Teaching Anthropology with OER

This is the latest in our current series of short essays by participants in 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.

Samuel Novacich is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology and an adjunct instructor at Hunter College. He has taught courses ranging from Introduction to Anthropology to the History of Anthropological Theory, as well as regional courses focused on Latin America.






As an instructor in anthropology at Hunter College, I have had the opportunity to teach a wide range of courses as I complete my Ph.D. The course that has brought me the most satisfaction – and over which I have the greatest degree of curatorial discretion – is a regional seminar titled “Brazil: Race, Class and Gender.” Though listed in the department of anthropology, the class is interdisciplinary in that it combines history, anthropology, and comparative literature to explore contemporary Brazil. I have taught this seminar once before, and intend to teach it again in the near future. 

In recent years, I have started to incorporate discipline-blurring materials into my classes, and to explore film and the creative arts as pedagogical tools. This has been most successful in my History of Anthropological Theory course, a seminar that, by virtue of its scope and focus, can get fairly dry, fairly quickly. I have found that these materials grab students’ interest while encouraging them to question the boundaries between “academic” and “non-academic” genres, making for what I believe to be a more inclusive learning experience. In embracing creative materials in this course and others, and by approaching disciplinary boundaries as flexible, my goal is to make the classroom a more inviting space in which students of diverse backgrounds may see themselves reflected, and to which they, in turn, can contribute. 

Having expanded the range of materials that we explore in my classes, I applied for the Open Knowledge Fellowship to learn more about making access to these materials zero-cost (legally and ethically) without restricting or lessening their quality. As I drafted my application to the fellowship, I knew that there would be some materials on my syllabus that would simply need to be replaced, and worried about finding appropriate substitutions. Upon my acceptance to the fellowship and our first meeting, I was immediately reassured by the sheer quantity of open access materials available. I’ve only just begun to explore the world of OER, but thus far it seems that anthropology and the broader social sciences have no dearth of publicly available, zero-cost  materials for students. Not only did the Open Knowledge Fellowship provide me with the tools to locate these substitutions, they helped me think through the way I might use them in my classes. 

For example, among the most memorable exercises held during the fellowship was one during our penultimate meeting in which we were split into groups and assigned different digital objects from the CUNY Digital History Archive. Having been designated to different archival materials, we were then challenged to both explain and create lesson plans around those materials. The tips that we were given for using these materials in the classroom and the subsequent discussion about our proposed lesson plans were both illuminating and encouraging, and I felt an immediate impulse to think through archival objects that might be used in my course on Brazil. I am still exploring and selecting this material, and plan to include it on my course website, located here

Finally, I am excited by the prospect of hosting my course materials and discussions online, independent of Blackboard. I have long been dependent on Blackboard for hosting readings, sending out announcements, collecting assignments, and grading. The course website referenced above will be one of I hope many that I create moving forward, all of which may even link back to my own professional website (also in the works). I am thrilled with the new skills that I have acquired through the Open Knowledge Fellowship, and look forward to using them as I improve my teaching, and my students’ learning experiences.

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