Thoughts on Pedagogy and OER Development: A Faculty-Driven Approach — A Lunchtime Seminar at Hunter College ACERT, March 20, 2018

I was invited to participate in a seminar on OER and Pedagogy at Hunter College ACERT (Academic Center for Excellence in Research and Teaching) along with faculty from Baruch, Lehman and Hunter Colleges involved in development of OER (Open Educational Resources). I would like to share the key topics that came up in a lively discussion with attendees after presentations from panelists. This lunchtime seminar was attended by about 30 faculty, mostly from Hunter.

Panelists from three CUNY schools gave presentations on OER development emphasizing the influence of OER on pedagogy.  Baruch, Lehman and Hunter colleges are participating, along with other CUNY 2-year and 4-year colleges, in the 2017-18 SUNY-CUNY Scale-Up Initiative funded by New York State.

Allison Lehr-Samuels, Director of Baruch’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), and Andrew McKinney, OER Fellow, spoke about the Baruch OER Course Development Initiative run by the CTL, in partnership with the Newman Library and Baruch Computing and Technology. Allison gave an overview of how faculty were recruited, incentivized, and supported. She emphasized the need to look at all costs involved in development of OER to plan for sustainability, including administrative, training, platform, incentives, ongoing support, printing, and more. Andrew spoke about the impact of OER on pedagogy, emphasizing that developing OER offered opportunities for faculty to change their courses to achieve refreshed learning outcomes. He underscored the point that OER accomplishes more than saving students money, which is the primary goal, but at the same time can improve pedagogy and learning outcomes.

As Co-Coordinator of the OER program managed by the Leonard Lief Library at Lehman College, I spoke about the benefits of OER-enabled pedagogy, a term I learned from hearing David Wiley, Chief Academic Officer of Lumen Learning, at OpenCon2017.   In particular, I listed these advantages: (1) Continually improved resources; (2) Drawing inspiration; (3) Collaboration with colleagues; (4) Incorporation of a wider range of content. To illustrate these and other pedagogical benefits, two Lehman faculty talked about their experience teaching with OER they developed. Sharon Jordan, professor of art history, spoke about her OER for her course, Introduction to Modern Art, and Anne Rice, professor of Africana and Women’s Studies, spoke about her OER for her course, African American Literature.

Sharon Jordan was able to tailor the slides and texts in her course materials posted on her WordPress site to focus on the artists she felt students needed to learn about. She wrote texts, curated slides and created weekly assignments for students to complete. She feels strongly that for introductory art history, her OER was more flexible and relevant than a static textbook for students. She was able to structure her hybrid online course in ways that emphasized independent, active learning instead of lecture supported by an expensive, static textbook that covered more material than was instructive for her course, and that students often did not purchase because of cost.

Anne Rice spoke about the enhanced experiences that her students had when using texts from digital archives on the web. Students could delve into a rich archive of personal slave narratives that were curated and posted along with audio, video and other supplementary materials. Instead of reading a selective anthology of texts in a published book, students could learn about a growing digitized archive of resources expanding the canon of African American literature. From a practical standpoint, having texts posted on a WordPress site enables students to read wherever they are, reduces time spent copying texts from books on Reserve in the library, and consequently improves student performance.

Hunter professor of political science, Charles Tien, spoke about teaching an introductory political science course with an open textbook plus readings that are free of cost to students (mostly library subscription resources). He described the selection process that he and his colleague engaged in to select an open textbook on American government that satisfied most of their learning objectives. Compared to previous semesters when students were required to purchase an expensive textbook (and many did not), students now reported having access to all of the readings on day one. This is crucial for their participation in discussions and completing assignments.

A lively and interesting discussion followed the presentations. The faculty asked questions related to the following topics:

  • What is OER exactly? True OER vs. Hybrid
  • Library subscriptions—will these disappear? Only available to registered students
  • How much work is involved for faculty? Commitment / Incentives
  • Do students/faculty want Print copies? How to cover costs
  • What about other costs to students? Publishers’ fees (if not funded)
  • How is BlackBoard (or other LMS) used with OER?
  • Could student work be incorporated into OER?
  • Revising OER: do additional authors get credit? Creative Commons licenses
  • Annotation tools for group work by students—what is available? Hypothesis WordPress plugin
  • How to sustain OER development beyond government funding? Need to keep track of all costs and services to develop strategic plan
  • Is there assessment of student learning (grades) with OER?

