A student Perspective on Open Educational Resources (OER) and Course Materials Affordability

This guest post is authored by Antara Gupta as part of our series in support of Open Education Week. Because we can’t limit ourselves to just one week, we’re excited to celebrate open education throughout the month of March. 

Antara Gupta is a third-year Neuroscience major also pursuing certificates in Spanish and Social Inequality, Health & Policy. She is an active member of the Natural Sciences Council, Health Science Scholars DEI Subcommittee, and Delta Epsilon Mu. In her free time, she loves cooking, thrifting, and exploring new coffee shops! 

College is celebrated as a haven for life-long learners. It is a bustling site for exploration and ingenuity, a place where you can discover something new about yourself or about the world. Students come in with big dreams such as: 

Learning how to start a business. 

Working in a renowned lab. 

Taking a class with a celebrated film professor. 

But ahead of many stands a looming barrier. Textbook fees. Lab fees. Online homework portal fees. On average, a full time undergraduate student spends approximately $740 on books and supplies during the academic year. Oftentimes, these funds are not advertised until after the student has already enrolled in a class. This puts low-income students at a significant disadvantage as they face apprehension that a class they enrolled for will potentially put them over their budget. How can we call such an environment a “bustling site for exploration” or a “haven for life-long learners” when concrete boundaries – on top of tuition – exist? 

Fortunately, these problems have been noticed by the UT community, and the university– along with multiple organizations–are doing their due diligence to make changes. S.B. 810 requires that UT identifies courses which have open educational resources (OER), and a list is generated on the Co-op website for each semester. 

But UT hasn’t just stopped there. As a member of the Natural Sciences Council (NSC), I remember being introduced to the initial versions of S.R. 1808, a bill to directly identify OER classes on the course schedule. As someone privileged enough for additional class fees to not be a major concern when deciding my semester schedule, it was eye-opening to learn about and consider the struggles that many other students go through. I was shocked that we had not implemented something like this already. However, NSC along with other college councils took steps to change this and voted in favor of the bill. With the implementation of this bill, any class with a total cost of less than $45 will now be identified on the course schedule as providing OER. This initiative will make open educational resources more transparent and accessible by allowing students to skip the process of searching for such classes through the Co-op website or through their own research. 

S.R. 1911 has further incentivized OER classes by supporting the creation of a University-Wide OER Faculty Award Program for professors who provide low-cost or free materials for their classes. Additionally, to continue dialogue and create an open forum for discussion, the UT Austin OER Working Group meets periodically to discuss current issues and initiatives related to OER. They invite anyone (students, staff, and faculty) to come and provide input during the meetings. Learn about how to join if you’re interested in getting involved. 

UT has made strides in improving access to education for our university students. Through open education week, we are able to celebrate the progress and highlight faculty who have been integral in this process. However, our work here is not done. As we continue on our journey, we must remember that education – especially for tuition-paying university students – must be treated as a right, not a privilege. 

Want to learn more about OER and opportunities to advocate for course materials affordability? Contact Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu)

Tower to Shine a Light on Benson Latin American Collection Centennial

On the night of March 24, 2022, the UT Tower will be lit in honor of the centennial of a crown jewel of our campus—the Nettie Lee Benson Latin American Collection. Established as the Latin American library on campus in 1921, the collection is beloved by students and faculty, and visited by scholars from all over the world.

Benson Latin American Collection, with Olmec head replica

The collection was named in 1975 upon the retirement of revered head librarian and historian Dr. Nettie Lee Benson, who served as its director for thirty-three years, retiring in 1975. The stewardship of Mexico-born historian, archivist and educator Dr. Carlos E. Castañeda from 1927 to 1943 was similarly indispensable in the library’s earlier years. In 2011, the Benson joined forces with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (LLILAS) in a partnership known as LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. This partnership has allowed for an expansion of the Benson in the areas of digital scholarship, post-custodial archiving and archiving of Indigenous languages of Latin America.

Carlos E. Castañeda (right) examines a manuscript in the Latin American library, n.d.

This short video highlights the Benson

To honor the Benson Centennial, The University of Texas at Austin has invested in an interior redesign of the Benson’s main reading room—the first since its construction in 1971. The newly refurbished 6,734-square-foot room is the main entrance to the library and the heart of a place frequented by thousands of visitors each year.

Nettie Lee Benson, undated archival photo

The Tower lighting on March 24 coincides with the grand opening of this beloved space, renamed the Ann Hartness Reading Room, in honor of former head librarian Ann Hartness, whose thirty-eight-year tenure at the Benson enriched Brazilian studies and collections at the university. Its naming was made possible by a gift from Hartness’s son and daughter-in-law, who have also established the Jonathan Graham and Elizabeth Ulmer Fund for Library Materials on Brazil, an endowment to enhance the collection in the field of Brazilian studies. Graham and Ulmer have dedicated the remaining portion of their gift to create the Ann Hartness Benson Collection Matching Fund.

Ann Hartness in the Benson Reading room, 1971

The Benson Centennial Tower lighting is a moment for hope—that this jewel of the University of Texas Libraries may continue to open its doors to the university community and beyond for many years to come, that we may continue to pursue digital projects that make our collections available worldwide through open access, and that support for the richness of this collection will be a means to continue its growth, its inclusiveness and its accessibility to an ever-expanding audience.

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Support the Benson’s next century with a donation to the Drs. Fernando Macías and Adriana Pacheco Benson Centennial Endowment. To explore giving opportunities for the Benson Latin American Collection, contact Hannah Roberts at h.roberts@austin.utexas.edu.

OER Faculty Author Spotlight: Dr. Jeannette Okur

In observation of Open Education Week, UT Libraries is proud to spotlight a few of our talented faculty members who are on the forefront of the open education movement as open educational resource (OER) authors! Because we can’t limit ourselves to just one week, we’re excited to celebrate open education throughout the month of March. 

We’re continuing the series today with Dr. Jeannette Okur (she/her/hers). Dr. Okur coordinates the Turkish Studies program in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, and teaches a variety of courses in language, literature, film, and cultural studies. She completed her doctoral degree in German Language and Literature at Ankara University in 2007, in a department known for its engagement in the field of comparative literature. Dr. Okur is interested in approaches to teaching ‘culture’ and ‘society’ in the foreign language classroom, approaches to teaching critical reading and writing skills, and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of literature and film. Her Turkish textbook and online materials for Intermediate level students of Turkish, titled Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar, were published this past year by the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL). Her current literary research explores the relationships between perpetrators and victims of political violence portrayed in transnational novels by Turkish- and Iraqi-Kurdish writers in exile. 

Dr. Okur graciously shared her experiences developing and sharing OER in the interview below.

Do you recall how you first became aware of open educational resources (OER) or the open education movement more broadly?

Yes, I learned about COERLL and OER textbooks through a presentation given by Dr. Fehintola Mosadomi about her multimedia OER project, Yorùbá Yé Mi, which was later published in 2011.  I remember her talking about the dearth of materials available for teaching Yoruba culture and language and how she sought to rectify that problem by creating online materials that would be affordable and accessible to the small, scattered groups of students learning Yoruba. This idea of an alternate route for publishing curricular materials for a Less Commonly Taught Language (LCTL) stuck with me; and after my first option for publishing Turkish language materials via a traditional copyright failed, I turned to COERLL to find out more.

Cover of the open textbook Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar, by Dr. Jeannette Okur

Last year, you openly published Her Şey bir Merhaba ile Başlar! Can you tell us a little about this resource? What was your primary motivation for developing it?

Sure, ​​Her Şey bir Merhaba ile Başlar is a set of openly licensed curricular materials designed to facilitate Turkish language learners’ progression from the Intermediate-Mid to the Advanced-Mid proficiency level. Informed by the “Flipped Classroom” and “blended instruction” models, these online and print-on-demand materials encourage learners to use language to investigate, explain and reflect on the relationship between contemporary Turks’ socio-cultural practices, products and their perceptions of family, love and marriage, environmental issues, art, film, and politics.

Website homepage: Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar

The Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar curriculum is composed of multiple components which exist over several platforms. All components are accessible on COERLL’s Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar project page.  There, instructors and learners can access and use the media-rich textbook, the student guide, the teacher guide, and the WordPress/H5P site. Quizlet sets, YouTube videos, and other linked audio, video and print materials are built into the textbook itself. The primary organization of the course is through the Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar textbook and the WordPress site, which houses interactive, auto-correct exercises and activities, built in H5P and organized in modules that correspond to the four units’ lessons. The textbook is downloadable for free in PDF or adaptable Google Docs format and is also available for purchase as a print-on-demand book from Lulu.com and Amazon.com. 

