Mixing & Matching Open Educational Resources

This is the eighth in our current series of short essays by participants in the Open Knowledge Fellowship coordinated by the Mina Rees Library, these from Fellows in the Spring 2022 cohort. 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.

Madison Schindele is a doctoral student in Musicology at the Graduate Center and an adjunct lecturer at Queens College. Her research focuses on vocal music through lenses of cultural disability and feminist theory. She is pursuing a certificate in Women and Gender Studies while at the GC and holds degrees from Oberlin Conservatory and Goldsmiths, University of London. 

When CUNY students begin planning their course schedule for the upcoming semester, they are able to filter potential courses by the attributions “zero textbook cost” and “low textbook cost.” By doing so, they can see which courses are entirely cost free, in terms of materials or textbooks. 

When searching for the course I am scheduled to teach, Music 1, and filtering by these attributions, I receive the message “No results found.” As an educator who centers pedagogies of care, and strives for inclusivity and accessibility inside the classroom, it makes me wonder, how can I be sure that my course is accessible to all CUNY students pre-enrollment? This anecdote and subsequent query moved me to apply to the Open Knowledge Fellowship. I first learned about Open Educational Resources (OER) in Luke Waltzer’s Teaching Strategies course, and quickly realized that the use of OER is a logical first step in forging a classroom that aligns with my pedagogical priorities. In turn, I applied to the Open Knowledge Fellowship to learn what resources and initiatives are in place to support this work.

When constructing a syllabus in preparation for my first semester of teaching MUSIC 1 at Queens College, I had the privilege of choosing my own text, and was overwhelmed with all of my options—the whole of music history staring at me. Luckily, my task of choosing a text became less daunting as fellow QC lecturers and GC coursemates pointed me in the right direction (and have since built the GC Music Teaching Hub for fellow music instructors at CUNY). The text I chose was coincidentally an OER textbook, Esther Morgan-Ellis’ Resonances: Engaging Music in Its Cultural Context, and I’ve been spoiled by the ease of finding this text early in my teaching career. 

Resonances checked many, if not most of my boxes. First, it was not organized chronologically, but rather was separated by social topics such as “Support and Protest” and “Music for Spiritual Expression.” Second, it explored musical works outside of the European classical canon when discussing these topics. Beyond analyzing works by Bach and Beethoven, the text included music by Beyonce, Bob Marley, and Bob Dylan. In doing so, it did not tokenize these musical works, but rather wove them into the overall topic narrative seamlessly. Best of all, the text included music that I had not previously known, works such as “Lesions” by Ukrainian composer Catherine Likhuta, and Isao Tomita’s reimagining of “Pictures at an Exhibition,” expanding my knowledge as an educator and musicologist alike.

However, I soon found that not one text fits all. Some chapters excluded prominent musical traditions and genres, while others contained outdated embedded YouTube links. In considering whether to continue with this text, I wondered if I could mix and match supplementary resources while keeping everything open (and how I could do so legally!). The Knowledge Pedagogy Fellowship addressed all of these questions and more. 

Through my time in the fellowship, I found many new OER texts that I look forward to experimenting with, as many of them include musical works excluded from Resonances. Some chapters from these newfound texts pair nicely with select chapters from Resonances. For instance, the eighth chapter in Understanding Music: Past and Present covers the topic “Popular Music in the United States” including Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” corresponding to Resonance’s tenth chapter on “Support and Protest” which covers the same song through a different lens. Coincidentally, Understanding Music has the same layout and style as Resonances (as they are published by the same institution, The University of North Georgia), creating a sense of consistency for students switching between texts. Likewise, Understanding Music’s coverage of “Popular Music in the United States” pairs with another OER text, Music: Its Language, History, and Culture, whose sixth chapter “American Vernacular Music” includes genres that the prior omits, such as African American Spirituals and Gospel Music. 

As I build my summer 2022 and fall 2022 courses, I feel a sense of freedom now that I can successfully identify Open Educational Resources and am aware of the associated rules of building an OER course. Mixing and matching OER texts has not only broadened my knowledge of what resources are available but has given me a clear idea of my priorities in a text. Thanks to the Open Knowledge Fellowship and the extensive knowledge of its leadership, I now feel I can successfully build an OER course that compliments my pedagogical practices.

Bob Dylan and Joan Baez at 1963 March on Washington by USIA (NARA)

About the Author

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