Democratic Education Needs OER

Following is the eighth 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. 

Aman Desai is a doctoral student in the Department of Economics at the Graduate Center, CUNY. He holds a master’s degree in econometrics and quantitative economics. His research interests are at the intersection of income inequality, intergenerational income mobility, and their public policy implications. He is also interested in financial modeling using statistical and machine learning techniques. He currently teaches introductory courses on econometrics and economics at Baruch College.

“The most inspirational man I knew only reached his potential by helping a child reach his.”

        —Mitch Albom, Have a Little Faith


Becoming an educator has been my dream since I was ten, and today I am living it thanks to the opportunity the CUNY system has provided me. As a kid, I was always taught to value education over everything else because it was seen as the surest way to climb up the social ladder in a developing country. Now that I am involved in research about intergenerational mobility,  the monetary aspect of access to education has caught my interest. 

I have come to believe that no child with merit should be deprived of quality education due to a lack of monetary means. My motive to attend the Open Pedagogy workshop was rooted in this very belief, and it came to align perfectly with the workshop’s goals when I was introduced to OER (Open Educational Resources). 

One could not have asked for better instructors in the workshop. All the instructors were well prepared every time they spoke and tried to share as much domain knowledge as possible. It was an experience in itself to listen to the eclectic perspectives of the many participants from diverse backgrounds. The very first session with Emily Drabinski set the tone for future sessions and helped me realize that Open Pedagogy is about much more than just Open Educational Resources. It was also quite helpful to have a one-on-one meeting with Elvis who ensured individual concerns were addressed. 

Throughout my teaching journey at Baruch College so far, I have provided the students with my material and even used open resources for the course on basic economics. However, what I required was a foundational understanding of OER and a structure within which I could pursue my quest of providing open access courses to students.  In addition to that, the end goal of the workshop was to have a fully functioning website for my courses with as many open resources for students as possible. Having grown up in a developing country, I was surprised by the high costs of the textbooks that students are required to pay here in the U.S. There is always this tough trade-off any society faces. Authors of textbooks must be rewarded for their work, but that may mean fewer low-cost resources available to the students. In addition to that, one must also match the quality of the paid resources available in the market. Creating my course with open access material seemed to be the solution. My students do not have to buy textbooks and all the supplementary resources for them to use are there on my course website. With guidance from Elvis and other instructors, I have finally managed to create an open-access course website:

In my view, technology is the single biggest catalyst for the democratization and decentralization of education. The detailed session on OER exposed me to the vast amount of open resources available to the graduate students as well as instructors. It also incentivized me to seek new open-access resources that  I can incorporate into the learning experiences of my students. Since one of the courses I teach is an econometrics course, the first thing I had to ensure was that the students have access to a platform that helps them learn to code. 

I was glad to find that DataCamp provides free access to their product to any lecturer for classroom instruction purposes. The students enrolled in the course get free access to more than 360 courses on DataCamp. Their purpose of providing free subscriptions to the students aligned with my goals and now with their help all my students (79) enrolled in the course have their free subscriptions to DataCamp. The students can learn to code by completing exercises with the availability of real-time feedback. 

Overall, my experience in the workshop was thoroughly satisfying. There was so much that I learned from the domain experts. I would recommend my fellow students as well as instructors to attend this workshop if they wish to create an open course for their students. It is always satisfying to take the first step towards the change you want to see in society.

“OER is sharing” by Giulia Forsythe is in the Public Domain, under a CC0 license


About the Author

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