Open Educational Resources in the News

Let’s take a look at the ways OER have emerged in the news lately. 

  • CityTech’s OER Librarian, Cailean Cooney, was featured in a recent article about online learning. Cooney notes that “faculty are generally very sensitive and aware of our student population,” and that the program is structured to support their needs.
  •  Another article from InsideHigherEd posits OER as an “institutional survival strategy, making the pitch that OER is a “win-win.”
  •  The Justice EReader is a new project developed at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “offering a collection of key texts on the topic of justice, broadly defined, that functions as an intellectual hub for conversations about justice among undergraduate students and their teachers at the college.” As an OER, this project is freely accessible for widespread use.

If you’re still not clear about the dynamics of OER in the classroom, check out our previous blog post reflections by OER Fellows. Also, you can take a look at the OER developed within the Fellowship at CityTech, here.

OpenLab Development Updates: May 2019

Last month, there were no OER-specific OpenLab updates to report, but there were a few that are relevant to OER in the May OpenLab release.

New Features and Updates

  • Course and Project “Type” was added as a heading on the search results page, when you filter Courses or Projects by Type (e.g. FYLC, OER, or Cloneable).
  • Breadcrumb navigation is now included in the default site for new courses, in order to improve navigation on a site’s subpages. Currently breadcrumbs are available with the OpenLab Twenty Sixteen and OpenLab Twenty Thirteen themes, but they will now be included by default on all new course sites, created after the May 15 release.  A few things to note:
    1. If you change from the default theme to anything other than OpenLab Twenty Sixteen and OpenLab Twenty Thirteen, the breadcrumbs will no longer appear.
    2. If you want to keep the default theme but don’t want the breadcrumbs, you can remove them by deactivating the Breadcrumb NavXT plugin in Dashboard > Plugins.
    3. You shouldn’t need to change any of the plugin settings, but if you do, you can find them in Dashboard > Settings > Breadcrumb NavXT.

Bug Fixes

  1. In rare cases where a course was cloned through shared cloning but the original source course was deleted, it appeared in the credits as “Course – “.  Now, if the original course was deleted, nothing appears in the credits line.
  2. For OpenLab members using the new WordPress Block Editor (Gutenberg), you may have noticed that the OpenLab toolbar at the top of your site covered up some of the elements at the top of the Block Editor page. This was fixed so that it no longer overlaps.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact the OpenLab team.

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.

Working Session – 3/29

  • OER Creation Checklist
  • Review documentation for what we covered in the last session
  • How to disable comments on your pages / posts:
    • Go to Dashboard > Settings > Discussion Settings > Uncheck “Allow people to post comments on new articles”
    • To retroactively disable comments on a page or post level go to a Post > click “Screen option” at the very top right hand corner. A drop-down will appear. Click comments or discussion. This will make a pop-up appear at the bottom of the screen. Uncheck “Allow comments.”



OpenLab Development Updates: January – March 2019

This is the second post in what will become a monthly series highlighting any new features, functionality, or bug fixes on the OpenLab that are relevant for OER sites.

New Plugins and Themes

    • Mammoth .docx converter plugin: allows for easier copy and pasting from Microsoft Word without losing formatting, which should be helpful in adding materials like a syllabus to an OER site.  Something to keep in mind with this plugin is that the more semantic the Word doc is (e.g. use of Heading and paragraph styles), the better the formatting will translate to  posts and pages. Claire Cahen, an OpenLab Digital Pedagogy Fellow, has written a helpful post about the plugin and its functionality.
    • OpenLab Twenty Thirteen: This is a child theme of Twenty Thirteen.  The only difference between the two is that activating the theme also automatically activates the plugin, Breadcrumb NavXT, which adds breadcrumb links to pages, making it easier to navigate sites that might have a large number of pages. The plugin may be deactivated if you don’t want to use breadcrumbs, but it is only compatible with the OpenLab Twenty Thirteen and OpenLab Twenty Sixteen themes.
    • Shortcodes Ultimate plugin: provides more than 50 shortcodes that can be used in the post or page editor to add different kinds of functionality and visual elements, such as dropcaps, accordions, tabs, sliders, and more, to posts and pages. You can preview the available shortcodes on the plugin site.
    • Search and Filter plugin: allows you to add advanced options for searching and filtering posts on your site, such as the ability to allow people to filter posts by tags within particular categories, and more.


