Open Educational Resources for Black History Month

Open Educational Resources (OER) are educational materials that are free and openly licensed, and that can be used for teaching, learning, and research. There are many OERs available online for African Studies and African American Studies. City Tech students, staff, and faculty who wish to honor and observe Black History Month could spend some time with one of the Open Educational Resources listed below.

From City Tech

Africana Folklore  This course is designed to help students prepare for further academic study in African, African-American and Caribbean studies. Students learn about the folklore of Africans and their descendants in the Americas and the Caribbean. Readings and films illustrate various ways West African folklore survived in the New World, and how Africans in the Americas created new traditions.

From CUNY 

Africa and the Atlantic Slave Trade  This course offers an overview of the political, economic, social, and demographic challenges confronting Africa during the era of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Yoruba Tradition and Culture  This course examines African civilizations from early antiquity to the decline of the West African Empire of Songhay. It explores a range of social, cultural, technological, and economic changes in Africa. It also discusses African agricultural, social, political, cultural, technological, and economic history.

Other Resources

1619 Project  The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative that aims to reframe American history by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of Black Americans at its center.

African American History  This open textbook covers African American history spanning from the Transatlantic Slave Trade to the Black Lives Matter movement.

African American History (Yale)  This course examines the African American experience in the United States from 1863 to the present with a focus on the Civil War and Reconstruction; the  Civil Rights movement and its aftermath; and the leadership of Booker T. Washington, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X.

American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology   “From 1936 to 1938, over 2,300 former slaves from across the American South were interviewed by writers and journalists under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration. These former slaves, most born in the last years of the slave regime or during the Civil War, provided first-hand accounts of their experiences on plantations, in cities, and on small farms.”

Slavery to Liberation: The African American Experience  This site provides “a comprehensive and up-to-date account of African Americans’ political history, economic development, artistic expressiveness, and religious and philosophical worldviews in a critical framework.”

Slave Voyages  The Slave Voyages website is a collaborative digital initiative that compiles and makes publicly accessible records of the largest slave trades in history. It makes available records about the more than 12 million African people who were sent across the Atlantic in slave ships, and hundreds of thousands more who were trafficked within the Americas.

Umbra Search – African American History  Umbra Search is a portal to hundreds of thousands of pieces of African American history and culture. It is named after the Umbra Society of the early 1960s, a group of Black writers and poets who helped create the Black Arts Movement.

For more information about Open Education Resources at City Tech, visit the library’s OER program.

Spotlight: Open Education Resources

For many City Tech students, the high cost of textbooks may be an insurmountable obstacle. Students may not register–or may end up withdrawing or failing classes–because they cannot afford required materials. City Tech Faculty can reduce financial strain on students by designing their courses around Open Educational Resources (OERs).

Open Educational Resources are freely accessible teaching, learning, and research materials. Traditionally, textbooks are published under copyright, with strict limitations. But the OER model is more flexible; it uses Creative Commons licenses that allows educators to retain, reuse, revise, remix, or redistribe (the 5Rs) educational resources.

The 5 Rs:

  • Retain – make, own, and control a copy of the resource
  • Reuse – use original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource  
  • Revise – edit, adapt, and modify copy of the resource
  • Remix – combine original or revised copy of the resource with other existing material to create something new
  • Redistribute – share copies of original, revised, or remixed copy of the resource with others.

City Tech’s OER program is a CUNY success story. Since its launch in 2015, City Tech librarians have collaborated with professors to create course materials through the City Tech OpenLab, leading to the development of free and open resources for classes across the curriculum. City Tech professors, with library support, have created outstanding low-cost, high-quality OERs for students. 

Here are a few examples of OER materials created by faculty in our Social Science departments through the OER program. 

For US History Since 1865, Dr. Ryan McMillen uses The American Yawp, augmented with other materials. Instructions for the class on Reconstruction asks students to: “Read Chapter 15, Reconstruction…the text of the Mississippi Black CodesJourdon Anderson Writes His Former Master, 1865…Pick out one part of the Codes that strikes you as problematic, in that its main justification would be to criminalize the activities of former slaves in defending their freedom, and analyze it.”

