Mary Susan McIntosh and the Women in Red


I was chuffed to discover today that English Wikipedia’s main page features a link to sociologist, feminist, and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights Mary Susan McIntosh.  It’s always great to see women featured on Wikipedia’s main page, which is viewed by around 4 million people, but I confess to being doubly pleased because I created the article on Mary at a recent editathon to mark International Women’s Day here at the University of Edinburgh.  This editathon was facilitated by Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence here at the University, and Ewan was also instrumental in nominating Mary to appear on the main page.

Wikipedia 11 May 2017

Only last week I had been complaining on twitter about the lack of gender balance on English Wikipedia’s main page which happened to feature 18 named men but only 4 named women that particular day. The main page changes on a daily basis but you can see the edition from 4th May on archive.org here.

WikiProject Women in Read

Of course this is not particularly surprising; Wikipedia has a well known problem with gender imbalance, only 16% of biographical entries on the English Wikipedia are of women, and the main page is a pretty accurate reflection of this imbalance.  The Wikimedia Foundation and the various Wikimedia chapters around the world, including Wikimedia UK, are well aware of this problem and are attempting to address it through a range of projects and initiatives.  WikiProject Women in Red raises awareness of this issue and aims to turn red links blue, by creating new biographical articles about women who are referenced on Wikipedia but who do not have their own pages. And here at the University of Edinburgh, one of the objectives of our Wikimedian in Residence is to encourage more women to get involved with editing Wikimedia.  Ewan regularly runs editathons focused on addressing the coverage of articles about women in general and Scottish women in particular.

Before I went along to the International Women’s Day editathon, I confess knew nothing about Mary Susan McIntosh, I picked her name at random from a list of “Women in Red” because she sounded interesting.  It didn’t take me long to realise what a hugely significant and influential woman Mary was.  In addition to being one of the early members of the UK Gay Liberation Front, and sitting on the committee that lowered the homosexual age of consent in the UK from 21 to 18, Mary published important research arguing that homosexuality should be regarded as a social construct, rather than a psychiatric or clinical pathology.  Mary’s paper The Homosexual Role helped to shape the concept of social constructionism, later developed by Michel Foucault.  Mary’s contribution to shaping this important philosophical construct has of course been largely overlooked.  My Wikipedia article barely scrapes the surface of Mary’s life and academic career and her important contribution to social theory and political activism.  I hope to do a bit more work on Mary’s Wikipedia page sometime in the future but it would be great if there are any philosophers, sociologists or critical theorists out there that could help with editing to ensure that Mary gets the recognition she deserves.

CMALT – An open portfolio

I’ve finally made a start on drafting my CMALT Portfolio, and in the interests of open practice I’m going to attempt to write and present the whole thing here on my blog.  If you look up on the nav bar you’ll see a new page, CMALT Portfolio, where I’ll be building up my portfolio over the coming weeks.  I’ve just drafted the first two sections of Core Area 1: Operational Issues and I’ll be adding more sections shortly I hope. I’d love to have some feedback on  my portfolio so if you’ve got any thoughts, comments or guidance I’d be very grateful indeed.  I’d also be very interested to know if anyone else has created their portfolio as an exercise in open practice, and if so, how they found the experience.

Wish me luck!

CC BY @BryanMMathers for ALT

re:publica – #FreeBassel: The cost of loving free culture

This video is a small contribution to a session taking place as part of the re:publica 17 media and digital culture convention in Berlin this week.  The session #FreeBassel : The Cost of Loving Free Culture is part of the Love Out Loud strand and is being led by Barbara Rhüling, CEO of Booksprints and Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, Research Associate Professor, CNRS.

The session will feature a public reading of texts dedicated to Bassel Khartabil, loved and celebrated Internet volunteer who was detained in Syria in 2012, demanding his immediate release and reflecting on the love and the costs of free culture.

