When I started teaching Gender and Communication, a new course at BMCC, in spring of 2015 I used what I still consider an excellent textbook written by mentors from my MA program. I had successfully lobbied for its use as a graduate teaching assistant at Louisiana State University. It was a fresh approach in the discipline focused on gender diversity rather than difference, weaving in rigorous theory while promising an intersectional analysis. It was an improvement on previous textbooks used at LSU and it addressed the audience’s experiences as traditional college students, while also addressing those with different experiences. At BMCC, where few learners are traditional, the difference between addressing and centering the needs of a diverse population became stark. I needed something different so the experiences of learners in my BMCC classrooms took focus, rather than being offered as an addendum.
Undergirded by Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone has the right to education,” open pedagogy asks us to think radically about access to and creation of knowledge in our classrooms and beyond in a wider social justice context. It often begins as it did for me, with adopting Open Education Resources (OER) and/or making our courses Zero Textbook Cost (ZTC). Access is immediately expanded when financial barriers to resources are eliminated, that much I anticipated. Still, some learners with holds on their accounts or internet access reliable only on their phones had trouble accessing institutional classroom management systems where the readings were housed. So I moved my classes to public websites, first using wix.com and later CUNY Academic Commons. Students could access the resources from their phones and were more prepared for class. An added bonus was that, through this work, I created an online teaching portfolio for myself that persists and can be easily shared with colleagues and comrades anywhere.
I was happily surprised by the depth of familiarity with rigorous theory learners found in the OER sections. When the resources I used centered their experiences it also heightened their access to academic concepts. At this point we could really engage notions about what constitutes knowledge, and transform our thinking about academic institutions and what we do in them as elitist and divorced from social life to places for building communities for social justice. Instead of focusing solely on mastering content, we began to consider how we can use these ideas in our communities while, at the same time, creating a community of our own in the classroom and online.
Now I plan readings for only the first six to eight weeks of classes. This gives us a common language for speaking about gender/sex/sexuality, communication, culture, and identity formation. It is important for communities to have a shared vocabulary, but also to be flexible. Thus, I survey learners and their reading journals to see where we might go deeper in the second part of the semester before deciding on resources. When resources are on a website it is very easy to add and update them and it keeps me focused and up-to-date regarding what is happening in my field. Assignments and course projects are learner led, with guidelines and stipulations from me. They are shared with our classroom community as new knowledge that builds on what we already know. For students who are willing, their media projects and article summaries become part of the public website for the course and, more meaningfully, resources for future students centering experiences of BMCC students like them.