Working in the Open- Part 1 of a Series

This is a post that has been meaning to be written for years. It is the first in a series, I hope, chronicling the development and implementation of an #Open Introduction to Literature Course. The thinking behind this series has been rolling around in my brain for a while, and I hope to pull it out and together here.

On Friday, on twitter, at the tail end of a #openlearning17 twitter chat, I mentioned that I
am developing a #OER Introduction to literature course. I was encouraged to share more of my project and, perhaps, to chronicle it. And I have been meaning to for a long time, so
this is as good a time to start as any.  I am working on the #OER text part of a larger granted funded project with two of my very good colleagues. To design the text for the course, we are bringing together existing materials, adapting, and developing where needed. However, I am also designing a course around those materials that I will teach in the fall, and that goes beyond the materials. I working toward a course that is grounded in open, connected, constrgear mask.jpguctionist principles.  In this post, I want to reflect a little on the why and reservations I have about what I am trying to do. I hope future posts will chronicle some of the more how and what.

For me, designing a course using #OER is about the learning experience that #open confers.  Much of the conversation around #OER centers on reducing cost, but my focus is more on what my students can do differently and how their learning might be different.  The course I am working on is a 100 level introduction to literature, and as such, it is both a foundation course that develops critical thinking and broadens contextual foundation knowledge and a course that has the potential to engage students in the humanities more deeply.

My first hope with my course design is that the course will engage students in the study of literature in a different way. Currently enrollment and interest in studying literature is waning. There are lots of articles discussing the reasons behind this phenomenon. img_0962However, students I have talked with have expressed frustration and lack of understanding of why studying literature might be important or relevant to them. They have also expressed a feeling of literature being a sort of exclusive/exclusionary activity. So at a very minimum, I want my course to give students a sense of agency and connection to the study of literary texts. #Open is a way to give them opportunities to personally connect and make meaning in that study. (And I will admit, I hope that if I can get them hooked here, they will develop a passion for going on.)

My next hope with an #open course design is that my students will develop a sense of community and common purpose. The study of literature should humanize differences, engage people in developing shared understandings, and help them make personal connections. In developing an #open course, students will have opportunities to engage
and connect with each other and explore other experiences in an authentic and meaningful way. I hope they will be inspired to take initiative to grow the course and the course materials and that they will develop empathy, connection to a larger global world,  a sense of personal agency, and a broader foundational context.

The final hope I will discuss here (I have plenty of others) is that I hope that teaching an #open course will help students develop critical literacies- not only advancing the more traditional notions of academic literacies and metacognitive skills, critical thinking, explication of text, pattern analysis, evaluation, synthesis and so on—but also key 21st century skills that tend to be categorized in digital literacy and digital citizenship.

I have reservations about teaching an #OER literature course, however. I have no reservations about #OER instructional materials, but I do have reservations about the limits #OER places on what texts are available for teaching purposes, if I am limited to a no cost model. I have no issues ditching a traditional text or anthology; however, I have ethical and pedagogical concerns about what literature is used. I want my students to yieldexperience a range of literature, not just what is in the public domain. I am concerned that a number of the texts I would choose to use to study are written by currently living and producing authors whose livelihood is their writing—and many of those authors are marginalized and under-represented. Giving students an opportunity to read and explore those authors feels like a ethical imperative both because many of my students come from under-served populations, and because I feel like it is my responsibility to give voice and space to those who are marginalized.

For me, this is where #OER and #Open on this project clash. The project I am working in sets certain parameters for the materials, and I will figure out how to work with those parameters, to make the texts as diverse as possible within the public domain and open materials.


2 thoughts on “Working in the Open- Part 1 of a Series

  1. That is a GREAT point and something I think about in general regarding open. Just because it’s open doesn’t mean it will meet other important criteria of value for our goals. In this particular case, you have a situation where being 100% open in traditional ways clashes with your goal to expose students to minority/marginalized voices, and a situation where those voices genuinely need that money. I wonder if there might be a way to get grant money to buy the books and lend them to students for a semester. So zero cost to students, authors get their royalties, and someone who cares fits the bill. Is that possible for you? The alternative is to share excerpts and have the books available on reserve at your library whether digital or analog

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Maha, Thanks for the comment. The grant requires everything to be openly licensed unless an exception is granted. Exceptions will only be granted in cases where an artifact is essential content for the course and can’t be made open. For this class there is enough literature available in the public domain that the course can be taught fully on public domain. I think the value of pulling together instructional materials for literature courses is really high. At a minimum, it allows us to not use an anthology and that will free others to try other approaches like either purchasing smaller literature collections with more diverse names and authors for students to use in class or making things available in the library because they won’t need the anthology. I am also looking at some of the literary journals as a possibility as well for my course.

    The literature courses which work best for #OER are ones which focus on literature before the 1940’s. So we will also have a World literature course that focuses on early literature and probably an African American Literature course focusing on the first half of that time frame.

    But in other courses, like women in literature, it will have to be a mix, but those courses aren’t part of the grant and won’t have the fully open requirement, so we have some more flexibility.


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