Kimberly Grotewold, Karen Kohler, Tasha Martinez, LisaL Kulka
Information Science, Visual Arts, Graphic Design, Education, Educational Technology
Material Type:
College / Upper Division, Graduate / Professional
  • BranchED Foundations
  • BranchED Literacy
  • BranchED Methods
  • BranchED SC
  • BranchEd
  • Copyright
  • Creative Commons
  • Fair Use
  • OER Colorado
  • OER User and Maker
  • Oer
  • Scholarly Communication Notebook
  • Visual Literacy
  • branched-foundations
  • branched-literacy
  • branched-methods
  • branched-sc
  • branched-sped
  • oer-user-and-maker
  • wa-pd
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike
    Media Formats:
    Downloadable docs, Graphics/Photos, Text/HTML

    Education Standards

    Teachers as Content & Knowledge Creators: Understanding Creative Commons, OER, and Visual Literacy to Empower Diverse Voices

    Teachers as Content & Knowledge Creators: Understanding Creative Commons, OER, and Visual Literacy to Empower Diverse Voices


    This module was created in response to an observed need by BranchED and the module authors for efforts to increase the recognition, adaptation, and use of open educational resources (OER) among pre- and in-service teachers and the faculty who work in educator preparation programs. The module's purpose is to position teacher educators, teacher candidates and in-service teachers as empowered content creators. By explicitly teaching educators about content that has been licensed for re-use and informing them about their range of options for making their own works available to others, they will gain agency and can make inclusive and equity-minded decisions about curriculum content. The module provides instructional materials, resources, and activities about copyright, fair use, public domain, OER, and visual literacy to provide users with a framework for selecting, modifying, and developing curriculum materials.

    Module Learning Objectives

    Learners engaging with the module will

    • demonstrate increased awareness of CC-licensed materials and OER in order to practice successful searching for re-usable and freely adaptable content.
    • explain how CC licensing meets the legal requirements of traditional copyright laws but also allows for greater sharing of creative and scholarly content in order to position themselves as knowledge creators contributing to an equity-minded community.
    • create a best practices attribution statement for a CC-licensed piece of content they intend to use in order to apply their newly gained understanding of CC to their own professional practices.
    • apply an inclusion-minded framework for evaluating visual materials in their selection of images and write a reflective justification explaining their choices.
    • express a commitment toward teaching their students how to access and ethically use openly licensed materials in their work in order to establish such practices for the next generation of teachers and other professionals.



    Prior to the development of this resource the Branch Alliance for Educator Diversity (BranchED) and other institutions that work with teacher preparation programs had noted that there was a limited awareness of Open Educational Resources (OER) and materials made available under Creative Commons licensing among pre-service and in-service teachers (BranchED, 2019). The creators of this resource from the San Antonio area found anecdotal evidence for this lack of knowledge among both faculty and students in teacher preparation degree programs. 


    The purpose of the resource is to position teacher educators, teacher candidates and in-service teachers as content creators with essential voices by empowering them with visual literacy skills centered on how to apply technology ethics and critical reflection in their selection and development of visual media. While whole courses can be taught on selection/evaluation of instructional materials, teaching with technology, and visual/media literacy, the creators of this resource aim to offer content that can be incorporated into existing teacher preparation courses and professional development, either in its entirity or by section. 

    Section Contents

    • Educators, Copyright, & Fair Use

    • Creative Commons & Public Domain

    • Open Educational Resources (OER)

    • Visual Literacy, Part I: Definitions and Visual Design Elements

    • Visual Literacy, Part II: Evaluating Images

    • Glossary & References

    Educators, Copyright, & Fair Use

    Why be Concerned with Copyright & Fair Use?

    Educators and students live in a technology-driven, hyper-connected world that allows for instantaneous communication, much of which happens in visual and media formats. The internet and social media platforms allow and encourage users to browse, like, comment on, and freely distribute online content without paying much attention to its origin--who created it and in what context. 

    Teachers preparing lessons may want to supplement the content in the school-system's approved curriculum with current, real-world images and media that support their course's learning outcomes. It can be so tempting to select any image found in a Google search or a video from YouTube and embed it directly into instructional content without a second thought. One might argue, "I'm a teacher; therefore it's an educational use, so no worries."

