Tag Archives: open access

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. 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). 

Affordable Education Champion: Dr. Paul McCord

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. Paul McCord, who was nominated by his students in CH 304K (Chemistry in Context I) in the College of Natural Sciences.

Dr. McCord is a native of Abilene, Texas. He earned his B.S. in Chemistry from Abilene Christian University (ACU) in 1983. He continued at ACU to earn his M.S. in organic synthesis in 1985, after which he moved to Austin, TX. Dr. McCord received his Ph.D from the University of Texas in 1992 in the field of analytical chemistry under the mentorship of Dr. Allen Bard. After a short postdoc experience with Dr. Bard, Dr. McCord became a lecturer (Assistant Professor of Instruction) at UT in 1994. He is currently an Associate Professor of Instruction in the Chemistry Department.

Dr. McCord has taught mostly freshman level courses such as Principles of Chemistry I & II, and Introductory Chemistry (Chemistry in Context) over the years. In addition to those courses, Dr. McCord has also taught Analytical Chemistry and Physical Chemistry. His primary teaching mission has been to educate UT freshmen and prepare them for their journey into science-related fields. Dr. McCord supports lowering the cost of education by providing a no-cost chemistry textbook to UT students. He is currently working on his free eBook “chembook,” which is a free book for non-science majors. He is also currently teaching the non-major chemistry classes at the university.

When asked what led him to author free or low cost resources as his required course materials, Dr. McCord told us about how he and a team of colleagues initially developed a robust set of materials to meet the needs of CH 301 and CH 302 students.

“I have had an ongoing struggle with publishers over the years to deliver a more affordable product. Chemistry textbooks in hardback have gone well beyond $200, some even reaching $300. It is truly ridiculous… and sad at the same time. Even when they offered an eBook version, the cost only dropped to around $90, and this was just a ‘subscription’ for a year with no actual hardcopy. Back in 2011, the chemistry department was selected as a part of the Course Transformation Project which was a program funded through the provost’s office. We had 3 years to revamp our CH301/CH302 program. There were three of us on that project: Dr. David Vanden Bout (our current Interim Dean of CNS), Dr. Cynthia LaBrake and myself. Our big conclusion after much research was to just write our own book and provide it via a website for free to our students. That is exactly what we did. We also had enough money to fund the making of many help videos as well. The site [gchem] was up and running by 2012 and we (ok, mostly me) have kept it up and running ever since. We have some 3000+ chemistry students who use that site each and every year – for no cost.”

Not only are Dr. McCord’s students saving money, though; they’re performing even better with the open materials than they did with the previously used commercial textbook. Dr. McCord noted that the previous textbooks “were beautiful and content heavy… but students weren’t really reading the book that much. Our book was much much shorter. We only put in what we taught. We put it in the order that we teach it. It was concise and easy to read. We developed student outcomes from the very start of the project – so yes, student outcomes were actually better than what we had with the publisher’s books. We streamlined and made everything more efficient.”

But he didn’t stop at CH 301 and CH 302. Dr. McCord wrote an entirely new free and online textbook for his CH 304K and CH 305 students. “I got so used to just writing off the top of my head that I decided to completely redo and write a new book for our non-major courses…. I basically had to write the chapters right before my class needed to have that content. The site is the chembook site and I really like it and most of my students like it as well. I write in first person – which is different. I write in an informal/casual style which I like. I’ll admit though, I know some profs who do not like my casual tone – good news for them is they don’t have to use my book!”