I was impressed with the interest of the attendees in issues related to OER that delved deeply into the ramifications and challenges of OER. This group discussion went beyond speaking about the agreed-upon need to save students money. The questions raised issues that everyone working on OER is wrestling with, and that will be solved as OER becomes more accepted into the curriculum. It was both inspiring and reassuring to hear such perceptive, insightful presentations and discussion that could serve as a beginning agenda for future conferences and professional reading.

–Madeline Cohen, Leonard Lief Library, Lehman College,


Creating an OER? How to Use Stuff that You Don’t Own

In May, Jill Cirasella, addressed the makers out there with her post, “Creating an OER? How Should You License It?” But before you license your OER, you have to build it. To do so, you will likely need to use another creator’s materials. Can you use extant materials, or does copyright always get in your way?

Consider this: if you plan to share your course widely as an OER, you can no longer count on a jointly-held library affiliation. Therefore, it is important to carefully vet the material you chose to include in your course for any potential copyright violations. It is also best to make sure that the materials you use are available publicly.

We have some tips that should protect you, while keeping your creative vision intact.

Creative Commons

We’ve posted several times about Creative Commons (CC) licenses for content creators (Jill’s post) and (Creative Commons 4.0 for Education).  These licenses help the content user/re-mixer as well. To use them, first consider how you plan to use the materials? Will you display an image, for example, or create derivatives of it? With use in mind, you can search for objects with the appropriate CC license. On Google Images, for example, you can search by license type (select appropriate Usage Rights from the Advanced Search page).  Even better, Creative Commons offers a consolidated search at; participating sites offer audio, video and image files.  When using others’ materials, attribution is always the name of the game, so be sure to give credit where credit is due.

Open Access

If you need readings for your OER, consider open access (OA) publications. You can find them at the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) or OpenDOAR, a directory of open access repositories. Because these materials are OA, they can be used by faculty or students regardless of library affiliation. What’s more, you needn’t post the objects themselves in your OER; it is often sufficient to link to them.

Fair Use

You can also make use of the doctrine of Fair Use. Fair Use is an exception to copyright law that protects the rights of content consumers within certain parameters. As the consumer/re-user, it is up to you to carefully analyze your use of the material, in order to determine if it is Fair Use. While there is no magic formula for this analysis, we recommend this step-by-step worksheet from the University of Minnesota. Here too, attribution is a must.

Are you are planning to create your own OER? Consider this opportunity.

For more copyright resources, see the (C)opyright at CUNY page.


Creating an OER? How Should You License It?

When educators write a traditional textbook, they generally have to sign their copyright over to the publisher. When they write an open access textbook or produce some other kind of open educational resource, there’s no need to sign away their copyright — the creators retain the right to copy, distribute, and re-use their works. (Unimpressed by those seemingly basic rights? Remember that when authors transfer their copyright to publishers, they often lose all rights to their work — after the transfer, they sometimes has no more rights to their work than you or I do.)

Of course, if all rights to a work were held only by the creator, others could not copy, share, or reuse the work. In other words, by definition, it couldn’t be an open educational resource. So, we want creators to retain their rights, but we also need them to grant some rights to others. And not just specific other people or companies — to everyone, to all potential users.

And that’s why the open access community loves Creative Commons (CC) licenses: They leave copyright with the creator but also grant some rights to others. Creative Commons licenses are not the only way to grant rights to a work, but they make it easy for creators to communicate which rights they do and don’t give to others, and they’ve emerged as the standard licensing tool for open access materials.

