What I did on my holidays

I’m not long back from annual leave and still wading though the inevitable backlog. There are a couple of posts I need to write about events that took place earlier in the summer, and the Wikimedia UK partnership award which the University of Edinburgh won in July 🙂  In the meantime here’s a pretty picture I took while I was at home visiting family in the Outer Hebrides.

This is Traigh Mheilein beach on the Isle of Harris which is reached by a precipitous walk up and over a slightly scary sea cliff.  I tweeted this the day we walked to the beach and was rather chuffed when Harris Distillery (they who make the gorgeous Harris Gin) tweeted it with credit from their account earlier this week.  Since people seemed to like the picture, I uploaded it to Wikimedia Commons where anyone can use it free of charge with attribution only.

I spent quite a lot of my holiday taking pictures for Wiki Loves Monument, Wikimedia’s annual photography competition, which will be running throughout the month of September.  Last year I raided my old holiday snaps for the competition, this year I have a whole bunch of new pictures to upload including  a 16th century chapter house, a cute little Arts and Crafts church that Anne-Marie Scott rudely described as lumpy and squat, the castle where my granny used to work, a Stephenson lighthouse, and the remains of an old whaling station. No strip clubs though….

Circular Records Hall on Atlas Obscura

I was quietly chuffed a couple of weeks ago when one of my photographs was featured in Atlas Obscura, and even more so, because the picture in question was one that I uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as part of the Wiki Loves Monuments competition last year.  See?  Good things happen when you contribute to the Commons.  You can read the Atlas Obscura article here: General Register Building of the National Archives of Scotland, and the original image is available on Wikimedia Commons here: General Register Office, Circular Record Hall.

I actually snapped this picture during a consultation meeting on the Scottish Government’s Digital Educations strategy a few years ago and as far as I ca recall it was taken on an ancient beaten up old iPhone.

Reflections on CELT Symposium 2018

I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit NUI Galway last week for the annual CELT Symposium. It was the first time I’d been to Galway, but it reminded me a lot of a (much!) bigger version of my home town of Stornoway in the Western Isles so it felt a bit like home away from home.

The theme of this years symposium was Design for Learning: Teaching and Learning Spaces for Higher Education and, as always, it was a really thought provoking and engaging event. Although I’ve never been to CELT before I always follow the conference hashtag on twitter so it was great to be invited to participate in person this year. I’m not going to attempt to summarise the entire symposium, but I do want to briefly mention a few highlights.

Alastair Blyth, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at the University of Westminster, opened the conference with a keynote on Re-imagining Learning Spaces in Higher Education. Alastair noted that conversations about space are never just about space, they’re conversations about pedagogy, curriculum, technology, time and most importantly people. Learning is a social process, so learning spaces need to be learner centred and inclusive, and they need to enable collaboration between both students and teachers.  Alastair also highlighted the important civic function of universities, which blurs the boundary of public and private space.  This is a function that has always been central to the University of Edinburgh and indeed the university’s civic mission is written into the institution’s vision for open eduction.

Lorna Campbell & Donna Lanclos, CC BY-SA 2.0, Catherine Cronin

Anthropologist Donna Lanclos also gave a really inspiring keynote on supporting active learning pedagogies through creative physical spaces.  Creating the space is just the starting point, staff need time to develop a curriculum that maximises the effectiveness of active learning spaces. Experimenting with teaching in this way can be unsettling for students, as it’s a different model of authority. Teachers that are comfortable in active learning spaces, are comfortable with the realisation that they are not the main point of the learning experience.  Research shows that active pedagogies and active teaching and learning strategies break down inequalities in student success. If we choose not to adopt these approaches, then it becomes a social justice issue.  Donna cautioned against asking students what they want from libraries and learning spaces; instead, ask them what they do, where they go, ask them about their own learning spaces. We need institutional spaces that facilitate collaborative learning, we can’t just send our students to Starbucks. Donna also introduced us to the wonderfully icky concept of Sticky Campuses – campuses that students want to come back to.

Another session that really captivated me was Catriona Carlin‘s lovely talk about designing biodiverse spaces to feel joy and inspire learning. Catriona reminded us that the outdoors isn’t just for ecologists, the outdoors enables people to think outside the frameworks that constrain them, allowing them to notice, observe and think.  A timely reminder for us all!

Given the Symposium’s focus on physical teaching and learning spaces, I was a little worried that my closing keynote, The Soul of Liberty,  on digital open learning spaces, might be a little off the mark, so I was really encouraged by all the positive feedback I got from participants on twitter both during my talk and after I posted the transcript here on my blog.  It’s particularly gratifying to see such a positive response to our Open Content Curation Student Interns and the Wikimedia in the Classroom initiatives led by our wonderful Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew.  I’d also like to give a little shout out to Alice White, WiR at the Wellcome Library, and my colleague Anne-Marie Scott, whose gorgeous photographs of the Processions collaborative art work I used in my slides.

I’d just like to finish by thanking Catherine Cronin and Ian McLaren for inviting me to the Symposium and to all at NUI Galway who worked so hard to make it such a welcoming and engaging event. Tapadh leibh a huille duinne!

The Soul of Liberty: Openness, Equality and Co-creation

Transcript and slides from my keynote at the CELT 2018 Design for Learning Symposium, NUI Galway.

The theme of today’s conference is designing teaching and learning spaces to facilitate active learning, collaboration and student engagement however my experience lies not so much in physical spaces but in online and digital spaces and specifically open education spaces situated within the open knowledge landscape. I currently work for the Open Education Resources Service at the University of Edinburgh, I’m a Board member of both the Association for Learning Technology and Wikimedia UK, and a member of Open Knowledge International’s Open Education Working Group, and all these organisations are part of the broad Open Knowledge landscape.

What I want to look at today is what we mean when we talk about openness in relation to digital teaching and learning spaces, resources, communities and practices. I also want to highlight the boundaries that demarcate these open spaces, the hierarchies that exist within them, and look at who is included and who is excluded. And I want to explore what we can do to make our open spaces more diverse and inclusive by removing systemic barriers and structural inequalities and by engaging both staff and students in the co-creation of our own teaching and learning experience.

I don’t want to get too hung up on semantics, but I do want to start off by looking at a few definitions. What do we mean if we talk about openness in relation to digital education and open knowledge? This is a question that has been posed numerous times, in numerous contexts by independent scholar and technology journalist  Audrey Watters who, in a 2015 post titled “What Do We Mean By Open Education?” asked

“What do we mean when we use the word? Free? Open access? Open enrollment? Open data? Openly- licensed materials, as in open educational resources or open source software? Open for discussion? Open for debate? Open to competition? Open for business? Open-ended intellectual exploration? Those last two highlight how people can use the word “open” in education and mean not just utterly different things, but perhaps even completely opposite.”

Like Audrey, I don’t have a simple answer to these questions because, as Catherine Cronin reminded us in her thoughtful 2017 paper Open Education, Open Questions, “openness is a constantly negotiated space”. It’s critically important to appreciate that open means very different things to different people, and that our perspective of openness will be shaped by our personal experiences and the privilege of our vantage point.

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AO3 – The mad woman in the open source attic?

Earlier in April when I was preparing my keynote for the FLOSS UK Conference, which focused partially on issues of structural discrimination and lack of equality and diversity in open knowledge and open source communities, it struck me rather forcefully that there is one hugely successful OSS initiative supported by an almost entirely female developer and user community that rarely, if ever, gets spoken about in open knowledge and tech circles. That initiative is Archive Of Our Own. Hands up who’s heard of it? I suspect many of you won’t have heard of it. I know a few of you will have. I bet one or two of you won’t admit it.

So why the reticence?  Run by the not for profit Organisation for Transformative Works, the Archive is a massively successful project that has been sustained by a hugely diverse community of volunteers for almost ten years now. It’s about as open as anything could possibly be. Why are we not singing its praises from the rafters? Why is AO3, as it’s commonly known, the mad woman in the open source attic? Some of us know it’s there, but no one really wants to talk about it. The reason for this reticence, is also the reason for the Archive’s success. AO3 is a repository of transformative works, otherwise known as fanfiction.

