OERs as a reflection of Theory and Praxis

By: Courtney Kurlanska, Department of Integrative and Global Studies

Sometimes everything just falls into place. That doesn’t mean it goes perfectly or comes out precisely as you would like, but when does that ever happen in real life? In the spring of 2022, I had the opportunity to teach a new class called The Green Economy and Alternative Forms of Development. In this class, we questioned the standard bearers of capitalism and neoliberalism. Free markets became just one of many possible modes of economic exchange. Students learned about the benefits and drawbacks of controlled economies, democratic socialism, gift economies, community economies, and many other alternatives to the neoliberal perspective that currently dominates the global economic order. As part of the backward design approach used to develop the course, the student co-creation of an Open Educational Resource (OER) became a central component of the class.

We examined case studies from around the world that provided examples of communities that challenged the dominant narrative of the benefits of free trade and open markets. Students were particularly interested in topics related to greening the economy, such as zero waste production (circular economy), green infrastructure, and upcycling, as they recognized the unsustainable focus of neoliberalism on continual growth. They were also highly focused on the growing inequalities they saw and experienced in their lives and were keenly interested in strategies to systematically address this injustice. Deep in the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with a growing youth mental health crisis, the students began to independently connect economic practices and the environmental, social, and mental stressors they were experiencing in their own lives. Some recognized the publication of the OER as a strategy of empowerment that provided a platform for them to share their concerns about the future of the world, suggestions for innovations and different ways of approaching age-old problems, and as a way to rebuke the current university and political leaders (that became an op-ed piece!).

Reflecting the collaborative and community-based economic framework discussed in class, the development and creation of the OER was determined using these principles. The students determined the content, delivery mode, and organization of the OER within given parameters. To reach a broad public audience, they chose to produce an e-zine that could be distributed electronically and would have a greater public appeal than a more formal textbook. While the students also considered developing podcasts, they felt that a written document was more feasible given the time constraints of our university’s seven-week term.  

The students created learning communities where the members had distinct yet related topics they each researched and wrote about individually but discussed as a group in class for 30 minutes twice a week. During this discussion, the learning communities shared resources, found connections across topics, and developed a deeper understanding of each other’s content. This time was critical for the group to create a coherent section in the e-zine where they brought together their topics for a cohesive discussion of the theme or issue.  

The student creation of an OER in this class not only served as pedagogical innovation but also reflected some of the core concepts discussed, such as reducing barriers to resources and opportunities and presenting alternative visions to the ‘status quo.’ Providing quality, accurate, reliable information to the world for free (and legally) was highly appealing for students who sometimes pay hundreds of dollars for a single course textbook. Many saw this as an opportunity to reduce some of the barriers to equality discussed in the course. In this way, the student co-creation of an OER was a marriage of theory and praxis.

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