Towards an Open Future: In Review

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 2020.

Alexis Brewer earned her bachelor’s degree in neuroscience at the University of Virginia and her master’s degree in animal behavior and conservation from Hunter College. She is a doctoral candidate studying ecology, evolutionary biology, and behavior at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. Alexis currently studies the emergence of novel ecosystems and biotic communities due to urbanization pressures. Alexis teaches in the Department of Biology at Queens College where she focuses on making the scientific process accessible to all students. When she is not in the lab or teaching, you can find her hiking with her dog or photographing wildlife.

Towards an Open Future: In Review by Alexis Brewer

This year’s Towards an Open Future | Symposium 2020 was an opportunity for CUNY and the broader community to come together and discuss the concept of “openness” in education.

Speakers addressed the question of “open” by reflecting upon the intersection of data, education, and publication. Discussions actively focused on the nature and control of open resources. Several speakers were especially compelling:

  • The keynote speaker, Audrey Watters, discussed the relationship between our future of open scholarship  and its history.  
  • Megan Wacha (Office of Library Services) called for the “rewilding” of the scholarly community. 
  • Stefka Tzanova (York College) advocated for the inclusion of the data behind the research into open. 
  • Both Katelyn Angell and Andrea Liu pushed participants to think critically about the hierarchical and political nature of open, and whether open means free. If the two are not the same, what does this mean for educators and students? 
  • Nora Almeida (City Tech) challenged who gets to decide what becomes open. Major publishers, such as Elsevier, have the power to make resources open, which shows  their power over the public dissemination of knowledge. Without performing the research or paying for the work, the question of access to knowledge somehow falls to corporate oversight alone.
  • The culmination of these thought-provoking speakers was a presentation by the artist Walis Johnson. Her exhibit, “The Red Line Archive”, is an in-depth look at the policy of red lining, which helped to create and maintain segregated neighborhoods in New York City during the period post-World War II. Her creation of an open archive of the city’s history demonstrates the power of access to information. Openness can remove a barrier to upward mobility while shining a light on the ugly truth of discrimination. 

The shadow of Covid-19, which required the Symposium to move online, was tangible throughout, and colored each presentation. The need for open education and the stressors of the pandemic seem irrevocably intertwined. This frightening, urgent public health crisis has echoes of the past.

During the Open Pedagogy Fellowship held in mid-January 2020, then-Chief Librarian Polly Thistlethwaite (now Interim University Dean for Library Services) reminded us of how the concept of Open Resourcess was birthed through the 1980s’ AIDS crisis. Activists fought for their lives and the lives of their loved ones to end the systematic marginalization of those with HIV and AIDS. As critics manipulated AIDS to stigmatize victims, they also amplified the public’s prejudices to dismiss the crisis. Knowledge became one of many tools in the beleaguered arsenal of patient rights activist groups such as ACT UP. The activism challenging AIDS stigmas and the exposure of redlining demonstrate the power of an open source knowledge base.  

Today, I see echoes of ACT UP’s influence as major news organizations, such as the New York Times, remove paywalls, and major scientific publishers, such as the aforementioned Elsevier,  follow suit. These changes demonstrate the clear understanding that knowledge is power, and power is needed in times of crisis. Inarguably there is no time when the power of knowledge would not benefit those in need, and we should not need a crisis to disseminate knowledge.

Since becoming an Open Pedagogy Fellow, I have realized my own position of power within the education system and my potential for using my leverage as an educator and scholar to incorporate and create open resources to do a little rewilding of my own. 

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.