This post is adapted from the monthly series This Month in the OpenLab, written and published on the Open Road blog by the OpenLab community team.

OpenLab Development Updates: 2017-2018

This is the first post in what will become a monthly series highlighting any new features, functionality, or bug fixes on the OpenLab that are relevant for OER sites.

New Features and Functionality

  • Improvement of OER identification and searching. This includes: creation of a system for the visual identification of OERs on the OpenLab, creating a functionality and procedure for designating courses as OERs so they will have a visual “badge” as well as an identification on the backend that will allow users to better search for OERs on the OpenLab
  • Broadening the functionality of Course Cloning.  Faculty can designate their courses “shareable,” which allows any other OpenLab faculty member to clone the course.  Step-by-step instructions for shared cloning are included in OpenLab Help.
  • Disable Discussion, Docs, and Files. Many OER sites don’t use these tools, located on a course or project’s profile page.  These can now be disabled by going to Profile > Settings > Settings, and then scrolling down to the section for Discussion, Docs, and Files Settings.
  • Improvements to the Navigation Menu widget. The menu that appears in the widget no longer includes the Group Profile and Home links by default. This should be helpful for anyone who wishes to use a menu in the sidebar for sites with more complex navigation structures.

New Plugins and Themes

  • Easy Table of Contents: This plugin improves upon the functionality of the older Table of Contents Plus plugin that is no longer being maintained by its developer. We recommend using Easy Table of Contents rather than Table of Contents Plus, but the latter does still work.
  • PDF Embedder Premium: This plugin expands the functionality of the PDF Embedder plugin, including a download button for embedded PDFs, the ability to show active links in PDFs, and a better views on mobile. If you’re already using PDF Embedder, you can continue to use it, but in order to take advantage of the new features, you’ll need to deactivate it, and activate the premium version. It appears in the list of plugins on your site dashboard just below PDF Embedder, and is called PDF Embedder Premium.
  • Easy Custom Sidebars: This plugin allows you to show a different sidebars, on different pages of your site. It replaces Dynamic Widgets, which had a similar functionality, but was more difficult to set up.
  • OpenLab Twenty Sixteen theme and Breadcrumb NavXT plugin: OpenLab Twenty Sixteen is a child theme of Twenty Sixteen, and is quite similar, with the following changes: there’s no black border around the site, and some of the margins around the content are decreased so there’s less white space. The size of the site title is larger,  some of the heading styles are different, and bulleted and numbered lists are indented. Activating the theme also automatically activates the new plugin, Breadcrumb NavXT, which adds breadcrumb links to pages, making it easier to navigate sites that might have many different pages, like OER sites. The plugin may be deactivated if you don’t want to use breadcrumbs, but it can only be used with the Twenty Sixteen theme.
  • Anthologize plugin improvements. A number of improvements were made to the plugin including:
    • When editing a project, you are now able to view more details about each page and post, including categories, tags, and author, as you’re choosing them to add to a project. In addition, when exporting a project to save as a pdf or other file type, the author is now generated automatically from all post and page authors included in that project.
    • Changes to the formatting and options available for PDF exports, including improvements in the way image captions display, and the way text wraps around images. There are also now options for including the author and date for a post or page being included in a project.
    • A number of accessibility improvements to the dashboard interface were also made.
  • TablePress: This plugin provides a very robust but simple way to add tables to any post or page. The tables can be anything from simple to more complex tables that can be sorted or filtered, or split into multiple pages. The tables are mobile-friendly and accessible.
  • WP Accessibility: This plugin makes a number of improvements to the accessibility of OpenLab sites. On the OpenLab, the main function will be ensuring that everyone remembers to add alt text to images. It also removes the target attribute from links so they do not open in a new tab.  This is not a good practice for both accessibility and usability, but if you feel it is necessary, you can find instructions to change this setting on the WP Accessibility help page in OpenLab Help.  You can also find out more about the plugin on the WP Accessibility plugin page.
  • Accordion Shortcodes: This plugin allows you to add sections of text or other elements to their site that can be expanded or collapsed.  It is both mobile-friendly and accessible.
  •  Cite: This plugin adds a box at the bottom of any post or page with citation information that readers can easily copy and paste.


