Glossary and Abbreviations

This glossary is intended to identify and distinguish some key concepts or terms associated with open educational resources (OER). There are considerable overlaps among the concepts below. The concepts share a philosophy of “open” that is best understood as a continuum or journey of ideas, values and practices without any one defined stopping point. The glossary is under development and there will be additional refinement and concepts.

Fair Use

Fair use is a legal doctrine that promotes freedom of expression by permitting the unlicensed use of copyright-protected works in certain circumstances. Section 107 of the Copyright Act provides the statutory framework for determining whether something is a fair use and identifies certain types of uses—such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research—as examples of activities that may qualify as fair use.  Section 107 calls for consideration of the following four factors in evaluating a question of fair use:

  • Purpose and character of the use, including whether the use is of a commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes;
  • Nature of the copyrighted work;
  • Amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole; and
  • Effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work

In addition to the above, other factors may also be considered by a court in weighing a fair use question, depending upon the circumstances.

The above definition is an extract from More Information on Fair Use.

Free culture

To be posted.

Open Access (OA)

Open Access grew from the 2002 Budapest Open Access Initiative and is often associated with free access to scholarly research, open access journals and publications (peer-reviewed and non-peer reviewed), and other communications, including theses, conference reports, and manuscripts. Open Access scholarship refers to scholarly literature that can be accessed for free, such as through Open Access Journals and Institutional Repositories. Open access also includes open access to law and legal information, open data repositories, and open source repository software and platforms.

Free access does not necessarily mean that the user has the right to modify and make derived works. An open license, such as the Creative Commons “0” or “BY” license, ensures that the content is free to use, copy, modify, translate, publish, perform and disseminate. Open access contents, tools and resources with an open license, used in educational settings, are often referred to as open educational resources.

Open Data

Data that can be freely accessed, used and shared is open data. Sources include international inter-government, government and organizational websites, Open Data repositories, and online portals for specific research studies. The Open Data Handbook, by the Open Knowledge Foundation, discusses the legal, social and technical aspects of open data.

Open Education and Open Pedagogy

Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources defines open education as “an attitude, a practice, and a method of teaching that inspires inquiry, equal access to course materials, and sharing lessons and materials with the wider community.” Wikipedia states: “Open education is education without academic admission requirements and is typically offered online.” Within The Encyclopedia of Education, “open education refers to a philosophy, a set of practices, and a reform movement in early childhood and elementary education that flourished in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the United States.” The philosophical underpinnings includes agency of the child, personal choice and fulfillment, experiential learning, teaching as facilitating, and a “whole child” approach that includes social and emotional aspects of learning. Encyclopedia Britannica writes: “Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78) famously insisted that formal education, like society itself, is inevitably corrupting; he argued that education should enable the “natural” and “free” development of children, a view that eventually led to the modern movement known as “open education.”

Open pedagogy to be posted. Note: One framework authored by Bronwyn Hegarty includes eight attributes.

Open Educational Resources (OER) and Open Content

As defined by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) in 2002, Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. They include textbooks, homework, lectures, quizzes, tests, lesson plans, syllabi, software, videos, plays, simulations, games, images, blogs, journals, music, podcasts, courseware, websites, learning management system (LMS), and massive open online courses. The US Office of Education Technology uses the term openly licensed educational resources.

Ancillary materials is term that is being used to denote resources, services, and materials developed by textbook publishers to enhance student learning and increase the value of the textbook.   Ancillary open materials could include multimedia CD-ROMs, special websites, online course, learning and homework management systems, exercises, Internet study guides, and Internet tutorial quizzes. Because ancillary materials also has a different meaning in studying cells, it might be less confusing to avoid this collective term and refer to specific types of learning material.

Open Format

“An open format is a file format for storing digital data, defined by a published specification usually maintained by a standards organization, and which can be used and implemented by anyone. For example, an open format can be implemented by both proprietary and free and open-source software, using the typical software licenses used by each. In contrast to open formats, closed formats are considered trade secrets.” (Wikipedia)

Open Movement

A range of ‘open’ philosophies and models have emerged with different drivers and motivations, including sharing freely; free culture; making higher education affordable and reducing rising textbook costs; promoting economic efficiencies along with equity; and improving access to wide groups of stakeholders. Some of the ‘open” movements include Open source, Open Science, Open source software, Open pedagogy and Open educational resources.

Open Research, Open Scholarship, and Open Science

Open Research, Open Scholarship, Open Science and similar terms have been used to promote access to the research life-cycle inputs and outputs, including data, data collection instruments, code books, software, and publications, from all scholarly disciplines. Visit Foster Open Science for a mapping of Open Science and resources and the related Open Science Training Handbook. More open scholarship concepts are at Open Research Glossary.

Open Source

Open Source refers to free access to the source code. Open source software has an open license that includes the source code, permits free redistribution, allows for modifications and derived works, does not discriminate against persons or groups or type of use, and is technology-neutral.

Access versus Accommodation


When we use the term ‘access’ when talking about people with disabilities, we’re using it just as we do in any other context – the ability to retrieve, use, benefit from something. Specifically, the ability to access something independently or without needing to ask for a modification or alternative format. For example, making sure a blind person can navigate a website without the help of a sighted person.


The term accommodation refers to making a modification for someone to gain access. Accommodations are made when a user is unable to access material without additional assistance. However, this doesn’t mean that if a student needs accommodations your course is not accessible. There are cases where a student will need accommodations regardless of the work you’ve put into your course (the changes you’ve made will not necessarily eliminate the extra time it takes to complete a quiz with a screen reader or without the use of a mouse – that extended time accommodation is still important). 


The definitions are adapted from the following sources: