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Dec 16

Open (Accessible?) Educational Resources

Kaysi Holman and Jennifer Polish

December 2nd, 2016

CUNY IT Conference, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

As the CUNY Humanities Alliance website gets built out, it’s important to point out — especially in the context of conversations about OERs — that it’s difficult to talk about a website being built out in anything but the passive voice. Which erases the forces behind website construction. Which erases the fact that technology, including all the web resources we offer (and don’t offer) our students, is inherently, of course, entrenched in the same dynamics of power, marginalization, and oppression of the society that produced these resources.

Websites and the resources associated therewith are built out by people in the context of unequal, inequitable institutions. Naturally.

So, as we develop the CUNY Humanities Alliance site, we are going to try to reverse the game as much as we can: instead of accepting the design flaws of the current site (inherent in most basic site builds), moving forward we are going to be prioritizing optimal usage for students who do not necessarily have access to the kinds of technology (laptops, home computers) and non-mobile wifi access that make the current design run most efficiently.

Instead, we will be thinking about questions of data usage: how much will downloading a PDF that is ostensibly an OER, ostensibly freely available from the CUNY Humanities Alliance site, cost our students in terms of data plans? Watching a video on the site for homework? Will posting and commenting on extensive threads be doable from mobile phones, the device with which most LaGuardia students work with the internet? How does introducing yet another online platform (wordpress versus digication) further burden students who are already faced with the task of performing mastery of “Standard” (white middle class American) English?

On the other side of the proverbial coin from these questions — which need to be asked of all OERs and course sites — I am also curious moving forward about the way that LaGuardia students re-claim digital spaces, even and especially those that are not designed for them; digital spaces that are designed to neutralize the potential power of their voices, their creativity; digital spaces that instead favor producing a singular image of what community college student work is and should be.

In other words: How do students speak/write/art-as-verb against the power structures implicit in ed tech? How can student work radically redefine what education and access mean and what they do? And how can we make sure that the digitized spaces we encourage our students to use for our classes keep our students safe and supported in this risk-taking work, especially when our students are already so targeted for simply existing?

Earlier this week in first year seminar, a LaGuardia student was talking about career goals. Her entire face lit up when she mentioned the CW’s Supergirl and The Flash, especially after I (and several of her classmates) had a deeply visceral, excited response to her bringing the shows into the conversation. She cited very specific things she’d learned — both emotionally and intellectually — from the shows, and perfectly fit that in to the rest of her life, to the very essence of who she is and who she wants to become.

Another note about this sharp young woman: she has, between her various social media accounts, over 100,000 followers online.

How can this student’s passion and social media expertise work its way into digitized classroom spaces through accessible web design and through making resources available to her that can support, rather than stymie, her enthusiasm for superheroes and being her own superhero?

On the flip, many students’ response to this kind of online interaction is “wait, what’s tumblr again?” How must on and offline resources be arranged to teach both students, and all in between?

It seems to me that what we uphold as an “educational” resource needs to be expanded, and alongside this expansion, how we think about what is “accessible,” too, can be transformed. How can this student’s own framing of her own education in terms of fictional characters redefine what we mean by the term Open? By the term Educational? And by the term Resource? And how can this reflect in our course designs, lesson planning, what kinds of resources we post and what kinds of expectations we have of how students interact with online material?

How much more accessible can OERs truly become — OAERs, perchance — when we let students decide what gifsets, what pieces of writing on tumblr, what youtube sensation, sparks their learning, inspires their creativity, expands the way they understand the power of their own knowledge base?

The way that LaGuardia students use, refuse to use, play with, and create on, the Humanities Alliance site will certainly be telling. Not to mention transformative.


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