    The reality of using materials for educational purposes is a little more complicated. To understand it more fully, this section presents information about copyright law and fair use in education.

    Focus Questions

    • What is copyright?

    • What is fair use?

    • Why do we need copyright and fair use laws?

    • How do copyright and fair use impact you as an educator?

    Definitions and Explanations of How Copyright Works

    Merriam Webster Online defines copyright as "the exclusive legal right to reproduce, publish, sell, or distribute the matter and form of something (such as a literary, musical, or artistic work)."

    To get a deeper understanding of copyright:

    When You Know You Want to Use a Copyright Protected Work, Consider Fair Use

    Note that librarians and judges often reference the "four factors of fair use," but the University of Minnesota Library describes "transformative use" as a fifth factor. Often transformative use is considered part of the purpose factor. 

    Also of interest is that relatively recent court cases suggest that the determination of fair use may be shifting. It is not necessarily an equal weighing of all four factors. According to a presentation by copyright librarians Enemil and Scheid (2020) for the Association of College and Research Librarians (ACRL), recent case law and court rulings indicate that transformative use and the economic impact factor are the two criteria that dominate in legal decisions. 

    Additionally, with the COVID-19 pandemic that has spanned the globe, educators at colleges and universities with copyright centers and officers have relied heavily on fair use to meet the needs of students who were suddenly sent home from their campuses to learn online, many without the opportunity to report back to campus to retrieve instructional materials after scheduled recesses or breaks.

    Check Your Understanding

    • Describe copyright and fair use.

    • Explain the four (or five) statutory factors of fair use.

    • Consider a teaching tool (movie, website, photograph, etc.). How do you determine if it is considered fair use? What documentation would be required?

    Additional Resources

    Creative Commons Licensing and Public Domain

    Alternatives to Traditional Copyright

    The enormous growth of digital creative and information materials during the last decades prompted authors and creators to propose alternatives to conventional copyright restrictions. This section explores these paths that are still legal under copyright law but facilitate easier sharing of materials.

    Focus Questions 

    • What were the legal and cultural reasons for the founding of Creative Commons? 

    • Why do we have laws that restrict the copying and sharing of creative work?

    • Why is it important that works eventually fall out of copyright?

    • Given that most of us are not lawyers, what do we need to know about the legalities in order to use the CC licenses properly?

    Creative is the main organization responsible for understanding the needs of both originators of content and those who want to build on the ideas of others to push the future of knowledge and innovation. Because traditional copyright and its requirement to request permission to reuse content can be a slow process, the group became the facilitator of other options to speed up the exchange. 

    Review the following sections of the Creative Commons (n.d.) Creative Commons for Educators and Librarians book licensed under CC BY, which you will learn more about in this section.

    For a visual guide to CC licensing and the range of how it allows for the re-use of content, see the chart below:

    Creative Commons Licenses with degrees of freedom explained
    CC License Freedom Scale Chart by Foter is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

    Check Your Understanding

    • Retell the story of why Creative Commons was founded.

    • Explain the purpose of copyright.

    • Communicate the value of the public domain.

    • Differentiate the meaning of different CC icons.

    Additional Resources


    Open Educational Resources (OER)

    Extending the CC Licensing Concept and Applying it to Education

    Creative Commons licenses can be applied to many different types of materials. When CC Licensing or Public Domain permissions are attached to materials useful for teaching and learning, these materials are often described as Open Educational Resources or OER. OER are the focus of this section.

    Focus Questions

    • What are OER?

    • What is the difference between "open" and "free" resources?

    • What is the difference between open access materials and OER?

    • Why might a teacher choose to use OER for particular courses or lessons?

    Definitions & Historical Background

    UNESCO (2019) defines OER as follows: "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." See UNESCO's Open Educational Resources page for more information.

    David Wiley, Chief Academic Officer at Lumen Learning and author of the OpenContent blog, has been credited with coining the term Open Educational Resources (OER) as early as1998. UNESCO's involvement with the movement toward free and quality educational resources for all learners worldwide goes back at least as far as 2007, when a relatively small gathering in Cape Town, South Africa led to a formal document called the Cape Town Declaration in 2008. Other important organizations involved with OER include the William + Flora Hewlett Foundation, OpenStax, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resource Coalition (SPARC), and more.

