Teaching for the First Time: A Story of OER

Below is one of a series of posts by participants in the 2020 Open Pedagogy Fellowship. Fellows will share their unique insights to the process of converting a syllabus to open or zero-cost resources, and/or review a workshop from the Open Educational Resources Bootcamp held in mid-January.

Brian Mercado is a doctoral student in the Sociology program at the Graduate Center, CUNY. His current research seeks to locate and incorporate deportation proceedings of criminalized youth in schools into conceptualizations of the school-prison nexus. He is the coordinator of the CUNY Pipeline Fellowship Program in the Office of Educational Opportunity and Diversity at the Graduate Center. Brian is currently an adjunct faculty member at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY.

Teaching for the First Time: A Story of OER and Introduction to Sociology  by Brian Mercado

As the title states, the Spring 2020 semester is my first time teaching a course, with all of the components that teaching a course entails, including gathering of course materials and construction of a syllabus. The course I’m tasked with teaching is “Introduction to Sociology,” which I believe serves as less-stressful course for a first-time instructor to teach, as well as a good way to revisit the foundational paradigms, interests, and insights of my discipline.

I began the feat of taking the concept of the introductory sociology course and making it my own by doing what any other first-time graduate student instructor would do: I went to my fellow graduate student instructors, asked for their syllabi, and gauged the manners in which they constructed their introductory courses. The sociology department I am currently teaching for also made sample syllabi for the introductory course available to me. From the syllabi I examined, I was intrigued by the different ways the instructors put their courses together, including the array of different topics covered, the emphases with which these topics were covered and arranged. However, two main components of these syllabi stood out to me more than the others: many of the instructors used a single textbook (that would usually need to be purchased by the student) and, though the instructors covered a wide-array of topics, some of the topics I was interested in exploring in my course were covered briefly, if at all. Of course, these two components of the syllabi tended to work hand-in-hand; the topics covered in the class were limited to the ones included in the single textbook used.

With these syllabi in hand and the insights I had gained from analyzing them in mind, I entered the first component of the Open Pedagogy Fellowship: the Open Educational Resource Bootcamp. There, over four seven-hour days, we learned the history of open access materials, key concepts, as well as how these materials can be searched for and utilized in the variety of courses we will be teaching. There, I learned about the different types of OER, the repositories that store these materials, and how to search for OER within and beyond these repositories.

I quickly made my way to the repositories that store open textbooks and searched for sociology textbooks. I was not surprised to find that “Introduction to Sociology” course textbooks can be found in these repositories. Sociology’s position as one of the major social sciences and my looking for introductory materials made it more likely these materials would be available. However, I did not expect to find how well represented sociology is in these main OER repositories. I found two general “Introduction to Sociology” textbooks, as well as an “Introduction to Women, Sexuality, Gender Studies” textbook that “emphasizes feminist sociological approaches to analyzing structures of power, drawing heavily from empirical feminist research” (Kang, Lessard, Heston, & Nordmarken, 2017).

I found this assortment of materials helpful as a means to be creative with the construction of my syllabus, picking chapters and sections from these textbooks to inform the construction/arrangement of the course. This was my way of trying to escape the trap of the single textbook: I would read through the materials covered in the textbooks, in which many of the concepts covered tended to overlap, and decide which sections to combine, in order to paint the larger picture I wanted to discuss with my students. However, this process still did not allow me to surpass the second component that I became interested in by reading past instructors’ syllabi: covering topics not included in the sociology textbooks.

I was determined to include at least one class session on colonialism in my course (including the different types of colonialism throughout history and in the present). Reflecting on the “Introduction to Sociology” course I took years ago that became the first step in my desire to attain a PhD, I realized that the economic and cultural basis for continued global inequality was unfortunately lacking. Particularly the origin of this inequity – the widespread exploitation, land settlement, and forced labor of the colonized populations.

Though the genealogies of class, race, and gender undeniably intersect with colonialism, I believe that a session explicitly tying the colonial histories under our feet to the current sociopolitical and economic realities of our world is of the utmost necessity. Though the “Introduction to Women, Sexuality, Gender Studies” textbook discussed aspects of neocolonialism and colonial subjects, it did not situate present day colonial subjects within the history of colonialism in a way that I thought would be useful for my intentions for the session. For these reasons, I ventured to find an OER material that I believed could serve as a foundation for understanding colonialism broadly as well as the various techniques employed by colonialism that can be traced to global inequalities to this day. Finally, after some time searching inside and outside of OER repositories, I discovered a material that covered the histories and types of colonialism I was interested in: “A Typology of Colonialism,” by Nancy Shoemaker, a feature from the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History newsmagazine. I paired this with the readings on global inequality from one of the introductory textbooks. Finally, I was satisfied.

To conclude, exposure to OER repositories and OER searching techniques through the Open Pedagogy Fellowship Bootcamp helped me discover the possibilities outside of the confines of an “Introduction to Sociology” textbook, and even outside of several introductory textbooks. My experiences in constructing my OER course as a first-time instructor allowed me to arrange my first course with a freedom and system of support I will be forever grateful for. Additionally, it renewed and reinforced my appreciation of interdisciplinary understandings of the processes that sociologists look at, which are now reflected in my course materials and will be shared with my students.


Kang, Miliann, Donovan Lessard, Laura Heston, and Sonny Nordmarken. 2017. Introduction to Women, Sexuality, Gender Studies. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is currently the Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library. They're also proud to serve on the University LGBTQ Council, and as a board member of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies.