OER and Critical Pedagogy: A Collaboration with Incomplete Artifacts

Following is the first in a series by participants in the Winter 2022 Open Pedagogy Fellowship (now the Open Knowledge 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 teaching undergraduate courses at CUNY. 

Jacquelyn Marie Shannon is a PhD student in Theatre and Performance at The Graduate Center, interested in magic and ritual; haunting and mourning; queer and feminist performance; materiality, affect, and dramaturgies of the body. Jacquelyn holds an MA from Indiana University in Communication and Culture and an MA from NYU in Educational Theatre. As a Graduate Teaching Fellow, she currently teaches introductory Theatre and Acting courses at Brooklyn College.

OER and Critical Pedagogy: Collaboration with Incomplete Artifacts by Jacquelyn Marie Shannon

I was initially drawn to the Open Pedagogy Fellowship because it spoke to my personal and professional interest in issues of access, affordability, inclusivity, and transparency in higher education. I was curious to learn what institutional initiatives that embrace an open model might look like, as well as what tools and resources there might be to support my own commitment to critical pedagogy in the classroom. Like many of my peers who were similarly drawn to this fellowship, I acknowledge the political role that I play as an educator and the responsibility that role carries, especially in the context of a public university like CUNY. Critical pedagogy theorist Henry Giroux explains that pedagogy is political “because it is an inherently productive and directive practice rather than neutral or objective” (6). We have a responsibility as educators to mobilize our authority in the classroom “against dominant pedagogical practices as part of the practice of freedom” and the choices we make in the creation of syllabi, the gathering of texts and materials, and the structuring and framing of assignments and course objectives, for example, enact their own politics. (5). This fellowship offered an opportunity for me to further reflect on what this can look like in practice.

“Words ripped from my heart” by Chapendra, CC BY-NC 2.0

A primary focus of the Fellowship involved learning how to locate open resources online that are relevant to our discipline and the content of the courses we teach and producing a re-imagined syllabus composed solely of open resource materials. In my case, I reworked an Introduction to Theatre Arts syllabus. I discovered that it is much easier to find primary source material, which is helpful for teaching theatre through an historical lens but is less so  for discussion of contemporary issues and practice. I was excited to find an open resource chapter from Sharrell D. Luckett and Tia M. Shaffer’s Black Acting Methods: Critical Approaches (2016), however it was not the chapter I usually assign. Reworking my syllabus, I discovered, was not about finding exact replacements for material but alternative entry points to the conversations I wanted my students to have. Overall I found the open resource material for my discipline lacking, but I appreciate how this limitation insists on a different model of teaching that insists on learning as a life-long collaboration with incomplete artifacts. Again, an invitation to conversation rather than transmission of content-knowledge.

In my own research, I often write about haunting, ghosts, and other “present absences” on stage, how what is missing or hidden or disappeared achieves meaning and form in the live telling of a story. In these cases, what we don’t see is just as significant as what we do see. Tending to the spaces between, to the gaps, can be illuminating and help move the plot forward. In artistic practice, it is something of a truism as well that constraints are the breeding ground for creativity. Limits draw our attention to friction, growth, needs, the more-than and other-wise. Limits necessitate invention.

In reworking my syllabus within the constraints of using only open resources, something about having to confront and work with/through/around the gaps and shortcomings/absences of what I wanted to assign allowed me to rediscover and recommit to critical pedagogy from a different angle. For one, it made me notice how much authority and weight I was allowing readings to have in a course about live performance. I found myself remembering that meaningful learning is less about what one reads and more about what one does with the reading. A course is a living thing, a live performance. It isn’t reducible to its syllabus.

During an interview the year he died, Foucault spoke of what he called “games of truth” in describing  various forms of knowledge, stating “there is always a possibility, in a given game of truth, to discover something else and to more or less change such and such a rule and sometimes even the totality of the game” (17). By using this metaphor of games, he draws attention to the nature of knowledge as an activity rather than a body of information. The same metaphor extends to characterize those within this larger ‘game’ of truth as players of the game, as individuals who participate actively by engaging in new ways of thinking that shift and reshape the territorial confines of the game. It is useful to imagine these “games of truth” in a pedagogical context responding to the critical challenges facing higher education today. By promoting a view of knowledge within the classroom as an open, active process or event through OER rather than an object to be transferred or injected from one body to another, students are encouraged to take greater intellectual risks and embrace the uncertainty and apprehension of what Foucault argues are the basic preconditions for thought.

So while educators may push back against adopting OER in their courses for fear that there are not enough quality resources available, at least not fully, and not yet, I’d argue that such a constraint might actually support a more radical reorientation in one’s pedagogical praxis that forces us to rewrite the “rules of the game” by reimagining what purpose assigned readings are to serve, what weight and opacity and authority readings are so often given (by teachers and students alike), as well as what the role of the instructor is in facilitating discussion. It calls on educators to reframe assigned material as kindling for discussion, as invitations for intervention and reimagination. Giroux argues that “critical pedagogy becomes a project that stresses the need for teachers and students to actively transform knowledge rather than simply consume it” (7).  It calls forward “approaches that enable students to read texts differently as objects of interrogation” rather than submissively “through a culture of pedagogical conformity that teaches unquestioning reverence”(5).

As educators, we can perform otherwise in relation to the texts we assign. We can say, “This is what we got. Where do we feel uninspired or incomplete? What can we do about it?”

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. “The Ethic of Care for the Self as a Practice of Freedom: An Interview with Michel Foucault on January 20, 1984.” Interview by Raúl Foret-Betancourt, Helmut Becker, Alfredo Gomez-Müller.

Translated by J. D. Gauthier. In The Final Foucault, edited by James William Bernauer and David M. Rasmussen, 1-20. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1988.

Giroux, Henry A. On Critical Pedagogy. New York: Continuum, 2011.

Luckett Sharrell D. and Tia M. Shaffer, eds. Black Acting Methods: Critical Approaches. New York: Routledge, 2016.

Link to OER Syllabus

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.