Dr. McCord’s students shared with us some of the ways in which their choice to assign free or low cost resources impacted them, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

“I had this class last spring when everything was changed by the pandemic. I will never forget how committed this professor was to ensuring that his students did not have to pay for the textbook. His resources were entirely free and accessible to students. The textbook was also a simplified version of the longer, more complicated textbook, which I found to be extremely helpful, as well. With the money I saved in this class, [I] was able to adjust to the financial hardship of the pandemic. Though no one saw this coming when the semester had started, it was great to have a professor that was this accommodating. Additionally, his class is huge, so he is helping hundreds if not thousands of students a year.” — Isabela, Sophomore

Dr. McCord had this to say to instructors looking to transition their courses to more affordable materials:

“First, know your specific outcomes for your course – any decent course guru would tell you that. Second, decide how comfortable you are at authoring your teaching materials. We were pretty lax about being perfect. We knew things would be rough at first, but we fixed things as we progressed forward. Typos and basic errors are all a part of the deal. Most students realized that and we even encouraged them to find errors and report them. So it works, but you have to decide if you are writing all the content or not.

If you don’t write it yourself, then use what is available out in the wild. The OpenStax project (Rice University) is going great and their textbooks are free and really nice. They have lots of users and therefore the site is continuously tweaked. True OER [open educational resources] allows you to copy and paste and make your version of your class content. This is probably the main way most teachers would go about this.”

One last bit of advice from Dr. McCord? “Quit printing [$h!t] out! WHY are we still printing out everything? Making students buy course-packs? We have fast internet now and can deliver tons of material electronically.” And he’s right — even with copyrighted articles and chapters, materials can be linked from your syllabus or Canvas site for students. If you need help tracking down copies of licensed materials, talk to your subject librarian for assistance. 

Join us in thanking Dr. McCord 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). 

OER Faculty Author Spotlight: Dr. Christian Hilchey

In celebration 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! Today we’re featuring Dr. Christian Hilchey, Lecturer in the Department of Slavic & Eurasian Studies. 

Dr. Hilchey received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2014 with a specialization in Slavic Linguistics. Prior to this, he taught Czech language courses at both the University of Chicago, as well as Indiana University as part of their annual summer workshop SWSEEL. Since starting at UT in 2014, he created the project Reality Czech, which is a full beginner’s textbook, workbook, classroom activity book, and open Canvas site for learning Czech.

Read more about Dr. Hilchey’s introduction to OER, what his students have gained from utilizing Reality Czech, and what he’s learned in the process. 

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).

Do you recall how you first became aware of open educational resources (OER) or the open education movement more broadly? Tell us about what led you to author Reality Czech.

“I knew next to nothing about OER until I was hired into my current position. At the time, the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies was looking for someone who could both teach Czech and also develop a Czech language OER. I had a lot of experience creating materials for my own classes prior to this, but had never considered any other options besides the traditional textbook with a copyright. After starting my position here in 2014, I began working on what would eventually be called Reality Czech. I was immediately very enthusiastic about the project because, although I knew little about OER at the time, I had previously been very passionate about the open software movement, which shares many of the same values as Open Education. So in a sense I came to the movement well-disposed to these types of projects.

I immediately became fascinated by the possibilities of sharing my materials with others. Only later did I become aware of the affordances of open materials, specifically what media would be available by virtue of the fact that I had embraced Open Education. We are all familiar with Wikipedia, but many have not heard of Wikimedia Commons, which houses many images and other realia that can be utilized in our foreign language or other courses. The one caveat is that many of these resources are licensed under an Attribution ShareAlike license, which means that not only do you have to give the author credit, but any derivative works have to be shared under similar conditions. In order to use these works, I also had to share my work under the same license. I began to understand this as a major advantage. Much like the GPL, which helped propel Linux in the tech world, this license defines a new kind of contract between those who create open materials and those who wish to reuse these materials. In a sense, we all agree that leaving our materials open helps further a cause that we believe in — low-cost, high-quality materials that can be reused and redistributed as needed.”

What has been the greatest benefit of creating and using OER as an instructor?

“I have really enjoyed the freedom that Open Educational Resources give to instructors. I was able to create materials in a way that typically would not be possible for a traditional textbook. For example, because the materials are hosted online, I was able to use far more imagery than would be possible with a print textbook. Moreover, because I utilized openly licensed media, the sheer number (in the thousands) of images utilized far exceeds what would be practical to license from commercial sources or create on my own.