This post is adapted from the monthly series This Month in the OpenLab, written and published on the Open Road blog by the OpenLab community team.

CUNY University Student Senate Endorses OER

This month, the University Student Senate (an elected body of student representatives from across the 24 CUNY colleges) voted to endorse Open Educational Resources (OER).

The resolution, released on February 23, 2019, addresses key points relating to open resources as a whole, especially the final resolution – “the University Student Senate encourages the City University of New York to offer the support needed to faculty in order to adopt open textbooks .” This line hones in on a primary issue in terms of OER adoption, which is the time and labor needed to assess and adopt new materials, and integrate them into existing courses.

The USS also notes that “textbook publishers have not responded adequately to the concerns of student faculty, and other stakeholders,” particularly in terms of cost effectiveness for textbooks. This has been the driving factor behind the development of OER as a worldwide phenomenon: the potential to resist the traditional model, in which publishers develop copyrighted materials, and sell them at high cost to students and educators.

In the context of OER efforts at CUNY, student awareness has been a primary goal – encouraging the use of open resources, and making students aware of Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC) courses through CUNYFirst. The statement from USS thereby marks a significant turning point, where the generalized need for low-cost materials now seems to be turning into a focused and direct advocacy by CUNY students.

Open Educational Resources at CUNY: Year One Report

If you’ve been following the ongoing developments with Open Educational Resources at CUNY, you may be interested in the newly released Open Educational Resources Funds: CUNY Year One Report.

The report gives an overview of where the state funding was spent, information on individual projects at various campuses, and a few insights into institutional planning for the coming year. CityTech’s OER Librarian, Cailean Cooney, is identified in a section called OER Champions (see below).

CityTech OER Librarian featured in CUNY Year One Report

Other interesting snippets from the report include a discipline-specific breakdown of which courses have been converted to Open Educational Resources or zero-cost. Mathematics, Biology, and English are the top three, followed by Modern Languages, Astronomy, and Art. The report also notes a growing interest in Open Pedagogy, an emerging concept defined here as “where students take on the role of knowledge creators and share their work and their learning with others.”

Faculty awareness of Open Educational Resources as a whole is clearly increasing: in CUNY Academic Works, “the amount of OER published has increased by over 880 percent over the last four years.” There has also been productive cross-campus collaboration as a result of the state funding.

Finally, in a note that will interest faculty members at all levels, “OLS [Office of Library Services] is exploring ways in which faculty can be recognized for authoring, adapting, and adopting OER, particularly as it pertains to tenure and promotion.” Download the full report here.

Seminar 2 Agenda & Notes

Goals for Seminar 2:

  • Review Copyright & Fair Use Module
    • What is Fair Use?
    • Best Practices
  • Review the materials you selected
    • What’s their licensing / permissions?
    • Debrief
  • Learning how to attribute the materials you select
  • Check in one-on-one about finding materials for you course

For Reference:

  • Printable version of the Fair Use Checklist
  • Digital and printable version of the “Do I need to Get Permission?” handout
  • Sample OER site licensing language: “Unless otherwise noted, this site is licensed….xyz” … this type of wording is helpful in establishing that the site license may be distinct from the licensing of the materials you post on your site

Picture of Seminar activity

Picture of Seminar activity

Picture of seminar activity

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.”