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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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)

FLOSSUK Keynote: Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape

Hot on the heels of OER 18, I’m now preparing for a second keynote which I’ll be presenting at the FLOSSUK Spring Conference in Edinburgh this Friday.  The title of the keynote is Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape and here’s an overview.

Through a culture of collaboration and sharing, Open Knowledge has the potential to expand inclusive and equitable access to education and lifelong learning, promoting technology transfer and innovation, enhancing quality and sustainability, while supporting social inclusion and preparing the public to become fully engaged digital citizens.

This talk will give a broad overview of the different domains, communities and cultures that make up the “Open Knowledge Landscape”, including open education, OER, open courseware, open textbooks, MOOCs, open data, open science, open access scholarly works, maker spaces, open GLAM, open government, etc, and how they relate to free and libre open source systems.

We have seen significant progress in many of these areas in recent years, yet there has been a tendency for many of these domains to progress in parallel, in bounded spaces, with little sign of convergence. So while Open Access mandates have had a positive impact on opening access to scholarly works and research data, open government initiatives have successfully started to open up civic data and information, and open science networks and infrastructure are flourishing, too often these initiatives fail to connect with other open communities and as a result we are in danger of creating “open silos”. There may be no one simple solution to breaking down the barriers between these “open silos” but exploring the converging and competing cultures and communities of the Open Knowledge landscape is a positive step forward to achieving a more open, inclusive and equitable society.

Free, libre and open source software communities are a particularly male dominated corner of the Open Knowledge landscape, a recent survey by Github of 5,500 random contributors revealed that 95% were men, just 3% were women and 1% were non-binary.  As might be expected, the conference programme reflects the make up of its community, with only 3 female speakers among 19 men.  This has given me much pause for thought, as normally I would politely decline to participate in an all male panel, never mind an all male conference.  However the organisers of the event are sensitive to this lack of diversity and it was for this reason that they contacted me and invited me to keynote. It’s not always easy to take positive action to address diversity and inclusion, so I think it’s important to acknowledge and support those who make the effort.   I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being a little apprehensive about the keynote, particularly as I’ll be touching on the issue of systemic bias and structural inequality in open communities, but at the same time I’m looking forward to talking to a new group of open practitioners.  Wish me luck!

Changing Perspectives on OER

In case you missed it, this blog post outlining my OER18 keynote appeared on the conference website last week.

Being invited to keynote is always a privilege, but I was particularly honoured to be asked to present at this year’s OER18 Conference in Bristol, not least because I’ll be following in the footsteps of the three inspirational women who presented last year’s keynotes; Diana ArceMaha Bali and Lucy Crompton-Reid. You see, OER is my conference, I’ve attended every single one since the conference launched at the University of Cambridge in 2010, and in 2016 I had the pleasure of chairing the conference at the University of Edinburgh with my inspiring colleague Melissa Highton.

To my mind, the success of the OER Conference has always been founded on its willingness to examine and renegotiate what “OER” means, and this is one of the themes I’ll be exploring in my keynote.  And by that, I don’t mean defining the specific attributes of what constitutes an Open Educational Resource, I mean critically reflecting on what openness means in relation to education at different points in time and from different perspectives, because as Catherine Cronin reminds us in Open Education, Open Questions, “openness is a constantly negotiated space”.   Open education looks very different to each and every one of us, and our perspective will depend entirely on where we are standing and the privilege of our vantage point.  And of course it is inevitable that our perspective will change as our roles and careers develop over time.

Gabi Whitthaus has already written a thoughtful personal reflection on her journey through the OER conferences and, like Gabi, the changing themes and fluctuating interpretations of “OER” have influenced and reflected my own development and perspective as an open education practitioner over the last decade.

In my current role I have the privilege to work with a great team of people at the OER Service at the University of Edinburgh, an institution with a strong commitment to openness and a vision for OER.  This commitment is squarely aligned to the University’s mission to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, and to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing. During my keynote I’ll be exploring some of the ways that the university encourages learners to engage with and co-create open education through a wide range of initiatives including internships, playful learning activities, Wikipedia in the classroom assignments, and outreach and engagement courses.