Professor Diana Mincyte’s Environmental Sociology OER “examines the complex interactions between societies and the natural environments on which they depend. Special emphasis is placed on the link between the deepening ecological crisis and the operation of the capitalist socio-economic system.” For the first class, to introduce the subject, she assigns: The environment and society. The perfect conditions for coronavirus to emerge, Pangolins and pandemics: The real source of this crisis is human, not animal and What is Deep Ecology.

Dr. Jinwon Kim’s Urban Sociology is a course that encourages students to explore issues in Downtown Brooklyn, from gentrification to the new economy, and to use the neighborhood as a laboratory. Dr. Kim created her OER with links to open access readings, videos, and photo collections. For Class 4, Modernity and Modern Cities, he asks students to, “First, read The era of industrialization…in order to learn more about the historical background of modern cities. Second, read Industrial Manchester, 1844 in The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844. Third, learn more about New York City context by reading Jacob Riis’ How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among the Tenements of New York…Watch The Tenement Museum in the Lower East Side. See Photos provided by Museum of the City of New York.”

More information about the OER program at City Tech

Questions/comments? Contact Cailean Cooney, Assistant Professor, Library at: ccooney@citytech.cuny.edu.

Open Educational Resources

The COVID pandemic has affected City Tech faculty, staff, and students in many ways. At the City Tech library, one concern is how to best serve students who are currently unable to access our print resources. While our online databases and ebook collections are an incredible resource, many City Tech students traditionally rely on the library to borrow course textbooks. Reserve textbook collections at City Tech are by far our highest circulating materials because many students can’t afford the expense of buying their own. [The prices of textbooks are notoriously inflated.] 

This problem isn’t unique to City Tech. A recent article in Inside Higher Education (IHE) illustrates that even in academic libraries that have reopened, like the library at Roger Williams University—the small residential school profiled in this piece—librarians and students are frustrated because the demand for course reserves far exceeds the supply. According to the IHE article, “libraries that have built up print reserves of textbooks aren’t able to circulate those materials as they did before the pandemic, either because materials are being quarantined” or because library access is limited. Nicole Allen, an Open Education Resources advocate quoted in the article, notes, “the pandemic has intensified and exposed so many gaps and cracks in our society, and access to course materials is one of them…Students are struggling. So are faculty, and so are libraries.”

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says that catching COVID-19 from a book is unlikely, but it still recommends quarantining returned books for at least 24 hours between loans. Since COVID can live on surfaces for 2-3 days, most libraries able to lend books are quarantining books for at least 72 hours to be safe. This means that students who cannot afford the high costs of buying their own textbooks can no longer rely on the library for help, even if their library has reopened. The lack of access to course reserves means many students are unable to do the assigned reading, complete homework, or study for exams. 

The challenges created by COVID have been a wake-up call for many issues, in many areas of our lives. The issue of access to course materials may not be as critical as access to decent healthcare, but it is still important, especially for students doing their best to learn under extraordinary circumstances. If students are going to succeed, faculty and librarians will need to be creative and work together on solutions to make sure students have access to the materials they need to complete their course work. 

One solution is to shift from the use of expensive textbooks to alternatives like Open Educational Resources (OER) and electronic material already licensed by the library.  Open educational resources are teaching and learning materials freely available for everyone to use. They are typically openly-licensed to allow for re-use and modification by instructors. Materials may consist of a complete course, course modules, assignments, tests, quizzes, textbooks, videos, etc.

To learn more about using OER and textbooks alternatives in your course, check out this guide to remote teaching resources for faculty created by City Tech librarians. City Tech also has an active project about developing OER and training faculty on their creation and use.  

If you have questions about library resources, open textbooks, or fair use for sharing materials with students, subject specialist librarians are available to help. Contact the library subject specialist for your department or program with any questions about library resources and services.

Getting Started: Open Textbook Library Workshop for Faculty

When: Wednesday, October 28, 2020 from 2:30 – 4, virtually

RSVP to: Joanna Thompson, jthompson@citytech.cuny.edu

Join a workshop about the Open Textbook Library, “a catalog of free, peer-reviewed, and openly-licensed textbooks” developed at the University of Minnesota. Other topics will include: an introduction to Open Educational Resources (O.E.R.), and how to find openly-licensed resources in your field. Participants are encouraged to bring questions, and no level of familiarity with O.E.R. is required. A $250 stipend is available for faculty who complete a review of an openly-licensed textbook.

