OER in Action: The GC Music Teaching Hub

This is the latest in our series of short essays about Open Educational Resources (OER). The GC Music Teaching Hub is organized by current and former graduate teaching fellows of the CUNY Graduate Center Music Department, and is now receiving OER funding through the Mina Rees Library.

By Samuel Teeple and Stephen Gomez-Peck

As CUNY graduate students, teaching is an essential part of our professional development. While many of us look forward to the autonomy of leading our own classroom, the experience can also feel overwhelming to say the least. A major source of anxiety comes from the need to produce countless documents and plans – the syllabus and schedule, of course, but also day-to-day assignments, lesson plans, and activities. The GC Music Teaching Hub is our attempt to ease the transition into the classroom, through the principles of open licensing. In this blog post, we explore how our project fits into the broader world of Open Educational Resources (OER) teaching repositories, as a small-scale effort focused on the needs of a single department at The Graduate Center.

The Teaching Hub first emerged in summer 2021 as a collaborative effort among four music graduate students looking to re-imagine teaching preparation in our department. After several months of planning, the site went live; we began populating it with our own documents, reaching out directly to friends for submissions, and working to incorporate the site into extant lines of funding and professional development initiatives within our department. For instance, we introduced our site to first-year teachers as part of our department’s teaching pro-seminar; multiple participants have since reported using the Hub throughout their course preparation. After a year and a half of work on this project, we have already noticed a shift in how we discuss and conceptualize teaching as graduate students, from an individualized pursuit to a collective concern.

A screenshot of the GC Music Teaching Hub’s homepage. The sidebar includes a list of recent submissions. The top of the image includes headers titled “About,” “Submissions,” “Syllabuses,” “Assignments,” “Lesson Plans and Activities,” “Online Music Teaching Resources,” and “Campus Fact Sheets.” Below the header is a written summary of the site and a large link to submit teaching materials.

The GC Music Teaching Hub’s homepage on the CUNY Academic Commons.

Hosted on the CUNY Academic Commons, the Hub houses teaching and learning materials, external music teaching resources, and CUNY campus fact sheets. Current and former graduate student instructors can submit any documents used to teach music courses at CUNY. The files are then made publicly accessible by adding a Creative Commons license, which allows others to share and adapt the material, as long as they give credit to the author, with the additional option to avoid any commercial use of the content, and/or maintain the same license as the original. Though most people’s understanding of Open Educational Resources (OER) centers on textbooks, the GC Music Teaching Hub stands as one demonstration of the expansive and creative nature of OER as an organizing principle.

The inherent fluidity of OER can be found within most definitions of OER; UNESCO, for instance, describes the concept as inclusive of “learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.”(1) OER textbooks adopt these ideals by making themselves freely available online: Douglas Cohen’s Music: Its Language, History and Culture, for instance, can be downloaded by anyone at no cost through CUNY Academic Works, a public-facing archive that allows CUNY affiliates to upload their work under a variety of licenses.

Over the last five years, in fact, CUNY has become a center for OER creation, with campus-based initiatives at all of the 25 colleges. This is due in large part to New York State’s multi-million dollar Open Educational Resources Initiative, an ongoing program touted by former Governor Andrew Cuomo as an attempt to lower the high cost of textbooks for students.(2) Albeit for a practical reason, this focus on textbooks and learning materials dominates much of the mainstream conversation on OER. In reality, OER encompasses projects with a myriad of approaches, audiences, content, and formats.

A screenshot of a post on the GC Music Teaching Hub categorized under “syllabuses” and “musicology syllabuses.” The title reads “Introduction to Music | Syllabus | Queens College | Spring 2022”. Below the title is a written description of the document, and below that part of the first page of the document is displayed. The sidebar includes a list of recent submissions.

A syllabus shared on the GC Music Teaching Hub.

The GC Music Teaching Hub is one entry in a vibrant network of OER teaching repositories, a loosely defined genre that usually involves a searchable database of free, openly licensed instructor-created teaching materials. While a repository may also host OER textbooks, it more commonly features materials used by instructors to structure their course like lesson plans and activities.

The scope, content, and organization of a given repository depend on a number of factors including target audience, resource type, and funding. This fact can be extrapolated to the wider world of OER, in which all projects can be differentiated along multiple axes: niche audience to broad applicability; isolated teaching examples to free-standing course modules, etc. The Teaching Hub lies in the middle of these extremes, a searchable collection of teaching documents oriented toward the needs of a single department yet with an impact on multiple campuses.

One of the largest and oldest OER repositories is MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching), a searchable collection of almost 100,000 free teaching resources. The site includes 25 discipline-specific “portals,” each of which has its own editorial board. Users make a profile on the site in order to submit materials, which are then subject to a peer review process akin to an academic journal. Once approved, submissions are posted as an entry with searchable metadata, including categories such as discipline, material type and audience. The music portal itself houses 766 materials, most of which are standalone objects like textbooks, apps, and full courses.