I strongly believe that engaging learners and equipping them with the digital skills necessary to participate in open education is key to ensuring that OER and open education is collaborative, diverse, accessible and participatory. Because ultimately that is what openness is about.  Openness is not just about attributes, definitions and licences, openness is also about creativity, access, equality, and inclusion and ultimately it’s about expanding access to education, supporting social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged digital citizens.

When the conference first launched eight years ago, I approached open education and OER from a rather different perspective.  In 2010 the JISC / HEA UKOER Programme was well underway and the first OER keynote was presented by JISC’s Executive Secretary Malcolm Read.  At the time, I was working for the JISC Innovation Support Centre CETIS, where I led the team that provided strategic and technical support to the UKOER Programme.  My focus then was on how we could harness lightweight web technologies and new Web 2.0 platforms to create a sustainable OER infrastructure without relying too heavily on the monolithic systems and formal education technology standards mandated by previous programmes.

Two years later in 2012 I sat in the audience with my colleague Joe Wilson, then Head of New Ventures at SQA, and listened to Sir John Daniel, talking about the UNESCO / COL initiative Fostering Governmental Support for OER Internationally, one of the outputs of which was the influential Paris OER Declaration. In a rather roundabout way, that keynote and the subsequent Declaration inspired us to launch the Open Scotland initiative and, together with colleagues from across the open education community, to draft the Scottish Open Education Declaration. And it was through this initiative that I started to re-frame my perspective on OER and open education in terms of personal ethics and the wider policy landscape.

2012 was also the year that the UKOER Programme came to an end and the education technology sector in the UK faced an unprecedented and prolonged period of change and restructuring. Many predicted the demise of the OER Conference at that time, particularly when open education discourse was increasingly becoming dominated by commercial MOOC providers and their promise to disrupt! education.  However, far from being swept side by the avalanche, the OER conference continued to thrive and to push the boundaries of open education to incorporate open pedagogy, policy, research and practice, and when ALT stepped up to support the event in 2015, its future was assured.

While it is crucial that we continue to critically negotiate and reassess openness, it is also important that we don’t lose sight of some of the fundamentals of open education.  And I would argue that one of those fundamentals is that publicly funded educational resources should be freely and openly available to the public.  As open education discourse shifts to focus on open policy, open practice, open textbooks, one might be forgiven for thinking that open educational resources are done and dusted, but that is very far from the case and this is another theme that I want to expand on in my keynote.

In addition to expanding its focus, the OER Conference has also made real and tangible efforts to expand its community, and to ensure that the event is diverse, inclusive, accessible and welcoming.  The conference has become increasingly international and has gone to significant lengths to ensure that it really is open and accessible to as diverse a community as possible.  ALT is to be applauded for its commitment to providing a wide range of channels and opportunities to enable colleagues to participate in the conference virtually and remotely, and the event has not shied away from asking difficult questions about who is included and excluded from open spaces and conceptualisations of openness.

One perspective that has sometimes been missing from open education discourse is the voice of the learner.  That is not to say that the OER Conference has not made an effort to ensure that the student voice is included and represented.  Two officers of the National Union of Students have presented keynotes; Toni Pearce at OER13 (standing in for Rachel Wenstone) and Wendy Carr at OER14.  However I’m particularly encouraged to see that this year’s conference is squarely addressing learner inclusion by focussing on how open education and open practice can support learners, foster learner diversity and inclusion, and help students develop important digital literacy skills.

At the University of Edinburgh, students have always played a key role in shaping the institution’s vision of openness.  Together with senior colleagues within Information Services, it was the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) that provided the initial impetus for the development of an OER policy at the university, and in 2014 EUSA’s Vice President for Education, Dash Sekhar, attended the conference in Cardiff along with colleagues Melissa Highton and Stuart Nicol to talk about this student-led OER policy.  I’m delighted that EUSA’s current  Vice President for Education, Bobi Archer, will be attending the conference this year, and several of my Information Services colleagues will be coming along to present papers highlighting innovative and creative examples of student engagement across the university. Edinburgh’s vision of openness encourages both staff and students to engage with the use and creation of OER and open knowledge, to enhance the quality of the student experience while at the same time making a significant, contribution to the cultural and digital commons.

Over the years, my own journey as an open education practitioner has followed a similar trajectory to the OER Conferences; my focus has shifted from national technology strategy, to institutional policy and practice, and personal ethics and politics.  One thing that has not changed however is that I still believe passionately that open education and OER are necessary to provide diverse and inclusive education and to ensure that education really is Open to All.

CC BY City of Glasgow College

Innovating with Open Knowledge

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of working with Morna Simpson, of Girl Geek Scotland, on Innovating with Open Knowledge, an IS Innovation Fund project at the University of Edinburgh, that aims to provide creative individuals, independent scholars, entrepreneurs, and SMEs with the  information literacy skills to find and access free and open research outputs and content produced by Higher Education.

Since the Finch Report and RCUK’s Policy on Open Access,  universities increasingly make their research outputs available through a wide range of open channels including Open Access journals and repositories, data libraries, research explorer services, and research and innovation services.

Free and open access to publicly‐funded research enables the research process to operate more efficiently, disseminates research outputs more widely, fosters technology transfer and innovation, and provides social and economic benefits by increasing the use and understanding of research by businesses, governments, charities and the wider public. Open Access is also in line with the government’s commitment to transparency and open data, and it contributes to the global Open Knowledge movement more generally.

However it’s not always easy for those outwith academia to know how to access open research outputs, even though they are freely and openly available to all.  In order to improve technology transfer we need to do more to disseminate Open Access research, open knowledge and open content to the general public, creative individuals, entrepreneurs and SMEs.  This is the challenge that the Innovating with Open Knowledge project sought to address.

Innovating with Open Knowledge has produced a series of eleven open licensed case studies featuring a wide range of innovative individuals and companies that have used the University of Edinburgh’s open knowledge outputs to further their projects, products and initiatives.  The case studies are composed of video interviews, supplementary text transcripts, learning activities and search tasks, and they demonstrate how entrepreneurs and creative individuals can find, use and engage with Open Access scholarly works, open science, images and media, physical resources and maker spaces, open data and open-source software.

Case Studies

Innovating with Open Knowledge also features expert guidance on finding and accessing open knowledge from the University’s Centre for Research Collections and OER Service, and from the National Library of Scotland.

All resources are available under a CC BY-SA 4.0 licence and can be accessed from the Innovating with Open Knowledge website https://openinnovation.is.ed.ac.uk/.  Videos can also be downloaded from Media Hopper Create.

Please feel free to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute these open resources.

Innovating with Open Knowledge, CC BY-SA, University of Edinburgh

This project was funded by the University of Edinburgh IS Innovation Fund, with generous support from Gavin McLachlan, CIO,  and Hugh Edmiston, Director of Corporate Services. The project was steered by Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal Online Learning, and managed by Lorna M. Campbell, Learning, Teaching and Web Services.  All video and text resources were created by Morna Simpson, Girl Geek Scotland and Enterprise Porridge Ltd. Graphic design by Interactive Content Service, University of Edinburgh.

The Benefits of Open Education and OER

This is a transcript of a talk I gave as part of the Open Med Project webinar series.

What is open education?

Open education is many things to many people and there’s no one hard and fast definition.

  • A practice?
  • A philosophy?
  • A movement?
  • A licensing issue?
  • A human right?
  • A buzz word?
  • A way to save money?

This is one description of the open education movement that I particularly like from the not for profit organization OER Commons…

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation.”

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Getting the band back together – the ALTC Social Media Super Group

Live tweeting ALTC

Last year’s sell out gig – me & Rich Goodman by www.chrisbullphotographer.com

It’s that time of year again.  If I can navigate the train strikes I’ll be heading down to Liverpool on Monday for the annual ALT Conference where we’ll be reforming the ALTC Social Media Super Group with Martin Hawksey on filming and live feeds, Rich Goodman on media tweets, Chris Bull on photography, and me on keynote livetweets.   We also have a new member joining the group this year; Scott Farrow from Edgehill University will be joining us on drums camera.  

