Canvas Spotlight

Find Open Educational Resources and Use Them in Canvas

Last updated on May 6, 2024

Ease of access is a core component of any successful course. This is why dedicated educators strive to remove as many barriers to participation as possible for your students. An imposing and often acknowledged barrier to participation in higher education is the financial barrier associated with expensive textbooks and subscriptions. These additional costs can often increase stress for students, have consequences for their financial well-being, as well as serve as barriers to accessing quality learning experiences.

So, what can be done to remove these kinds of financial barriers?

Rather than asking students to open their wallets, you can implement Open Educational Resources (OER) in your course. OER are educational materials (textbooks, journals, presentations, etc.) that are available for free for everyone. These materials are either in the public domain (free from copyright) or distributed under an open-source license, like Creative Commons. You can use and modify this content freely, so long as you credit the author, depending on the type of license.

Courses that rely on OER not only reduce the financial burden on the students, they are also associated with better academic outcomes, including lower drop, fail, and withdrawal (DFW) rates. Additionally, MSU Denver and the State of Colorado recognize the use of OER with various awards, grants, and stipends. In this spotlight, we’ll cover how you can find OER, evaluate its appropriateness, and adapt it for use in your course.

Want to explore OER?

To learn more about a course that has fully adopted OER, removed the financial barrier for students, and explore lessons learned about implementing them, view our Course Showcase Spotlight on Psychology 1001.

What is NOT OER?

  • Most materials you’ll find through common channels on the internet are under standard copyright protections. You can identify these by the copyright symbol, ©, and the statement “All rights reserved.”
  • Article databases and online sources that are not free and require fee or subscription, such as an online journal or newspaper, are never OER.
  • Some materials are “open access”, which means they are free for anyone to access on the website, database, or other platform that hosts them. These are not considered OER since you cannot copy that material and redistribute it, such as in a page in your Canvas course.
    • Some have a specific license which can sometimes be unclear, and may not allow for modifying, reusing, or redistributing the content.

How does OER licensing work?

  • All creative works have copyright protections, except for those that are old enough to have entered the public domain. Copyright prevents anyone besides the author from reproducing the work or creating derivative works.
  • Creators use open licenses to explicitly permit others to reproduce their work, distribute it, and make new works using some material from the original.
  • Creative Commons licenses, the most common type, are a standardized set of open licenses that specify what conditions must be met for the work to be used. Authors can choose from a range of conditions and restrictions. You can find more information about the various types of Creative Commons licenses on their website.

How should I evaluate OER?

  • Many OER are produced and published by the same major universities that publish non-OER text.
  • Books are subject to the same rigorous review process. 
  • Others are produced by individuals without access to the same resources or stringent requirements. 
  • Consider what databases or repositories you will search and the reliability of resources found within your preferred database.
  • It is up to you to determine if the OER you’ve found is appropriate for use in your course.

Where can I find OER?

Auraria Library

The Auraria Library is a fantastic resource for anyone teaching or learning at MSU Denver. In addition to their other services, they can help you find OER.


Aggregators are one-search options for browsing vast amounts of content. This saves you time you would otherwise spend combing through many different databases. They tend to leave evaluating OER up to the user and might not be particularly selective about what they include. Resources found from aggregators should be reviewed critically to ensure its suitability for your course.

  • Oasis – This aggregate search engine searches 117 unique sources, has nearly 400,000 available resources, and is used by over 500 major institutions. In addition to basic and advanced search options, Oasis provides links to each of its sources to allow you to search specific collections as well.
  • Mason OER Metafinder (MOM) – MOM searches 21 different databases, including some of the major OER databases like Openstax, OER Commons, Merlot, and even OASIS. MOM lets you filter your search by source and also lets you search by document format, author, topic, and publisher.
  • ISBN search- A search in your preferred engine for your particular resource’s ISBN plus a few key phrases like “open” or “free” just may yield an OER copy of your preferred materials. Make sure to determine the license on any free materials you find to determine if they are truly open. California State University has also built a tool to help you find OER by ISBN, available here.

Databases and Repositories

Databases and repositories are smaller and more focused than aggregators. Their content is usually curated and they are more deliberate in finding material to include. They are often products of universities, and can be more reliable in producing quality content.

  • Open Textbook Library – The Open Textbook Library contains hundreds of open access textbooks, hosted right on its website, saving you the trouble of tracking down externally hosted content. Many of the textbooks hosted here provide multiple means of reading (including online and pdf versions), as well as summaries, tables of contents, authors, and a review section for collaborative evaluation of textbooks. The Open Textbook Library provides conditions of use for each textbook, clarifying what kind of license the content has, and even linking to an explanation of that particular license. 
  • LibreText – Another university produced resource, this time from the University of California, Davis, Libretext contains 398 textbooks, all of which are free and openly accessible to anyone.  Much like the previous resource, Libretext hosts all content on their website, and provides licensing information for each resource. In addition to textbooks, Libretext also hosts complete open courses that you may use or adapt sections of.
  • Galileo – Produced by the University of Georgia system, Galileo provides many of the same features and services as the previous resources including free access to hundreds of textbooks, licensing information on each textbook, and multiple ways of viewing text, including .pdf downloads. Galileo also features some additional content for certain textbooks including lecture slides and exercises related to the textbook.
  • OpenStax – A product of Rice University, Openstax largely provides similar functionality to the previous resources, hosting free, open access textbooks right on its own site. While Openstax has fewer resources than the previous databases (containing just under 60 textbooks) the textbooks within this resource all go through a rigorous review process, ensuring quality and relevance.

How do I get help getting OER into my course?

  • One way to find help with implementing OER in your course is the CTLD Course Development Cycle. This is an intensive, but rewarding, process where an instructional designer will work with you over the course of several months to identify course objectives, develop learning activities, create a user-friendly course, record high-quality multimedia content, and much more.
  • Our instructional designers will help you find appropriate OER, adapt it to suit your needs, and implement it in your course. As compensation for the time and effort you spend developing your course, faculty are offered a $3000 stipend for completing the development cycle. For courses that use OER, MSU Denver offers additional incentives.
  • For more information on the CTLD Development Cycle, as well as how to apply to join, please see our CTLD Course Development Cycle spotlight.

An Example

At the end of the video above, there is an example of an OER that was implemented in a Canvas course. It includes how the OER was found, how the license was determined, and how the content was integrated into the course.