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Teaching with OER: Travis Webster

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Interested in learning more about Open Educational Resources? Dyson Professor Travis Webster shares his experiences thus far.

Dyson Assistant Professor of English Travis Webster, PhD, has been implementing Open Educational Resources (OER) into his coursework, while simultaneously thinking of the future of OER and accessibility. This month, Webster chatted with Opportunitas to share his 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.

How did you first start implementing OER into your coursework and lesson planning?

A team of us in the English department—myself, I’m the Writing-Enhanced Course (WEC) director, and a few other colleagues were interested in bringing a more accessible format for readings and resources to students in our first-year writing sequence.

In the summer of 2019, we put together an OER resource through the library for students and faculty who were teaching our English 110 sections, so our faculty would have a good set of resources for readings for the course that they could pick and choose from—.that the entire writing program had built together, more or less.

We took suggestions from materials that folks were teaching, plus our input from our own small team. And through working with the library, we built that resource for the 110 section of our English department.

What has been your experience with OER thus far? Is it going well?

I think it’s gone well. I do my best to make sure there’s not a lot of book related costs in courses. It’s not that I’m anti-book at all, but I think right now, especially in a global pandemic, especially with the costs of higher ed, students are already paying so much for their education. If we could relieve them of book-related costs, especially if there’s a global move in making information and readings more open access and accessible, we ought to be doing that.

I use the resources in my own courses, and I hear nothing but pretty good things from the faculty and the students. If you start a class and say there’s no book costs for this course, I think that’s already setting a tone that you value access and equity, and are aware as an instructor about the things in higher ed we could be working out, and be relieving students of.

What are some ways in which the academic rigor found in more traditional texts can be maintained through OER?

I know that my discipline—rhetoric and composition—is really focused on this right now. In our field, I think there’s a real move to make sure peer reviewed sources are in this mix. I do think, for example, in my field also, there’s a publishing venue called the Writing Across Curriculum (WAC) Clearinghouse, that’s committed to ensuring that peer-reviewed books and articles are open to more than just people who can pay for paywalls.

On one hand, I think as a larger academic enterprise, we can think about ways that we can fund publishing sites so that they don’t have to have these heavy paywalls. I think there has to be continued awareness of how the academy needs to be more publicly accessible, and I think that’s a good starting point.

What would be your advice to a faculty member who is interested in further exploring Open Educational Resources?

Our team first looked at what Pace had accessible and then looked at other sites that do similar things. Getting in contact with the librarians for more information was critical for us, just in having conversations about permissions and things like that.

Those are two things I would say right off the bat—look at what people have already done, then also get in contact with people who could support you—the librarians were nothing but wonderful for the project.

Anything else you'd like to add?

I am director of WEC in Pleasantville. The New York City WEC director and I are thinking about OER beyond just classrooms, but also thinking about this in terms of faculty resources that are accessible.

If something you’re doing on campus, or a set of resources might be useful to your colleagues, I think you can also think about this outside of just teaching. I’m seeing people move in this direction with their ideas about what OER can be for them at Pace—it can also be a way to showcase interesting things that are happening at Pace.

Our OER resources for our department are googleable, these things can come up, and other folks can see interesting, innovative, and accessibility-oriented work happening at Pace.

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.