My Journey of Making Education Affordable

Following is the ninth 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.

Shah Faisal Mazhar is a second-year Physics Ph.D. student at CUNY Graduate Center. Besides his research in experimental nonlinear optics at IUSL, CCNY, he has been teaching at LAGCC (Mathematics) and City Tech (Physics). He completed his bachelor’s in Physics from Columbia University and an associate’s in Liberal Arts from LAGCC.

Ever since I started my education at LaGuardia Community College (LAGCC) after migrating to the United States, I always looked toward finding cost-efficient ways to educate myself in terms of free books and scholarships. As a part of an immigrant family of five, I was not financially well off enough to spend lavishly on a $200 textbook that I would only use for one semester. So borrowing textbooks from the library, photocopying, or finding a free PDF version have always been the best options to enable me to continue my education while living a financially sound life.

As I became an adjunct lecturer of Physics and Mathematics at CUNY colleges like LAGCC and New York City College of Technology (NYCCT), I saw students in a similar situation in every coursetrying to work and study without creating any financial burden. I tried my best to provide free online supplements as well as access to the free textbook, plus help from the library, so that they do not have to go through the extra steps as I did as a student.

The COVID-19 global pandemic showed the necessity of online free educational resources more than ever as libraries were closed—even buying physical books became almost impossible. Within a week, all course-related materials were converted online, and even the lab part of the Physics courses went online, due to the citywide shutdown. YouTube videos of different physics experiments have since become the best supplement to create a virtual lab experience so that we can meet the learning goals without producing any extra burden for students in the middle of a pandemic. At the same time, I also felt the need to learn more about how to get appropriate open online educational resources more than ever.’s freely available college physics text.

When I first saw the email about applying for the Open Pedagogy Fellowship (OPF), I immediately applied with the hope to become more knowledgeable about  Open Educational Resources (OER). The most attractive part of this program is that it helped me to make a course outline using OER based on a course that I will teach in the future. Since I have been teaching a first-year physics course at NYCCT called “The Physical Universe,” I decided to work on making a free online platform for this course.

We started the fellowship with some seminar talks on open access, how to find OA journal articles, and the associated Creative Commons licenses. I closely worked with Jill Cirasella, Associate Librarian for Scholarly Communication and Digital Scholarship, and Elvis Bakaitis, the overall coordinator and librarian of this program. One of the most important resources I learned about is the “CUNY Academic Commons.” It is a WordPress-based online platform where any CUNY students and faculty can create a website with educational content, free for anyone interested. As a part of the fellowship, we were tasked to create a virtual course outline using it. My regular Zoom meetings with Jill and Elvis helped me to find OER Physics contents as well as our weekly meeting drills with my fellow OPF participants At the end of the Fellowship, we showcased our course outline pages and exchanged feedback.

Currently, I am working toward modifying my OER-based course outline even better so that I can provide full free coursework to my students in the upcoming Fall 2021 semester. One of the issues I faced unfortunately while looking for physics lab OER content is that although we have some amazing fundamental-level physics simulations on 2D motion or magnetism, we are lacking intermediate lab contents for topics like electromagnetic inductance or light polarization. So, one of my Fall goals is to produce some free online video content on physics experiments showing physical phenomena covering the current syllabus of NYCCT physics courses. Hopefully, any future students and faculties can find the appropriate physics-lab-based OER in the future.


About the Author

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