“Bassel Khartabil, loved and celebrated Internet volunteer was detained in Syria on March 15, 2012. His name was deleted from the Adra Prison’s register, where he was detained, on 3 October 2015, and there has been no information about his current status or whereabouts since.

Seeing Bassel paying a high price for his love and participation in free culture, many of his friends and fellow free culture activists have reflected on their own fates, actions, and choices. As part of the #freebassel campaign, 44 activists, artists, designers, developers, researchers, and writers involved with free knowledge movements wrote and compiled more than 50 original contributions in the book “Cost of Freedom”. The contributions include paintings, poems, personal reflections, critical observations, polemical pieces, and theoretical treatises.

Many contributions by Bassel’s friends and family, including his wife Noura Safadi, create a collective memory of Bassel and urge for his immediate release to his normal life and freedom. Other contributions by free culture advocates such as Lorna Campbell, Lawrence Lessig, and Jon Phillips offer personal reflections about the experience of working within free culture.”

The video above is my reading of The Open World, the short piece I wrote for Cost Of Freedom, a book dedicated to Bassel in 2015.

International Open Science Conference report

A brief report on the International Open Science Conference held in Berlin in March, presented at the University of Edinburgh Open Knowledge Network event on 28th April 2017.

The Open Science Conference held in Berlin in April was the 4th international conference sponsored by the Leibniz Research Alliance and it grew out of the former Science 2.0 Conference.

The stated aim of the Open Science Conference is to bring together three communities; the research community engaging in open science, the library community and the computer centres who maintain and run the infrastructure.  Participants included researchers, librarians, practitioners, politicians, and other stakeholders.  Many of the delegates I spoke to were librarians and and it was interesting to note that many of them were familiar with the work of the Digital Curation Centre here at the University, and spoke highly of the service they provide.

Continue reading

CMALT – Advice from the community

Last week I wrote a reflective blog post about starting out on the CMALT journey, What do you do?, and was delighted to get lots of really helpful practical input from the ALT community on twitter.  I’ve captured the advice and discussions in a Storify here Starting CMALT – Advice from the community so I can look back on them and in case they’re of use to others. Here’s some of the highlights.

Matt Cornock had useful advice on completing Section 3 if you’re not in a teaching role.

Phil Barker kicked off an interesting discussion about how long it takes to complete a portfolio.

Working together with a colleague seems to be a good way to make progress

Kate Mitchell was particularly interested in the tensions of our role:

While Martin Hawksey may have blow my cover 😉

Open Pedagogy – A view from a distance

I’ve been thinking on and off for the last few days about the fascinating discussions going on around Open Pedagogy. Maha Bali has curated a diverse and thought provoking series of posts on the topic here and has organized a hangout to discuss What is Open Pedagogy? later today. Other than commenting on a few blog posts here and there, I haven’t contributed much to this debate and it’s taken me a little while to figure out why.

To some extent this is bound up with a post I wrote last week What do you do? That post is an off the cuff reflection prompted by my first attempt to make a start on my CMALT portfolio, but it does relate, if only tangentially, to the question of open pedagogy too. I think one of the reasons that I’ve felt slightly distanced from the open pedagogy discussions is that to my mind pedagogy is intrinsically bound up with the theory and practice of teaching and although I’ve worked in Higher Education for years, I’ve rarely been involved in teaching and I have never considered myself to be a teacher or an academic. This is one of the issues I was trying to grapple with, all be it facetiously, in my What do you do? post. I’ve very rarely taught staff or students, though I do hope that people have learned things from me along the way. I do help to support teaching and learning, but even then, I’m several steps removed from the pedagogy and the teaching process. I don’t do teaching so I’ve always felt I don’t really do pedagogy either.

What I do consider myself to be is an education practitioner. I participate in the process and practice of education and hopefully, some way further down the line, this contributes to teaching and pedagogy. Perhaps more importantly for my own personal and professional identity, I see myself as an open practitioner. I try very hard to practice my profession in the open, I try to learn from other open practitioners, I try to listen and learn and engage, and I try to be guided by the principals of openness and inclusivity.