Openly licensed materials also allow instructors the freedom to adapt them as they see fit for their classroom and legally share them with other instructors. This type of sharing is a new frontier in the way that we think about course materials. If we only utilize closed materials in a closed format, it is difficult to make customized versions to suit a particular curriculum need. When we do create a customized curriculum, these rarely move beyond our own classrooms. In academia a lot of emphasis has been placed on the need to share research with the wider community, but we are not just a research institution. We also rightly focus on teaching and I think it is time for us to think about teaching in much of the same way as we think about research. I hope we can broaden instructors’ ability to share their materials in the same way. Utilizing the legal framework afforded by open licenses makes it possible for instructors to share what they are doing and how they are teaching in a much more fruitful way.

To that end, the aim of the Reality Czech project has been to share materials in a multitude of accessible formats so that students can utilize them in whatever format is most convenient and comfortable for them to use. Not only are the materials available over the website, but also as Google Docs, Microsoft Word files, PDF, as well as other formats available through the Google Docs download menu. While I currently actively maintain and am still adding to Reality Czech, there will hopefully come a time when others will contribute, create their own versions of materials, and even eventually take over the project. I think that’s the beauty of OER. Our projects outlast us and have the potential to take on a life of their own.”

What was the most challenging part of creating Reality Czech?

“Honestly, it mostly had to do with breaking the mold of previous Czech language textbooks. There’s a long tradition of focusing on grammatical proficiency first and foremost without much communicative emphasis. When I began my career as a Czech instructor during my graduate studies, I utilized these textbooks and progressively became disillusioned with their emphasis on learning paradigms over helping students find ways to use the language to talk about themselves, their families, communities, etc. Creating something different entailed a lot of trial and error and my first two years of creation involved more failures than successes.

I finally found my way after developing a set of 240 interview video compilations. Approximately 40 native speakers of Czech were interviewed on a variety of everyday topics such as food, weather, travel, holidays, school, etc. I compiled their answers in videos devoted to each question so that students could get an idea about how Czechs talk about their own lives. This was a good way of teaching the target culture, but it also turned into a way of structuring the grammar and vocabulary we would be learning in each chapter. Much of the textbook sequencing evolved organically from the language found in these videos. More than anything, I would highly recommend finding something such as this that helps naturally structure the content of a course.

I sometimes wonder whether this would have been possible without the freedom that OER allowed. I had the time to test out new strategies, make them available to students, and make iterative revisions over the course of several years. I didn’t have to worry about the concerns of a major publisher or restrictions on revisions. I am very grateful for this opportunity to develop in a less strict and more organic way.”

How have your students responded to the material?

“When the curriculum began to come together after about two years of development, the changes were immediate and striking. I began to notice students communicating more and using more elaborate language to talk about themselves and their lives. They responded positively not only to the videos I had created, but also the open media that I had selected from other sources. This type of positive feedback drove me forward, secure in the knowledge that maybe I’m on to something with this new direction in Czech pedagogy.”

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

“I would definitely recommend starting small. If you can, create a lesson from start to finish and see what kinds of challenges you encounter. Also, let your own personality come out. I decided to have fun and add whimsy throughout the course. I’m a trained linguist and it is no problem for me to write linguistically accurate descriptions of grammatical phenomena. However, I wanted my course to be relatable and fun. Throughout the course you can find more vernacular descriptions of grammar, jokes, memes, and other such content. This was my course and so I decided to put it all on the table and just be myself. 

Also, consider what kinds of open content you can utilize in your work. The whole idea behind open licensing is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Even if there are no open materials on a subject matter, there are probably a number of smaller resources, such as pictures or videos, that can be incorporated into an OER project. Get comfortable with searching for these types of resources. You often have to use some creativity in your image searches to find exactly what you need. I began utilizing openly licensed videos available on Youtube and Vimeo, but first I had to learn to search for certain keywords and genres such as vlogs or timelapse videos. I ended up finding all sorts of materials that I had not planned on. 