Excerpt from open textbook Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar

My initial motivation for developing it stemmed from frustration with the existing teaching materials for the Intermediate level, which did not speak to the interests of my students or meet their practical learning needs, much less match the broader learning objectives I’d envisioned for my second-year Turkish language courses. Over time, I realized that my approach to scaffolding texts and facilitating vocabulary/grammar practice might appeal to other North American teachers of Turkish as well. From the beginning to the end of the project, I sought to create units that would do the following:

  • Introduce learners to culturally and socially significant phenomena in Turkey today and hone their cultural analytical skills through tasks that foster reflection, comparison, and articulation of findings.
  • Introduce learners to a variety of authentic print, audio and audio-visual materials aimed at native Turkish audiences and guide them to use (and reflect on) the reading, listening, and viewing comprehension strategies needed to understand these Advanced-level texts.
  • Engage learners in active recognition and repeated practice of new vocabulary and grammar items.
  • Guide learners through meaningful practice of oral and written discursive strategies specific to the Advanced proficiency level.

Why was it important to you to license your work openly? 

Most teachers of LCTLs in North America spend countless hours creating and revising their own curricular materials and assessments each year, without ever being able to publish them, because no traditional publisher will ever make a profit off of their sales.  As a result, much of these individuals’ life-long creative work disappears when they retire from the field – and is rarely shared with others along the way. Hence, it was important for me to license my work openly in order to be able to share it professionally (at all). I believe strongly that OER projects bring wider visibility to pedagogical work and facilitate professional development among the community of educators who engage in critical reflection of educational resources. Much attention has been paid to the student end of the equation, for it is certainly true that OER materials increase access to educational materials for a wider range of learners, especially those underserved by traditional educational opportunities. They help students, districts, and educational institutions save money; and because they often include more diverse perspectives and representation and can be updated or adapted quickly for specific learner groups, they improve student performance and satisfaction. Their accessibility also attracts informal learners; thus, they can serve as a gateway from informal learning to formal educational programs. But I think the innovative professional communities being built thanks to Open Educational Practices (OEP) are just beginning to be discovered. Just as open scholarly resources foster more scholarly research, open pedagogical resources foster pedagogical exchanges that are more detail-oriented and can yield practical, sharable outcomes.

What has been the biggest benefit of using OER?

That’s a good question, to which I don’t yet have a data-driven answer, because I’ve only just started using the materials in their published form in my classroom this year. I’m sure that the current published materials are 100 times more user-friendly and aesthetically pleasing than their predecessor pilot-versions, which involved hundreds of Word docs housed on Canvas and interactive exercises housed on a more antiquated auto-correct platform. Thanks to Nathalie Steinfeld Childre, COERLL’s graphic designer and web developer, the materials are now beautiful, seamlessly integrated via the media-rich textbook and the WordPress/H5P site, and much easier for my students to navigate, both in and out of the classroom.  

However, I would like to learn more about other instructors and learners’ experiences with the materials. To my knowledge, Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar! is currently being used (at least in part) in second-year Turkish language courses at five universities and one university consortium in the United States. To learn more about how these users are implementing the materials and how satisfied they are with them, I hope to conduct a qualitative survey and/or interviews with instructor and student users in the next several months. I hope that this survey and interview data will give us better insight into how well the OER has met its goals.

What was the most challenging part of producing your own textbook?

There is definitely a learning curve to understanding how the various open licenses relate to each other, and what can and cannot be used in your work due to the particular license you’ve chosen. Beyond that, I sometimes found it very difficult to find written texts that were level-appropriate, interesting and openly sourced; and so I spent a lot of time seeking permission from newspaper columnists, editor-in-chiefs, and other authors to use their copyrighted material in this educational project. The concept of OER is not well-known in Turkey, beyond the realm of academia that is. Convincing some authors or institutions that their work would receive a wider audience and contribute to international language learners’ knowledge and understanding of Turkish culture and society (without detracting from their existing published status or profits) was a difficult task. In some cases, I succeeded, received written permission, and was able to integrate fantastic pieces of original work into the textbook; in other cases, my request was rejected. More often than not though, I simply got no answer – which COERLL and I decided to interpret as a “no”. Producing an openly sourced foreign language textbook requires persistence and patience and the ability to “think outside the box” when one cannot at first find exactly what one is looking for. It’s really a labor of love, I think.

How have your students responded to the material? Did you notice a change before and after using OER? 

My students have responded positively to the material, and certainly like the fact that it is free.  I have only been teaching with the materials in their current published form since August, and so haven’t been able to detect a huge difference in students’ response to the materials, although I think that the integrated nature of everything makes for easier navigating. I can say, however, that some of the content has already started to get old – and may be speaking less to students, especially undergraduates, who always want the latest and freshest examples of “culture”. That is an issue I will have to address in the next 2-3 years by updating and replacing some parts of the textbook.

What would you say to an instructor who is interested in OER but isn’t sure how to get started?

