Accessible Open Education

Below is the fifth post in a series by participants in the Summer 2020 Open Pedagogy Fellowship, coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows will share insight to the process of converting a syllabus to openly-licensed and/or zero-cost resources, as well as their experiences in the Fellowship. 


Noama Naim is a Doctoral student in Developmental Psychology at the Graduate Center. She has earned her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Rutgers University, and her Master’s in Clinical Psychology from Montclair State University. She is currently teaching Psychology courses as an adjunct professor at the College of Staten Island and Montclair State University. Her current research focuses on understanding the perspectives of parent educators and non-parent educators in underprivileged and poverty-stricken communities.


Accessible Open Education by Noama Naim

In a world where the cost of higher education can be demanding for most, providing students with free resources enables them to focus on their education and learning experience. Education is a human right that should be accessible to individuals who are seeking knowledge. However, due to the cost barriers, only those with financial resources are capable of attaining education. Today, amidst a global pandemic where many educators find themselves working and learning remotely, free resources and open education are needed more than ever.

Since many schools have transitioned to online learning, students are striving to stay focused while at home, manage their course work, and afford these new, often mandatory, forms of online learning. Specifically, in the pre-pandemic environment, many students relied on the internet and computer labs provided to them by their institution. Now, to continue their education, individuals find themselves needing to purchase laptops, software, and to pay for costly monthly internet services during a crisis that has also destabilized job security. During these extremely challenging times, when people have lost their loved ones and are trying to stay strong for their families, institutions and instructors must ask themselves: to what extent are they burdening their students with loan expenses, and other costs, instead of helping them with lowering their educational costs?

Keeping these hurdles in mind, this Fellowship could not have presented itself at a better time. Throughout the course of the Fellowship, I learned how to make education available to students in a format that is more informative than traditional textbooks by tailoring coursework with more contemporary, innovative, and accessible resources. Overall, Open Educational Resources resolved two significant concerns that have emerged during this transition of online education: getting students to stay focus on schoolwork and save money. First, through efficient and creative methodologies, such as including interactive programs and various forms of preselected media (for example, Youtube videos), I have found that students are more engaged in the material. In comparison to reading conventional textbooks, they seem to concentrate more on their education, which is also aided by practical, efficient, and accessible platforms such as the Commons website.

The Commons platform provides an organized and straightforward method of navigation through a class by an organized course website. Through the Commons, you can learn innovative teaching techniques, and it’s a user-friendly platform that allows better accessibility for students in comparison to the Blackboard platform. Second, and thus the most significant factor of Open Educational Resources, is its cost-benefit strategies for students. Without the burden of taking out additional loans or having to pay for textbooks, students can experience learning with a slightly less burdensome financial load.

Furthermore, student reaction to the accessible and open textbook has been positive. Students seem to enjoy the material and are filled with gratitude and appreciation for the fact that it was cost-free. It was refreshing not to receive student emails at the beginning of this semester that typically consists of, “can I work with an older version of this textbook (because the current version is too expensive)?”; “can I find a cheaper version somewhere else?”; or, the hardest to hear, “I can’t afford this textbook, what should I do?” These complaints are commonplace in courses that are required to be taught by textbooks.

Over previous semesters, I have shared my textbook copies with students by providing them with the option of borrowing my textbook (for the semester) to resolve these concerns. Additionally, I have also created (sometimes long and) comprehensive lectures that allowed students to understand topics without having to purchase a textbook. Fortunately, with the help of this fellowship, I was able to withdraw from such frustrating practices, and students were able to focus on their course preparations instead of worrying about how to procure costly materials.  

 

The Open Pedagogy Fellowship provided me with resources to create a course that implores knowledge through an accessible commons course site while integrating multiple cost-free, interactive, and informative platforms. Through these creative methods of using archival information, online textbook platforms, open access literature, and open access databases, this Fellowship enabled me to build a creative and informative course that motivates student curiosity, learning, and understanding. In terms of the future of open educational materials, I hope that the existing pool of knowledge can continue to grow into an endless sea of information, one that is comprehensive, inclusive of all backgrounds, and taught through an innovative and constructive approach.

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is the Interim Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library.