The Ideology of Open Educational Resources

Following is the fifth 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. 

Maya Tellman is a doctoral student in Sociology at the Graduate Center. Her research explores how punishment can be transformed and transmitted through efforts of reform and other bureaucratic processes in New York City’s youth criminal legal and child welfare systems. She currently teaches Intro to Sociology at Brooklyn College.


Unlike some others who arrived at this fellowship with several years of teaching experience under their belt, I am quite fresh. I applied in reaction to my experience as a teaching assistant last fall, and in anticipation of my first semester teaching on my own this spring. As a teaching assistant, I was alarmed by the sacrifice my students had to make in order to access their readings. Many of the texts came at a high price, and even those not trapped behind a paywall required extra labor on my students’ parts to track them down. These barriers to entry inspired me to craft a no-cost syllabus as a first-time teacher. And, the Open Pedagogy Fellowship seemed like the perfect opportunity that would allow me the space and resources to develop it.

It wasn’t until I entered the fellowship that I realized how much deeper the ideology behind OER runs. Developing an OER syllabus was not only an opportunity to relieve my students of financial burden, but it was also an opportunity to acquaint them with a greater conversation around access. As an undergraduate I had little to no awareness surrounding the world of academic publishing, paywalls, and spaces in which writers and publishers were working to challenge the status quo. I realized over the course of the fellowship that by mindfully populating my syllabus with open access resources, I could open up a dialogue with my students about the future of academia, knowledge production, inclusion, and accessibility. 


I also recognized that in creating my CUNY Academic Commons course website, I was creating a necessary and missing resource for other Introductory Sociology professors. As a new teacher, I have been personally discouraged by the lack of available resources and the hesitation among other teachers to share their syllabi as references. I’ve found that the amount of time and (often unpaid) labor that is put into the development of a syllabus perpetuates a culture of gatekeeping. In reaction to this, I hope that my course website can act as a free resource for new teachers or established teachers looking to incorporate more OER into their courses. 

I feel particularly motivated to provide free access to my course materials because I know now from experience the treasure hunt that is required to populate an OER syllabus. At least within the social sciences, there was a steep learning curve to finding appropriate readings that represented diverse voices, a range of publications, and different time periods. I hope that my syllabus can be a living document as I continue to teach this course, immerse myself more deeply in OER, and grow in my pedagogical approach. I feel lucky to have been exposed to these ideas so early on in my career. 

My Introduction to Sociology course this semester revolves around the concept of The Sociological Imagination. As we explore new topics each week, I challenge my students to think as sociologists, connecting what may appear as individual challenges to broader structural issues. Through doing so, we collectively work to find the “strange in the familiar,” unraveling social facts we previously interpreted as common sense. In doing so, we continuously come back to discussions around higher education as an institution in which we all participate. Our syllabus has offered the perfect jumping off point for discussing profit motives within academia, and how a drive to publish and paywall impacts students and professors alike. These conversations were blatantly absent during my time as an undergraduate student, in part, I believe, because teachers so often discredit their students’ abilities to engage in active critiques of the institution of higher education. On the contrary, I have found such value in talking with my students about my pedagogical approach, how it may counter more dominant forms, and my rationale behind each of our assigned materials this semester. I’ve learned so much from their feedback and reaction to the syllabus, and am so thankful to have had this experience in my first semester teaching. 

About the Author

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