Reach, Longevity, and Creative Research

Following is the fourth in a series by participants in the Winter 2022 Open Pedagogy Fellowship (which will be known, going forward, as the Open Knowledge Fellowship), coordinated by the Mina Rees Library. Fellows 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. 

portrait of Zoe AlexanderZoe Alexander is a doctoral student in Earth and Environmental Sciences (Geography) at the Graduate Center. Her research focuses on regional development in postindustrial cities, particularly around nonprofit healthcare. She currently teaches urban studies at Hunter College.

When I first applied to the Open Pedagogy Fellowship, I was thinking largely about how to share my course materials with students beyond the formal academic institution. The continuous rise in barriers to attending institutions of higher education—including our once-free public university, CUNY—are matched with a broader increase in restrictive paywalls that span multiple content areas, such as historical archives, films, peer-reviewed articles, books, and newspapers. My goal has been to secure the materials we use in class for students who are not enrolled, as well as the students who are enrolled but will (abruptly) lose their library resources after leaving the university. 

While supporting the reach and longevity of course materials remains a fundamental focus and benefit of using OER, our conversations throughout the Fellowship brought out the range of obstacles in the research process itself. In my introductory urban studies class I’ve intentionally crafted more open-ended assignments as a way to encourage students to find and then follow up on their own interests—a task that I can say, based on my brief time as a teacher and a longer time as a student, is often a very different and ever-changing process for everyone. So the question of how to go about finding the right materials is challenging enough, but the added hurdles of paywalls and institutional logins along the way is not only preventative but also discouraging. The Fellowship helped me recognize the importance of consolidation: sharing not just the reading materials, but also the full reading list, images, interactive exercises, and even student reactions where permitted on a public website

This adjustment in perspective adds a secondary layer to the roles of reach and longevity. Without leading students on internet-search rabbit holes of endless links to other instructional guides, I’ve begun to focus on facilitating a conversation (or even a single clear document) about what types of information can be found in which types of databases, pointing to those that are open resources, opening the door to the kind of creative and dynamic analyses at the heart of critical pedagogy. I reconstructed my syllabus around OER, but quickly realized that while much of my current sources were already public access, they weren’t necessarily permanently so. The exercise made me learn and reflect on the intricate web (and looming enforcement) of copyright laws, leaving much of the material at risk of being removed from public access down the road. I swapped some of these for OER pieces, but reconciling the full list is still an ongoing process, and one that I will keep in mind as I consider publishing and sharing my own scholarship.

Photo by Marcela, shared on Flickr under a CC2.0 license

About the Author

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