This is why I identified so strongly with the questions Josie asked in her blog post Waves not Ripples

“I’m suspicious of the current distinction between open pedagogy and open practice, and in particular, how little explanation is being given to the privileging or even just use of the term pedagogy over the term practice. Is the use of pedegogy being used as shorthand for educational practice? Is it being used to underline the importance of formal education, or the primacy of teaching? Why not open heutagogy? Is it being used as a form of interpellation, a signal to include and exclude specific groups within open education? What is wrong with ‘practice’? How do we benefit from continuing to insist on a break between theory and practice, or theory and politics? Is this distinction as harmful as the disavowal of the relationship between the personal and the political?”

Josie’s questions also called to mind the point Amber Thomas made in her wonderful blog post Perhaps I’m not one, which I linked to from my earlier post. Amber’s blog post is primarily a reflection on what makes a learning technologist, but she also includes this thought, which still resonates with me three years later.

“And another thing: I’m not an academic and I don’t teach. I consider myself to be a para-academic. (Like a paralegal, or a paramedic ). I have a particular skillset which has a place in universities. I’ve lost count of the number of sessions I’ve been in at elearning conferences over the year where the presenter asks “how many people in the room actually teach?”. Cue a few hands raised and the majority looking down at their feet, embarrassed, as if the 5/10/15 years experience in education counts for nowt. Universities are multi-professional places and learning technologists, in all their flavours, have a rightful place at the table. People like me shouldn’t have to pretend to be something we’re not.”

Like Amber, I’m not an academic and I don’t teach, so I’m not sure how much I can contribute to discussions about pedagogy. It’s not that I’m disinterested, far from it, it’s more that when people talk about pedagogy is often feels like they’re talking about something I don’t do, something I haven’t thought deeply enough about.

Of course that may simply be a massive misconception on my part, but there’s no denying that I tend to feel I have more to contribute to discussions about open practice, policy and politics than discussions about open pedagogy. Josie asks whether open pedagogy is being used as a signal to include and exclude specific groups within open education. I’m not sure I would go as far as to say that I feel excluded, but I do feel slightly distanced.

I don’t know how to draw this post to a sensible conclusion, because I don’t really know if I have one, but I suspect I’ll continue thinking about these issues of identity, experience, inclusion and exclusivity for some time to come. And perhaps if I can joint the hangout later today I’ll find out whether there is anything I can contribute to the discussions about open pedagogy, and whether this feeling of distance is just a misconception on my part after all.

A view from a distance

“What do you do?” – Starting out on CMALT

“So what do you do?” can be a bit of a difficult question to answer when you work in the domain of learning technology.  And depending on which area of learning technology you work in it can be a harder question to answer for some than others.  My default answer tends to be “I work at a University” followed by “I work in education technology”, often with the added explanation “It’s about the use of new technology in education.”  “Open education” tends to get you blank looks outwith academia (now there’s a topic for discussion), and thank god I don’t work in “education technology interoperability standards” these days.

My family have defaulted to telling people that I’m a spy on the basis that they don’t actually know what I do, other than travel a lot and disappear for days at a time. It’s hard to argue with them tbh.

Lorna Campbell – Spy

Sometimes I think it’s easier to explain what I don’t do; I don’t teach, I don’t do formal academic research, I’m not a programmer, I don’t develop or implement systems, I don’t provide help desk services, I don’t run the VLE.   I do manage projects and provide advice to colleagues. I provide input to policies. I support networks and disseminate practice.  I write a lot, talk a lot and present a lot.  I facilitate events and chair conferences.  I sit on boards, steering groups and executive committees. Maybe it is easier to tell people I’m a spy.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that after months of procrastination, I’m finally making a start on my CMALT application.  I had hoped to do this towards the end of last year but two new projects took precedence, so CMALT went on the back burner.