What do you do with the unexpected? One of my favorite analogies is that of a farmers market. When you go to a farmers market, you can have a dish in mind that you want to cook, but what if that food is unavailable? What else can you come up with? I often found that the limitations imposed by the types of materials available ultimately helped enrich my content. I was forced to be more open to different types of materials and often found treasures and beauty where I least expected them. Overall I would say that my journey in the world of OER has helped me rediscover the possibilities of teaching and helped me to be a better educator through the entire process.”

Open Educational Resource (OER) Spotlights

Happy Open Education Week! We’re back today to share a few open educational resources (OER) chosen by members of the OER Outreach Working Group. Each of the resources below are great examples of OER in use at UT (and authored by our faculty and staff in several cases!). 

OER are teaching and learning objects that are generally free of cost, but just as importantly, they are free of the legal barriers that often prevent their unrestricted reuse and adaptation. Each of these resources can be accessed and shared freely, but anyone can also make copies with changes that suit the needs of their class or personal study. For example, you could translate them into Spanish, change examples or images to enhance their relevance, or combine them with other openly licensed resources to create something entirely new! These are the permissions and power that open licenses confer to you. 

Check these out, get inspired, and contact Ashley Morrison, the Tocker Open Education Librarian, if you’d like to know more or get help locating OER for your discipline. 

Information Literacy Toolkit, reviewed by Sarah Brandt, Librarian for First-Year Programs

Authored by UT Libraries Staff & UT Faculty

Licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


The Information Literacy Toolkit is a set of customizable research and information literacy assignments, lesson plans, assessment tools, and course examples built over many years by UT Libraries staff and UT faculty. Though largely created with undergraduate classes in mind, these resources can be adapted for graduate-level courses. Most of the items in the toolkit are available as Google Docs so that they are easy to copy or download and modify for a particular course. This toolkit is a dynamic resource. Library staff add and update resources regularly, and work with faculty to add interesting course examples. UT faculty who want to implement an assignment from the Information Literacy Toolkit can request assistance from a UT librarian as they modify assignments for their purposes. We encourage instructors to take a look at this resource as they are creating research assignments and to send in feedback about resources they use or feel are missing from the toolkit.

Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar! (Everything Begins with a Hello!), reviewed by Sarah Sweeney, Project Coordinator at COERLL

Authored by Dr. Jeannette Okur, University of Texas at Austin

Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Her Şey Bir Merhaba ile Başlar is an open textbook for intermediate Turkish language learners, the result of a collaboration between the author Jeannette Okur, native speakers, students, and COERLL. These four units address aspects of modern Turkish society: family, love and marriage, the environment, and art and politics. The content includes a variety of authentic texts, videos, audio, and images curated from the internet, as well as audio and video created specifically for this project. The textbook is available for free as a PDF or in Google Docs, where teachers and students can adapt it according to their individual needs. A print copy can also be purchased. Supplementary materials include Quizlet vocabulary lists and interactive Canvas exercises.

Proteopedia, reviewed by Hannah Chapman Tripp, Biosciences Librarian

Authored collaboratively

Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Image: Porto, A., Martz, E., Sussman, J. L., & Theis, K. (n.d.). Lipids: Structure and classification. Proteopedia – Life in 3D. Retrieved February 24, 2021, from https://proteopedia.org/wiki/index.php/Lipids:_structure_and_classification

Proteopedia is an encyclopedia containing protein, nucleic acid and other biomolecular structures represented in 3D rotating format using Jmol technology. The tool contains both annotated and unannotated structures, representing efforts by the biomolecular community worldwide and automatic weekly imports from the Protein Data Bank respectively. The resource also contains syllabi, quizzes, concept pages and more developed by educators with the intent of reuse in mind. Proteopedia can be edited by registered users, allowing the community to contribute to resource construction. Each page that is supplemented contains a contributors and editors section at the bottom with links to author profiles including academic credentials allowing for appropriate citation, responsibility for content and trust in the content.

