CC and Accessibility of OER

Creative Commons: some rights reserved

Image by Tyler Stefanich used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

An angle of Open Education Resources (OER) that is often overlooked is how Creative Commons (CC) licensing enables accessibility of these materials. This is similar to the application of public domain for the purpose of rendering materials in multiple formats, such as digital text, audio, large print, and Braille.

Let’s start with a brief and basic explanation, which is a dangerous proposition when it comes to copyright law, but here goes: U.S. Copyright Law limits the rendering of a copyrighted material in another format. For example, it’s against the law to convert a standard print copyrighted textbook to digital text (e.g., scanning the book). The exception is if the recipient of the rendered material is a student with a print disability that qualifies for copyright exemption. A print disability is a condition that interferes with a person’s ability to access printed text, such blindness, low vision, and certain physical and specific learning disabilities (see Maine’s AIM web site for a formal definition). Dealing with copyright and eligibility for exemption gets messy and, to do it right, requires expertise on behalf of at least one person in every school.

Public domain materials, however, are “render friendly.” I won’t venture into the definition of public domain as there are many interpretations and caveats associated with it. But suffice it to say that a copyrighted material becomes public domain once the author(s) has been deceased for a certain period of time. All of the classics fall into this category, such as works by Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Jack London, Charles Darwin, etc. These works are freely usable by everyone. So historically, public domain has offered a treasure trove of material that can be rendered into multiple formats for all students, not solely for students with qualifying print disabilities.

But public domain works make up a finite category of render-friendy materials. Enter CC, a relatively new way of licensing materials. Using CC licensing, creators of content have the flexibility to give their works loosely restricted rights, from allowing users to fully derive their materials in other formats to placing tightly defined limits. Six CC licenses currently exist. What all CC licenses have in common is the goal of making contemporary content more open for everyone’s use.

OER are CC-licensed materials that are targeted (or selected) for use in curriculum by educators and students. OER is the 21st-Century treasure trove of “render-friendly” instructional materials for all students. Be careful, however, to abide by the specific CC license, as there are multiple in use.

With OER and CC licensing, we have another tool for accomplishing universal design in our curriculum and instruction. The need for converting a material to another format, whether it’s audio transcribed to text or a video to which audio description has been added, can now be defined by the student rather than copyright law. No accommodation or modification necessary.

The next intriguing question is, “How do we share OER that we’ve converted so that we’re not all reinventing the wheel?”

Here are some popular sources of OER:

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