“You Are Not Neutral”- Reflections on OER Boot Camp

Below is the ninth in a series of posts by participants in the 2019 Open Pedagogy Fellowship. Fellows will share insight to the process of converting a syllabus to open or zero-cost resources, and/or review a workshop from the Open Educational Resources (OER) Bootcamp held in mid-January. It is also published on our Open Pedagogy blog roll.


“You Are Not Neutral”- Reflections on OER Boot Camp by Inés Vañó García


Inés Vañó García is a doctoral candidate in Hispanic Linguistics (Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures) at The Graduate Center. Her Spanish sociolinguistics approach adopts a critical perspective which addresses the relationship between language and politics. More specifically, this approach to sociolinguistics delves into how language representations, linguistic and social practices are inscribed within unequal social hierarchies of power. Her research focuses on the professionalization of the teaching of Spanish in the United States during the 20th century. Currently, Inés is a Mellon CUNY Humanities Alliance Graduate Teacher Fellow at LaGuardia.


“You are not neutral. Own it and go all the way.”
– Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, Head of Reference at The Graduate Center Library

I believe that the words from the title of this post perfectly summarize our Open Educational Resources (OER) Boot Camp this past January. The Boot Camp was part of the Open Pedagogy Fellowship, which was an incredible teaching and learning opportunity for many of us, as graduate students, librarians, and faculty came together (and what a great amount of combined knowledge!). This synopsis will provide an overview of the different sessions and their speakers, along with the key concepts covered during the workshops.

Recognizing this opportunity for its uniqueness, I would like to highlight the interdisciplinary nature of the space itself: students from a range of disciplines such as Psychology (Educational and Critical Social/Personality), English, History, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Comparative Literature, Cultural Anthropology, Classics, Social Welfare, and Spanish Linguistics came together to learn, discuss, and share Open Pedagogy practices. This inclusive and interdisciplinary student cohort, along with the conversations and workshops exemplifies the critical potential of open pedagogy.

We had the privilege to meet scholars in the field, and actively participate in conversations about open digital pedagogy practices within CUNY. The Boot Camp was an intensive, productive experience, and incorporated a wide variety of topics, ranging from the theoretical to the more practical elements of building a course site on the CUNY Academic Commons.

We not only had the chance to meet and talk with Chief Librarian Polly Thistlethwaite, but learned a bit about her personal history and experience as an activist, and how it is connected to her research (reviewed in a previous post by Jaime Shearn Coan). Next, with Elvis Bakaitis and Jill Cirasella, getting our feet wet, we had the opportunity to question the meaning of the term “open.” Both of them introduced key concepts and terminology, including the application of Creative Commons licenses. We also became familiar with, and took the time to examine diverse repositories in order to search for existing Open Education Resources (OER) and Open Access (OA) materials in our disciplines.

Furthermore, we got to know the multiple resources available to us and other projects currently underway within the CUNY system. Andrew McKinney, OER Coordinator, highlighted the different projects and initiatives being carried out by faculty at different CUNY campuses. In addition, Donna Davey, brought an archival perspective by sharing with us the multiple platforms available and digital archival materials that we might integrate with our teaching and learning practices. From archives to images, Katherine Pradt introduced us to different sites where we can find openly-licensed visual material and images (summarized by Elizabeth Che).

From the standpoint of critical pedagogy, Shawn(ta) Smith-Cruz, Head of Reference, led a conversation about deconstructing the most traditional concept of the syllabus. Her presentation was framed with a text by Cleila O. Rodríguez, “The #Shithole Syllabus: UnDoing Hi(Story),” published in Radical Teacher, who will be the Keynote Speaker at the upcoming Open Pedagogy Symposium in May.

Jean Amaral, the Open Knowledge librarian at BMCC, provided an inspiring presentation on how OER could promote Open Pedagogy (reviewed on the Graduate Center Library Blog by Jacob Aplaca). We also had a valuable discussion about Critical Pedagogy with Emily Drabinski. Last but not least, since they worked with us in multiple instances during the Boot Camp, and coming from a hands-on perspective, Krystina Michael and Laurie Hurson, Open Educational Technologists, assisted us with building our courses on CUNY Academic Commons.

Photo by Louis Smit on Unsplash

With this brief overview of the Boot Camp, I would like to take this opportunity to emphasize the urgency for these pedagogical conversations, as well as for these types of creative and innovative spaces, including collaboration among students from diverse disciplines, faculty and librarians. The use of OER and Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) materials goes beyond affordability – and in fact, the cost-saving factor may be seen as the tip of the iceberg, in terms of pedagogical potential. The use of OER and ZTC materials must question traditional approaches that foresee students as knowledge consumers, and facilitate new and creative teaching strategies to encourage learning and teaching environments that promote inquiry. Innovative work in this field will center around collaboration and transparency, support student-driven approaches and conceive of students as knowledge creators.

In this spirit, I would like to conclude by sharing the culmination of an initiative I had the opportunity to be part of, led by The Teaching and Learning Center, along with the Digital Initiatives and the Graduate Center Library: Building Open Infrastructure at CUNY, a project that reflects upon work at The Graduate Center over the past year.

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is an Adjunct Reference Librarian at the Graduate Center Library.