OER Faculty Author Spotlight: Dr. Jocelly G. Meiners

In celebration 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! Today we’re featuring Dr. Jocelly G. Meiners, Lecturer in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. 

Dr. Meiners is a native of San José, Costa Rica. She attended the University of Texas at Austin and obtained a BA in French and Astronomy, an MA in French Linguistics, and a PhD in Hispanic Linguistics. She is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and specializes in teaching courses for Heritage Spanish learners. Her research interests include pragmatics and emotion in second language acquisition, heritage Spanish learners and pedagogy, as well as linguistic attitudes and language maintenance regarding Spanish in the US. She currently serves as co-director for the Texas Coalition for Heritage Spanish (TeCHS)

Dr. Meiners shares her experiences creating and contributing to the Heritage Spanish community website, where instructors of Heritage Spanish can connect with each other, share classroom resources they’ve created, browse resources created by others, and stay updated on relevant professional development opportunities. 

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

“I think I first learned about OER through COERLL (Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning). Carl Blyth, the director, was my professor and one of my mentors during graduate school, so I learned about COERLL from him. It was exciting to hear about the creation of COERLL and that it would be hosted by UT.”

What was your primary motivation in building Heritage Spanish?

“As the population of Spanish heritage learners increases throughout the US, the demand for Spanish courses designed specifically for heritage learners keeps growing. However, there aren’t any “one size fits all” textbooks for teaching these students, since the heritage student populations around the country are so diverse and have such different needs. Therefore, a lot of instructors are constantly creating their own materials to serve their students, so we wanted to create a platform where instructors can share OER and find materials that they can adapt and use in their own classes.” 

What has been the greatest benefit of creating and using OER as an instructor?

“The greatest benefit as an instructor is being able to access materials that other dedicated instructors have created and implemented successfully in their classes, and then modify and adapt those materials to serve my own students. Also, sharing OER is a great way to give back, contribute to the field, and support other instructors, especially those who are getting started teaching heritage learners.”

What was the most challenging part of creating Heritage Spanish?

“The most challenging part, which we are still working on, has been building the community and gathering instructors’ work to share on our website. Although many instructors are creating amazing content, they often don’t know about Creative Commons licenses and how to share their work. However, we have several projects to help with this, particularly our annual summer workshop, where instructors can learn all about finding, creating, and sharing OER and also learn techniques and strategies for teaching heritage Spanish.”

How have your students responded to the material? What feedback do you receive from other users?

“Students appreciate using materials that are designed specifically for them, with topics that are really engaging to them, and also of course the fact that OER are free! Instructors who use OER love having access to such a great variety of resources and being able to use them freely. Instructors are often amazed that they can find such great materials for free on our website.”

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

“For heritage Spanish instructors I would say get familiar with our website, check out what other instructors have created, get in touch with us, sign up for our newsletter, join our community, and come to one of our workshops! For other language instructors, COERLL has lots of great resources, and navigating the Creative Commons website and creating your CC license is easy. Just start by looking at other people’s work and you will realize you can do it too. It feels great to share and know that you are helping your community of instructors.”

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).

OER Faculty Author Spotlight: Dr. Amanda Hager

In celebration 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! We’re kicking off this series with Dr. Amanda Hager, who teaches several courses in the Department of Mathematics, including M 302 (Introduction to Mathematics), M 325K (Discrete Mathematics), and M 305G (Preparation for Calculus) in addition to the MathBridge dual credit program

Dr. Hager has been a Longhorn since 2011. She earned her Ph.D. in Mathematics at the University of Iowa and worked at the United States Military Academy at West Point. She is passionate about liberal arts education, college readiness, faculty welfare, modular origami, and Olympic weightlifting.

Dr. Hager was generous in sharing her experiences creating OER with us in the interview below.