    OER can come in many formats. They can include, but are not limited to the following: textbooks, videos, tutorials, entire courses, learning activities, lesson plans, worksheets, quizzes, software, code for creating resources and more. Because of OpenStax, students may be most familiar with OER in the form of open textbooks. It is true that most of these resources are only freely available in electronic form, but some websites have emerged to provide students with purchasable print copies for reasonable costs (mainly just to cover the costs of printing) for students who have learning needs or preferences requiring print.

    Wiley has been particularly influential in the identification of five rights that define OER. These five rights are represented by 5 Rs and include the rights or permissions to use content as follows:

    1. Retain - make, own, and control a copy of the resource (e.g., download and keep your own copy)

    2. Revise - edit, adapt, and modify your copy of the resource (e.g., translate into another language)

    3. Remix - combine your original or revised copy of the resource with other existing material to create something new (e.g., make a mashup)

    4. Reuse - use your original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource publicly (e.g., on a website, in a presentation, in a class)

    5. Redistribute - share copies of your original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource with others (e.g., post a copy online or give one to a friend). (Wiley, n.d., "Defining the 'open'" section, para. 1)


    Open Pedagogy 

    Open pedagogy or open educational practices have come to mean those ways of facilitating teaching and learning that prioritize practices of sharing with as few restrictions as possible. Involving students in the reusing, remixing, and redistributing of learning materials and making the remixed content available to other, future learners (who can also exercise their 5 R rights), transforms learning from a "check-the-boxes" trip to a static endpoint to an ever-evolving, living activity. See Wiley (2013) for more on using OER/Open Pedagogy to eliminate "disposable assignments."

    Parts of this page are adaptations of David Wiley's Defining the "Open" in Open Content and What is Open Pedagogy? Open Content blog posts licensed under CC BY 4.0

    How to Find OER

    Fortunately, there are many resources available to search for OER materials. One of the major resources is the website housing this module: OER Commons!

    Other examples include the Open Textbook Library, LibreTexts, OpenStax, and MERLOT instructional materials. 

    Entering keywords to search or browsing subjects are ways to locate useful materials. Most of the sites mentioned allow individuals to also search by grade level of the content. 

    Depending on the type of library catalog software used, schools, public, or university libraries' online catalog can also serve as an OER search tool. And don't forget to talk as a librarian. Libraries and librarians have been leaders of OER initiatives at many institutions.

    Check Your Understanding

    • Restate the 5 Rights/Permissions of OER.

    • Choose one of the sites named under the How to Find OER heading above and find one OER title that appears to align with the subject/grade level of students you usually teach. If you are a pre-service teacher, find a title that aligns with the subject/grade level of students you would most like to teach.

    Additional Resources

    Visual Literacy, Part I: Definitions, Importance, & Visual Design Elements

    Visual Literacy's Role in Selecting and Adapting Openly Licensed, Re-usable Content 

    For teachers deciding on content to use with their students, diversity, equity, and inclusion are essential considerations. While there are different aspects of instructional materials to analyze as a means of assessing them for inclusion and diversity, instead of trying to address everything, the focus of the last two sections of this resource module is on one such aspect--the images and visual media included in the material. 

    Component skills of visual literacy represented in chart with colored circles
    "Visual Literacy Array" based on ACRL’s Visual Literacy Standards by D. Hattwig, K. Bussert, and A. Medaille. Copyright 2013 The Johns Hopkins University Press. This image first appeared in PORTAL: LIBRARIES AND THE ACADEMY, Volume 13, Issue 1, January 2013, p. 75.*

    *Visual Literacy Array used with permission from D. Hattwig.

    Focus Questions

    • What is visual literacy?

    • Why is it important for teachers and students to develop visual literacy skills?

    • How do images express meaning?