Expanded Access to EResources During the COVID-19 Crisis

For the rest of the semester, many publishers have offered expanded access to online resources in an effort to support the sudden move to online learning.  

This guide is a list of some of the free vendor resources and City Tech eresources that you can access at home.  It is a work in progress as new resources are in process.

Some eresource highlights include expanded access to Gale, EBSCO, Bloomsbury, EBook Central, and JSTOR.

Most of the resources can be accessed using your City Tech Library barcode.  Here are instructions for accessing library materials from home.  If you have trouble with accessing any library resources, please email kabrams@citytech.cuny.edu.

Involving Students in OER

Given that Open Educational Resources (OER) are a relatively recent development in higher education, many people are still exploring the ways they can be leveraged towards the goal of increased student engagement.

For the most part, OER are made available online, thereby granting all users access ( (as long as the individual has a working Wi-Fi connection and internet-ready device). But OER are not synonymous with “digital,” since they require the additional consideration of being openly-licensed. Theoretically, a printed course pack could also qualify as an open resource, if it had been released under an open license.

For this reason, identifying the specific advantage of OER (as opposed to digital materials or online learning) can be tricky. A variety of projects are underway to explore this issue.

1) Prof. Matt Brim (College of Staten Island, CUNY) challenged his graduate students to seek out materials that could be integrated into OER, for the field of Queer Studies. The resulting site, Free Queer CUNY, showcases these items and offers student feedback about how they could be used in class.

2) Although created for a high school class, the concept has potential for the college level as well – students were asked to “translate” Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities into 21st century English. Their “translation” is offered as a parallel to the original, providing an interesting comparison for discussion.

Feedback on the Learning Objects assignment from U. of British Columbia

3) A Physics course from the University of British Columbia requires students to create “learning objects.” The concept is that if students interact with the material with the goal of teaching others, it will enrich their own experience.

And finally, here is a list of Open Pedagogy Assignments, compiled into a shared doc by educator Quill West.

Open Educational Resources

This academic year, the Library is offering three opportunities for faculty to participate in the OER Fellowship program. There are sessions running in the Fall and Spring terms, and an intensive version of the Fellowship will take place in June 2019. Over the course of the Fellowship, faculty are working to convert their course to zero-cost openly-licensed educational materials (OER).

The Library is also offering several new OER focused workshops offered several with a focus strengthening the accessibility of course sites, and providing support for faculty to make tweaks and updates to their OER. A workshop about the Open Textbook Library ran in February, giving faculty the opportunity to complete a review of an open textbook in their discipline.

Consider checking out some recent posts on the Library blog by Prof. Elvis Bakaitis about topics relating to the development of OER, concepts of “open,” digital pedagogy, and the topic of labor.

The Labor of “Open” – This post takes a look into current conversations about OER creation, faculty workload, and the role of educational technology.

OER in the News – A recap of news coverage of Open Educational Resources, and trends across higher education.

Interactive Education and OER – For those interested in the intersections of pedagogy, emerging technologies, and OER, a short recap of notable projects.

Download a summary of our OER activities in Fall 2018.

OER in the News

Open Educational Resources (OER) are in the news lately. Here are a few relevant highlights:
An article in InsideHigherEd notes that there is “undeniable growth” in faculty awareness of the OER. A recent report from Babson Survey Research Group found that almost 50% of 4,000 surveyed faculty had heard about OER in some depth. Co-author Jeff Seaman expressed his surprise at the shifting landscape – “I had not expected the change in print versus digital…I expected it to go [more] slowly.”
In an interview for EdSurge, Jess Mitchell notes the potential of “critical digital pedagogy” as a conceptual framework for incorporating OER into the classroom. According to Mitchell, questions of “how the materials are presented—the format that they’re in, what kind of mode they’re in,” can be used to guide student understanding of the choices behind educational materials.
A similar, but distinct concept, is that of “open research” – the idea that research methodology can be made more transparent, sharing data at all stages of collection, and many other considerations. Finally, if you’re interested in the evolving movement towards open, consider checking out OpenHub, which researches “the impact of open educational resources (OER) on teaching and learning practices.”

