Skip to Main Content

Open Educational Resources

Dr. Kisha Tracy

Dr. Kisha Tracy, Associate Professor, English Studies


The increasing problem with general medieval literature textbooks is that they are often unable – or unwilling – to keep up with the current issues in medieval studies, particularly those related to diversity and marginalized communities. Yet, textbooks with the goal of rectifying this oversight tend to be singularly focused and do not necessarily include a broad range of literature, which makes them difficult to use as the primary book in a survey course.

Open Educational Resources (OER) provide a way to respond to these drawbacks in traditional textbooks. Through the Fall 2020 OER Adoption Grant, I compiled a digital textbook for my ENGL 2200 British Literature I course. This textbook consists of individual readings as well as contextualizing material. With this process, I was able to choose the resources that emphasize our specific course outcomes and themes.

Disability studies is one of these themes. The Medieval Disability Sourcebook: Western Europe is an open-access volume (available both through the publisher and JSTOR) of primary sources with introductions focused on each work’s disability connections. The introductions and the glosses guide the reader to analyze the texts through a disability studies lens. An additional open access resource, the Medieval Disability Glossary, provides both discussions of specific words that appear in the literature as well as text introductions. These introductions serve a similar purpose to those in the sourcebook. To use either of these resources alone as the primary textbook would leave out numerous other approaches, but, to include one or two texts from the sourcebook and glossary helps students explore the topic of medieval disability, which they would otherwise not have the background to do as disability is not typically a topic covered in general textbooks of medieval literature (at least, not yet!). Providing readings from these open access sources also reinforces that there are indeed scholars who study and themselves belong to marginalized communities, such as people with disabilities – or, in other cases, people of color or multiple genders, etc. Students need to know that this work is being done, even if as yet it has not consistently made it into traditional textbooks, which is an issue that can be discussed with students when introducing the purpose of the digital textbook.

A major concern I have with this particular method is the variation in site designs and layouts of each of the readings as they are pulled from different sources, each with their own format and structure. Given this variance, it can be difficult for students to experience the material as a connected whole, rather than disjointed pieces. It might also take students longer to adjust to each style of reading, especially in a digital format, than if there was some conformity. To address this issue, my next goal is to provide my own introductions to each reading, thereby creating a sense of conformity that might lessen the jarring difference in the format of the readings and translations. I can also provide methods for analyzing each one and what to look for in order to help make the readings more approachable and even turn the potential drawback of variation into a positive.

The change to an OER digital textbook for a survey literature class reinforces and operationalizes the desire to bring in diverse perspectives that have not typically received emphasis in such a course. This is a major reason to consider using OER resources and pedagogy.