Teaching English with Open Resources

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.

Ghenwa Antonios is a doctoral student in Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center and an instructor of Writing and Composition at Baruch College. She has a BA and an MA in English Literature from the American University of Beirut.




As an instructor of writing and composition, the search for resources is constant. I am always on the lookout for that one succinct and easy to understand grammar handout that is accompanied by plenty of exercises; an engaging essay or article that will capture the minds of my students and encourage them to bring their thoughts into conversation with others; classroom activities that are interesting to students yet informative and pedagogically productive. While the internet is full of possibilities, access to most of the resources I would come across was limited. Sure, there were the staple editions published by the big academic publishers; however, most of these ‘institutional’ books came with a heavy price tag. It didn’t seem like a wise investment to ask my students to purchase access to one of these books when I knew that other equally well-made resources existed somewhere on the web–I just didn’t know where to look.

The struggle of finding good teaching material was one of the main reasons that encouraged me to apply for the Open Knowledge Fellowship. The other reason was a curiosity to finally learn what exactly open access meant and what open educational resources could offer my classrooms, syllabi and, most importantly, students.

Throughout the fellowship, I worked on transforming the material for my introductory ENGL2100 course into accessible, free and diverse material. As the course focused on opening up language, writing and their possibilities, it only made sense that the foundational pedagogy behind the course, as well as the resources shared with students, emphasized the importance of making knowledge accessible, sharing knowledge widely and participating in the transformation of knowledge, information and education from the realm of the limited and privileged to the public realm. 

Although I have yet to teach the updated version of my ENGL 2100 class, the discussions, readings and exercises of this fellowship have already found their way into another class I have been simultaneously teaching. On the level of preparation and spontaneous updates to my syllabus, I found myself scanning the internet with more ease and aptitude. However, the main difference was the realization that my students are, in and of themselves, sources of immense knowledge. They are archives of knowledge. The goal of the class became geared towards bringing out and supporting this knowledge. I came to see my role as an educator as one that is centered on the students themselves, their interests, their areas of knowledge and bringing all of these into a critical discussion about the importance of knowledge, education and learning. Being in the classroom became an increasing joy as I witnessed my students accepting, more and more, their role as active participants in their own knowledge formation and getting more comfortable at sharing their knowledge with one another and with myself. 

And of course, the fellowship did help a lot when discussing plagiarism in class. One day, one of the students asked me what open access meant, and, believe it or not, I actually had an answer! Phew. 

Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 95, Box 41, Folder 09, Image No. SIA_000095_B41_F09_037




About the Author

Ingrid Conley-Abrams is an Adjunct Reference Librarian at the Mina Rees Library.