What OER did you create or adapt for your courses?

“For Introduction to Mathematics, I created a set of webpages that are substitutes for lectures and contain a combination of text, illustration, video, and informal quizzes. These are used for asynchronous instruction during the pandemic, and they can be used in a flipped classroom. I’ve also authored problem sets for homework and study.”

What was your primary motivation in leveraging OER for your courses?

“I realized that I was going to strange lengths to justify the existence of paid textbooks in my courses, artificial-seeming measures such as posting homework exercise numbers rather than the text of the questions in my LMS so that students would have to open the book to get the homework questions. I would cherry-pick pieces of textbooks that I liked, telling students to avoid other parts that I found were unpopular to them or confusing, constantly having to talk with the students about whether the book was confusing or not.

I eventually surveyed students in my UT course and dual-enrollment course, and I discovered that less than half of students were purchasing the required textbook. There were also a non-trivial number of students who purchased the textbook and never opened it. I realized that whatever positive results I was seeing in this course, either student satisfaction or learning gains, had little to do with owning the textbook.”

What has been the biggest benefit of using OER?

“I am no longer embarrassed that I am requiring an expensive textbook and then only covering approximately half of the content in it. The students receive essential content only, and I am proud to be providing a course experience that is not only affordable but is clean and sensical.”

What was the most challenging part of making the switch?

“Creating my own content. I suppose there must have been easier ways to get the job done, but I learned HTML, CSS, and Adobe Illustrator in order to create webpages. I studied web accessibility. I produced my own videos. Good video content is labor-intensive.”

How have your students responded to the material? If applicable, did you notice a change before and after using OER? 

“Anecdotally, they seem to like having the information they need exactly where they need it. No book, no clumsy web portals. I get a lot fewer questions about what they need to know and not know for exams, because the answer is everything they’ve been given.”

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

“OER is not just free books. It’s about the power of collaboration. One educator writes a text, another builds aligned assessments, still another creates video tutorials, and the whole is so much more than the sum of its parts. But adopting open resources and using them is probably the easiest way to get started dreaming about what you can create to take your teaching to the next level.”

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). 

Happy Open Education Week!

This week, March 1 – 5, we observe Open Education Week, a global celebration of the open education movement. 

What is open education? The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) defines it as “resources, tools and practices that are free of legal, financial and technical barriers and can be fully used, shared and adapted in the digital environment.” Open education expands access to the resources of higher education (like open textbooks!) and enables the sort of collaboration that can engage students in new ways (like contributing to those open textbooks!). 

This week, we’ll share more blog posts highlighting some examples of the ways that education is being transformed by open culture, including by our very own faculty here at UT Austin. But today, we’ll start with part of the “why” that many open practitioners find compelling. 

It won’t shock you that cost remains a significant barrier to the pursuit of higher education. While the biggest costs, like tuition and housing, are generally beyond the reach of most instructors to impact, the cost of course materials is tangible and significant. At UT, students enrolled full-time in the fall and spring semesters can expect to spend $714 per year — and depending on their major, it could be much more. 

Open educational resources, or OER, are learning objects, like textbooks, websites, images, videos, and more, that are generally free of cost AND free of the legal barriers that restrict instructors from customizing them for their students’ needs. Replacing expensive course materials with OER can save a student tens to hundreds of dollars per course. 

We also want to celebrate our instructors who are going the extra mile to make education financially accessible. Are you a student who has taken a course without expensive course materials? If you’ve had an instructor who increased access and equity by selecting free or low cost course materials for class, nominate them as an Affordable Education Champion by Wednesday, March 3. UT Libraries and the Senate of College Councils will recognize some instructors in promotional materials on our websites and social media. All instructors will be made aware of their nominations. 

See more information on how high course materials costs impacts students, and contact Ashley Morrison, the Tocker Open Education Librarian, if you’d like to know more or get help locating OER for your discipline. (See a larger version of this infographic here.)