The Labor of “Open”

One of the latest questions surrounding OER is how best to sustain the growing movement towards free, openly-licensed materials. The current model has been mostly grant-funded, and powered by a widespread interest in lowering the costs of education.

One article for InsideHigherEd, “Open Resources in an Age of Contingency,”  observes a relationship between OER and part-time (or “contingent“) faculty members. Others have speculated that a key towards true integration of OER (and other open practices) into higher education will center around issues of faculty workload, tenure and promotion. 

The Role of Educational Technology

OER typically rely upon online platforms, so that they can be made accessible for students. Here at CityTech, most OER course sites are hosted on the OpenLab, which  is created “by a team that includes City Tech faculty, staff, and current and former students” as an “an open-source digital platform.” This allows for the true involvement of CityTech community members, who will shape the ways the OpenLab develops.
There are many other platforms (including for-profit business) that offer their services to colleges and universities, such as Lumen Learning, TopHat, and others. Part of the question about maintaining the spirit of “open” involves questions of how and why resources are made “free” – and at what potential risk to student privacy and other data.

Critiques of “Open”

Across higher education, “open” has gained traction as a buzzword, attached to many disparate and conceptual topics – Open Access, Open Educational Resources, Open Research, and more. Some have questioned the core ethos of the movement, and how the push towards openness can create new tensions around issues of sharing, privacy, research methods and more.

“Restless water” by Tomasz Baranowski is licensed under CC BY 2.0

David Gaertner, a member of the First Nations Studies Department at the University of British Columbia, writes compellingly of the historical lineage of Western research methods into Indigenous communities, and the relationship to language used in promoting Open Access (OA) scholarship.  For Gaertner and others, “OA has very real consequences for Indigenous peoples, insofar as it contributes to neo-Enlightenment ideologies of entitlement to knowledge.” As someone positioned within the field as “a non-Indigenous scholar who works with Indigenous communities,” Gaertner describes himself as familiar with the importance of recognizing community boundaries, and the flexibility/responsiveness required to do so.
Using the hashtags – #openforwho  #openforwhat – Gaertner asks us to question our own presumptions of access, and whether closure, in some cases, may actually serve as a “a path to openness.” For example, the concept of preserving the intention/spirit/context of an item by not allowing its public viewing, but intentionally restricting access to associated communities or groups.
In a response piece on her own blog, OER educator Christina Hendricks writes of the tensions between privacy and closure – and how the latter is arguably “more about respecting the appropriate boundaries of spaces, conversations, and knowledges given the context of what those are.” Considering these questions is critical to the developing path of OA, OER, and other developments under the wider umbrella of public scholarship.

OER and Access

Much of the buzz around Open Educational Resources (OER) has been driven by the very legitimate goal of lowering educational costs – particularly, the increasing price of textbooks from traditional publishers. Financial considerations are a defining aspect of the student educational experience, and OER has helped to mediate these issues by offering a free, zero-cost option.

“nothing” by Katy is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

On the flip side, however, there are ways in which OER presents new challenges, especially for students with limited access to technology. Although the principles of OER theoretically extend to all forms of media (a printed course packet is equally “open” if it is openly-licensed and free of charge), OER are typically presented via online platforms or course sites. This does guarantee that any student has immediate, 24/7 access to the material from all devices (mobile phone, laptop, desktop computer, tablet).
At the same time, many students are primarily dependent on their mobile phones for internet access, and thereby restricted to viewing course materials on a tiny screen. In their 2014 study, “Commuter Students Using Technology,” co-authors Smale and Regalado found that for some CUNY undergraduates, the availability of campus computers/technology was “a critical factor in their daily college experience.” Many spoke of sharing computers with other family members, and relying upon their mobile phones for a way to compose written class assignments (as opposed to a more traditional word processing program on a laptop or desktop computer).
These considerations are something to keep in mind while building OER course sites: is the site responsive to viewing from mobile devices? Are there ways to improve site readability, with tweaks to its structure, attribution practices, and descriptive hyperlinks? At the same time, we might also open ourselves to larger questions of how and why educational materials are provided to students, and in what contexts the word “access” is used.