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Teaching with OER: Meghana Nayak

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Interested in learning more about Open Educational Resources? Dyson Professor Meghana Nayak shares her experiences thus far.

Dyson Political Science Professor Meghana Nayak, PhD, has been implementing Open Educational Resources (OER) into her coursework, while simultaneously interacting with OER on the academic publishing side. This month, Nayak chatted with Opportunitas to share her experiences with OER, the ways OER can enhance the classroom learning experience while making learning more accessible, as well as its potential for academic innovation and positive change.

What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?

Open Educational Resources allow anyone to be able to access information, data, or research, without having to go through a paywall, which is  when you have to pay fees to download an article, or have institutional affiliation and have to go through the University Library database, or pay for a book.
The reason why this is so fantastic is because it opens up access. You don’t have to be a student, or a professor, or have money, to be able to access these things. It’s a really cool way to share and spread knowledge.

What are some benefits of OER for Students?

For students, if you ever look at the anthologies or edited volumes of the books that professors assign, they can cost anywhere up to $100 or more. It’s really cost prohibitive; sometimes the professor ends up scanning the PDFs, or students have to share books, or read them for two hours at a time at the library. This can be really difficult for students.

What has been your experience thus far using OER, and implementing OER into coursework?

My experience at first actually felt a little frustrating. You can only go through certain databases for OER, and I realized you just have to work with the librarian to find the most straightforward path to the specific kind of material you are seeking.

But once you put in that initial labor, it then becomes really exciting because there’s all this literature and knowledge that may not otherwise be on your radar. Some things you may discover are authors sharing initial thoughts before their work is peer-reviewed for publication; or an author wants to write something that’s accessible for everybody, so it’s actually easier to read, and you think, oh, my undergraduate students might understand this better than something writing with a lot of academic jargon.

For me, it freed up what I could assign. It made me more creative, innovative, it exposed me to authors I had not heard of before. It took me out of that silo of only assigning the same authors over and over again. I thought it was a really interesting experience because I got to know about emerging scholars, and scholars all over the world.

In what unforeseen ways can OER potentially benefit University faculty?

I think that OER, from a faculty point of view, could completely revolutionize our entire system.

Here is the politics of knowledge. You’re told in graduate school that you have to publish in these top-tier journals. They’re expensive, you have to go through peer-review, you get a copy-editor. When you have a certain number of these peer reviewed articles, the institution decides you get tenure. When you have tenure, you have job stability.

It’s really a system that’s set up to only give access to this job stability to people who already have resources. If you can’t afford to hire a proofreader; if you haven’t mastered the jargon, if you don’t want to use the jargon, if you don’t want to publish in particular journals because they are not open enough to more “out of the box” thinking, then you could be left out of having more job stability.
With open access, everyone can publish, and weigh in, and engage. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have quality research—you should of course still do your research well. But I have to say, some of the so-called top peer reviewed journals out there don’t necessarily publish solid research. So it’s not to say that just because you go through a certain process of vetting it’ll produce something that’s “good” and valuable.

If we were to all get on board with OER, maybe we would be able to change some of the expectations around who gets hired and who gets tenure. Maybe it could be broadened up more. It’s been shown that people for whom English is a second language, for example, they may have a harder time getting published. In my OER reader, for example, I included people where I  could sense some indicators that they were writing in a second or third language. Some people may not catch all their grammatical and syntax errors for a variety of reasons that may have to do with class or being a first generation student. But they have really important things to say, so why not include that? What’s wrong with that? Writing and learning is a lifelong process, why can’t that be the case for academia as a profession?

For a Pace faculty member who might be interested in learning more about OER, what is the best way to get started?

I think first, contact the Librarians who work on this. If you try to do it yourself, it could be really confusing and overwhelming. Here I am, a researcher my entire life, and I fumbled at first because I just don’t have the expertise that librarians have in navigating different kinds of resources. I worked with the librarians, who are really amazing at Pace, and they used their expertise to point me in the certain direction in regards to certain databases and certain journals.

Second, I would tell a colleague to think back to what students complain about. Yes, students need to be challenged, but if they keep complaining about a certain topic that they just can’t understand; there’s nothing wrong with assigning that really dense theoretical piece, but then also assigning something that’s in more accessible language. I think students would really appreciate that.

Third, we emphasize doing collaborative research with our students at Pace. I think showing students that you can be early on in your career and still publish could be really inspirational to students; they may want to write something with you, and you can publish it in an open access journal. Now, there are open-access journals that are peer-reviewed, they still go through a process, but I think there’s more openness, back-and-forth, and collaboration as to how to make a piece strong enough to publish in an open-access journal. We could encourage our students to work on their writing, and actually send out pieces for publication.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I really do value a lot of the peer-reviewed paywall journals and the scholars who publish in them, and I know why we do that. I don’t think we have to choose. I think we do, however, need to democratize both the publishing and accessing of the work. We all say that we want our work to have real-world implications. Well, if only five people are reading and can access it…
I think I would also add that maybe there should be a way to make OER easier to navigate. Maybe there are ways Universities can amplify the importance of working with Librarians. Because OER can be hard to find. I’m not sure if for example, what I published, you’d necessarily be able to find right away through googling. I hope we can work with librarians and making it possible for anyone, anywhere to find specific OER resources through, for example, a google search.

Interested in exploring how to pilot components of OER into your course(s)? Email Sue Maxam to set up an individual session with someone from the OER team and/or check out our comprehensive OER website.