I’m not going to debate the validity of fan works as a creative endeavour here, there is plenty of scholarly discussion on that point in other disciplines such as sociology and media, however I really do want to talk about why we don’t acknowledge AO3 as a hugely successful open project founded on the principals of equality, inclusion and diversity. Why aren’t we celebrating it and learning from it?

The success of AO3 is nothing short of staggering. Built on the Ruby on Rails framework, the archive is an open source platform developed, built and maintained by an army of volunteers, the vast majority of whom are women. The project is funded by subscriptions and donations; there is no foundation funding, no sponsorship, no advertising revenue. Indeed AO3 was originally created as a haven to protect fanworks from being monetized by unscrupulous commercial ventures who sought to turn fan labour into profit for their own gain. The Archive itself now has one and a half million users and hosts around four million individual works. It’s free and open to everyone, all user accounts are pseudonymous, and at no point are users required to reveal personally identifying information. In order to manage those four million works AO3 maintains probably the only large scale community generated tagging system that I’ve ever seen working in practice. And it’s all made possible by a large community of tag wranglers who manage the free text tags provided by users.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, the Organisation for Transformative works also publishes a peer reviewed open journal, Transformative Works and Cultures, maintains the Fanlore wiki to preserve the history of transformative works, it provides voluntary legal advice to creators to protect their works from legal challenge, and it has an active project, Open Doors, to absorb and curate other fan archives elsewhere on the web that are threatened by obscurity, obsolescence or deletion.

It’s an astonishing achievement, but it’s an achievement that many passionate open advocates know nothing about, and, if I’m being honest, that is something that’s pissed me off enormously for years.

So I was absolutely over the moon when I spoke to Claire Knowles, Library Digital Development Manager at the University of Edinburgh, at the recent Digital Day of Ideas (always a thought provoking event that pushes the boundaries) and she told me that Casey Fiesler, a member of OTW’s legal committee, would be presenting the opening keynote at this year’s Open Repositories Conference in Bozeman, Montana. Earlier this week I listened to Casey’s keynote through the conference livestream and was blown away by her talk.  Casey did an amazing job of communicating just what an important achievement AO3 is and how we can learn from its success. Giving an overview of the history and development of the Archive, Casey pointed out that AO3 is an example of amazing design, created for a community that already existed. The open software was designed and built entirely by women, which is remarkable given the small number of women in the open source community. And she concluded her keynote by asking

Is there something here that’s the key to making open source more welcoming to women? I don’t know. What I do know is that if you love something enough you can build your own thing and make it work. AO3 is a great example of a successful open repository but it’s an even better example of the power of community and everything that can come out of it.

The recording of Casey’s keynote isn’t online yet, though I’m sure it will be soon, but in the meantime, I’ve captured my live tweets from her keynote here; Growing Their Own: Building an Archive and a Community for Fanfiction. Many thanks to Casey for her amazing keynote and to the Open Repositories Conference Committee for inviting such an inspiring speaker.

Growing Their Own: Building an Archive and a Community for Fanfiction

These are my livetweets from Casey Fiesler’s inspiring keynote at the Open Repositories Conference in Bozemen, Montana in June 2018.

Growing Their Own: Building an Archive and a Community for Fanfiction
by Casey Fiesler, JD, Ph.D.

Archive of Our Own, a fanfiction repository with millions of users and works, was developed entirely by the community it serves, with a focus on representing the values of that community in its design and policies. Its history is rooted in needs for preservation, advocacy, and empowerment. This talk traces the growth and features of the archive, including grassroots development, design that promotes openness and inclusivity, and the benefits and challenges of maintaining a team of volunteers. Archive or Our Own is a unique example of a repository that has had a transformational effect on a community of content creators, and represents a design philosophy that could benefit other platforms as well.

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CELT Keynote

I’m absolutely delighted to be invited to present one of the keynotes at this year’s CELT Symposium at NUI Galway.  I’ve never been to this event before but I always follow it online as it often has excellent keynotes and a really lively social media presence.  I’ve also never been to Galway before and to say I’m excited to visit would be a bit of an understatement!

