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My scholarly valentine

color picture of a purple candy heart with text that says "open things i love"

Roses are red, violets are blue

I love these open tools and I think you might too.  

Here are three of the essential open tools I use in my teaching and research* (that a certain ill-conceived draft policy would prohibit using for our online classes).  

CUNY Academic Commons – funded by CUNY specifically to create a space for open networking and connections between students, faculty, and staff across CUNY (show me where to do that in Brightspace?). The Commons allows faculty to create and share courses that are optimized for accessibility and different devices, to increase student access.** And the default teaching template now comes with a built in and very helpful accessibility checker! The Commons has been used by many faculty from a variety of campuses for really cool things and you should check all of them out- my own use is rather elementary, but essential for my teaching.  I make class websites for each class I teach, so students can have instant, open, and continued access to our class, without worrying about being cut off. Financial aid issues and other snafus can lead to students being locked out of their classes on Blackboard during the semester, and all students lose access when the semester ends (even if they got an INC and still need to do work!) Students are unable to get their work, their intellectual property back from Blackboard- once it’s submitted, they don’t control it anymore. My students who choose to do their work for our class on the commons retain complete control of their work, and can take it back whenever they like. Most importantly, in completing my class on the commons, students get experience learning and working with WordPress, which are real transferable skills they can put on their resumes and use after graduation, one after they have forgotten where $20 is in the US Constitution.*** 

Another open platform that CUNY has funded is CUNY Manifold. Like the Commons, it has loads of potential and I’m only scratching the surface, so please check it out for yourself. It’s an incredible place to publish your own work or that of your students openly (like these awesome projects:  My Slipper Floated Away, We Eat, the BSSW Professional Preparation Manual, and The Political Imagination), or curate other open materials (like these from Queensborough, Kingsborough, the Graduate Center, and City College) into one place, that lets you easily integrate public, personal, and/or private group highlights and annotations, as well as incorporate relevant links, documents, and multimedia right into the text (using resources). It is also optimized for different devices (phones/tablets/computers) and accessibility, and has a top notch support team.  The Manifold team is constantly working to improve the workflow and ease of use, and it is constantly getting easier to make a Manifold project every semester.  

Finally, lately, I’ve been having a love affair with Zotero, for my research and my teaching. Zotero is created by a non-profit organization and free to use (if you want more than 300MB of storage, you can either connect to a cloud server of your own or purchase 2GB for $20 a year, a very reasonable convenience tax I am happy to pay) For my research, I have long struggled with managing PDFs, notes, and citations for my research, and never found a great option.**** Now, with Zotero, I have one place to keep, organize, read, highlight, annotate, and generate citations (in whatever format I need) for  all of my research, which I can organize neatly into files for each project- this is an absolute lifesaver, when scholarly papers and grant proposals have extremely long life cycles. And there’s seamless integration across my computer, iPad, iPhone, and web interface, so I can do my research wherever I am, and use the screenreaders built into my devices to listen to PDFs when I prefer that. I have one folder just for all of the things I come across that are interesting (whether it’s new articles, book releases, and blog posts) so I can stop emailing myself things (that I will never remember to look for in my email). 

Using Zotero to share readings with my BRESI student research lab and my CRSP undergrad researcher has been great too- not only did we have a place to digitally highlight and make notes, but the students also got the experience of using a program that would help them in all of their classes and future research. Which inspired me to incorporate it into my classes for this spring. Some of the big takeaways from the CUNY ZTC Student Opinion Survey were that students wished they could highlight their digital reading the way they did with their traditionally published textbooks (easy with Zotero!) and that they access their coursework from a variety of devices in a variety of places (which Zotero makes very easy too). It’s going well with my graduate class so far, and I look forward to using it when KCC’s spring starts in March. 

 * I won’t discuss CUNY Pressbooks here, as I haven’t used it in my own teaching, but I do know colleagues who have used it and think it’s cool.  I also know that CUNY has funded its existence- seems like the kind of thing that you wouldn’t want to prohibit faculty from using

** What the Commons doesn’t do as easily as Blackboard/Brightspace/most 3rd party vendor learning management systems is create an easy-to-harvest-without-the-instructor-even-knowing of all of a course’s content’s score on their accessibility checker to anyone with admin privileges. I get why the university might want that, and that there’s even a good goal (compliance with ADA, and more importantly, actual accessibility for all of our students!), but there are other ways to achieve that, like investing in professional development and support for our faculty and staff, instead of mandating invasive third party LMS surveillance. 

*** It’s the 7th Amendment, and we discuss it as an example of the challenge between specificity and vagueness in a constitution. 

**** I played with Mendeley a little years ago, and it was okay but buggy across devices, and then was bought by Elsevier, and I’d really rather not give those jerks any of my data or money.