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Open Educational Resources

Dr. Laura Baker

Dr. Laura Baker, Professor, Economics, History and Political Science

Professor Baker discusses her journey with Open Educational Resources which ranges from adopting to creating Open Educational content. 


Image of Laura BakerWhere to begin this story? When I took a course on Dreamweaver in 2005 so that I could design my syllabus as a webpage and include hyperlinks to all the digitized primary sources newly and unprecedentedly accessible on the web? When I offered my first fully online U.S. history survey in 2008 so that I could again leverage new digital technologies to make learning more accessible not only to the physically remote, but also to the differently abled and cognitively diverse? When in 2014 I adopted for use in my U.S. history surveys one of Flatworld’s digital, open, and (at the time) free textbooks? My point in wondering where to start this story is that, for me, open educational resources and open pedagogy are deeply rooted in the digital revolution, as well as in questions of educational equity and justice.

Another landmark date is 2019. That spring I went into my sabbatical thinking I was simply looking for a new OER textbook for my U.S. surveys, since Flatworld had begun to charge—a relatively modest fee, but I wanted free. I found and adopted a great OER text, The American Yawp, which (in addition to letting me talk about Walt Whitman’s poetry as a window into 19th century America) provides my students free digital access to a U.S. history textbook that is thoughtfully designed, well informed by recent scholarship and historiographical trends, and makes excellent use of images.

My search for a new OER textbook led me down some unexpected paths. After listening to hours of Bonnie Stachowiak’s fantastic interviews of pedagogical innovators on Teaching in Higher Education, I was inspired to create my own digital texts—not open (at least not yet), but in other ways enacting principles of access and equity. In designing my own course texts, I am able to include topics marginalized, neglected, and under-represented in conventional textbooks. In selecting my own illustrations and examples I’m able to represent a broad diversity of people, so that my students see in their “textbook” and “workbook” individuals who look like them. One of my favorite aspects of designing my own instructional materials is that I’m also able to diversify media—to incorporate extensive visual content (the open archives for which grows daily on Flickr and Wikimedia commons), and to support better students’ work with audio and visual sources.

Perhaps most unexpected, my sabbatical adventures in OER prompted me to think more deeply about what it means to make learning accessible. Much more than simply making available “free” textbooks, the open education movement challenges us to rethink our pedagogies in ways that center on access—to examine anew in the digital age what it means to design courses that all students can more easily enroll in, persist through, and successfully complete.