Often, when speaking about open pedagogy, the emphasis is on the digital: frequently listed examples include Wikipedia edit-a-thons, blog posts, and collectively annotated works. Yet the same principles (transparency, self-driven learning, student empowerment) are also strongly found in zines, a print medium that has long thrived in underground spaces and activist movements. There are many potential ways to integrate zines in alignment with open pedagogy, offering a way to bridge the physical and the digital. Bringing zines to the classroom introduces a playfulness and creativity, and “remix, reuse, and retain” takes on a different ring when applied to a print medium. With their use of collage elements, zines are the original “remix,” juxtaposed images adding a quirky twist.
Open Pedagogy may be seen as a movement away from “disposable assignments,” the dreaded term paper “that students complain about doing and faculty complain about grading.” Partially borrowed from constructivist and other strategies, is the radical idea of recognizing students as knowledge creators, and encouraging a more participatory stake in the educational process. With their historically anti-authoritarian vibe, and roots in the feminist/punk movements of the 1980’s/90’s, zines are a perfect antidote to traditional classroom, typically ruled by a rigid, top-down hierarchy. Though there are many digital zines, the format is primarily analog, holding an expressive depth that relies on collage, writing, and an intuitive aesthetic.
There are many excellent available resources about how to introduce zines into higher education (check out this excellent Resource List from Barnard College), but for a few examples: Sakina Laksimi-Morrow, Teaching and Learning Center Fellow at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York, invited fellow graduate students to share their teaching assignments and syllabi in Developing a Socially Conscious Pedagogy. Simmons College librarian Dawn Stahura has written about working with a faculty member to read and develop zines in a Sociology class, relating to content about eating disorders. I’ve personally taught many zine workshops at university LGBTQ centers: there’s a strong overlap between the representation of queer, or otherwise marginalized authors, and this very welcoming, open format.
It can be tempting to slot in the zine requirement as “just another assignment,” listed on the syllabus along with other course requirements, and graded. However, depending on the content, it may not make sense: Daniela Capistrano, founder of the POC Archive Project, speaks specifically to the discomfort of grading highly personal work. Sometimes keeping the spirit of “open pedagogy” may involve the idea of “closed” – considerations of student privacy, personal spaces, and making it equally ok to restrict access.
With that caveat aside, most typical zine projects can be easily interwoven with concepts of sharing and remixing: a zine could be collectively revised or contributed to by others outside of the classroom. It’s a great opportunity to reproduce interviews, oral histories, or other in-person engagement, distributed in a new format. Similarly, open-licensing can be applied to zines, a great opportunity to discuss the idea of licensing one’s work for distribution. Creative Commons is more typically in the digital environment, but CC licenses can be likewise spotted on a growing number of zines and other print-based works.
There are surely many limitations of print: paper zine is arguably less durable, and less quickly disseminated, than its digitized counterpart. But there are similar limits to the digital lifespan: we’ve all experienced a pesky “Error 404: Page Not Found” message on a webpage, or broken hyperlinks that lead to nowhere. Given that Open Educational Resources (OER), for example, are often hosted on WordPress sites, the “look and feel” may quickly seem outdated: it depends on the platform and faculty technological skills. As with all open content, there are questions about who will work to maintain access to the materials, after the class ends, or the students graduate. Assignments may be theoretically “renewable,” but nearly impossible to access or re-use, in practice.
Zines are a unique format, but they absolutely fall under the umbrella of open pedagogy. In many ways, the joy in creating zines tends to elicit more meaningful content than in a typical written response; though variable, this can be a fun experience that flattens the boundaries of student/teacher, and knowledge/experience. And finally, if renewable also means “memorable” – something the student re-reads, gives to a friend, carries around – then a zine is infinitely less likely to be thrown away, deleted, or otherwise discarded.