Teaching Tuesday: Integrating OERs in a Western Civilization 1 Class

Over the past four or five years, I’ve been teaching a big Western Civilization I class (>150 students), the proverbial History 101, in a Scale-Up Style active learning classroom. The class centered around authoring our own Western Civilization textbook. For a very recent (forthcoming!) article on this go here for my reports on the experience over time, go here

Next semester, I’m teaching History 101 to a much smaller class (40 students!) and instead of authoring our own textbook, we’re going to focus on revising, expanding, and contextualizing an existing open access textbook. Despite the large number of introductory level classes taught in the U.S. each semester, the number of open access Western Civilization is really small. In fact, the only one that I’ve been able to find is Christopher Brook’s book. There are course packets,  legacy courses made available open access, an open access source book, a good looking World History textbook, and even complete courses, but very few things that present themselves as traditional Western Civilization textbooks.

I suspect that the reason for this is a combination of two things. First is the old chestnut that students don’t read textbooks and have increasingly come to expect more dynamic classroom environments with project based learning, discussion, and learning on the fly. This is not an environment where the conventional textbook is likely to thrive. That being said, there are still an embarrassment of commercial textbooks on the market from the usual suspects. The second reason is that history textbooks – especially for introductory level courses – are hard to write and complicated (and potentially expensive to edit) and produce. It is a good example of how OERs won’t necessarily replace conventional textbooks, but encourage a support new ways of presenting course content and methods. 

For my History 101 class, which will be taught once per week at night over a singly 140 minute block, I’m going to encourage students to engage the open textbook with an eye toward their own learning styles. How can this rather conventional (if thoughtful) textbook be revised and adapted to integrated primary sources? How can we produce supplemental maps, timelines, and indexes to guide how students read, digest, and engage with the narrative that it produces? Are there other open resources available that can complicate, expand, and even subvert the stated intentions of this book?

More importantly, as we begin to adapt the book to our class’s, I will ask my students to consider how they might generalize what they’ve done so that our expanded version could be used in other classes. In other words, how do their efforts to adapt this book to our classroom reflect general trends in how they expect a college class to function? 

As OERs become more common in the higher education landscape, we need to recognize in them an opportunity to co-create new course materials, new visions of the textbook, and new ways of presenting and producing material in keeping with the needs, attitudes, and expectations of contemporary students. 

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