If they are foreign language instructors, I would advise them to attend the annual Language OER Conference hosted by the University of Kansas Open Language Resource Center and UT’s COERLL, because it offers them a convenient forum to learn about a variety of OER projects being developed by foreign language educators.  In particular, they can learn a lot about why individuals have chosen particular technologies or platforms to house and organize their material. I would also advise interested foreign language instructors to work through COERLL’s Introduction to OER for Language Teachers, a series of modules on searching for, licensing, attributing, remixing, revising, creating, publishing, and sharing OER, or to start small by participating in COERLL’s FLIITE Project, through which they can learn to build OER lessons.  

Also, since many instructors have questions about how “fair use” of copyrighted materials squares with OER, I recommend that anyone interested in authoring an OER read the Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Open Educational Resources: A Guide for Authors, Adapters & Adopters of Openly Licensed Teaching and Learning Materials. Finally, any UT instructors thinking about going open should talk with you, Ashley, and check out the UT Libraries OER LibGuide!

Want to get started with OER or find other free or low cost course materials? Contact Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu)

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Fatima Fakhreddine

In celebration of Open Education Week 2022, 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. Fatima Fakhreddine, who was nominated by her students in CH 301 (Principles of Chemistry I) and CH 302 (Principles of Chemistry II) in the Department of Chemistry.

Dr. Fatima Fakhreddine, Department of Chemistry

Dr. Fakhreddine is a Professor of Instruction in the Department of Chemistry. She has been teaching at the University of Texas at Austin since 1999. This recognition is far from Dr. Fakhreddine’s first in her teaching career; she has previously been the recipient of a number of awards, including The Alcalde‘s Texas 10, the Dads’ Association Centennial Teaching Fellowship, the Texas Exes Teaching Award, the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award, the Henze Teaching Excellence Award, and the Welch Teaching Award. 

While she was nominated by students enrolled in Principles of Chemistry I and II, Dr. Fakhreddine’s inspiration to assign affordable course materials goes back many years, starting with her experience teaching General Chemistry in sections for TIP Scholars. Dr Fakhreddine remembers, “Many of my students had jobs outside of the university not only to support themselves but sometimes to help their families as well. Having to buy books was definitely an added burden as books were getting outrageously expensive.”

All of her student nominators emphasized that sentiment. One noted that “Dr. Fakhreddine said that she believes that education should be free and accessible to everyone which I admire and agree with” (Freshman, Biology major). They also expressed relief from the typical worry about purchasing expensive materials, especially in STEM disciplines that often come with hefty books and even heftier price tags. 

But the benefits don’t stop at mitigating costs for students. Dr. Fakhreddine develops her own course materials for students, including PowerPoint slides and interactive handouts that encourage students to engage deeply with the content. Students are able to focus on class and taking their own notes, and they can be confident that everything they’re reading and writing is relevant to the learning outcomes for the course and future assessments. Dr. Fakhreddine tells us, “Many students have expressed their appreciation for the fact that they did not have to spend any money on a chemistry textbook and for the fact that the handouts contain everything they need to know for the course. In my experience, free course materials both improve equitable access to education and allow me to develop customized resources to help my students better engage with the course material.” Student nominators agreed and echoed this: “[Dr. Fakhreddine] gives us all the materials we need to succeed in the course without an extra charge.”

In addition to her extensive self-produced materials, Dr. Fakhreddine also points students to open or otherwise affordable textbooks that they can use as references. These include OpenStax Chemistry and the fantastic gchem website developed by colleagues in the Department of Chemistry here at UT. We join Dr. Fakhreddine’s many student nominators in appreciation for her dedication to affordable and equitable access to course materials! 

Need help finding OER and other free or low cost course materials? Contact your subject librarian or Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Daniel Bonevac

In celebration of Open Education Week 2022, 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. Daniel Bonevac, who was nominated by his students in PHL 325L (Business, Ethics, and Public Policy) in the Department of Philosophy.

Dr. Daniel Bonevac, Department of Philosophy

Dr. Bonevac is a Professor in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. He works mainly in metaphysics, philosophy of mathematics, semantics, and philosophical logic. His book Reduction in the Abstract Sciences received the Johnsonian Prize from The Journal of Philosophy. The author of five books and editor or co-editor of four others, Dr. Bonevac’s articles include “Against Conditional Obligation” (Noûs), “Sellars v. the Given” (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research), “Reflection Without Equilibrium,” (Journal of Philosophy), “Free Choice Permission Is Strong Permission” (Synthese, with Nicholas Asher), “The Conditional Fallacy,” (Philosophical Review, with Josh Dever and David Sosa), “The Counterexample Fallacy” (Mind, also with Dever and Sosa), and “The Argument from Miracles” and “Two Theories of Analogical Predication” (Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Religion). He was Chairman of the Department of Philosophy from 1991 to 2001.

In all his courses, Dr. Bonevac actively seeks opportunities to minimize costs for students. In addition to completely eliminating required purchases for Business, Ethics, and Public Policy, he’s also found opportunities to significantly cut costs in two other courses (UGS 303: Ideas of the Twentieth Century and PHL 356D: History of Christian Philosophy) by identifying individual readings that can be linked or uploaded to Canvas. Student nominators expressed gratitude and relief at not having to worry about textbook costs for this course, on top of the other financial and academic stresses many have been experiencing during the pandemic.

But there are pedagogical benefits to the approach of selecting diverse readings, too. Dr. Bonevac tells us, “I’ve become shocked, and horrified, by the rising cost of textbooks—and I’m an author of several!—and have been seeking alternatives. I used to use a textbook in this course, and it was quite good. But it was also expensive. It included far more than I needed for a single course. And the case studies were old, often from decades ago. The attraction of putting together readings on my own was not only to eliminate costs for students but to allow me to shape the course exactly as I want it, to adapt the readings every semester, discarding ones that don’t work so well, adding new readings to keep everything up to date, and being able to respond quickly to issues that emerge in business ethics in the real world.”

His student nominators also praised Dr. Bonevac’s choice to incorporate videos he created himself into the course to expand on challenging topics. Philosophical readings can be dense and hard to grasp, and the content he created helped students understand key concepts. It seems that making course content accessible from day one on Canvas may have facilitated greater student engagement, too. Dr. Bonevac has observed more class and office hours participation as well as better outcomes in student papers and assessments, though it’s difficult to disentangle these results from the course modality changes we’ve all adapted to in the last two years.

If you’re an instructor who is interested in making the switch to more affordable or cost-free materials, Dr. Bonevac encourages you to try it! “There are many advantages. It’s now easy to compile sources for use on Canvas. Organizing the course into modules, with readings online, makes it easy for students to follow along and do the readings. It’s easy to keep the course on the cutting edge of what’s happening in the field. And it’s easy to improve the course semester by semester as you see which topics and readings work well and which flop…. I haven’t seen any downsides so far.”

Need help finding OER and other free or low cost course materials? Contact your subject librarian or Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Nico Osier

In celebration of Open Education Week 2022, 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. Nico Osier, who was nominated by their students in both N 223 (Genetics in Healthcare) in the School of Nursing and UGS 302 (The Art of Science Communication), a Signature Course in Undergraduate Studies.

Dr. Nico Osier, School of Nursing

Dr. Osier is an Assistant Professor, and they hold joint appointments in the School of Nursing (Division of Holistic Adult Health) and Dell Medical School (Department of Neurology). They have contributed to enhancing the curriculum at The University of Texas at Austin through creation of 2 novel signature courses and addition of an ethics flag to an existing course. They have mentored other faculty in teaching through their inclusion as a fellow in the Provost’s Teaching Fellows program and as an ambassador in the Experiential Learning Initiative.  Dr. Osier is very passionate about teaching and mentoring the next generation of registered nurses and nurse scientists. They currently teach Genetics in Healthcare in the School of Nursing, and The Art of Science Communication for incoming students. Dr. Osier also runs The Osier Laboratory, where they have mentored over 200 motivated undergraduates, gap-year, and graduate students and provided them with meaningful research experiences, soft skill development, as well as opportunities to publish and present.. They really enjoy working with students outside of the classroom – both in the laboratory and on manuscripts, presentations, grants, and other professional development activities.

Dr. Osier’s choice to assign no-cost resources is inspired by their own experience as a first generation college student. Dr. Osier tells us, “I knew firsthand the impact free course materials could have on students in my class. I had a few teachers who were explicitly mindful of not making us spend money to be successful in the class and that was something I wanted to incorporate into my teaching strategy.”

Their students noticed this and agreed. “Buying or renting textbooks can be very expensive. Professor Osier ensuring that course materials were of no cost was amazing because it helped ease my financial burden of acquiring textbooks each semester,” said Njeri, a student who nominated Dr. Osier.

Beyond selecting materials that can be acquired at no cost, Dr. Osier also takes care to select and make available materials that are as inclusive as possible. One of their student nominators, Olivia, noted, “Dr. Nico Osier is flexible and continues to be one of the most memorable professors I have had. I took their class my freshman year and thought their impact on inclusive classroom materials taught me how important it is to have all kinds of… representation.” Another noted their efforts to make sure audio / visual course materials were appropriately captioned. 

For Genetics in Healthcare, Dr. Osier assigns an open access text published by the American Nurses Association, Essentials of Genetic and Genomic Nursing: Competencies, Curricula Guidelines, and Outcome Indicators (2nd edition). The ANA makes this content available at no cost and with permissions granted to reproduce the work with attribution. For other instructors interested in adopting open and affordable course materials, they offer this advice: “There is so much reputable and engaging content out there that won’t cost your students a penny and won’t require you to reinvent the wheel. This is also a valuable opportunity to utilize multiple means of representation, by including reading as well as other multimedia sources (videos/movies, comic strips, podcasts, etc.). Not only does this maximize your ability to reach diverse learners, tying what they’re learning into popular culture engages students and highlights the relevance of the course content.”

Need help finding OER and other free or low cost course materials? Contact Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Sean Gurd

In celebration of Open Education Week 2022, 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. Sean Gurd, who was nominated by his students in CTI 301G (Introduction to Ancient Greece) in the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Study of Core Texts & Ideas

Dr. Sean Gurd, Department of Classics

Dr. Gurd is a Professor in the Department of Classics at the University of Texas at Austin. His active research interests include the areas of ancient theatre (especially tragedy), ancient music, and any part of intellectual culture that interfaced with the concept of art (or techne). He is also the director of the Ancient Music and Performance Lab, which is dedicated to exploring innovative ways of integrating arts practice with humanities scholarship.

He has authored four monographs: Iphigenias at Aulis: Textual Multiplicity, Radical Philology; Work in Progress: Literary Revision as Social Performance in Ancient Rome; Dissonance: Auditory Aesthetics in Ancient Greece; and The Origins of Music Theory in the Age of Plato. Dr. Gurd is currently writing a book on the NY area poet and performance artist Arman Schwerner, and a book on Music, Physics, and Theology in Hellenistic writers from Aristoxenus to Philo of Alexandria. He is an editor of Tangent, a scholar-led imprint of punctum books dedicated to publishing innovative books and projects that touch on classical antiquity. All of the imprint’s books will be free to all (open access) on the web six months after their publication. 

Like many instructors who select open and free course materials, Dr. Gurd is motivated by a desire for students to guide their own learning with immediate access to high-quality materials. In his Introduction to Ancient Greece course, that means enabling them with texts to which UT Libraries subscribes, available to students at no cost. Importantly, he has also found that these materials support his pedagogical goals. “Often in a large undergraduate class the instructor decides what’s important and assigns readings or texts on that basis. In this class, I want people to discover ancient Greek culture by exploring it themselves; and I want their explorations to be based on what matters to them, not what matters to me. This course is designed to let students do this: they start by identifying a big theme or issue that matters to them, and then they look for ancient Greek texts that address that theme, so that by the end of the semester they have built a small personal anthology of ancient texts. It’s an amazing feeling to be teaching to a large undergraduate class and to know that every single student will finish the class with knowledge that reflects what they individually care about,” says Dr. Gurd. Further, he’s observed a higher level of student engagement that may be partially attributed to the availability of diverse subject matter in the resources available to students. 

His students clearly appreciated the cost savings and also noted the ways in which the course material choices enhanced their learning experience. As one of his student nominators shared, “Not only did Professor Gurd save his students money, he did it in a way that actually contributed to the overall education of the class. The translations we used are actually known in the classics world as some of the best translations, but they’re normally quite expensive, but we were able to access them for free” (Freshman, Classical Languages major). They also highlighted the specific database that facilitates access to the course texts, Loeb Classical Library, as fundamental to facilitating both cost savings and the best possible learning experience: “This class is heavily reliant on Greek plays and dramas, which can be expensive, especially for accurate translations, but Professor Gurd had us use UT provided translations from the Loeb Classical Library for the class, which is great! They’re awesome translations, plus they’re free.”

And Dr. Gurd’s personal commitment to openness is not limited to course materials. At each step of the research cycle, he seeks out tools that are available openly. He tells us, “I do most of my writing in a free text editor (Atom), I manage my bibliography using free database tools (Zotero and Bibdesk), and I prefer to finish documents in an open source typesetting system (LateX). I energetically proselytize for this way of doing things, and will show my tools to anyone who asks (and sometimes even to people who don’t ask!).”

We asked Dr. Gurd what advice he might offer to other instructors who are considering making the switch to open, free, or affordable course materials. He shared this wisdom: “When I’m selecting materials, I try to ask myself: what do I want out of this course? How do I imagine the various parts—assignments, class time, reading and research—working together to create a positive experience for students? I feel lucky when I’m able to get everything working together; if it happens that I am able to do it while passing no additional cost to the student, then I really feel like I’ve hit the jackpot. My advice would be to let your goals tell you what the course needs, and to consider nothing sacred (including the tradition of assigning a textbook for purchase) in meeting those goals.”