Livetweeting the conference keynotes from the official ALT twitter account is always a bit nerve wracking, especially with keynotes of the calibre of Siân Bayne, Peter Goodyear and Bonnie Stewart. And just to up the ante, this year I’ll be tweeting from ALT’s verified twitter account.  I’ve never tweeted from a blue tick before :}  Livetweeting the keynotes may be challenging but it’s a challenge I always enjoy.  So much so that I included a reflection on this in my CMALT portfolio.

“Live tweeting in an official capacity  for events such as the ALT Conference requires a slightly different approach to live tweeting from my own personal account.  When I live tweet on behalf of an event organiser I try to keep my tweets as factual, neutral and representative as possible.  It’s important not to misrepresent the speaker or inadvertently tweet anything that might bring the organisation into disrepute.  If I’m tweeting personally, I tend to tweet the points that interest or irritate me, adding my own thoughts and comments along the way. It feels like quite a different way to use the technology.”

matchy matchy

I’m rather proud to say that after attending the ALT conference since 2000, this is the first time I will be there as a fully fledged Certified Member of ALT.  Which means I have a fabulous new accessory to wear with my conference shoes :}

I’m not actually giving a paper of my own this year, and for once I’ve actually read the programme in advance of the conference and planned out the sessions I’m hoping to attend. I was really pleased to see so many papers focused on different aspects of lecture recording as we’re currently rolling out a new and hugely ambitious lecture recording programme at the University of Edinburgh.  I’m hoping to catch as many of these papers as possible so I can feed other institutions’ experiences back to my colleagues at the university who will be in the final stages of preparing our new Media Hopper Replay service to go live while I’m at the conference.

And of course as always, one of the highlights of the conference will be the Learning Technologist of the Year Awards. I was honoured to be on the selection panel this year and the entries were truly inspiring. If you haven’t already voted there’s still time to cast your vote for the Community Choice award. Voting closes at noon (BST) on 6 September, so make sure you get your vote in before the deadline!

Student Engagement with OER at University of Edinburgh

Earlier this week Christina Hendricks at UBC put out a call for examples of student engagement with open education and OER.  I was going to reply in comments but as we have lots of great examples of students getting involved with OER at the University of Edinburgh I thought I’d write a short post here.

Together with LTW Director Melissa Highton and Stuart Nicol of Education Design and Engagement, Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) provided the initial impetus for the development of an OER policy at the university.  A short paper presented at OER15 by Melissa, Stuart and Dash Sekhar of EUSA, reported that in 2014

“the EUSA Vice President for Academic Affairs challenged University senior managers to explore how learning materials could be made open, not only for students within the University, but across Scotland and to the wider world.”

Student-led OpenEd and wiping away the open wash by Melissa Highton, Stuart Nicol & Dash Sekhar, OER15.

The result was the University’s OER Policy which was approved by the Senate Learning and Teaching Committee in 2016.

Reproductive Medicine Students, CC BY SA, Ewan McAndrew

The University’s Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew,  has also been instrumental engaging students in the creation of OER through a number of Wikimedia in the Classroom initiatives that have seen students contributing original articles in a number of languages to the world’s largest open educational resource – Wikipedia.  Subjects that have incorporated Wikipedia into their courses include Translation Studies,  World Christianity and Reproductive Medicine.

“It’s about co-operation from the get-go. You can’t post a Wikipedia article and allow no one else to edit it. You are offering something up to the world. You can always come back to it, but you can never make it completely your own again. The beauty of Wikipedia is in groupthink, in the crowd intelligence it facilitates, but this means shared ownership, which can be hard to get your head around at first.”

Reflections on a Wikipedia assignment by Áine Kavanagh

Meteorological Visibility Observations: A User’s Guide, CC BY, James Holehouse

Another course that has been instrumental in engaging students with OER is the Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course. Over the course of two semesters, students undertake an outreach project that communicates some element of the field of GeoSciences outside the university community. Students have the opportunity to work with schools, museums, outdoor centres and community groups to create resources for science engagement including classroom teaching materials, leaflets, websites, smartphone/tablet applications, and presentation materials.

“By taking this course, not only was I, as the student, able to learn about the values and excitement of public engagement with other disciplines, but I also developed a working tool for further scientific engagement for a new audience.”