I had mixed feelings about CMALT for a number of years, primarily because for a long time I didn’t really seem to fit any recognisable definition of what a learning technologist is.  I tried to explain this anxiety in a blog post I wrote in 2014 Thoughts on ALT’s CPD Rebooted.  That post also refers to a brilliant piece written by Amber Thomas Perhaps I’m not one,  which I identified with strongly at the time, and still do.  The main point I was trying to make in CPD Rebooted was that formal certification can be difficult for people whose roles don’t neatly fit into the kind of boxes that make up accreditation frameworks.   This is doubly true for those on short term contracts, who have to jump from project to project and rarely have much time for formal CPD.  I ended that blog post with a question I asked on twitter:

Things have changed a lot for me since 2014, both professionally and personally.  Our understanding of what it means to be a learning technologist has matured and become more inclusive, and although contracts in higher education have become increasingly precarious, I’m very lucky that my own employment situation is more secure than it was three years ago.  In fact I’m incredibly fortunate to work for an institution that not only allows dedicated time for CPD but that also actively promotes and supports CMALT membership. Information Services at the University of Edinburgh offer bursaries to enable learning technologists to become Certified Members of ALT and my colleague Susan Grieg supports colleagues to help them prepare their portfolios.

Having spent the day pouring over the CMALT guidelines I can see that ALT have worked hard to create an accreditation framework that is as broad as it is inclusive.  However I’m still sitting here sifting through projects, webinars, presentations, papers, twitter conversations and reflective blog posts wondering how the hell I’m going to fit all this into that. How on earth can I demonstrate an “understanding of my target learners” when I don’t actually teach?  Of course the answer is that I’m going to have to think creatively.  I may not have a teaching role, but hopefully all those webinars and talks and blog posts do help my peers and colleagues to learn and to develop their professional practice.  I’m still at the stage where I’m struggling to fit my experience into the CMALT framework, but hopefully if I keep thinking about it and reflecting on what I actually do, it will all start to fall into place.  Having access to the CMALT Portfolio Open Register is already proving to be enormously helpful but I’d be very interested to hear how others have approached this.

Organising my CMALT portfolio like

(Belatedly realising I have no idea how to licence memes….)

OER17 – Open Education in a time of Trump and Brexit

As well as my paper (The Distance Travelled) and lightning talk (Shouting from the Heart) at OER17, I also took part in a panel session organised by Jim Luke: Open Education in a time of Trump and Brexit.  The panel featured video provocations from Robin DeRosa, Nadine Aboulmagd, Chris Gilliard, and David Kernohan and responses from Jim, Martin Weller, Maha Bali and I.

The aim of the panel was to “provide different perspectives on the relationship between Open Education and the political changes represented by Brexit and the Trump election” and to address the following questions:

  • What challenges do these political movements pose for Open Education? What opportunities?
  • Open Education movement has largely embraced values of inclusiveness, sharing, connectedness, equity, voice, agency, and openness. How might these values be furthered under these new regimes? How might these values be hindered?
  • Will our work in the open education movement change?
  • In what ways can we shape the future of the Open Education Movement?

I don’t think any of us quite knew what to expect from the session, but we had a really lively and wide ranging conversation with some brilliant contributions from the audience including Helen Beetham, Audrey Watters, Laura Czerniewicz and Sheila MacNeil.

All the videos and materials created for the session are available from Jim’s website here Open Ed, Trump, Brexit and there’s a Storify of tweets here #Trexit.  Huge thanks to Autumn Caines who periscoped the whole session: #oer17 safety in open online learning, and to Bryan Mather’s for capturing the discussion.

@bryanMMathers, CC BY ND

OER17 – The Distance Travelled

Reflections on open education policy in the UK since the Cape Town Declaration

Paper presented at the OER17 Politics of Open conference.

2017 has officially been designated the “Year of Open”.

The Year of Open is a global focus on open processes, systems, and tools, created through collaborative approaches, that enhance our education, businesses, governments, and organizations … Open represents freedom, transparency, equity and participation … During the Year of Open, we want to capture and display these efforts to increase participation and understanding of how open contributes to making things better for everyone.