Need help finding OER and other free or low cost course materials? Contact your subject librarian or Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu). 

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Matt Worden

In celebration of Open Education Week 2022, 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. Matt Worden, who was nominated by his students in CH 153K (Physical Chemistry Laboratory) in the Department of Chemistry. Matt is an Assistant Professor of Instruction in the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, where he has taught since 2016. A Canadian by birth, he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Waterloo in Ontario and completed his PhD at Kent State before doing a postdoc at Boston University.

Dr. Matt Worden, Department of Chemistry

Students who nominated Matt emphasized the value that his efforts to develop his own course materials, including lab manuals and guided questions for investigations, have had on their educational experience in the course. All the materials are relevant and customized to the learning outcomes students are expected to achieve. Having materials shared directly on Canvas also made access seamless. 

Matt is committed to keeping the cost of education low and transparent, but he also recognizes the pedagogical value of developing his own course materials. He tells us, “I’m teaching these labs. For [the materials] to be ‘mine’ in any meaningful sense, I have to be able to justify everything that is presented to and required of the students. And so the best way for me to do that is to write the manuals myself. In the few cases I haven’t done this myself, the manuals are sourced from professors working with the POGIL (process oriented guided inquiry learning) project whom I have worked with before and whose overall teaching ethos is similar to my own.” This approach aligns with Matt’s interest in experiential learning, making lab instruction a great fit.

If you want to minimize costs and make materials accessible for your own students, Matt recommends checking out education journals for your field. “The Journal of Chemical Education, in my case, is great to gather ideas, advice, and resources for teaching experiments or lecture topics.” Not sure which journals you can access through UT Libraries? Contact your subject librarian to learn more! 

OER Faculty Author Spotlight: Dr. Victor Eijkhout

Dr. Victor Eijkhout, Texas Advanced Computing Center

In observation of Open Education Week, UT Libraries is proud to spotlight a few of our talented faculty members who are on the forefront of the open education movement as open educational resource (OER) authors! Because we can’t limit ourselves to just one week, we’re excited to celebrate open education throughout the month of March. 

We’re starting this year’s series with Dr. Victor Eijkhout. Dr. Eijkhout is part of the Texas Advanced Computing Center, which he joined in 2005 as a Research Scientist in the High Performance Computing group. He conducts research in linear algebra, scientific computing, parallel programming, and machine learning. Before coming to TACC, he held positions at the University of Illinois, the University of California at Los Angeles, and the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

Dr. Eijkhout has authored open courseware, including several open textbooks and accompanying programs and code sets. Below, he generously shares his experiences developing OER with us.

Do you recall how you first became aware of open educational resources (OER) or the open education movement more broadly?

“In science, open software and open courseware predates the term ‘Open Source’ by a wide margin. In the 1980s I provided feedback on a tutorial document that someone on   a different continent was making, and that proved very popular. In the mid-1990s I co-authored a computer science textbook for which we got the publisher (SIAM) to agree on a dual license: the book was for sale but also downloadable (including software) and viewable as web pages. In a similar spirit, I started writing my textbooks about 15 years ago without any awareness of being part of a movement. After I finished my first open textbook I did some searching and found the Saylor Foundation which develops OER. They licensed my book for what is probably a similar amount as I would have made from commercially publishing the book.”

You’ve developed a wealth of open courseware, including several open textbooks and accompanying materials like Introduction to High-Performance Scientific Computing; Parallel Programming in MPI, OpenMP, PETSc; and Introduction Scientific Programming in Modern C++ and Fortran. What inspired you to create these resources?

“These textbooks were written for courses that TACC teaches. (The Texas Advanced Computing Center provides a small number of academic courses in addition to many short trainings. These courses are – for historic reasons – provided as part of the SDS department.) When I was slated to teach a course, I searched for available textbooks, but usually I disagreed in some way or other with the approaches they took, so I started writing my own. In a way, writing a textbook, for me, is a form of self-defense: if I only prepare lecture notes, I will often find, standing in front of the class, that I miss details. By writing out everything in full paragraphs and mathematical derivations, I make sure I don’t overlook anything.”

What was the most challenging part of developing your own resources? Was there anything that surprised you?

“The challenge is in dotting the is and crossing the ts. As in most things, the first 80 percent is easy. Getting to a finished product is hard, which is why you find many more lecture notes online than textbooks. An example of what I ran into in my programming books is the challenge of making sure code is 100% correct, and corresponds 100% to the output given. For this, I developed a whole infrastructure of example programs, from which snippets are clipped to be included in the text, and similarly the output captured to be included side-by-side.