The theme of this year’s symposium is Design for Learning: Teaching and Learning Spaces in Higher Education.  I’ll be developing some of the themes I touched on in my OER18 and FLOSS UK keynotes to look at what we mean when we talk about openness in relation to digital teaching and learning spaces, resources, communities and practices. Focusing on open education, OER, open practice, MOOCs, and Wikimedia, I’ll be exploring different and sometimes contradictory definitions and understandings of openness in these contexts.  I’ll also touch on the structural inequalities that prevent some groups and individuals from participating in open education and asking how open and equitable our open education spaces really are and who are they open to?  Using innovative examples from the University of Edinburgh, I’ll look at how we can engage with students to co-create more equitable, inclusive and participatory open education spaces, communities and resources.

The title of my talk, The Soul of Liberty – Openness, equality and co-creation, is paraphrased from a quote by Frances Wright, the Scottish feminist and social reformer, who was born in Dundee in 1795, but who rose to prominence in the United States as an abolitionist, a free thinker, and an advocate of women’s equality in education.

Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.

I think the same could also be said of openness; equality is the soul of openness. If our open education spaces and communities are not open to all equally, then really we have to question whether they are open at all.

Fanny Wright, public domain image, Wikimedia Commons.

(I think Fanny would definitely identify with that other free thinker, Ms Janelle Monáe, who I mentioned in my previous blog post – A free thought from a free thinker)

A free thought from a free thinker

I came across this interview with the Fabulous Janelle Monáe just after the OER18 and FLOSS UK Conferences, when thoughts about openness, privilege and whose voices we allow to speak were very much at the forefront of my mind, and I really loved this quote:

“We have to really think who we’re endorsing, we really have to think about what it means to freely think, if it’s at the expense of the oppressed.”

I’m taking this quote completely out of context, but the point stands I think.

See also:

“I’m a free thinker and here’s a free thought: I think that if free thinking is rooted in the oppression of minorities, of black people, of the LBGTQIA people, of immigrants of women, then I don’t fuck with your free thoughts.”

Keep Yourself Warm

I was so very, very saddened to hear of the death of Scott Hutchison, singer and lyricist of Frightened Rabbit today. I only came across the band a couple of years ago but I was deeply moved by Scott’s songs. He was a phenomenally talented writer and his songs uniquely captured the struggles so many face with alienation, depression, isolation and addiction.  Scott faced all these demons in true Scottish style; with scathing wit, self-effacing humour and heartbreaking poetry. Seeing the outpouring of grief today, it’s clear that his songs helped many people who couldn’t find the words to speak for themselves.

I saw Frightened Rabbit play live a couple of times, I heard them bring the house down in Barrowlands in December 2016, and just a few months ago I squeezed into a rammed Academy for the 10th anniversary tour of The Midnight Organ Fight.   One thing really struck me about that last gig, half way through the set the band played Poke, a very poignant, very grown up song about the kind of break up we’ve all been through. What was really striking about that song, on that night, was that the sound of the audience singing suddenly changed and for those glorious 3 minutes it was the voices of all the women in the crowd that raised the rafters. I think I may have shed a tear, I’ve certainly shed more that a few today.

Rest well now Scott and keep yourself warm.

Frightened Rabbit, Barrowlands Ballroom, December 2016. CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

It’s all about the shoes!

Of course conferences aren’t just about keynotes, they’re also about shoes!  As my colleague Anne-Marie noted in her excellent overview of OER18: Sharing a few notes on #OER18 

My colleague Lorna Campbell was the first keynote of the conference “The Long View: Changing Perspectives on OER”. Weirdly, it was all about shoes. But then she spoiled it by getting all political. Typical.

This is the best summary I’ve read of my keynote yet. The shoes in question were these shoes; Backlash by Poetic Licence.

I bought them especially for the conference, because look! They’re nautical and they’ve got little anchors all over them! How could I resist?

And it seems that no one else could resist them either because this tweet now has a completely ridiculous 15,670 impressions and 968 engagements.  Which is about 15,600 impressions more than anything else I’ve ever tweeted :}

How the hell am I going to top that next year?!