This initiative is backed by many of the major international players in the field of open education, including Creative Commons, the Open Education Consortium, OER Africa, etc.

And the reason that this is the Year of Open is that we have a number of important anniversaries

It’s the 15th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, and it’s also the ¨ 15th anniversary of the release of the first Creative Commons licence.

It’s the 10th anniversary of the Cape Town Declaration which laid the foundations of the “emerging open education movement” and advocated the development of open education policy to ensure that taxpayer-funded educational resources are openly licensed. And if you haven’t read the Cape Town Declaration recently, I can highly recommend revisiting it, it’s really quite inspiring and inspiring statement.

And it’s also the 5th Anniversary of the UNESCO Paris OER Declaration which, five years after Cape Town, strengthened this call by encouraging governments and authorities to open license educational materials produced with public funds in order to realize substantial benefits for their citizens and maximize the impact of investment.

Continue reading

OER17 – It’s been emotional

I got back from #OER17 late last night, I’m still slightly reeling, and not just from the conference cold I picked up. OER is my conference, I’ve been to every single one and they’ve all been special in their own way, but this one was…emotional.  (Sheila has already written a conference blog called My OER (open emotional response) to #oer17 so I’m obviously not the only one with feels.)

There are so many reasons why this year’s conference was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.  The theme,  The Politics of Open, couldn’t have been more timely; it provoked anger and disbelief, defiance and hope.  It was the most diverse, most international OER conference ever and it was a privilege to be part of such an inclusive group. It was really inspiring to hear about positive open education developments from countries including Canada, Germany, Morocco and Lebanon.  I got to catch up with some very dear friends who I haven’t seen for a long time (looking at you R. John Robertson), met others face to face for the first time (hey @Bali_Maha, @thatpsychprof, @fabionascimbeni), VConnected with others (*waves* at @NadinneAbo in Cairo) and met lots of new colleagues. And so many amazing women!  Never in my life have I been to a conference where all the keynotes and plenary panelists were women.  It’s hard to describe the buzz that I got from seeing this representation in such a public forum. Thank you Maha Bali, Diana Arce, Lucy Crompton-Reid, Muireann O’Keeffe, Catherine Cronin, and Laura Czerniewicz for your challenging, thought provoking, brave, funny and inspirational talks.  And thanks of course to the conference chairs Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski and the amazing ALT Team for making this happen.

I’ve made a storify of my personal highlights from the conference here: OER17 Personal Highlights, including my panels and presentations, trexit, shouting from the heart, wonderful women, wikimedians, shoetweets and…umm… goats.

There was another reason this was a bit of an emotional event for me. In addition to participating in Jim Luke’s #Trexit panel and presenting a UK open education policy update, I also presented a short personal polemic called Shouting from the Heart.  I’ve never given such a personal talk at a conference before and I confess I was nervous as hell.  I wrote most of the talk late on Tuesday evening, but I was struggling to find a quote to end the five minute piece with. It was during the #Trexit panel the following morning that someone, I can’t remember who, possibly Maha, Sheila, Helen Beetham or Audrey Watters, said something about openness and freedom which immediately brought to mind the famous quote from the Declaration of Arbroath.

It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Declaration of Arbroath is a declaration of Scottish independence, written in 1320.  Appropriate, given I was talking about writing in response to events such as the Scottish Independence referendum and Brexit, and also because I was highlighting the disappearance of detained Syrian open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil. When I came to it however, nerves and emotions got the better of me; I choked on freedom, and I couldn’t read the last words of the quote.  So please, read it now.

It might sound silly, but Shouting from the Heart is without doubt the most nerve wracking 5 minutes of public speaking I’ve experienced so I just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who responded so positively.

What was really astonishing though was that a few minutes after I finished speaking, Sheila retweeted this:

Yesterday, 6th April happened to be the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath. I had no idea!  Serendipity is an amazing thing….