    Definitions of Visual Literacy

    The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) (2011) defined visual literacy as:

    a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media. Visual literacy skills equip a learner to understand and analyze the contextual, cultural, ethical, aesthetic, intellectual, and technical components involved in the production and use of visual materials. A visually literate individual is both a critical consumer of visual media and a competent contributor to a body of shared knowledge and culture. (Visual Literacy Defined, para. 1)

    For a more in-depth look at how to define and measure students' visual literacy skills, see the complete ACRL (2011) Visual Literacy Competency Standards.

    In more than nine years since these standards were developed and adopted, the Internet, which relies heavily on visual and multimedia images, has grown exponentially. ACRL has convened a new Visual Literacy Task Force to revise and update the standards. 

    International Visual Literacy Association Standards & Into the Future

    • Review the Visual Literacy Today Website - What is Visual Literacy? by Kristen Harrison, Founding Editor of the Curved House. Harrison cites a 1969 definition of visual literacy developed by the International Visual Literacy Association while also noting the evolving nature of visual literacy heading into the future. 

    • Watch the video by Cambridge University ELT Training which describes visual literacy as a metaliteracy and explains its importance.

    Why Learn/Teach Visual Literacy: PK-12 Standards

    In 2018, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) created a new Standards Framework for Learners, which articulates desired student learning outcomes in the form of competencies, but also situates these competencies alongside the learning practices of the school librarian. Through the Key Commitments and Shared Value Statements, both students and school librarians/library media teachers engage with resources and materials to share knowledge in legal, ethical, inclusive and socially responsible ways. The Create and Share sections of the chart emphasize technology and media usage by employing terms such as tinkering, making, remixing, and communication tools and by referring to a global learning community.

    Additionally, Common Core Standards in English/Language Arts and the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening (or similar state-developed standards for PK-12 education) address learners’ abilities to find, critically evaluate, and synthesize visual, data, and multimedia information and to use appropriate technology for collaboration and sharing their learning with others.

    Images Convey Meaning

    First, a brief overview of some principles that allow art to communicate information.

    • Review Saylor Academy’s Art Appreciation (ARTH101) Principles of Design sections to gain a basic understanding of how artists use balance; repetition; scale and proportion; emphasis; time and motion; and unity and variety to express meaning. This is not a complete list of techniques and strategies artists use. Are there any other characteristics of an image that might help it mean something to viewers? 

    While images can be described in objective terms, images often evoke viewers’ emotional, subjective reactions; perhaps more so than information and ideas presented in text. Images can serve as powerful learning tools when used appropriately. Because images are sometimes seen as fun or supplemental, there is the risk of teachers using them haphazardly. Instead, educators should recognize the inherent power of visuals and be intentional about image selection, application, and creation in order to avoid overt discriminatory messaging and/or negative subtexts that could be damaging to students who have life experiences, which may be perceived by some people as outside “mainstream” culture.

    Check Your Understanding

    • Restate a definition of visual literacy in your own words.

    • Choose three elements of visual design described in the section and explain how they work to create meaning.

    • Find an image that is licensed for re-use on the Creative Commons CC Search website. Describe the meaning of the image as conveyed with at least one element of visual design.

    Additional Resources


    Visual Literacy, Part II: Evaluating Images

    Focus Questions

    • What are some critical criteria for evaluating images and visual content?

    • How are visual literacy and teaching with a diversity/inclusion/equity mindset connected?

    • How can OER function as a tool in both developing visual literacy and using and creating more diverse, inclusive, and equitable instructional materials?

    An Example of Image Evaluation

    Evaluating an image is about more than just recognizing symmetry, balance, and proportion; although sometimes it is the working of these along with the subject matter that helps the viewer understand a more complete message. Conversely, meaning can also be conveyed through what is missing in a particular image or group of images.

    Here is a straight-forward example.

    Consider the image below:

    If the majority of images of scientists in students’ chemistry instructional materials look like the example above, white and male, what message are non-white, non-male students receiving about succeeding in science or becoming a chemist as a career? Of course, one could argue that this is an obvious example and thereby readily dismiss it; however, when was the last time you, as an educator, closely examined the diversity of visual materials you share with students? It may be common to focus more rigorously on information presented in text or auditorily, but information presented as images also requires careful consideration.

    A More Complex Example

    Sometimes visual information is complex and requires the viewer to discern more than just the presence or absence of something or someone.