Creating Space in the Public Domain for Feminist Literature

Earlier this year, the UT Libraries hosted a panel discussion called, Can I Use That?: Remix and Creativity. The event was the brainchild of Juliana Castro, a graduate student in the School of Design & Creative Technologies. She worked with librarians Becca Pad, Gina Bastone and Colleen Lyon to plan a panel event that dove into issues around rules of copyright and reuse as they relate to creative fields of inquiry.

The Yellow Wall-Paper

The panelists for the event included: Dr. Carma Gorman, Design; Dr. Philip Doty, School of Information; Dr. Carol MacKay, English; and Gina Bastone, UT Libraries. The question and answer session of the panel was particularly lively as participants engaged with our experienced panel on a variety of reuse issues.

The capstone of the event was an opportunity to bind a Cita Press public domain book, The Yellow Wall-Paper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. UT Libraries is pleased to work with scholars like Juliana Castro who are interested in exploring new ways to freely share information, and is excited to help her introduce Cita Press.

Learn more about Cita Press.


Public domain is a legal term used to refer to visual or written works without intellectual property rights. Works enter the public domain for different reasons, including expiration of the rights, forfeiture, waiver, or inapplicability, as in the case of pieces created before an existing legal framework. At the end of the eighteenth century, copyrights lasted only 14 years in the USA, with an option of renewing for another 14 years. However, copyright terms have expanded dramatically over the course of the twentieth century in the USA.

Since the passage of the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act of 1998, most copyrighted works do not re-enter the public domain until 70 years after the death of the author. These extensions are created to benefit creators’ interests, but not only do they oftentimes fail to do so, but can stifle creativity, free speech, and the democratic exchange of ideas.

In the last three centuries, women have gradually made their way into the publishing industry as active writers, often exploring topics considered inappropriate or even immoral for women to address. The printing press was developed by Johannes Gutenberg c.1439. By 1500, printing presses were operating all throughout Europe; by 1539 Spanish colonists were printing in Mexico; and by 1638 English colonists were printing in New England. However, until the early nineteenth century, writing was still a suspect occupation for women. Because often times writing was viewed as unfeminine, the few women who had the educational background to write works of public interest would often publish anonymously, using masculine pseudonyms to avoid jeopardizing their social status.

Art and literature have been sexist arenas, and as Joanna Russ points, for centuries women have had to fight outright prohibitions, social disapproval, lack of role models, isolation, and other forms of suppression in order to get their work published and recognized.  Most of the nineteenth century’s feminist literature is now in the public domain, but many of these writings are not being republished by commercial publishers. When publishers do reprint public-domain texts, they rarely do so in open-access book formats. Because commercial publishers invest in curating and marketing well-designed collections of reprints, they frequently commission original annotations or introductions from scholars, which in turn enables them to copyright and profit from their new editions.

In contrast, Internet-based archives such as Google Books, HathiTrust, and Archive.org make an enormous corpus of public-domain books available for free online, but do so as scans or in poorly designed digital formats. Moreover, internet archives usually do not make their collections particularly navigable or appealing to non-scholarly audiences, nor do they make it properly designed and easy to print.


Cita’s purpose is to celebrate and make accessible the work of female authors, and inspire people to explore open publishing formats. In the future, I plan to extend Cita’s reach as an active open-source editing platform that is committed to intersectionality and that welcomes diverse voices and backgrounds by republishing new works, especially in Spanish, including those of living authors who are willing to open-license their works.

As is the case with most successful open-source projects, Cita needs user-contributor engagement in order to grow. The existing collaborative community is likely to extend their work towards creating new material, and potential new contributors will be encouraged to join in at different levels of the book-creating process, including cleaning texts, reformatting HTML, designing covers, laying out texts, marketing the site, etc. I plan to apply for small grants that can cover certain parts of the book making process, such as formatting and free distribution of printed copies. But Cita’s success will ultimately rely on the efforts of those who are interested in celebrating and making women’s art and literature more accessible.