A call for increased public engagement in geology higher education by Jane Robb in Geology Today, Vol. 29, No. 2.

For the last two years the University has also employed student interns during the summer months as Open Content Curators whose role is to repurpose materials created by staff and students around the University to ensure they can be released under open license and shared in places where they can be found and reused by other teachers and learners, such as TES.  Reflecting on his time as our first Open Content Intern, Martin Tasker wrote

“Open Education is a large part of the reason I’m at Edinburgh studying physics, and I firmly believe that it is one of the keys to widening participation in education in a meaningful way. The proliferation of the internet among all classes in society means that a savvy university can reach those that would previously have had little access to education beyond their school years. And with our work in OERs, we can hopefully feed back some of the expertise of our academics into the classroom, raising the standard of teaching and taking some of the pressure off extremely overworked teachers.”

Wrapping Up: My Time as an Open Content Curator Intern, Martin Tasker

These are just some of the ways in which students at the University of Edinburgh are engaging with open education and OER.  I’m sure there are many more around the University that I have yet to discover!  Further information about many of the University’s OER initiatives is available from Open.Ed.

Key Performance Indicators for OER

One of the things I’ll be looking into as part of my new role is key performance indicators for open educational resources.  At the University of Edinburgh we have a Vision and Policy for OER that encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, enrich the University and the sector, showcase the highest quality learning and teaching, and make a significant collection of unique learning materials available to Scotland and the world.

Staff and students at the university are already making open educational resources available through a range of channels including Open.Ed, Media Hopper, TES, SketchFab, Youtube, Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia, and there are a number of initiatives ongoing that promote and support the creation of OER including 23Things, Board Game Jam, various MOOC projects, our Wikimedian in Residence programme and others.

So how do we develop meaningful key performance indicators to measure and assess the success of these initiatives?

Quantitative indicators are relatively simple to measure in terms of OER produced. It’s not difficult to gather web stats for page views and downloads from the various platforms used to host and disseminate our OERs.  For example our open educational resources on TES have been viewed over 2,000 times, and downloaded 934 times, a Wikipedia article on Mary Susan MacIntosh, created during a UoE editathon for International Women’s Day has had 9,030 page views, and UoE MOOCs have reached two and a quarter million learners.

Measuring OER reuse, even within the institution, is much less straightforward.  To get an of idea of where and how OERs are being reused you need to track the resources. This isn’t necessarily difficult to do, Cetis did some research on technical approaches for OER tracking during the UKOER Programme, but it does raise some interesting ethical issues.  We also discovered during our UKOER research that once authors create OER and release them into the wild, they tend not to be motivated to collect data on their reuse, even when actively encouraged to do so.

There is also the issue of what actually constitutes re-use.  Often reuse isn’t as straightforward as taking an OER, adapting is and incorporating it into your course materials.  Reuse is often more subtle than that.  For example, if you are inspired by an idea, a concept or an activity you ome across in an OER, but you don’t actually download and use the resource itself, does that constitute reuse?  And if it does, how do we create KPIs to measure such reuse?  Can it even be measured in a meaningful way?

And then there’s the issue of qualitative indicators and measuring impact.  How do we assess whether our OERs really are enhancing the quality of the student experience and enriching the University and the sector?  One way to gather qualitative information is to go out and talk to people and we already have some great testimonies from UoE students who have engaged with UoE OER internships and Wikimedia in the Classroom projects. Another way to measure impact is to look beyond the institution, so for example 23 Things lornwas awarded the LILAC Credo Digital Literacy Award 2017 and has also been adapted and adopted by the Scottish Social Services Council, and the aforementioned article on Mary Susan McIntosh featured on the front page of English Wikipedia.

I know many other institutions and organisations have grappled with the issue of how to measure the impact of open education and OER.  In the US, where OER often equates to open textbooks, the focus tends to be on cost savings for students, however this is not a particularly useful measure in UK HE where course are less reliant on astronomically priced texbooks.  So what indicators can we use to measure OER performance?  I’d be really interested to hear how other people have approached this challenge, so if you have any comments or suggestions please do let me know.  Thanks!

Standard Measures, CC BY SA 2.0, Neil Cummings, https://flic.kr/p/aH8CPV