In this aspect, self-publishing the way I do, through downloads and repositories, has advantages over publishing commercially: you can release a product informally in an earlier stage and revise it more easily and more often.”

Do you use any OER developed by others as teaching resources?

“Not directly, but if I come across resources I will often peruse them to get inspiration, or even to ‘borrow’ bits for my own texts.”

How do your students respond to the resources you’ve developed?

“I wish I could say that they really appreciate it, but the reactions have a wide range. For many of course a textbook is just a textbook and it goes unmentioned. Some of them have delved into the literature and tell me my book is really good. On the other hand, in a sign of the times, students’ first reaction to problems seems to be to look online rather than in the textbook. Unfortunately, in programming this sometimes leads them to outdated material.”

What advice would you offer to an instructor who is interested in using or developing their own OER but isn’t sure how to get started?

“The threshold for open resources is low. Any lecture notes you put up for download will be found by the search engines. My advice would be to write what *you* need. If it’s useful to other people it will be found.”

Want to get started with OER or find other free or low cost course materials? Contact Ashley Morrison, Tocker Open Education Librarian (ashley.morrison@austin.utexas.edu)

Restoring a Neglected History: The Black Diaspora Archive

What is the Black experience in the Americas?

It’s a question that has not gotten due consideration, and one that helped to initiate the development of an archive focused on collecting and preserving resources that hold the history and experience of the African migration to the Americas.

A collaborative project between Black Studies, LLILAS Benson and the University of Texas Libraries, the Black Diaspora Archive (BDA) was conceptualized in 2013 to collect documentary, audiovisual, digital and artistic works related to the Black Diaspora of the Americas and Caribbean, focusing on people and communities with a shared ancestral connection to Africa. The archive encompasses historical publications, contemporary records, personal papers and rare material produced by and/or about people of African descent — including scholars, professionals, community groups, activists and artists.

While the geographic collecting area for the Black Diaspora is global, this collection is currently focused on materials documenting experiences from within the Americas and the Caribbean. Recognizing the broad potential in a partnership, Black Studies approached LLILAS Benson with the idea of creating an archive devoted to resources related to the Black Diaspora. Since its founding in 1921, the Benson Latin American Collection has actively collected Latin American materials that document communities and people of color, but it had never done so in a deliberate way. Principals in each unit recognized the common objectives and shared vision between them, and the mutual benefit of developing a dedicated archival holding of material related to the Black Diaspora. With additional support from the Libraries and the Office of the President, the Black Diaspora Archive came into being, and in the fall of 2015, Rachel Winston was named as its inaugural Black Diaspora archivist.

Thematically, the collection seeks to reflect art and art scholarship of the Black Diaspora, slavery in the Americas, ethnoracial empowerment and advocacy, and the personal archives of scholars and thought leaders. These types of records can include historical works, prints, digital and born-digital content, and other rare material.

Although the scope of the BDA’s acquisitions strategy can be categorized neatly into these simplified groupings, a brief overview of some of the resources included in the collections underscores how much is needed to be done in preserving and studying the Black experience and its historical impact on our culture and society. From documents on the slave trade in the Black Diaspora in New Spain, to oral history collections like that of the Shankleville freedom colony in East Texas, to the papers of influential Black intellectuals and activists like Edmund T. Gordon, John L. Warfield and Brenda Burt, to collections of art and art history, the BDA has just begun to scratch the surface in preserving and making accessible resources for beginning to examine the role of the Black Diaspora and Black scholarship in the Americas.

In addition to collecting, the BDA works to promote collection use and research through scholarly resources, exhibitions, community outreach, student programs and public engagement.

“As the primary manager of the Black Diaspora Archive, my ultimate charge is to provide a fuller understanding of the Black experience throughout the Americas and Caribbean with primary sources,” says Winston. “In the most traditional sense, this necessitates the acquisition, collection, preservation, and accessibility of archival records.”

“However, as our communities become more connected and technologically advanced, information access and information needs continue to evolve in ways that are increasingly less traditional,” continues Winston. “User needs of today, for example, live largely in the digital realm. In facilitating access to online content, the archivist has more of a responsibility to perform outreach and promote information literacy skills in an effort to preserve the integrity of our collections and meet user needs.”

“I am so excited for what we have been able to achieve so far and just the general sense of support on campus for this project that I am confident we will move forward, in order to move forward and achieve what’s possible, we need all of this outside support we can get.”


Consider supporting the Black Diaspora Archive with a gift.

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