedoms and limitations. This allows the author to define rules on which he or she would like to share his or her creations with others. At the same time users gain more rights to the use of his or her works.

Attribution 4.0 – This licence lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation. This is the most accommodating of licences offered. Recommended for maximum dissemination and use of licensed materials. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 – This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work even for commercial purposes, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. All new works based on yours will carry the same licence, so any derivatives will also allow commercial use. This is the licence used by Wikipedia, and is recommended for materials that would benefit from incorporating content from Wikipedia and similarly licensed projects. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/

Attribution–NonCommercial 4.0 – This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work NonCommercially, and although their new works must also acknowledge you and be NonCommercial, they don’t have to license their derivative works on the same terms. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

Attribution–NoDerivs 4.0 – This licence allows for redistribution, commercial and NonCommercial, as long as it is passed along unchanged and in whole, with credit to you. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/

Attribution-NonCommerical-ShareAlike 4.0 – This licence lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work NonCommercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/4.0/

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 – This licence is the most restrictive of our six main licences, only allowing others to download your works and share them with others as long as they credit you, but they can’t change them in any way or use them commercially. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

This is an adaptation of the poster Open poster about CC licences by Creative Commons Polska, designed by Piotrek Chuchla and is licensed under a CC-BY 3.0 Poland. This adaptation of the poster was produced by the National Copyright Unit, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence.

This poster can also be downloaded from the Smartcopying website here: https://smartcopying.edu.au/quick-guide-to-creative-commons/

1.7 CC-BY: The Recommended Creative Commons Licence

Of the six Creative Commons licences, the Creative Commons Attribution licence (CC-BY) provides the optimal permissions for sharing and remixing of content. This licence allows others to distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon works as long as they attribute the author of the original creation. This licence best fits the needs of educational institutions, and allows for the greatest reuse without worrying about copyright implications.

There is no requirement under any Creative Commons licence to release the content, in the first instance, to the world at large. How the material is released is entirely up to the content owner. So, for example, the material could be kept on a password protected intranet or Learning Management System, etc. But once the material has been downloaded, it can be used in any manner consistent with the Creative Commons licence, and all the licences allow for distribution to the world at large.

This licence is also in accord with all of the jurisdictions’ responsibilities under AusGOAL. In June 2014, all Ministers for Education committed to AusGOAL compliance. AusGOAL provides support and guidance to government and related sectors to facilitate open access to publicly funded information. To comply with AusGOAL, the least restrictive Creative Commons licence must be applied unless circumstances prevent it. In most cases this will be the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC-BY). This reflects best practice and is the National Copyright Unit’s recommended Creative Commons licence. If you want to use a more restrictive licence or a different Creative Commons licence, contact the National Copyright Unit to discuss your options.

1.8 The licence URL

You will note from the table above that each Creative Commons licence has a licence deed and legal code. These URL’s are very important and need to be cited with the material to enable people to access the terms and conditions of the licence. In effect, they are the link to the legal wording of the licence.

If you look at the URL of the Creative Commons licence on some material, you may notice a number (eg “2.0”), and a country code (eg “uk”). The number indicates a particular version of the licence, which is necessary because the Creative Commons licences are occasionally revised. At the time of writing, the most recent version is version 4.0, which has been designed to apply internationally and does not need individual country codes. The Creative Commons Attribution licence deed (version 4.0) can be found here: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.

Creative Commons licensing allows you to find content that you can use legally to support teaching and learning. When sharing content, Creative Commons clarifies the terms on which you are happy for your work to be shared.

Information on how to apply a Creative Commons licence to your work is covered in more detail in Section 3.

1.9 Acknowledgements

This section of the Toolkit is an adaptation of

This Toolkit is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence (CC-BY 4.0) so that it can be shared and adapted openly, as long as attribution is given.

You are free to use this content so long as you attribute the National Copyright Unit, Copyright Advisory Groups (Schools and TAFEs).


1 This estimation is based on a survey of 379 schools conducted in late 2012 and early 2013. The 379 schools provided a random stratified representation of schools by State, Sector (Government, Catholic and Independent) and Level (Primary, Secondary, Combined) to allow statistically reliable estimations to be done of school spending on a national basis. In 2012, the content acquisition figure by schools was $400 million, which when indexed by CPI equates to nearly $460 million annually in 2019.
The Commonwealth Bank’s survey found that parents spent, on average $127 per student on textbooks. There are 3.8 million schoolchildren in Australia, which equals to over $480 million spent on purchasing textbooks in 2017. See https://www.commbank.com.au/guidance/newsroom/parents-brace-for-1-7-billion-back-to-school-bill-shock-201801.html. Taking the estimated schools spend of $460 million plus the estimated parents spend of $480 million, the total estimated spend is $940 million. If we estimate these numbers in today’s dollars that would amount to approximately $1 billion.
2 For more information, see for example, CAG submissions to the ALRC (available at https://www.alrc.gov.au/inquiry/copyright-and-the-digital-economy/submissions-received-by-the-alrc-4/) and Productivity Commission (available at https://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/completed/intellectual-property/submissions), discussing the longstanding issue in relation to freely available internet materials.
3 This estimate is based off the total collective school licence fees paid by CAG to Copyright Agency, Screenrights and APRA AMCOS in 2021.