I have heard of specific Open Educational Resources like Project Gutenberg and I know about copyright and public domain (and Creative Commons), but I was not aware of OERs as a category of things, if that makes sense. Mainly, professors in my department have shown us Project Gutenberg as a resource for philosophy texts that are in the public domain (which is a lot of them, as philosophy is pretty old, and they’re still useful, because our discipline is still pretty obsessed with arguing about theories from 2,000 years). However, I also just learned about LibriVox, which is an online collection of free public domain audiobooks read by volunteers. Though I have not used this collection before, it’s wonderful for students who are better audio learners than visual learners (and might be a good way to listen to some classic literature on a road trip). And, I think provided in tandem, Project Gutenberg and LibriVox would make a great resource for online courses beyond philosophy, just in terms of providing multiple modes of access to a text. For my own classes, I might also use TedTalks, particularly in an issue-driven course like Bioethics. I’m sure there are lots of talks on things like abortion, universal healthcare, physician-assisted suicide, organ donation, stem cell research, etc. (a quick search tells me I’m correct), and a video like this might be an easy way to sort of trim the fat from the issue, so to speak. In general, though, I think OERs provide not only more material for classroom use, but also provide it in different sensory modalities, which is helpful for students who have a range of learning styles, and at different depth levels (where some give a very superficial overview and others deeply probe an issue).
As an instructor in a Philosophy department, my feelings about OERs are ambivalent. On the one hand, many works of philosophy are available under public domain, alleviating financial burdens on students and providing them access to many more classroom materials than they might otherwise have. For example, the entire corpus of John Dewey, a very important American philosopher (who happens to feature heavily in my dissertation), is in the public domain and available through Project Gutenberg. However, I am also skeptical because students sometimes fail to critically assess the credibility of the sources they stumble across online, weighting equally the commentary of a foremost scholar of John Dewey and the ramblings of an internet blogger who happens to have read a John Dewey quote online somewhere. I think the solution here is to be very clear with students how they can evaluate the merit of the OERs they find and check their sources before deciding which work merits greater consideration.
Generally, copyright has not been an issue for my classes because my students purchase their textbooks, which are their primary resource for class. (If they choose to get their books another way, I am not aware of it.) However, if I only want to assign a small section of text, I will assign it through Course Reserves, or provide a link if it’s a work within the public domain. We also review proper citation procedure prior to their first paper, and I explain that citation management software like Zotero can really alleviate the burden of having to write your own citations. I also refer them to the Emory Honor Code and provide examples of plagiarism. In terms of delivering content, however, it’s relatively straightforward: I assign the book, they buy the book, I tell them page numbers to read, and sometimes we read aloud from those pages in class. Because I don’t generally use slides or presentations, copyright isn’t much of an issue (though if I were to incorporate something like images, I’d let Creative Commons be my guide).