Archival Resources and 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 2020.

Tania Avilés Vergara is a Ph.D student from the sociolinguistic track in the Latin American, Iberian and Latino Cultures program, and a member of Grupo de Glotopolítica. She has a BA and MA in Hispanic Linguistics from the Universidad de Chile. Her dissertation examines private letter writing as a social practice among the lower ranks of Chilean society, during its nation-building process in the second half of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. She is a Graduate Teaching Fellow and Adjunct professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Archival Resources and OER by Tania Avilés Vergara

            Crafting an OER syllabus has given me the chance to reflect on the potential of the archive as a zero-cost resource to teach Spanish as a heritage language, and to self-reflect on my own teaching practices at CUNY. During the OER Boot Camp in mid-January 2020, I understood that returning to the core of the archive would be an important opportunity to mobilize the resources as tools of decolonial critique in our classrooms. As an Open Pedagogy Fellow, I ask myself how it is possible to bring the archive to my heritage Spanish class; how I can connect it to my students’ backgrounds while mobilizing its transformative power; and what means I have, as a Spanish-speaking teacher, to transgress the White, male, upper-class values through which archives have been historically constituted.

            While teaching Spanish as a heritage language at John Jay College, I enacted a critical teaching practice, following a content-based syllabus, to raise critical awareness about racism and social inequality among my students, while fostering linguistic self-esteem for their linguistic practices. This semester in my “Traveling (to) New York” class, which uses OER archival resources (in the form of literature, newspapers, artwork, documentaries, music and other digital zero-cost material such as YouTube videos), our main purpose has been to reflect on what it means to be a heritage speaker in New York City. During this process, we travel through the city in time and space, and also through our own languages and identities.

           During the OER Bootcamp, I learned about digital archives available to us, including the Latin American & Caribbean Digital Primary Sources and the NYPL Digital Collections. However, I was struggling with the idea that analog and digital archives might not be the only expressions of the archive in the public domain. By doing research on New York City while constructing my OER syllabus, I realized that the city itself was also a living archive – that monuments, museums, and historical buildings are all open resources, which reflect the ongoing stories of NYC communities. 

            Last week, while visiting the Museum of the City of New York with my students, we arrived at the “NYC at its Core” exhibit and started commenting on some statistics shown on a screen about immigration percentages over the last five decades. The numbers were presented without any context and, as we were examining them, my students spontaneously started to analyze the statistics more closely. The students explained, for example, that since the 1980’s Dominican immigration increased in NYC due to the political crisis facing the Dominican Republic. They noted that the lower statistical numbers of Mexican immigrants differed from their own perceptions of neighborhoods.

Building on their existing knowledge, the students dialogically foregrounded the social meanings of the statistics, which the museum did not reveal in the exhibit. Moreover, they also realized that the Spanish language was not present, though immigration from Latin America was a subject in the exhibit. My students were very aware of the fact that the museum built an historical narrative based on exclusions, and cleverly acknowledged how discourses of diversity within neoliberalism were incongruent with their experiences as Spanish speakers in the city. In the days that have passed, I have been reflecting on our time in the museum, and have found in my students’ reactions solid support for my own,  evolving understanding of archives as a whole, as well as a renewed faith in their transformative power.

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.