6 Preparing to locate OER

Learning outcomes

By the end of this chapter, you will be able to:

  • Identify your OER need
  • Develop an OER search strategy

Preparing to search

Before we begin searching for OER, it’s important to do the preparatory work to ensure you have a clear understanding of your OER need (i.e. what you’re searching for and why) and have some search strategies at hand to ensure you can search effectively and comprehensively to find suitable OER.

For those who have worked in a research capacity, provided reference support or have general experience in this space, how you identify your OER need is very much the same as how you might surface the information need of a reference query – you conduct a reference interview to establish the initial query and ask questions to clarify and surface the true information need of the patron’s request. This is an important step when triaging a reference query as a patron may not always have a clear understanding of what they’re looking for or be able to clearly articulate what they need support with. This is equally important when working out your or others’ OER need, as you will be more effective and efficent if you are clear from the outset.

In the following sections, we’ll be focusing on two steps you can take to prepare for searching OER:

  1. Identifying your OER need using a reference interview approach
  2. Developing search strategies and search terms to use once you start searching for OER.

How to identify your OER need

Applying the reference interview approach can be a helpful way to identify your OER need. What does this look like in practice? Let’s work through an example together, using the scenario below.

Imagine you have received a request from an academic who is new to OER and would like to include OER in their subject on “Indigenous curriculum in schools in Australia”.

Before we jump in and start searching for suitable OER, we’ll need to clarify our understanding of the request by asking some key questions:

  • What is the request or task at hand?

What is the actual request? What does the academic want assistance with? Is it to provide OER suggestions for prescribed or recommended readings? Is it to find OER for a specific assignment or assessment? Who is the student cohort? Is it a capstone subject? What year of study are the students in?

  • What is the topic and subject area in question? 

What is the topic about? What is the subject or discipline? By “Indigenous curriculum in schools” is the academic referring to primary or secondary school curriculum or both? Is there a specific aspect they are interested in? What about the context of colonisation, how will this need to be considered? What is in and out of scope? What are the parameters of the subject?

Deepening our understanding of the topic and subject area will not only help us find suitable OER which will meet the needs of the request, but it will also help us decide which discipline-specific OER databases to search once we begin searching.

  • What kind of OER will be suitable?

OER can come in different forms, including textbooks, learning objects (quizzes, modules, games, etc.), images, videos, audio clips and courses. What is important as part of understanding the OER need is to identify what type of OER will be suitable to recommend.

For example, the academic may be interested in adding readings to their subject reading list which may mean textbooks and other learning resources are more suitable. Or the academic could be interested in adding content to their LMS, in which case learning objects such as quizzes, modules, games or other types of content such as images, videos, audio clips and links may be good suggestions.

Understanding what type of OER will be suitable will also help us decide, later down the line, whether it will be appropriate to suggest the adoption or adaption of existing OER, or creation of a new OER if existing OER do not meet the needs of the request.

Unfamiliar with or need a refresher on the reference interview?

Here’s a short module from OHIO Library Council which focuses on the reference interview. Keep in mind that although the module refers to a specific reference scenario, the general principles of approaching a query with curiosity, and asking clarifying and open questions to surface the true information need is still applicable.

Developing a search strategy

After developing a deeper understanding of the query and surfacing the OER need, the next step is to develop effective search strategies and a bank of search terms to deploy once we start searching. Spending the time to do this will ensure we can search effectively and comprehensively to locate suitable OER. If we continue with the above scenario, below are some key questions we can ask ourselves:

  • What are some of the key terms or words you can use when searching for OER?

What are the key terms or concepts? What alternative key words can you use to develop a good search strategy? It’s a good idea to start broad and work towards narrowing your search. Your brainstorm concept table might look a little like this:

Concept 1 Concept 2 Concept 3
Indigenous curriculum

Aboriginal curriculum

Culturally relevant education

Culturally responsive pedagogy





High school

Secondary school

First Nations

Indigenous peoples

Aboriginal Australians

Indigenous Australians


  • Piece together a search statement

Similarly, with general searching, you can develop a search statement by combining keywords and concepts together using Boolean logic, truncation, phrase searching and wildcards. If we look at our concept table of search terms, a simple search statement we could start off with could be:
(Indigenous curriculum OR Aboriginal curriculum) AND education AND “First Nations” AND Australia.

Note: Many OER collections and databases are not compatible with search statements, you can draw upon the bank of search terms you’ve brainstormed in the concept table when searching within these.

Now we have completed the preparatory work to identify our OER need and develop some search strategies and search terms to use, we’re ready to start searching for OER!


Unfamiliar with or need a refresher on developing search strategies?

We encourage you to work through the resources below.

  • Developing a search strategy module by Monash University Library which takes you through analysing your research topic and identifying terms to use for searching, combing search times to create a search statement and applying your search statement in databases
  • Module 4: Resource Strategies is an online learning module by the Ohio Library Council. It focuses on search strategies, including terms, indexing and web searching.

In summary, how you might prepare for searching OER is similar to how you might prepare to search for resources on any topic. Spending the time to carefully unpack and understand the information need will help you successfully meet the needs of the OER request. Developing some search strategies and key search terms will enable you to conduct effective and comprehensive searches for suitable OER (the latter will also save you time and prevent you from searching in circles!). Preparing for searching will also help guide your decisions on which OER collections or databases to search, and whether you choose to adopt or adapt existing OER, or create new OER if existing OER are not suitable.


Watch: Finding quality Open Educational Resources [1:52 mins]

You may remember this video from Week 1 in which an Australian academic shares her experience using OER.

Rewatch the video as a refresher, and then complete the reflection activity below.

Note: Closed captions are available by clicking on the CC button in the video.

  Reflect: Supporting others to locate OER

Dr Deborah Apthorp states that librarians can assist academics to locate OER.

  • What experience have you had, if any, in your role with supporting academics with OER? Have you helped an academic locate OER?
  • Are there any other strategies (besides the reference interview) you would use to better understand your patron’s OER need?

Key takeaways

This week we learned:

  • Similarly to how we might triage a research query, preparation is key to identifying the OER need so you can successfully meet the demands of the request/patron.
  • The reference interview can be a beneficial tool in deepening your understanding of the OER request and asking key questions will help you determine a) which discipline-specific OER databases or collections to search in later down the line, and b) whether adopting, adapting or creating OER will be suitable to meet the needs of the OER request.
  • Developing some search strategies and a bank of key terms will help you conduct effective and comprehensive searches once you begin searching.

In the next chapter we will look at how to locate OER using OER search tools. This is where you’ll get to learn some of the common OER databases and collections and start searching for resources!


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CAUL Open Educational Resources Professional Development Program: Foundations Copyright © 2024 by Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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