Creative Commons LicensesThere are six Creative Commons licenses on the spectrum between traditional copyright and the public domain. They differ in their requirements regarding commercial uses and derivative works, and there are fascinating things to say about all of them. But I’m going to limit this post to two of the most commonly used licenses for OERs: CC BY (Attribution) and CC BY-SA (Attribution-ShareAlike):

  • The CC BY license says that people can do whatever they want with the work — copy it, print it, distribute it, expand it, remix it, even sell it — provided that the creator is properly attributed.
  • The CC BY-SA license is very similar but differs in one key way: It says that people can do whatever they want with the work provided that (1) the creator is properly attributed and (2) any resulting works are released with the same license. Because CC BY-SA requires that derivative works are also CC BY-SA, it is a “viral” license.

Which is better, CC BY or CC BY-SA? Major players in the open access arena have strong and different opinions.

Wikipedia uses CC BY-SA, explaining that [bold is mine]:

To grow the commons of free knowledge and free culture, all users contributing to the Projects are required to grant broad permissions to the general public to re-distribute and re-use their contributions freely, so long as that use is properly attributed and the same freedom to re-use and re-distribute is granted to any derivative works. In keeping with our goal of providing free information to the widest possible audience, we require that when necessary all submitted content be licensed so that it is freely reusable by anyone who cares to access it.

The Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA), on the other hand, endorses CC BY, going so far as to disallow CC BY-SA among its members [bold mine]:

To fully realise that potential of open access to research literature, barriers to reuse need to be removed. . . .

The most liberal Creative Commons license is CC-BY, which allows for unrestricted reuse of content, subject only to the requirement that the source work is appropriately attributed. Other Creative Commons licenses allow for three possible restrictions to be imposed. . . . But the emerging consensus on the adoption of CC-BY reflects the fact that any of these restrictions needlessly limits the possible reuse of published research.

. . . while [Share-Alike] licenses can be extremely helpful in building up a collection of content, they also have downsides in terms of the limitations they place on reuse. For example, material distributed within a Share-Alike article could only be combined and redistributed with other share-alike content. In contrast, CC-BY content can be combined with any content, and redistributed according to the terms of that other content, as long as CC-BY’s own attribution requirement is respected. This makes CC-BY something like a Universal Donor blood-type in that it has maximal compatibility.

. . . OASPA includes, and will currently still admit, members who use the NC restriction (but not the SA or ND restrictions).

Let’s take a closer look at the question of which license is better:

  • Which is better for readers? For those who just read/consume a work (and those who download, print, and share it), there’s no difference between the two licenses.
  • Which is better for those who want to reuse/remix a work? It depends. CC BY is less restrictive, making reuse easier. But CC BY-SA ensures the openness and reusability of derivative works, and that stipulation arguably leads to reuses/remixes that are inherently better than if they weren’t open.
  • Which is better for authors? It depends on the author’s priorities. CC BY facilitates reuse and broad impact, but some creators of open works want works derived from their works to be open as well.
  • Which is better for openness? As we saw in the arguments from Wikipedia and OASPA, It depends on how you look at it. CC BY makes a given work more open, more reusable. But CC BY-SA fosters openness and builds the universe of open access materials. However, the share-alike stipulation might deter some potential reusers and prevent some reuses from ever happening. How should we think about a license that promotes openness in derivative works but likely prevents some derivative works from ever being made? It’s hard to say!
  • Which do I personally think is better? Philosophically, I’m with Wikipedia and CC BY-SA. I love the idea of a snowball effect of openness. But in practice, I think OASPA has it right: For open access works to have the most impact and do the most good, we need to minimize barriers to reuse. And, when it comes down to it, I’m a practical person. So I (with somewhat conflicted feelings) side with CC BY.
  • But you certainly don’t have to take my word for it! My smart and thoughtful colleague Alycia Sellie is more drawn to CC BY-SA. See her grapple with CC BY vs. CC BY-SA in an Open Access @ CUNY blog post from last summer.

One last note: Yes, I prefer some CC licenses to others. But I embrace all of them as improvements on traditional copyright for scholarly communication and educational publishing!

(This post was derived from a presentation I gave at WikiConference USA on May 31: Whose to Use? And Use As They Choose? Creative Commons Licenses in Wikipedia and Scholarly Publishing.)