Shaping the Classroom from the Inside

Following is the ninth 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. 

Joseph A. Torres-Gonzalez (He/Him/His/El) is a Ph.D. student in Cultural Anthropology at the CUNY Graduate Center. Joseph holds an MA in Anthropology and Latin American & Caribbean Studies from the University at Albany, SUNY. His research focuses on coffee culture among the Spanish-speaking Caribbean Diasporas.  He is interested in the intersections of food, culture, identity, and economics. Joseph currently teaches Anthropology at Brooklyn College and Queens College.


One of the things that I truly appreciate about graduate education is the engagement that doctoral students like myself have with undergraduate students in the classroom, or in other words, the teaching and pedagogy process. This is where, as I like to emphasize, “the magic” happens. But before we teach and interact with our students during the semester, we plan, organize, and curate what will be our syllabi and the course materials we will be discussing, interacting, debating, and teaching during the semester. 

Open Educational Resources are freely accessible and openly licensed instructional materials that are used for teaching. They provide the opportunity to integrate materials that are openly available, that are not paywalled, and that can be (re)used and remixed depending on the objectives of the course being taught. This approach offers the opportunity to expand accessibility to the materials that instructors use in the classroom, along with providing students and community members with educational resources that are not available otherwise due to paywalls and other limitations.

Another aspect that is crucial in this conversation is accessibility, not only in terms of access to scholarly materials, resources, readings, and other materials, but in the material conditions of accessibility. Many students (myself included when I was an undergraduate student, and up to this day, as a doctoral student) cannot pay the steep price of textbooks, which are products of an educational model located in creating a surplus value. This is where Open Educational Resources make a critical and radical intervention: the opportunity to create a type of commons in which more than one person has rights to knowledge, education, and mobility (Hyde, 2010), along with creating spaces that foster conversation towards a resistance to profit-driven education.

Participating in the Open Pedagogy Fellowship (now renamed the Open Knowledge Fellowship) during the Winter 2022 session provided me the opportunity to participate with other graduate colleagues, librarians, and archivists that are engaged, interested, and open to pedagogical innovations—among these, creating materials and platforms that will expand our students’ access to scholarship and knowledge in our respective disciplines. We discussed a variety of topics in our weekly meetings, ranging from Creative Commons Licensing, Open Access publications, archival resources available in our university and in other libraries across the world, and the space to discuss our pedagogical praxis in relation to technology and resources. As we approached the end of the fellowship, we had identified a list of at least 5 openly licensed materials* (journal articles, essays, or textbooks) that would be integrated into our courses, adding openly-licensed images along with wrapping up and putting the finishing touches to our OER course sites.  

After creating my revised OER course syllabus and looking back at the process in which I participated with colleagues and librarians, I couldn’t help but think of the concept cultural freedom, theorized by Yochai Benkler (2006) in his text The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom: “[…] the ability of individuals and groups to participate in the production of the cultural tools and frameworks of human understanding and discourse. It affects the way we, as individuals and members of social and political clusters, interact with culture, and through it with each other. It makes culture more transparent to its inhabitants. It makes the process of cultural production more participatory, in the sense that more of those who live within a culture can actively participate in its creation.” (275)

Through Open Educational Resources, teachers, students, librarians, and other community members (outside and inside the university) can shape the classroom by integrating authors, sources, and audiovisual materials that are not traditionally embedded in courses, and this provides the space and platform for cultural freedom. By taking steps like these (fostering opportunities to create, produce, collaborate, and debate), we are creating ways to democratize and expand knowledge, creativity, and justice.  

* You can find the list of openly-licensed materials integrated in the Brooklyn College Spring 2022 Culture and Society OER on this link.


Hyde, Lewis. 2010. Common as air: revolution, art, and ownership. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

Benkler, Yochai. 2006. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom. New Haven: Yale University Press. 

Wikipedia. 2022. Open Educational Resources. Accessed on 5 April 2022. 

Back to School” image by Felicia Buitenwerf (2019), used under an Unsplash license.

About the Author

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