Teaching in the Open

What Is Open Pedagogy?

The definition of open pedagogy is an active conversation, co-created by educators in dialogue across journals, blogs, and social media. Rather than a static definition, many open pedagogy advocates treat open pedagogy as a set of values on which to base their teaching. According to the Open Pedagogy Notebook, we can think of open pedagogy as “an access-oriented commitment to learner-driven education AND as a process of designing architectures and using tools for learning that enable students to shape the public knowledge commons of which they are a part.” Some materials and activities that typically fall under the umbrella of open pedagogy include:

  • Non-disposable assignments, i.e. “…assignments that are sustainable or not disposable, assignments that would have benefit to others beyond the limited course time and space” (Bali 2017)
  • Open textbooks and other open educational resources, specifically student-created OER
  • Collaborative annotation
  • Students contributing to assignment and curriculum design

Given open pedagogy’s emphasis on learners needs and access, there are natural connections between the practices and values of open pedagogy and the values and practices found in other asset-based pedagogies, including culturally sustaining pedagogy and trauma-informed pedagogy.

Learner-centered Teaching

Learner-centered teaching shifts the focus of teaching from the instructor to the students and creates space for students to embrace and enact their agency in learning and knowledge creation. It emphasizes the importance of instructors co-creating a learning community with students. Learner-centered teaching includes all elements of teaching and learning, including the syllabus. In practice, learner-centered teaching could look like co-creating class norms, using educational materials chosen by students, or asking students to design assignments.

Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy

We live in a world of significant social, economic, and education inequality. Given this reality, it is vital for faculty, staff, and students to think critically about the inequities that institutions of higher education perpetuate. In order to challenge these inequities, faculty and staff should encourage students to “accept and affirm their cultural identity” through culturally sustaining pedagogy (Ladson-Billings). Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy “seeks to perpetuate and foster–to sustain–linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling.” (Paris & Alim). Culturally sustaining pedagogy grew out of Culturally Relevant and Culturally Responsive Pedagogies, which emphasize classroom content related to the diverse cultures of students in the classroom. Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy expands on this by using teaching to preserve students’ cultures.

A note for white faculty members: BMCC’s Team Open believe it’s crucial that culturally sustaining pedagogy be understood as not only sustaining non-dominant culture, but also as working towards social change and to challenge the system dominated by white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgender men. As an institution with a majority minority student body, but a majority white teaching faculty, we believe it’s particularly important that we interrogate whiteness in teaching and learning. We recognize that conversations about whiteness can be uncomfortable and can cause us to feel defensive or upset. We encourage you to sit with feelings of discomfort and understand that a critique of whiteness is not an attack on your individual moral character, but rather an attack on the greater system from which white people disproportionately benefit.

You can find resources on understanding and challenging whiteness and racism in our Zotero Library. If you have other resources you would like to share, please contact us at oer@bmcc.cuny.edu.

Backward Design

Backward course design is a practical way to create a student-centered course by prioritizing learning outcomes over particular assignments. “The backward course-design approach is first to identify student-learning outcomes, then the means of assessing the outcomes, and lastly the classroom activities that would support the learning outcomes.” Backward course design asks us to consider whether typical classroom assignments, like essays or quizzes, are the best way to achieve the desired learning outcomes.

Trauma-Informed Pedagogy

In this time of crisis, it is particularly important for anyone working in higher education to have an eye towards the way that trauma and toxic stress affects us and our students. Trauma-informed teaching attempts to understand the ways in which both individual and collective trauma impacts communities and uses that understanding to inform policies and practices in order to prevent further traumatization and to promote resilience.

For faculty and staff, trauma-informed care may look like setting healthy boundaries, including reasonable work hours, letting others help you when needed, and taking breaks, even when you don’t feel you need them to have time for them. For our students, we may consider giving trigger warnings when we are discussing sensitive topics, integrating both structure and flexibility into our courses, and most importantly, giving students the benefit of the doubt.

For more information about trauma-informed care and pedagogy, visit the BLA Trauma Informed Pedagogy Workshop OpenLab site.


See BMCC OER’s public Zotero library for information on works cited here and additional resources.

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