    • View the image below which has been digitized from the Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs Division.

    Think about the following questions:

    • Which of the two “characters” in this image is the focal point? How did you decide your answer?

    • What message is conveyed by the particular arrangement of the two “characters” in the image?

    • Are there additional attributes of the two “characters” in how they are visually depicted that are problematic?

    • Going to the link for this image, what else can you find out about its origin and its current inclusion in the particular collection where it is housed?

    • What can you find out concerning the artist Ben Shahn?

    Fortunately, it is not necessary to have an extensive knowledge of art and art history to make some judgment of the inclusivity of visual information; and there are tools available to assist with such assessment.

    Frameworks for Evaluating Images

    Intersections of Visual Literacy & OER Selection and Use

    OERs are uniquely situated to address multiple aspects of diversity, inclusion, and equity.

    • First, the selection and use of OER materials in place of costly textbooks and commercial instructional platforms can allow for students’ access to high quality learning materials without overburdening the district budgets of schools in economically challenged areas.
    • Second, because OER materials allow for remixing of content, instructional materials can be customized to better reflect the communities where they are being used.
    • Third, teachers’ use of OER can lead to increased adoption of open educational pedagogy and practices, which can involve students’ direct participation in the creation of content for instructional materials. What better way to reflect the culture and experiences of a community than to allow students and teachers from the community to put their voices into the materials?

    Of course, this does not just magically happen. Often the development of OERs involves finding existing OER content to build from. If that existing content is limited or not reflective of diversity and inclusion, it may discourage teachers and students from taking on the challenge of developing what is needed.

    Considering just visual images for now, perhaps a teacher is looking for CC-licensed or public domain images which celebrate inclusion and diversity. They may find their search more challenging than anticipated. Perhaps a search leads them to an art repository which only includes works created by Western, Eurocentric artists. Even some of the most respected academic institutions and museums (such as the Library of Congress), which may provide access to digitized collections of images and other artifacts for use in OER, are not immune to aspects of systemic racism, classism, sexism, etc.

    Another concern selecting and using images is that people’s own inherent biases are likely to affect which images “speak” to them. In the OER Starter Kit's "Diversity and Inclusion" chapter, Elder (2019) offers the following caveat:

    Whether intentional or not, ethnocentrism — “a tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own” — can creep into the content and presentation of your course materials, and it is something all authors should be aware of. This doesn’t mean you must create course content that accurately portrays and includes all cultures and perspectives; however, you should be respectful toward other people and be aware of your biases as they arise. (Diversity and Inclusion, para. 3)

    “Othering,” which acts as an extension of ethnocentrism, is another problem to acknowledge. Elder (2019) derives her definition of the term from Merriam Webster's "Is Other a Verb." "Othering" is “treating or considering (a person or a group of people) as alien to oneself or one’s group (as because of different racial, sexual, or cultural characteristics)” She also suggests best practices to avoid it:

    • Never assume your audience’s gender identity, ability, or sexual orientation.
    • Avoid calling the most commonly seen traits in your context “normal.”
    • Make materials accessible for all students at all times. (Elder, 2019, Don’t ‘Other’ Your Students section)

    Getting input from others can help alleviate this problem, but it is not a guarantee. Creating visuals and OERs that reflect every human perspective are likely impossible in the short-term, but over time, as new creators are involved in the remixing, reusing, and redistributing process, the array of diverse perspectives and inclusivity can increase.

    Check Your Understanding

    • What are three types of diversity/inclusion that you can look for in visual images? (E.g.: Diverse ethnicity of people)

    • Locate an image using CC Search on Creative website and write a reflective paragraph describing either why it is a good example of inclusion or why it could be considered problematic. (Note: Instructors may want to give learners options other than writing for demonstrating understanding.)

    • Elder's chapter noted above references the danger of "othering" students in addition to "ethnocentricism." What are two ways to possibly counter these inadvertent, negative practices?

    Additional Resources



    Glossary, References, & Sample Group Activity

    The Glossary, References list, and a Sample Group Activity are attached as Section 8 Resources. The Modifiable Sample Group Activity will be modified for future use as it does not fully represent culturally responsive teaching. A revised version will be shared when changes have been made.