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From Teaching for Equity & Inclusion to Reflecting on OER

Estimated reading time: 5-6 minutes

During the summer and fall of 2021 I was fortunate to participate in the UM-Ann Arbor CRLT LEO program focused on teaching for equity and inclusion. During the fall semester, we read chapters from the book From Equity Talk to Equity Walk and met in small groups in zoom to reflect on and examine our personal and pedagogical ideas about access, equity, and inclusion in the classroom, in syllabi and course policies, and in course content. 

As a result of the reading and conversations, I redesigned a number of the essay assignment sheets for my first-year, composition and rhetoric courses using a TILT framework, and revised and reorganized the course policies included on the syllabi. Although my syllabi were/are diverse in terms of content–including reflecting on writing, rhetoric, and creative practices through readings, videos/films, podcasts, and other materials by women and people of color from various cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds, and delving into topics related to gender, feminism, civil rights, Indigenous perspectives, ability/visibility, white privilege, and more–I  had not thought a lot about some aspects of the policies and “non-schedule” aspects of the syllabus. For example, over the years I have changed or modified attendance policies but have always still “graded” attendance; that meant that absences could dramatically reduce the final grade or result in a failing grade. Though I am also generous with giving extensions on assignment deadlines and being available for students who may have attendance conflicts or who struggle in class, those attendance policies were, in some cases, unnecessarily punitive; and though I was often unsettled by that fact I hadn’t been able to think deeply about how to do something different. But when Covid sent us all online for multiple semesters, I knew I had to rethink attendance for all of my classes once we got back into the physical classroom. Going forward, I imagine including something like this:

Attendance: UM-Dearborn’s official attendance policy states that, “a student is expected to attend every class and laboratory for which he or she has registered … An instructor is entitled to give a failing grade (E) for excessive absences or an Unofficial Drop (UE) for a student who stops attending class at some point during the semester.” 

Students who are successful in this class come to class meetings and participate in the work both in person and online as co-creators of the ideas generated by course material and conversation. Since emergencies do sometimes interfere with attendance, regular attendance and participation will help you to stay on track if you do have to miss class due to extenuating circumstances. Missing class meetings may also make it harder to effectively understand and complete assignments and may lead to falling behind. Please reach out to me with questions or concerns about attendance at any time.

As part of the CRLT program, I also met with Jessica Riviere in the UM-Dearborn Hub who helped me to look at attendance and other course policies on my syllabi. That meeting helped me develop ideas about how to revise course policy language to be more inviting and engaging instead of disciplinary. Like the attendance policy’s invitation to students to participate as co-creators important to each others’ learning and discussion, replacing “requirement” language with “students who are successful in this class…” kinds of language, and more effectively outlining resources (such as the Writing Center and CAPS), I realized, might help students better know where to turn for whatever needs arise. 

Although it sometimes feels like course policies may not have much to do with pedagogy–that they only exist as a kind of a “contract” with students in terms of expectations and requirements–reflecting on course policy language, organization, and presentation can be really useful for considering broader pedagogical questions and sharing pedagogical values with students. Foregrounding engagement and support by way of invitational language and non-punitive policies are, for me, part of a larger practice of active, critical, and engaged pedagogy curated through policies, assignments, accessibility, resources, and course content. And these can work, I hope, to create a kind of  “relentless welcome,” as Peter Felton explains, which may also help students to thrive.

Since I’ve also thought a lot over the years about course content, from a perspective that includes open and critical pedagogies, I’ve often considered how I could better use Open Educational Resources (OER) to lower costs and give students greater access to course materials. And so this year, I’m participating in the Dearborn Hub Affiliate program, focusing on OER, and reflecting on what I have already been doing and what my goals might be going forward. Some preliminary questions I have include: how can I think more about connections between equity and inclusion and OER pedagogies and practices? What even is OER? What would I like to learn more about and potentially implement? Do I want to create an OER text to use in my writing classes? At this point my thinking is still in the preliminary stages, but as an Affiliate, I’ve already had a number of meetings with Belen Garcia in the Hub and been in conversation with this year’s Affiliates cohort, which has helped me to find resources and to begin to think deeply about some of these ideas. 

What is “OER”?

I stopped using academic textbooks a number of years ago, in great part because of the cost, and also because I was already curating and changing course content from year to year to highlight topics and connections in particular ways. I have used bits and pieces of OER texts and resources on occasion, but I’ve also included articles, websites, and videos online that are not specifically designated as OER. UM-Dearborn students, faculty, and staff, for example, can access subscriptions to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal (and other online resources) via the Mardigian Library, and these can also be incorporated as course materials. And in some of my classes, I also still require low-cost books like collections of poetry or short-fiction, or books of creative and/or journalistic nonfiction. 

I’m especially interested in OER from a humanities perspective and in ways that go beyond textbooks, which is to say, I’m not necessarily looking to swap in a free, online text to replace an expensive hard copy, but I am interested in incorporating more OER in addition to, or in place of, other course materials. As an initial aspect of my own reflection then, I’m learning more about what is and isn’t OER, specifically. For example, Open Education Resources are “teaching, learning or research materials that are in the public domain or released with intellectual property licenses that facilitate the free use, adaptation and distribution of resources” (UNESCO). And resources can also “range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video, and animation” (UM-Dearborn “What is OER?”). More information about licenses and ways resources can be reused, remixed, redistributed, and more can be found on the Creative Commons site.

While from a pedagogical perspective, there may be various ways to consider access and affordability, there are differences in kinds of access and what that means. This UMW site has some helpful information, definitions, and distinctions between OER, Open Access (OA), Library-Licensed Course Content, and Affordable Course Content.

I hope to continue to reflect more on some of this in a future post. And in the meantime, these are some of the resources I’m using to help me begin the journey:

photo: Jill Darling, “The Big Ditch” mosaic mural, Silver City, NM

This image is shared with a Creative Commons BY 4.0 license.

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