How the new Justice e-Reader is bringing together a collection of justice-focused texts, creating an intellectual hub for our community and classrooms.
By Shirley Del Valle
Student success has always been the driving force for faculty and staff at John Jay College. So, when the City University of New York (CUNY) awarded funds to the College for its Open Educational Resources (OER) initiative—under which courses are converted from textbook-centric to free-educational materials—Raymond Patton, former Director of Educational Partnerships and General Education and current Director of the Honors Program, guided faculty through the creation of zero-text-cost courses and the John Jay Justice e-Reader. The two OER programs ease the financial burden for students, allowing them to fully engage in coursework, and increase academic success. With more than half of John Jay students coming from low-income households, zero-text-cost courses and the Justice e-Reader are an ideal way to remove a cost barrier, clearing the path to their academic dreams.
During her undergraduate and graduate experience at John Jay, Karen Argueta ’19 saw first-hand the struggle classmates faced when it came to textbook costs. “I’ve seen classmates take pictures of another student’s textbook after every class just so they had the reading for the following week. I’ve witnessed peers spending money photocopying a textbook and then realizing they didn’t have enough to copy everything they needed. While some praise these acts as creative or resourceful, they’re missing the fact that it is an act of academic survival,” says Argueta, noting that course material is the backbone of a college education. “The text is what keeps students interested and engaged with the coursework. And high textbook costs are keeping many students from having that experience.” Helping to mitigate costs, John Jay faculty have taken on the challenging task of creating zero-text-cost courses, leading them to rethink and redesign their courses using free and accessible materials.
The new Justice e-Reader—an online hub of ever-evolving, justice-focused articles and resources, that launched this fall semester—takes the zero-text-cost course concept to a different level. The information is stored all in one place, creating an intellectual “Grand Central Station” for faculty and students to engage in teaching and learning about justice at no cost. “We know our students struggle to afford textbooks and that affects their success in courses,” says Patton. “OER like zero-cost textbooks and the Justice e-Reader make it so the financial burden of textbooks is not affecting a student’s ability to succeed here at John Jay.” The Justice e-Reader is loaded with open and alternative education resources—“open” meaning the material has no copyright and can be freely used and shared; and “alternative” meaning the material is licensed by the library, so students have complete and free access to it.
Beyond meeting OER’s mission of making education accessible to underrepresented communities, Patton explains that the Justice e-Reader was inspired by several factors, including John Jay’s role as an institution focused on justice, the need for a resource faculty could use to build courses and expand their knowledge base, and the College’s identity as a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) and Minority-Serving Institution (MSI).
Building the Justice e-Reader
With OER funding in place, an editorial board was formed, comprised of faculty from different disciplines and backgrounds. Members of the editorial board include: Jessica Gordon-Nembhard, Professor, Department of Africana Studies; Olivera Jokic, Associate Professor, English and Gender Studies; Jamie Longazel, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science; Suzanne Oboler, Professor, Latin American and Latinx Studies; Matthew Perry, Associate Professor, Department of History; and María Julia Rossi, Assistant Professor, Department of Modern Languages and Literature. Together, with guidance from Patton, Gina Rae Foster, Director of the Teaching and Learning Center, and Verlene “Vee” Herrington, OER Librarian, the board came up with the Justice e-Reader’s tone and look.
“The Justice e-Reader is organized into three parts,” explains Herrington, providing insight on the e-Reader’s website design. “Part one, Texts for Teaching and Learning about Justice, is a small, curated collection of key texts that will lead users to think about justice and its meaning. Part two, Subjects and Topics in Justice, is a larger collection of texts and resources that are organized chronologically and by global region. And part three, Resources for Teaching, is specifically for faculty.” She adds, “Each reading is also tagged with keywords, so it’s accessible via a digital cloud.”
Engaging Faculty Interests
The content of the Justice e-Reader consists of materials recommended by John Jay faculty and vetted by the editorial board. The plan is to share the Justice e-Reader for use in general-education Justice Core classes and to give faculty the option of using the readings to shape their courses. “The Justice e-Reader puts a whole set of resources for teaching students about justice in the hands of the faculty teaching those classes. This is especially helpful for professors that are new to the topic, or looking for new materials to expand or innovate their course,” says Patton. “They’ll be able to assign content from the Justice e-Reader, and students will have easy, free access to it.”
So far, the Justice e-Reader is in use in a small number of classes this fall. But, the idea is to expand outreach to more faculty this academic year, in the hopes of gaining user interest, and getting submissions for the Justice e-Reader.
Wynne Ferdinand, who is now leading the Justice e-Reader project after she was named Patton’s successor as Director of Educational Partnerships and General Education, sees the opportunity to submit texts and other resources as the best way to get additional faculty interested in the Justice e-Reader. “It’s a great tool for building community among faculty. We want to encourage them to submit readings and other resources, so they can learn how to use the Justice e-Reader, and they can test how it could help in their classroom.”
Representing Student Diversity
One thing that has been of the utmost importance from the start is ensuring that the readings are representative of John Jay’s diverse student body. “Diversity of readings and media is vital to the Justice e-Reader’s purpose,” says Ferdinand. “For our students to be able to see themselves in these works and in these accomplished scholars is crucial.”
To that end, the editorial board made sure to draw texts from black and Latinx history, studies, and culture. “The Justice e-Reader is a work in progress, but we made a real effort to make sure the texts were coming from a variety of different backgrounds, speaking to students from different backgrounds,” says Patton. “There are currently texts on the Justice e-Reader available in Spanish. The next steps are to figure out what additional areas of the Justice e-Reader should be available in languages other than English.”
An important connection to OER is the practice of open pedagogy, explains Ferdinand. “Students work together to critically analyze, interpret, and ‘remix’ resources, taking an active role in learning,” she says, noting the important role peer-to-peer collaboration has in student success. “Part of what we hope students can do is identify the way their background, interests, and expertise contribute to these explorations of justice issues highlighted in the Justice e-Reader. Because they are joining an academic conversation that’s already in progress, and we know they have a lot to contribute, we want them to be creators of information. By making connections with the readings, they become creators of knowledge.”
Photography: Amber Gray
CUNY Awards Additional OER Funds to John Jay
In its continued effort to make education affordable and accessible to students, the City University of New York’s (CUNY) Office of Academic Affairs has awarded John Jay College $174,750 in funding to convert courses to Open Educational Resources (OER) under its CUNY-wide OER initiative. This is the third consecutive year John Jay has received funding for course conversion and OER offerings. Through the initiative, John Jay faculty will redesign courses by replacing proprietary textbooks with open-educational resources, such as zero-cost textbooks and the Justice e-Reader, which gives users access to justice-focused material for free. Under the funding, John Jay faculty will develop, enhance, and institutionalize new and ongoing OER initiatives.