Aligning Ideals with Practice Through Open Pedagogy

Following is the fifth of a series of posts by participants in the Spring 2021 Open Pedagogy Fellowship, coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows will share insight into the process of converting a syllabus to openly-licensed and/or zero-cost resources, as well as their experiences in the Fellowship.

Nic Rios (they/them) is in their fifth year in the PhD program in Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center. They earned their master’s in gender studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Nic’s dissertation research investigates the medical construction of autistic subjectivity as it intersects with transgender identity. They teach courses on gender, education, and family in the Sociology department at Lehman College.

For me, sociology has always been about justice and equity. My interest in sociology was never just about understanding how societies worked, from a purely curious standpoint. I saw sociology as a means to understanding injustice, as a stop along the road to dismantling it. Years after taking my first sociology courses, I came to realize justice and equity need to happen within the classroom as well as outside, and that paywalls, expensive books, inaccessible language, and teacher-centered classroom practices are not effective ways to achieve this ideal. Hence, I have been incorporating critical pedagogical principles in the classroom through progressively more flexible class policies, student-centered learning, and zero-textbook cost syllabi. 

Critical pedagogy has allowed me to see the hidden curricula in the college classroom, and it has equipped me with strategies to create more transformative courses. I am motivated by the desire to work through questions about what kinds of knowledge are most valued, who can create that knowledge, and for whom and for what purpose that knowledge is created. 

But I am still a product of my upbringing. I’ve internalized the hidden curricula: that knowledge looks a certain way and should be delivered to students in a certain way. And how could I not? In the face of economic and personal pressures, conscious politics fall by the wayside in favor of instincts disciplined into me by the academy. I haven’t always succeeded at living my ideals. I applied to the Open Pedagogy Fellowship in hopes that it would help align my practice with my ideals. Spoiler alert: It’s helped so much.

I heard of open pedagogy as a concept through the Mina Rees Library and had attended a couple open pedagogy events before becoming an Open Pedagogy Fellow this spring. I had heard about open educational resources and used them here and there in my classrooms, but I knew that my courses needed more.

I’ve been teaching Sociological Perspectives on the Dynamics of Gender, an upper-level sociology course at Lehman College, for three semesters now. Making an upper-level sociology course into an open course was challenging but rewarding. Thanks to the openness of Lehman College’s sociology department to edit our courses at our discretion, I had the freedom to choose course materials that aligned with open pedagogical principles and my own priorities. 

The unfortunate truth is that the bulk of the most foundational works in the sociology of gender are not OA. Because my course does not list the 200-level sociology of gender course as a prerequisite, the foundational texts need to be included to provide students with a strong understanding of the field. Therefore, the challenge to centering open pedagogical principles to a 300-level sociology of gender course comes from finding open alternatives to foundational texts. Unfortunately, some foundational texts just could not be replaced, but thankfully Lehman’s library provides students access to these texts, so they are linked on my course site. 

This experience has made me realize just how little sociological work is open—and that is something I think should change. Indeed, it already is changing. The fellowship has opened my eyes to all of the wonderful places where open, accessible knowledge can be found. Some resources that helped me along were:

  • SocArXiv, an open archive for the social sciences
  • The Conversation, a non-profit news organization that publishes news articles written by academics
  • Contexts, a quarterly magazine published by the American Sociological Association
  • The myriad wonderful websites hosted by The Society Pages.
  • Scholar & Feminist Online, the webjournal published by the Barnard Center for Research on Women and which houses some wonderful, critical and engaging work

There are more ways I’d like to explore open pedagogy in the future. One principle of open pedagogy is that we should engage students as creators of knowledge, not just consumers of it. To that end, I aim to center students more within my courses as knowledge creators. Some ideas are developing a collaborative syllabus and incorporating open pedagogy assignments, like editing Wikipedia articles or creating OER course texts. 

As mentioned, my course is not yet fully open. However, this fellowship has equipped me with the understanding of open, and I hope that with time, I’ll be able to replace paywalled sources with open ones. I’m thankful to have started this process, and to have been able to bring my practice more in line with my ideals.

Link to course site:

Image by Headway under Unsplash license

About the Author

Katherine Pradt is the Adjunct Reference and Digital Outreach Librarian at the Graduate Center.