Please follow, join, contribute and share: citapress.org

Juliana Castro is a Colombian graphic designer and editor, and  a graduate student in the School of Design & Creative Technologies at The University of Texas at Austin.

Open Access in 2017

As we prepared for Open Access (OA) Week 2017, it’s been exciting to think back about how far we’ve come in the last several years. For those who aren’t familiar, OA Week is a celebration of efforts to make research publications and data more accessible and usable. Just ten short years ago we lacked much of the infrastructure and support for open access that exist today.

Open@TexasBy 2007 we had implemented one of the core pieces of our OA infrastructure by joining Texas Digital Library (TDL). TDL is a consortium of higher education institutions in the state of Texas. TDL was formed to help build institutions’ capacity for providing access to their unique digital collections. That membership continues to grow and TDL now hosts our institutional repository, Texas ScholarWorks, our data repository, Texas Data Repository, our electronic thesis and dissertation submission system, Vireo, and is involved in our digital object identifier (DOI) minting service that makes citing articles and data easier and more reliable. These services form the backbone of our open access publishing offerings.

Our institutional repository, Texas ScholarWorks (TSW), went live in 2008. TSW is an online archive that allows us to share some of the exciting research being created at the university. We showcase electronic theses and dissertations, journal articles, conference papers, technical reports and white papers, undergraduate honors theses, class and event lectures, and many other types of UT Austin authored content.

TSW has over 53,000 items that have been downloaded over 19 million times in the past nine years.

In spring of 2017 we launched the Texas Data Repository (TDR) as a resource for those who are required to share their research data. TDR was intended to serve as the data repository of choice for those researchers who lack a discipline-specific repository or who would prefer to use an institutionally supported repository. TDR serves as a complementary repository to Texas ScholarWorks. Researchers who use both repositories will be able to share both their data and associated publications and can provide links between the two research outputs.

For several years the library has been supporting alternative forms of publishing like open access publishers and community supported publishing and sharing. Examples of this support include arXiv, Luminos, PeerJ, Open Library of the Humanities, Knowledge Unlatched, and Reveal Digital. These memberships are important because it’s a way for us to financially support publishing options that are more financially sustainable than the traditional toll access journals. Many of these memberships also provide a direct financial benefit to our university community, like the 15% discount on article processing charges from our BioMed Central membership.

In an effort to lead by example, the UT Libraries passed an open access policy for library staff in 2016. This is an opt-out policy that applies to journal articles and conference papers authored by UT Libraries employees. With this policy the library joins dozens of other institutions across the U.S. that have department level open access policies.

This past year we started a very popular drop-in workshop series called Data & Donuts. Data & Donuts happens at the same time every week, with a different data-related topic highlighted each week. All the sessions have a shared goal of improving the reproducibility of science.

Data & Donuts has attracted over 340 people in the past nine months which makes it one of our most successful outreach activities.

We have another reason to be optimistic this year. The Texas state legislature passed a bill this summer that should expand the awareness of and use of open educational resources (OER). SB810 directs colleges to make information about course materials available to students via the course catalog. If there is an online search feature for the catalog, the college has to make it possible for people to sort their search by courses that incorporate OER. The catalog functionality is set to go into effect this spring, so we’ll be keeping an eye on how things develop over this academic year.

We will continue the momentum we have generated from the launch of TDR, our Data & Donuts series, and our support of open publishers. We are putting together topics for Data & Donuts this spring, planning events associated with open access and author rights, and continuing to improve our online self-help resources. We are committed to offer assistance to any faculty, staff, or student at the university who has a question about open access.

We encourage department chairs and tenure and promotion committees to talk with their colleagues and/or engage with us in discussions about what open access means for their discipline.

UT Libraries will continue to explore new publishing models and initiatives to share UT’s rich scholarship and discoveries, to find ways to increase access to open educational resources, and to support future faculty and scholars in accessing, using and curating the growing body of data that is central to the research enterprise.