Open/Alternative Educational Resources at CUNY

Ellen Sexton

Might students be more likely to arrive in class ready to learn if getting access to assigned readings did not involve paying a large amount of money? Would they read the first week’s materials in time if they did not have to wait for a book to be mailed to their home? Would the course be better if the learning materials were customized for your needs? 

Faculty around CUNY are dropping textbooks in favor of open and alternative educational resources. Hundreds of courses are currently listed in CUNYfirst as “Z” courses—those with zero textbook costs for students—and New York State has awarded $4 million to CUNY to develop more. One way of making a course zero-cost is by using Library reserves, or by putting links from your Blackboard site to electronic journal articles and book chapters licensed or owned by the Library—that’s what we are calling “alternative” educational resources (AER). The “open” educational resource (OER) concept moves far beyond those strategies, embracing remixing, re-editing and re-creation of content. 

David Wiley, the man behind Lumen Learning/Waymaker, has defined open educational resources as copyrightable works that have been licensed so that users can retain, reuse, revise, remix and redistribute the content. Creative Commons licenses are commonly used to indicate various degrees of openness. The MERLOTx repository, led by California State University, and the Open Textbook Library hosted by the University of Minnesota are two of the best-known repositories of open learning materials. They are great places to see the range of easily discoverable materials available for adoption, remixing, anthologizing, etc. Lumen Learning hosts open textbooks but requires students to pay a small per-semester fee for access. CUNY has taken on the payment of such fees for the spring semester. Of course, “zero-cost to students” does not mean free of effort from faculty. Creating or choosing and adapting open resources involves labor. As OER practitioners have observed, open is “free” as in puppies, rather than “free” as in beer. 

Professor Karen Okamoto has created a guide to zero-cost (to students) textbook alternatives for John Jay faculty, with links to CUNY and SUNY activities.

Introducing Vee Herrington 

Vee Herrington is joining us to support CUNY’s initiative to replace costly textbooks with alternative resources at zero-cost to students. Vee led an open educational resource initiative at CUNY’s Guttman Community College, where she was Chief of the Library and Director of Academic Technology. Her familiarity with library licensed content and OER will be invaluable in supporting faculty who are exploring new pedagogical practices. 

Vee has worked at Bell Labs and was Command Librarian of the US Army Military Intelligence Corps. Her many credentials include a doctorate in instructional technology. Vee will be with us as a non-teaching adjunct librarian, for two days a week, working closely with Ray Patton and Gina Foster. She may be contacted at

Open Access: Have you received an email from Saad?

Librarian Saad Abulhab has been tasked with reaching out to faculty to encourage them to deposit copies or pre-prints of their published articles in our institutional repository, CUNY Academic Works. He is trawling through bibliographic databases to gather citations, and checking journals’ self-archiving policies. His aim is to identify works that are permitted by the publisher to be posted on the institutional repository. He has been sending out emails to faculty whose work we believe may be posted on CUNY Academic Works if the author agrees. Faculty grant permission via a web form, where they type out the title of the work(s), tick a box agreeing to terms and conditions, and click a button to submit. Saad is a scholar of Arabic scripts, and has posted his own articles on CUNY Academic Works. 

November 2017

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