The sheer size and editorial structure of MERLOT set it apart from many other repositories; the prominence of the site ensures that most contributions are self-contained finished products. Both MERLOT and the Teaching Hub display submissions as posts that can be filtered through various tags and search terms. Though both sites offer a wide variety of teaching materials, in effect the bulk of the Hub’s offerings are individual course documents that can be repurposed in various contexts, like lesson plans or class activities. The Hub’s development team and audience are embedded directly within the GC Music Department, resulting in a communal environment that encourages people to share work that may not be publication-ready. This is one unique advantage offered by smaller repositories targeting a niche audience–with increased scale comes increased visibility, for better and for worse.

In addition to audience and site design, resource type is another variable that differentiates OER repositories. The The Composers of Color Resource Project (CCRP), a “quick and manageable first step towards diverse and inclusive music theory pedagogy,” presents one extreme of the spectrum for this parameter. Unlike conventional teaching resources that take the form of documents or textbooks, the Project’s core resource is a large catalog of examples by BI-POC composers organized by musical topic. The robust organization and information-rich entries found within this type of OER helps teachers find examples that suit their classroom needs, a process that can otherwise be time and labor intensive. This resource type is particularly useful for music theorists, who regularly need multiple concrete examples taken from musical compositions in order to demonstrate the abstract concepts that form the core of their curricula.

In a vein similar to the approach taken by the Teaching Hub, the CCRP’s is a volunteer grassroots effort tied to the needs of a specific community–in this case, equity-minded music instructors from a variety of institutions. Unlike the Teaching Hub, which directly targets CUNY graduate instructors, the CCRP accepts submissions from anyone regardless of affiliation. While the catalog’s spreadsheet format seems to have little resemblance to a typical teaching repository, each entry stands as its own teaching artifact, allowing other instructors to benefit from the submitter’s work. Where the CCRP and the Teaching Hub depart in the format of their resources, they converge in their small scale structure and content targeted to a specialized group.

Undoubtedly, the landscape of pedagogy in higher education is shifting to normalize low- and no-cost teaching and learning resources, especially in the humanities. Though textbook accessibility is a core ideal of the OER movement, non-textbook projects like teaching repositories can be equally crucial to transforming higher education. The act of sharing resources among graduate student instructors saves time and labor, in addition to dispersing innovative teaching methods. These are some of the very trends we have seen within the GC Music Department since the launch of the Teaching Hub in early 2022.

Despite the fact that our development team has little coding or technical expertise, we were able to build our site with relative ease due to the CUNY Academic Commons’ user-friendly interface. Anyone can readily duplicate our site’s design and collect submissions from their own students, with the opportunity to tailor their project based on the needs of their discipline or department. In the early stages, we found it necessary to directly request submissions among personal connections, in addition to raising awareness in other venues of teacher preparation. But once the project had gained some initial traction, it became much easier to source teaching artifacts and awareness of the value and utility of the Hub spread quickly. We hope that our efforts can be a model for other departments interested in the potential of OER for pedagogy and that they will rely on our experiences to effectively launch similar resources.

As the Hub becomes a fixture of the Music Department (it has been incorporated, for instance, into an existing peer-mentoring program for GTFs) we are currently exploring future collaborations that will extend outside our area. Projects with the Teaching and Learning Center and other interdisciplinary institutes at the GC could promote awareness of the Hub and nurture deeper dialogues around student-run OER in various programs. Ultimately, the Hub aims to supplement teacher training and offer students a pathway to promote their pedagogical output as a public-facing corollary to research. Although the textbook emphasis found in many OER initiatives is essential to the larger mission of accessibility in higher education, alternative approaches like OER repositories can offer a targeted response to the needs of instructors.

1. “Open Educational Resources,” UNESCO, accessed September 17, 2022, https://www.unesco.org/en/communication-information/open-solutions/open-educational-resources.

2. Urban CNY News, “New York State Announces $8 Million for Open Educational Resources Initiative at SUNY and CUNY to Cut High Cost of Textbooks,” Urban CNY (blog), May 16, 2018, https://www.urbancny.com/new-york-state-announces-8-million-for-open-educational-resources-initiative-at-suny-and-cuny-to-cut-high-cost-of-textbooks/.


Stephen Gomez-Peck is an instructor of music theory at the University of Alabama and a doctoral candidate in music theory at the Graduate Center, CUNY. His research investigates how form operates as a stylistic marker in hip-hop music from 1990–present. Stephen is also a developer of GC Music Teaching Hub. Prior to doctoral studies at the GC, Stephen earned a master’s degree in music theory from Indiana University and a bachelor’s degree in music education (trumpet) from Ithaca College.

Samuel Teeple is an adjunct lecturer at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College and PhD candidate in Historical Musicology at the Graduate Center, CUNY. His dissertation investigates the music of Jewish Berlin in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and, more broadly, Jewish contributions to German music. Before moving to New York, he earned two Master’s degrees in tuba performance and music history from Bowling Green State University. Outside of research and teaching, he is a lead developer of the GC Music Teaching Hub, an online repository of open source teaching materials developed by CUNY graduate students.

About the Author

Elvis Bakaitis is currently the Head of Reference at the Mina Rees Library. They're also proud to serve on the University LGBTQ Council, and as a board member of CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies.