Category Archives: Open Access

Diversifying Global Music Curriculum with Open Course Materials: An Interview with Dr. Luisa Nardini

Dr. Luisa Nardini is an Associate Professor of Musicology and the Division Head of Musicology and Ethnomusicology at the University of Texas at Austin. In Fall 2021, she was selected as a participant in the “Fostering Inclusive Classrooms with Open, Free & Affordable Course Materials” instructor learning community hosted by the Open Educational Resources (OER) Working Group to promote the UT Libraries ideals of inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA). Ten instructors from across disciplines came together to learn about and apply efforts to reduce the cost of required materials in their courses. Over six weeks, Dr. Nardini and her colleagues discussed a range of topics including finding and evaluating OER, enhancing the accessibility and cultural responsiveness of course materials, and integrating other open education practices into their teaching. 

Dr. Luisa Nardini, Associate Professor of Musicology and Division Head of Musicology and Ethnomusicology

Dr. Nardini shares her experience in the learning community with us. 

Q: What motivated you to apply to join the “Fostering Inclusive Classrooms with Open, Free & Affordable Course Materials” learning community?

A: My initial motivation was to do exactly what was indicated in the course title: to explore Open, Free, and Affordable Course Materials for a new class titled “Global Music Traditions ca. 700-1400.” I started teaching this class in the Spring of 2021 to move from the primarily Eurocentric focus of my previously taught course “Advanced Studies in the History of Music: Medieval” toward the global perspective of the current version. One of the main challenges for this course was to find scholarship that covered a variety of topics not generally included in college and university textbooks (or certainly not in a single book), but that could be nonetheless manageable and coherent. My main concern was to center course content and materials around notions of diversity, globality, and multilingualism, while considering affordability and OER. Not only it was difficult to find available scholarship, but it was even more complicated to locate works by authors from under-represented communities.

Q: Has affordability always been something you consider when evaluating course materials? How have you seen cost impact your students? 

A: I have always considered affordability in all my courses and generally opted for inexpensive or free publications in my classes. This led me to adopt less costly textbooks or to use library materials whenever possible. Although coming with no additional costs to students, many library resources are only available through library subscriptions, though, which means that they become unavailable to students after graduation. The model of open educational resources is very appealing to me and certainly more equitable because it allows for larger learning communities without the limitation of institutional affiliations. University students benefit from this model not only because they can have materials available to them after the completion of their degree, but also because of the amplified learning communities deriving from OER. For example, a student can discuss with individuals with no academic affiliations through social media, blogs, and so on, thanks to the unrestricted availability of resources.

Q: Your teaching often centers on medieval music, and you focused on locating materials for these classes in the learning community. What makes it so important to include a variety of resources in this course? 

A: It is absolutely crucial that students see the complexity of the medieval world, which was much more diverse and interesting than we tend to think. For instance, in my course students learn that women often held positions of power and were spiritual leaders as well as artists, intellectuals, and scientists. Depending on place and time, societies were highly diverse and some of the most advanced intellectual circles were truly ‘international,’ to use a modern term. People, but most importantly their work, travelled around the globe. Web-based resources help diversify not only the content of the course, but also the representation of authors and learners.

Q: Did you find any OER or otherwise freely available resources that you’re excited to use in your classroom? 

A: Yes, I did find many. My main goal for the class was to develop two modules on notational and theoretical systems, two topics that students find particularly challenging. These are difficult subjects because of their technicalities and because of the large variety of notations and musical theories developed over the course of several centuries throughout the world. In doing my research for the OER course I found this article on Guqin notation (a Chinese stringed instrument) by Eric Hung, that I am certainly going to use because of its clarity, but also because it belongs to a larger resource that is tackling issues of decanonization and decolonization of the music curriculum (see for instance Kunio Hara’s article on Madame Butterfly). Another resource that was not new to me, but that I am certainly going to use in class is this Youtube video that one of my students created as a final project for a previous class. In the video, Aruna Kharod compares the European model of the Eight modes with the system of Indian Ragas. The video is excellent because Kharod is an expert of Indian music and learned about the eight-mode system in my class. The video is not only accurate, however, but also very effective in terms of length, visual impact, and musical examples (she did her own singing).

Q: What topic in the learning community did you find most interesting or surprising? 

A: I found it particularly useful to learn about the different kinds of licensing, which has clarified many aspects of OER for me, and also about online textbooks resources. For the latter, unfortunately, I could not find much content that was relevant to my own course, but I am sure I will use the materials for other classes. The module on licensing has allowed me to understand what can and cannot be done with OER.

Q: What advice would you offer colleagues who are interested in integrating open and affordable materials into their courses? 

A: As academics we are generally very busy and might, therefore, refrain from undertaking tasks that seem very demanding on our own time. I would, however, encourage everyone just to start working on OER, maybe taking advantage of the extraordinary resources and staff at the university library. In addition, like with any other new directions we undertake in our pedagogy, we can do things in stages, adding something new or tweaking old resources and tools at each new iteration of a course. We don’t need to have everything in place at once, but we should certainly move away from the costly textbook model. It is not only inequitable, but often pedagogically limiting.

If you are interested in exploring open, free, or low cost course materials, get help by contacting Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu).

Human Rights Documentation Initiative Receives Major Web Upgrade to Improve Access and Functionality

By DAVID A. BLISS

The Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) is a collaborative archival project aimed at preserving and promoting the use of fragile human rights records from around the world, in order to support human rights advocates working for the defense of vulnerable communities and individuals. The HRDI was established at the University of Texas Libraries with a generous grant from the Bridgeway Foundation in 2008. Additionally, the Human Rights Documentation Initiative has partnered with the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice to identify key strategic issues for the initiative as well as provide relevant programming to the UT Austin community and beyond.

The HRDI preserves and provides access to paper-based collections, as well as digitized and born-digital audiovisual collections that are global in scope. Recognizing the importance of online human rights advocacy and the fragility of web content, the HRDI also maintains an archive of websites related to human rights issues, which is updated quarterly.

HRDI partners and collections page in Spanish. Many pages on the new site are available in both Spanish and English. This page lists all current members and their contributed collections.

A number of the collections found on this site have been preserved and made available through post-custodial archival collaborations between the HRDI and partner organizations and repositories. Post-custodialism is a collaborative approach to providing access to archival collections that preserves physical archives within their original contexts of creation while also creating digital copies for wider access. Through these collaborations, the HRDI aims to support the development of partners’ archival capacity, particularly in the areas of digitization, preservation, arrangement, description, and access.

View of the HRDI media player and metadata display. All videos published on the site are accompanied by subtitles and descriptive metadata. Source page.

About the New Platform

The new version of the HRDI site integrates streaming, search, and browse functionality alongside information about each project partner and the HRDI web archive in a single mobile-friendly interface. To fully accommodate international audiences, several pages are available in both English and Spanish, including those describing Spanish-language collections. The previous HRDI website launched in 2008 and was retired in 2020, when Adobe Flash was discontinued. An archived copy of the previous site and the retired HRDI blog are each available via the Wayback Machine.

Selections

Radio Venceremos

Radio Venceremos, the rebel radio station that broadcast from the mountains of Morazán, El Salvador, during the eleven-year Salvadoran Civil War (1981–1992), produced an important collection of recordings that contain valuable historic, anthropological, and ethnographic information, particularly in regards to human rights violations during an era of social transformation in Central America. This recording from December 31, 1981, contains an interview with Rufina Amaya about the massacre at El Mozote: Radio Venceremos Recording

Chammah and Young 1976 Oral History on the Jewish Community in Syria

Four-part account of Albert Chammah and Oran Young’s 1976 visit to Syria to investigate the political, social, and economic status of the Jewish community there. The account details the contemporary size of the Jewish communities in several Syrian cities, formal restrictions imposed by the Syrian government, and general social discrimination. Albert Chammah was a professor at UT Austin, while Oran Young was a graduate student at the time: Conversation between Albert Chammah and Oren Young

This account was transferred from two cassette tapes, donated to the HRDI by Albert Chammah’s son Maurice. Maurice Chammah is an Austin-based journalist and staff writer for The Marshall Project, focusing on capital punishment and the criminal justice system in the United States.

TAVP: Texas After Violence Project

Still from the Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) oral history interview with Donna Hogan, filmed in December 2009. The new HRDI site contains a variety of streaming audio and video collections, made available using a mobile-friendly interface.

Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) is a human rights and restorative justice project that studies the effects of interpersonal and state violence on individuals, families, and communities. The collection includes hundreds of hours of personal testimony that serves as a resource for community dialogue and public policy to promote alternative, nonviolent ways to prevent and respond to violence. Watch: Interview with Donna Hogan


David A. Bliss is digital archivist at the University of Texas Libraries.

Inaugural Open Education Fellows Announced

The University of Texas Libraries is pleased to announce the cohort in the Open Education Fellows pilot program. A competitive application process yielded many high impact proposals, and the selection committee undertook the difficult task of narrowing the outstanding crowd to officially name three Open Education Fellows who will convert their courses to zero-cost required materials through the adoption of existing open educational resources (OER) and one team of Open Education Fellows who will develop their own OER to serve students at The University of Texas at Austin and beyond.

Please join us in congratulating the Adoption / Adaptation Fellows, Dr. Joel Nibert (Department of Mathematics), Dr. Diane McDaniel Rhodes (School of Social Work), and Dr. Amy Kristin Sanders (School of Journalism and Media), as well as the team of Authorship Fellows, Dr. Joshua Frank, Dr. Delia Montesinos, and Mina Ogando Lavin (Department of Spanish & Portuguese). Their work over the next year will impact students enrolled in the following courses:

  • M 358K: Applied Statistics
  • SPN 367D: Business in Hispanic Life and Culture
  • SW 334: The Practice of Social Work in Organizations and Communities
  • TC 302: The Surveillance State

The average price of a new, print textbook is a little over $65 at The University of Texas at Austin, per the University Co-op, but electronic resources and access codes can often cost students much more. Open Education Fellows aim to cumulatively save students enrolled in their courses thousands of dollars each semester by switching from commercial textbooks and other materials to OER and other freely available resources. The open licenses assigned to OER allow students to access course content immediately and at no cost. Beyond this benefit, these open licenses also permit instructors to make copies and customize materials in ways that better serve students’ interests and their learning outcomes. Authorship Fellows will apply open licenses to the works they create and contribute them back to the OER ecosystem for other instructors to discover, adopt, and adapt.

The Libraries will provide Fellows with professional development opportunities to support their activities in finding, evaluating, and/or creating OER as well as stipends to offset the time and effort that we recognize these activities take. In addition to OER adoption and creation, Fellows will share their experiences by participating in Libraries’ events and collect anonymous student perceptions or outcomes data to understand the impact of adopting OER and other no-cost materials in their courses.

The Libraries hopes that the work undertaken by the Open Education Fellows will serve as a model to other instructors who are interested in reducing the financial burden of course materials costs for their students. Vice Provost and Director of the University of Texas Libraries at The University of Texas at Austin Lorraine J. Haricombe has been a longtime advocate for open education and OER adoption.

“When faculty remain informed of OER initiatives at their institutions, there is an increased awareness of these resources and an increased reported likelihood of consideration of future OER adoption,” says Haricombe. “I am delighted to see UT’s first cohort of Open Education Fellows and Authors who will work with UT Libraries to unleash their creative endeavors to innovate how we educate our students.”

The cohort of Open Education Fellows will begin their work in January 2022. Adaptation / Adoption Fellows will integrate OER into their courses by Fall 2022, and Authorship Fellows will have a usable draft of their OER ready by Spring 2023.

OPening UP for Equity

OA is foundational to advancing DEI / DEI is foundational to advancing OA

The 2021 Open Access Week theme of It Matters How We Open Knowledge: Building Structural Equity, was developed by the OA Week Advisory Committee to echo a core value of the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Science, that all producers and consumers of knowledge should have equal access to scientific inputs and outputs. 

Here at the University of Texas Libraries, we have long worked towards expanding access to the information resources we hold – from opening up browsing access to the book shelves in the Tower at the beginning of the last century, to opening up access to an online collection of UT’s dissertations and theses in Texas ScholarWorks at the beginning of this century.  We are not alone.  More than ever before higher education and research entities, including university presses, academic societies and publishers, want to expand equal access to knowledge. 

If one Googles “Open Access” there are over 200 million results.  One of the first results is from SPARC, who defines Open Access (OA) as the free, immediate, online availability of research.  With our society’s renewed commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusiveness (DEI), the transition to making research OA without barriers is imperative.  SPARC has collected impact stories to illustrate why this transition is crucial.   In short, OA is foundational to advancing DEI. 

The UT Libraries (UTL) is committed to advancing the transition of making research OA without barriers.  UTL has an OA platform for research authored at UT (Texas ScholarWorks), and an OA platform for research authored outside of UT (Digital Collections).  However, much of the online research licensed by UTL (journal articles and ebooks) is not OA and cannot be put on either of these platforms, nor the myriad other OA platforms across the globe.  So UTL is working to transition each license we sign towards an OA future. 

How does one transition a license for research to OA over time?  One inserts DEI principles into the negotiation. 

For several years, the campus has engaged with OA issues such as:  OA publishing, open educational resources, open data, and licensing & negotiation.  Start anticipating a blog post in the future about the Sustainable Open Scholarship Working Group.  For now, here is a teaser on the work of the Licensing & Negotiation Subcommittee made up of UT faculty and staff.  The group rolled up their sleeves and articulated licensing principles that champion DEI principles, for example: 

  • Diversity – The value and importance of a diversity of published voices to be OA.  Incorporate into a license the ability for all research to be immediately available for OA on an online platform. 
  • Equity – The value and importance for all readers to have access to OA research.  Incorporate into a license that research will be accessible to readers of all abilities consistent with current legislation and regulations.   
  • Inclusion – The value and importance for all authors to be able to designate their research to be OA.  Incorporate into a license the ability for unlimited articles to be designated OA without requiring authors or institutions to pay additional fees. 

Therefore, not only is OA foundational to advancing DEI, DEI is also foundational to advancing OA. 

With the help of Cambridge University Press (CUP), the University of Texas was able to make these principles a reality.  The UT license to the CUP journals includes all the above points.  UT authored articles can be immediately made OA on the CUP online platform.  The CUP platform does not prevent screen readers from helping readers that use these tools.  Unlimited UT articles can become OA without additional fees paid to CUP by UT authors.  One license at a time, the UT Libraries is building structural equity to advance DEI and OA. 

Want more information about UT and OA?  Consult UTL’s OA Guide, contact your Subject Librarian, read the report by the Task Force on the Future of UT Libraries, follow the Sustainable Open Scholarship Working Group, watch the introduction to the Faculty Guide to Use of Open Educational Resources (OER), and last but not least, peruse previous TexLibris posts about Open Access

Libraries uses Open Education to promote Inclusive learning opportunities

The Libraries announces the “Fostering Inclusive Classrooms with Open, Free & Affordable Course Materials” instructor learning community, to promote IDEA concepts through the adoption of open educational resources (OERs).

The OER Working Group eagerly seeks applicants to join its first instructor learning community in Fall 2021. With support from facilitators and guest experts, we hope to join participants from across disciplines in their efforts to make their courses as financially inclusive as possible by eliminating or substantially lowering course material costs. The emphasis of the community will be open educational resources (or OER), which are learning materials that carry open licenses and allow anyone to freely read, share, and modify them. These permissions also enable instructors to adapt them for greater cultural responsiveness and accessibility or even include students in building them. 

In the course of the learning community, participants will engage with the cohort to:

  • Understand the spectrum of affordable learning materials available openly or through campus / UTL services, with an emphasis on OER
  • Search for OER that may be relevant to the courses they teach in one or more repositories and evaluate them using open rubrics
  • Evaluate course materials for basic accessibility best practices & cultural responsiveness; identify opportunities to enhance these aspects of OER and self-created course materials
  • Identify and interpret open licenses associated with OER created by others and those they wish to apply to their own materials

If you’ve been interested in taking the first steps to transitioning your course to free or low-cost materials but need support to do it, please consider applying to join this instructor learning community. We will offer a nominal stipend of $200 (less withholdings) for completing the following requirements:

  • Participation in at least five of six required discussion sessions
  • Completion of a course map matching some of your course objectives to existing free and affordable material options
  • A sharing activity that may include openly licensing a learning object (such as a syllabus, lesson plan, module, or even your course map) or a proposed alternative

Please note that to maintain the level of interaction at which this group will most benefit, we will cap participants at 10 for Fall 2021. If interest exceeds that number, we look forward to offering more cohorts of this learning community in the future. 

See more details about who may be interested and what to expect from the experience. Apply here by Monday, 9/20. Notifications to accepted applicants will be delivered no later than Monday, 9/27.

UT Senate of College Councils Supports Low-Cost Course Materials Markings in Course Schedule

In April 2021, the Senate of College Councils (SCC) passed S.R. 2103: A Resolution in Support of Requiring That Low-Cost Course Status Be Displayed on the University’s Course Schedule. The resolution explains the necessity and value of this functionality and “seeks to have the registrar denote any low-cost course in the official course schedule with a marker appearing next to courses which meet the low-cost criterion.”

Currently, instructors at UT Austin provide their course materials adoption information to the University Co-op ahead of each semester in accordance with Texas H.B. 33, and the Co-op publishes all selected materials by course even if those materials are not available through the Co-op. 

More recently, Texas S.B. 810 requires additional transparency of institutions by requiring that they identify courses for which open educational resources (OER) are assigned. OER are typically available to students free of cost or at a very low cost compared to commercial textbooks and other materials. At present, these courses are identified on the Co-op website in list format. Website visitors will notice that this list is very short and not representative of all courses that utilize OER because instructors often do not provide this information to the Co-op if their course does not require students to purchase materials. 

While the University follows the letter of the law related to S.B. 810 in this implementation, S.R. 2103 asks the University to follow the spirit of it, which is to allow students to search for and identify courses with low or no cost course materials costs where they are most likely to make those decisions — directly in the course schedule. The resolution suggests that $45 be used as the cut-off for “low cost” course materials designation, which is similar to the guidelines of other universities who have already implemented this feature. Institutions that have already adopted free and/or low cost course markings in their course schedules include UT Arlington, the University of Kansas, the City University of New York, and many more. (See many examples in the open textbook Marking Open and Affordable Courses: Best Practices and Case Studies.)

This is not the SCC’s first resolution in support of open, free, or affordable course materials. This resolution builds on S.R. 1808 (A Resolution in Support of UT Libraries’ Advocacy for Open Education Resources) and S.R. 1911 (In Support of the Creation of a University-Wide OER Faculty Award Program). This year, the SCC also partnered with UT Libraries to launch the first-ever Affordable Education Champions award program to recognize faculty who select free and affordable course materials. In the first year, more than two dozen nominations were submitted by students across campus, and five faculty members were formally recognized as the inaugural Affordable Education Champions.

Originally posted at the Libraries’ Open Access blog.

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Kirkland (Alex) Fulk

In celebration of Open Education Week 2021, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. Kirkland (Alex) Fulk, who was nominated by his students in GER 331L (Advanced Conversation and Composition) in the Department of Germanic Studies. Dr. Fulk also teaches GER 346L (German Literature Between the Enlightenment and the Present) and GER 373 (Topics in German Literature), and he utilizes freely accessible resources in all classes. 

Dr. Fulk joined the Department of Germanic Studies as a lecturer in 2013 and since 2014 is an Assistant Professor of post-war German literature. His work centers on the intersections between literature, culture, and theory and has also moved into other forms of media. He has published for instance on photography and new literary ethnographic practices; post-colonialism and neoliberalism; the transnational connections of pop musical cultures, practices, and public spheres; and post-‘68 reevaluations of Marxism, futurology, and other science fictions.

When asked what led him to select free resources as required course materials, Dr. Fulk told us “This particular course (GER 346L) focuses on 18th and 19th century German literature, culture, and history. Because of this, many of the primary texts are no longer under copyright restrictions and are available thanks to Projekt Gutenberg, a free online archive of literary works. However, even in my other courses that focus on the 20th and 21st centuries, there is a wealth of online material available. For instance, the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. curates an online archive full of historical documents, photos, etc., and more recently the German Studies Collaboratory provides a forum for sharing a wide range of open-source materials. Not to mention, of course, the library resources, particularly Kanopy, which has been a game changer for film viewings (and a shout out to Uri Kolodney for always helping me out with film acquisitions).”

Dr. Fulk’s students shared with us some of the ways in which his choice to assign free or low cost resources impacted them.

“In my time as one of his students, Dr. Fulk has gone above and beyond the call of a professor not only to ensure that our virtual class experience is engaging and accommodating but also that finances are never a barrier to educational resources. Over the span of three courses taken with him, I have spent a total of $4 on educational resources (in the form of movie rentals). When he wasn’t able to provide certain readings for our GER 346L course, he directed us towards free online resources and personally assisted me in acquiring one reading after I had received the syllabus late. Dr. Fulk truly strives for equity and inclusion for all students in his classroom and I have confidence, and anecdotal proof, that he spares no effort in ensuring his students’ success through cost-free access to educational materials.” — Victoria Ritter, Chemistry & German Major 

Dr. Fulk generously offers three pieces of advice to other instructors interested in transitioning their courses to free and affordable materials:

  1. “Realize that students are in effect digital natives and that the internet is often the first place they go. This provides wonderful opportunities to engage with media literacies and to reinforce them through scholarly engagement with library resources.”
  2. “Be mindful of newer online initiatives such as those mentioned above that are often part of our professional organizations and aim to make teaching resources and materials widely available (most often for free).” 
  3. “It goes without saying that tuition is becoming more expensive as is the cost of living in Austin. Being attentive to this and doing what we can to lighten the burden might not offset the financial hurdles in higher education, but it does demonstrate that education does not have to be tied to monetary resources. Teaching students how to properly use what’s already at their fingertips can go a long way to cultivating best practices for continuing their education beyond the classroom and beyond the university.”

Join us in thanking Dr. Fulk for his contribution to making UT an inclusive and equitable environment where students can succeed without high course materials costs!


If you know of an instructor who is dedicated to making their courses as affordable as possible by selecting free or low cost course materials, let us know by contacting Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu).

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. George Pollak

In celebration of Open Education Week 2021, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. George Pollak, who was nominated by his students in NEU 330 (Neural Systems I) in the College of Natural Sciences. 

Dr. Pollak received his Ph.D. in physiology from the University of Maryland Medical School in 1970. He then did his postdoctoral work in the Department of Anatomy and Biology at Yale University and was promoted to Assistant Professor of Anatomy before joining the faculty of the Zoology Department at the University of Texas at Austin in 1970. He is currently Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Pollak’s research concerns the neural processing of sound in the mammalian auditory system. He uses bats as experimental subjects due to their high reliance on hearing. Early in his career, in 1977, he was the recipient of a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health. Later in his career, from 1987-1991, Dr. Pollak served on the National Institutes of Health Hearing Research Study Section and served as the chairman of the Study Section from 1989-91. In 1996 he received a Claude Pepper Award from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders, the highest award given by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communicative Disorders in recognition of outstanding contributions to auditory neuroscience. In addition, he received an Alexander von Humoldt grant (for young investigators) and a von Humboldt Award for Senior Investigators, grants that funded his collaborative research with colleagues at the University of Munich.

Dr. Pollak has also received several teaching awards and honors, including the President’s Associates Teaching Excellence Award (1997); the Texas Blazers Faculty Excellence Award (2000); Professor of the Month, awarded by the Senate of College Councils (2012); Professor of the Year, awarded by the Senate of College Councils (2013); and the Regent’s Outstanding Teaching Award (2014). We are delighted to add Affordable Education Champion to this impressive list. 

Dr. Pollak is very enthusiastic about teaching the brain to undergraduates.  He experiences  a profound sense of satisfaction when he can share his excitement and the views he  obtained from 40 years of research on the nervous system with a diverse group of young men and women.  He feels that our understanding of how the brain works represents one of the great achievements of mankind, and that the next generation should obtain an appreciation of that achievement.

When asked what led him to author his own freely available materials for NEU 330, Dr. Pollak told us about the gap between the existing texts and his needs for the course. “The material offered in Neural Systems I and its earlier versions, has evolved continuously during the 40 years that I have taught the course, due in large part to the numerous discoveries made in neuroscience…. [For] most of this period the textbooks available were designed for medical school. They were too complex for an introductory neurobiology course and covered too many topics. It was for these reasons that I wrote and illustrated the chapters that I use in my lectures. Each chapter is a written and illustrated form of the lecture presented that day. These now comprise 350 pages in 28 chapters. The newest findings in the field are incorporated into each chapter and several recent and exciting findings were incorporated as new chapters. New clinically relevant topics were added, especially those dealing with gene therapies, clinical tests based on the neural mechanisms discussed in lecture, and neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. I wrote each chapter in Word and constantly make additions or changes to the text as new developments arise. The reader can view [as an example]…  ‘Chapter 3, Introduction to The Action Potential.’ I upload PDF versions of each chapter to Canvas…. There are no extra costs to students in my sections of Neural Systems I.”

In addition to the text he authored and updates, Dr. Pollak supplements the course readings with extensive video content to engage students beyond the written word. “I… make extensive use of movies in Neural Systems I, those that I made and movies that I purchased or downloaded, which are all provided to the students free of charge. The movies appropriate for each lecture are uploaded to Canvas and can be viewed or even downloaded free of charge.

I made the movies because I know I can’t absorb and retain everything I hear in a lecture, and the same is true of undergraduates, regardless of how good the lecture is. The movies provide the opportunity to preview the topics of each lecture and/or to review each lecture at the students’ convenience. The movies provide the students with an enormous advantage for learning the topics covered in Neural Systems I. Each movie is not only animated but also is also narrated, where I verbally explain the concepts and mechanisms of each lecture in a step-by-step sequence.

The initial motivation for making the movies was that the first half of the course, especially the first quarter, deals with basic biophysical and electrical features of nerve cells. Many, if not most, students have a less than solid background in physics and often find the electrical events that generate neural signals challenging. To help them, I decided to make movies to illustrate exactly how the electrical features of neurons are formed and how they operate.

The student response was so overwhelmingly positive, that I continued to make additional movies on the topics covered in the later portions of the course. There are now more than 60 movies that cover the subject matter of almost all the lectures of the course. I have established a YouTube channel that has all of the movies. The channel is available to the public and is also used by my colleagues at UT and at other universities…. An example is Movie #6, titled “The Action Potential-1- The Role of Voltage Gated Sodium Channels”, which is assigned with Chapter 3 cited above, Introduction to the Action Potential. This movie explains one of the most basic features of nerve cells, how they generate their electrical signals or action potentials, the universal language of all nervous systems. The first part of the movie can be readily understood, even by those who have not had Vertebrate Neurobiology or Neural Systems I. It can easily be accessed [on Dropbox].”

Dr. Pollak’s students enthusiastically praise the course materials and the ways they’ve enhanced the students’ learning experience and sense of belonging in the discipline.

“Dr. Pollak’s offerings of material he wrote specifically for this course allowed me to be confident that the material I was learning was applicable to his course, and easily accessible, without having to pay anything for it. I appreciated having an easily accessible textbook, which allowed me to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for Neuroscience.” — Sophomore, Neuroscience Major

“Dr. Pollak’s use of no-cost instructional materials made my access to the class much less stressful and has taken a great deal of stress off of me, especially because of the impact of COVID on my financial situation. Dr. Pollak has provided a wealth of materials, from textbook chapters he wrote to incredibly helpful instructional movies, at no cost, and being able to access these materials has improved my learning process a great deal. Because this is a class for my major, having class materials that I didn’t have to pay for made me feel particularly welcomed into the Department of Neuroscience, knowing that there are no real economic barriers to get started with my major.” — Emma Babaian, Neuroscience Major

Please join us in thanking Dr. Pollak for his contribution to making UT an inclusive and equitable environment where students can succeed without high course materials costs!

If you know of an instructor who is dedicated to making their courses as affordable as possible by selecting free or low cost course materials, let us know by contacting Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Beth E. Bukoski

In celebration of Open Education Week 2021, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. Beth E. Bukoski, who was nominated by her students in ELP 392Q (Advanced Qualitative Research Design and Analysis) in the Educational Leadership and Policy Department. 

Dr. Bukoski is an Associate Professor of Practice and Co-Program Coordinator of the Program in Higher Education Leadership in the College of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin. She is a faculty affiliate with the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies. She teaches utilizing liberatory pedagogies with an explicit focus on diversity, inclusion, social justice issues. Her research focuses on issues of social justice, equity, and diversity, particularly the persistence and success of underrepresented students, the experiences of underrepresented faculty, and leadership/administration across the P-20 pipeline. Her work centers on issues related to identity intersectionality and performativity — particularly constructs of gender, sexuality, and race; she uses qualitative methodologies such as case study, narrative and discourse analysis, and phenomenology and tends to use critical theories to guide her work.

Dr. Bukoski also currently serves as Vice-Chair for the Council for the Advancement of the Higher Education Programs (ASHE).

When asked what motivated her to select free resources as required course materials, Dr. Bukoski told us: “Neither of my courses ([ELP] 392Q and 395K) have a textbook this semester. I generally try to avoid having a textbook unless I can foresee students wanting to keep the text as a part of their library, or they will read all/most of it, or I cannot find enough other supplemental materials or materials available through the library to replace the text. For 392Q – Adv. Qualitative Methods, the library has extensive SAGE research materials and access to multiple top journals on the subject. For 395K – Community Colleges, the library has access to multiple journals on the topic and has been responsive to requests for specific chapters I need scanned. In addition, the only texts I could have used for 395K were prohibitively expensive.”

She notices that students appreciate the effort and intention that comes with selecting resources free to students, too. “Usually when I have been able to avoid text fees, students comment on the affordability and thank me for not having required texts. I think the increased access increases the likelihood of students engaging with the materials…. I have noticed I no longer have students coming to class unprepared because they could not afford the text or get their hands on a copy for free.”

We heard the same thing from Dr. Bukoski’s students. They can access course materials easily and benefit from engaging in the course through collaborative software. 

“She provided us articles to read that were accessible via UT libraries. We use various programs online in class like Google docs and Mural which are free and don’t require an account either. [I] can pay my bills with more ease and less stress. School is expensive and not having to pay for books and class materials is a huge relief because it helps reduce burden on students financially.” — Graduate Student, Educational Leadership and Policy

Join us in thanking Dr. Bukoski for her contribution to making UT an inclusive and equitable environment where students can succeed without high course materials costs!

If you know of an instructor who is dedicated to making their courses as affordable as possible by selecting free or low cost course materials, let us know by contacting Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. James Curley

In celebration of Open Education Week 2021, the Senate of College Councils and UT Libraries partnered to solicit nominations from students across campus to recognize instructors who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for their classes. We’ll be recognizing a few of those nominees this week as Affordable Education Champions!

Affordable Education Champions are instructors who assign free or low cost resources — like textbooks, websites, films, and more — for their courses. Sometimes they author their own materials, and sometimes they’re able to reuse free or low cost work created by others. We share gratitude and appreciation for their commitment to fostering access to high quality education at the lowest possible cost barrier for their students. 

Today, we congratulate and thank Dr. James Curley, who was nominated by his students in PSY 317L (Introduction to Statistics for Behavioral Sciences) in the College of Liberal Arts. 

Dr. Curley received his B.A. in Human Sciences at The University of Oxford (UK) in 1999. He was a member and scholar of Somerville College, Oxford. In 2003, he received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Cambridge (UK). His Ph.D research was conducted at the Department of Animal Behaviour, Cambridge, on the effects of imprinted genes on brain and behavioral development, particularly maternal and sexual behavior.

He then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Cambridge for four years researching behavioral development, particularly how early life experiences shape individual differences in behavior. He was also the Charles & Katharine Darwin Research Fellow of Darwin College, Cambridge.

Following this work he joined the Psychology Department at Columbia University, where he continued to work on the development of social and maternal behavior. From 2012-2017, he was a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Columbia University. There, he established a research group studying social dynamics and social dominance hierarchies.

His lab at UT focuses on the neurobiological basis of social behavior in groups, as well as the long-term plastic changes in the brain and peripheral physiology that occur as a consequence of social status. They also are interested in developing novel methods for the study of social hierarchies and networks.

When asked what led him to author his own resources for required course materials, Dr. Curley told us about the many ways that his textbook and tools respond to student needs. “I have long thought that the cost of textbooks is too high. So I was clear from the beginning of designing this course that I wanted to make the textbook materials freely available. I found some excellent open source free online textbooks for statistics and programming. I then decided that I would write my own textbook [Introduction to Statistics for Behavioral Scientists using R] to be able to focus in more detail on the areas of stats and programming that I was introducing in my course. So then I spent last Summer (2020) co-writing the textbook for the course with my graduate student Tyler Milewski. For each module, I give readings from my textbook or another excellent free one online and let the students choose which they prefer to go with.

I also realized that a benefit of writing an online open source textbook was that I could update it in real time. If students want more explanations about certain topics, then it is relatively easy for me to write extra details or examples in the book and publish immediately. Obviously with the old textbook model it isn’t easy to update that quickly.

Finally, many students like to learn through interactive hands-on tools. Therefore I’ve been building a catalogue of browser based tutorial guides that students can play around with to learn statistics concepts. These sorts of materials are not part of traditional textbook offerings, so clearly making them freely available is the only way to go!”

While PSY 317L has never relied on a commercial textbook, Dr. Curley observes that compared to other courses where expensive texts were used, “students engaged a lot more with the textbook in this course. I think that is largely due to my tailoring its content to my course and the fact that it was available online in the browser. Students definitely comment on how glad that the textbook is free.”

We heard the same thing in Dr. Curley’s nomination. Students appreciated the savings, but they also deeply valued the breadth of free materials available to them — not to mention Dr. Curley’s own availability to support them throughout the class. 

“Stats was a really intimidating class for me, but having tons of free resources available, like videos, textbooks, websites, and SO MANY office hours, made me finally feel like I understood why UT wants psychology majors to learn statistics. Honestly, I think everyone should take a class like this because the skills we learned are applicable to so many different fields. [With the money I saved in this class, I] didn’t have to worry about whether I would be able to pay for the materials needed to do well in the class and instead could just focus on learning.” — Sophomore, Psychology Major

If you are an instructor thinking about adopting free or affordable course materials, Dr. Curley offers this advice: “I think it is well worth connecting with faculty at other institutions to see what they might be using. There are a lot of innovations in different fields and many faculty are very aware of the need to try and make materials affordable. I was pleasantly surprised by how many options there were for statistics and programming. Obviously writing your own textbook is not feasible for every course, but I found that doing this really led me to understand how best to deliver the material to students and was a really great use of preparation time for my class.”

Please join us in thanking Dr. Curley for his contribution to making UT an inclusive and equitable environment where students can succeed without high course materials costs!

If you know of an instructor who is dedicated to making their courses as affordable as possible by selecting free or low cost course materials, let us know by contacting Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu).