Ada Lovelace, Exmoor ponies and the trouble with sources

Madeleine Shepherd and Anne-Marie Scott, ALD18, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

I didn’t manage to post a blog post on Ada Lovelace Day this year because I spent most of my spare time in the run up to the event looking for sources for the twenty contemporary Women in STEM nominated for Wikipedia article creation as part of the University of Edinburgh’s Ada Lovelace Day Editathon. The event itself is always one of the highlights of the year and this year was no exception. We had a really inspiring series of talks in the morning from the University’s Women in STEM and Physics Societies and the student WellComm Kings initiative. Mathematician and maker Madeleine Shepherd of Knot Unknot also came along and showed us her amazing knitted portraits of Ada Lovelace and Mary Somerville, which she created on a hacked knitting machine. We had a range of activities including DIY Filmschool and cake decorating followed by Wikipedia and Wikidata editing in the afternoon.

Back to those sources though…

Finding good quality secondary sources for contemporary academics can be tricky and it’s doubly difficult for female academics whose work is less visible and less widely reported. Wikipedia relies on independent secondary sources; it’s not sufficient for an academic to have published extensively, to be regarded as notable, it’s necessary to show that they have had a significant impact in their field. This can be problematic for female academics, and particularly for women in STEM, who routinely face discrimination on account of their gender.

There was much outrage in the press recently when it was reported that Donna Strickland did not have a Wikipedia entry until she received the Nobel Prize for Physics, with some news reports throwing up their hands in horror at Wikipedia’s gender bias. This isn’t news to anyone who has engaged with or edited Wikipedia of course. We are all well aware of Wikipedia’s gender bias, there’s even a Wikipedia article about it, and we’re working hard to fix it through our Wikimedia chapters, editathons and projects such as Wiki Women in Red. Also as Alex Hinojo pointed out:

In an article titled Wikipedia is a mirror of the world’s gender biases, Wikimedia Foundation’s Executive Director Katherine Maher, noted that it’s somewhat disingenuous for the press to complain about Strickland’s lack of Wikipedia entry when the achievements of women scientists are routinely under reported. We need more reports and independent secondary sources so we can improve the coverage of women on the encyclopaedia.

Wikipedia is built on the shoulders of giants. We’re generalists who learn from the expertise of specialists, and summarize it for the world to share. If journalists, editors, researchers, curators, academics, grantmakers, and prize-awarding committees don’t apply their expertise to identifying, recognizing, and elevating more diverse talent, then our editors have no shoulders upon which to stand. It’s time for these other knowledge-generating institutions to join us in the pursuit of knowledge equity. Wikipedia alone can’t change how society values women, but together we can change how they are seen.

A case in point is Mary Etherington, one of the women nominated for our Ada Lovelace Day editahon. The person who nominated Mary wrote

Mary Etherington was integral to the protection of the Exmoor pony breed after the war. She saw the importance of protecting the breed which was nearly extinct after the ponies had been used as a meat source during rationing and as target practise for the armies on Exmoor.

Whilst she is well known within the Exmoor pony breed, I believe she may be lost to time due to her rural links and the general lack of representation for rural matters on Wikipedia as well as her being a woman.

I really struggled to find many good sources about Mary online, but one of our editathon participants, Vicki Madden, was captivated by her story and determined to create an article about her. After some creative research and round about thinking, Vicki and Anne-Marie were able to find a whole range of independent sources and Mary Etherington now has her own shiny new Wikipedia entry.

Meanwhile I wrote an article on Tara Spires-Jones Professor of Neurodegeneration and Deputy Director of the Centre for Discovery Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh. I don’t know Tara personally but in her nomination she was described as:

World-leading research into molecular mechanisms of dementia. Works tirelessly to promote public understanding of science through expert comment in press and public engagement activities. Lovely person and very supportive of other women.

I hope her new Wikipedia article will help to raise awareness of her work to the general public and go a little way to replaying the support she has provided to others.

Circuitous Routes – A personal reflection for #ALTC

I was really inspired by the blog posts Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell wrote reflecting on their personal feminist histories of working in education and technology in advance of their ALTC session A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018.  Catherine and Frances invited others to contribute their own personal reflection, so here’s mine. I confess this is rather hastily written, and I’m posting it at the eleventh hour, the night before the conference, but I hope it will add something to the debate.

Personal Reflection

My academic career started out not in technology but in archaeology, a subject I stumbled into accidentally and quickly fell in love with.  I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow in 1990 and was accepted to do a PhD on anthropomorphic landforms and newly emerging remote sensing technologies, but sadly I was unable to get funding so I had to turn down the place.  I was pretty devastated at the time, but decided to continue working in the field in the hope of securing funding at a later date.  I worked first as a field archaeologist and then as material sciences technician at the university.  Although I met and worked with a lot of amazing women in the field, the senior lecturers and professors who ran the research projects and excavations I worked on were invariably male.  There was only one female lecturer in the university at the time, the inimitable Dr Elizabeth Slater who went on to the University of Liverpool where she become one of the few female professors of archaeology in the UK.  I’m proud to say that last year I published a Wikipedia page for Professor Slater as part of Ada Lovelace Day.

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Looking forward to ALTC live tweeting

The ALT Conference is just one week away and I’m looking forward to reforming the ALTC Social Media Supergroup with Martin Hawksey (on live stream) Richard Goodman (on media tweets and replies), Chris Bull (on photography), Scott Farrow (on camera), and me (on keynote live tweets).  This will be the fourth year that we’ve provided social media coverage for the conference and it’s always a rather daunting, though very rewarding task.  Although I regularly live tweet any conferences and events I attend, live tweeting the ALT Conference keynotes in an official capacity is a rather different affair, as it’s important to ensure tweets are as factual, neutral and representative as possible.  It’s quite a different experience from tweeting thoughts and comments on my own account. This is something that I reflected on in my CMALT portfolio.

Sometimes it’s hard not to be a little overwhelmed by the responsibility of live tweeting ALT’s prestigious keynote speakers, all of whom have made a significant contribution to the domain of learning technology.  This year is no exception and I have to confess that I’m thrilled and just a little apprehensive about live tweeting three women who I have admired enormously for many years and who have had a significant impact on my own career as a learning technologist.

Maren Deepwell, CEO of ALT, needs no introduction; under her guidance and leadership, ALT has become an active and inclusive organisation that represents the interests of its members and truly espouses its core values of participation, collaboration, openness and independence.  As a CEO leading a national organisation, Maren is also a personal inspiration to me and to many other female colleagues, and her commitment to supporting and promoting the work of women across the sector is always to be admired.

I’ve known Amber Thomas for many years and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with her on the UKOER programme between 2009 and 2012.  Amber provided the technical vision and strategy for UKOER and we worked closely together when Cetis delivered the technical support for the programme. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was Amber’s vision of OER that shaped my own early thinking around open education.  Amber always has a clear vision of the affordances and limitations of education technology and brings a thoughtful and thought provoking approach to everything she does.

I haven’t yet had an opportunity to meet Tressie McMillan Cottom but her work has been recommended to me so often and she is spoken about so highly by so many women who I greatly admire that I’m delighted to finally be able to hear her speak in person. I really hope I can do justice to capturing her opening keynote.

This year I’ll also be live tweeting the Gasta session chaired by Tom Farrelly of ILTA and featuring contributions from Donna Lanclos, Debbie Baff and Clint Lalonde. The abstract tells me that

“Gasta means “fast, clever, quick, smart” and in that spirit this session will involve active audience participation”

I suspect keeping up with this one will be a challenge!  Say a prayer for my fingers folks :}

Maren Deepwell, Lorna M.Campbell & Rich Goodman, ALT C 2017, CC BY, Chris Bull Photographer.

Univeristy of Edinburgh wins Wikimedia UK Partnership of the Year Award

Earlier in July I was delighted and a little stunned when the University of Edinburgh won Wikimedia UK’s Partnership of the Year award for the second time.  Delighted because so many people have worked so tirelessly and so enthusiastically to embed Wikipedia in teaching and learning across the University, led of course by our indefatigable Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew. And stunned because I had no idea we had even been nominated and I had the great honour of being the person to receive the award at Wikimedia UKs AGM at the Natural History Museum in London.  Sara Thomas, Wikimedia UK’s Scotland Coordinator, has a hilarious picture of me looking very surprised indeed after picking up the award, and if it ever surfaces again I will kill her.  Here’s a much better picture of just a few of the people who have played a part in supporting the use of Wikipedia across the University.

Left to right: Stephanie (Charlie) Farley, Open Education Resources; Lorna Campbell, OER Service; Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence; Anne-Marie Scott, Deputy Director of Learnng, Teaching & Web Services. CC BY, University of Edinburgh.

The University was acknowledged for leading the way in terms of Higher Education’s engagement with Wikimedia and for helping to the develop the Wikimedia community and its work in Scotland.

“Edinburgh University is becoming a strong advocate of a Wikimedian in Residence within a university, spreading the message at relevant sector conferences, working with the University of Glasgow, and connecting with the Open Education team at the Université Catholique de Louvain. The resident is facilitating dialogue between the National Library of Wales and Edinburgh University’s Digital Library with a view to increasing GLAM wiki work.”

Ewan’s masterful way with amusing gifs was also highlighted for recognition :}

You can read more about the University’s award winning entry here: Partnership of the Year 2018: The University of Edinburgh 

Open.Ed at RepoFringe18

Way back at the beginning of July my lovely OER Service colleague Charlie and I had a 10X10 presentation accepted for the the Repository Fringe conference. We agreed that I would write the talk and Charlie would go along and present on the day.  Alas disaster struck and poor Charlie came down with a nasty bug, so our fabulous Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew stepped in to save the day and present on our behalf.  Not All Heroes Wear Capes.  So here I am (very) belatedly posting the script and slides from that presentation.

The University of Edinburgh’s OER Service is based within information Services and provides staff and students with practical advice and guidance on creating, finding and using open educational resources.  Charlie Farley and Lorna Campbell run a wide range of workshops and initiatives within the University and beyond, and also maintain Open.Ed which provides a one stop shop to access open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university.  The University does not have a single OER Repository, instead we have multiple repositories across the institution for different kinds of content and we believe in sharing our open resources where ever they will be found most easily, e.g. Media Hopper Create, flickr, Vimeo, Sketchfab, TES, etc.

OER Mission, Vision and Policy

  • Provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students
  • Make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world.
  • OER Vision draws on history of the Edinburgh Settlement, excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Enlightenment.
  • OER Policy encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience.

At Edinburgh we believe that open education is strongly in line with our institutional 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.

Our vision for OER builds on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission.   In addition to the OER Service, this vision is backed up by our OER Policy which 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.

OER for Digital Skills

OER can help to develop digital skills for both staff and students. 23 Things for Digital Knowledge is an award winning, open online course, adapted from an open course developed by the University of Oxford.  23 Things is designed to encourage digital literacy by exposing learners to a wide range of digital tools for personal and professional development. Learners spend a little time each week, building up and expanding their digital skills and are encouraged to share their experiences with others.  All course content and materials are licensed under a CC BY licence and the University actively encourages others to take and adapt the course. The course has already been used by many individuals and organisations outwith Edinburgh and it has recently been adapted for use by the Scottish Social Services Council.

OER for Equality and Diversity

OER can make a significant contribution to diversifying the curriculum.  A number of studies, including the National LGBT Survey released by the Government today, have shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual health is not well-covered in Medical curricula, however knowledge of LGBT health and of the sensitivities needed to treat LGBT patients are valuable skills for qualifying doctors.

Using materials from the commons, a project at the University of Edinburgh, LGBT+ Healthcare 101, sought to address the lack of teaching on LGBT health within the curriculum through OER.  The project remixed and repurposed resources originally created by Case Western Reserve University, and then contributed these resources back to the commons as CC BY licensed OER.  New open resources including digital stories recorded from patient interviews, and resources for Secondary School children of all ages, were also created and released as CC BY OER.

OER for Knowledge Exchange

Open access makes research outputs freely accessible to all. It allows research to be disseminated quickly and widely, the research process to operate more efficiently, and has the potential to increase use and understanding of research by the wider public.  However it is not always easy for those outwith academia to know how to access these outputs, even though they are freely and openly available.   In order to address this issue, we’ve created a series of open educational resources in the form of video interviews and case studies called Innovating with Open Knowledge.  These resources are aimed at creative individuals, private researchers, and entrepreneurs to provide guidance on how to find and access the open outputs of Higher Education.  The resources focus on developing digital and data literacy skills and feature case study interviews with creative individuals and entrepreneurs engaging with the University of Edinburgh’s world class research outputs.

OER and Co-creation 

We believe strongly in engaging both staff and students in the co-creation of open education and one hugely successful example of this is the School of Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course.  Over two semesters, students develop an outreach project that communicates an element of GeoSciences outside the university community.  Students work with schools, museums, and community groups to create a wide range of resources for science engagement. Students gain experience of science outreach, public engagement, and knowledge transfer while working in new environments and developing transferable skills to enhance employability.  A key element of the course is to develop reusable resources which are then repurposed by our Open Content Curation Interns to create OER that are then shared online through Open.Ed and TES where they could be found and reused by other teachers and learners.

e.g. The Sea-Level Story, http://open.ed.ac.uk/the-sea-level-story-geoscience/

Open Content Curation Student Interns 

Open Content Curation student interns play an important role in OER creation at the University.  These fully-paid interns help to repurpose and share resources created by staff and other students while at the same time developing their own digital literacy skills. We’re now in the third year of this internship and the feedback we’ve received from the students has been nothing short of inspiring. This is Tomas Sanders who worked as our Open Content Curation Intern last year, and who then went on to run a successful Wikipedia editathon for Black History Month with the student History Society.

 

OER for Playful Learning

The OER Service also runs a wide range of events that develop playful and creative strategies for finding and reusing open licensed content.  Board Game Jam is a popular workshop that leads groups through creating, licensing, and sharing an OER board game using digitised images from the University collections.  It’s a fun and creative way to teach copyright and open licensing by stealth.   GifItUp is another workshop that provides an introduction to creating GIFs using free and open tools and openly licensed and public domain images.  It teaches colleagues how to find and use open licensed public heritage content and encourages discussion of the ethical responsibilities we as creators have towards those materials.

OER for Creativity

Eric Lucey was a pioneering biologist and film maker at the University of Edinburgh whose film collection from the 1950s and 60s has now been made available under open license by University’s Centre for Research Collections. With help and guidance from the OER Service on open licensing and content reuse, students from Edinburgh College of Art and the Edinburgh Film Society have created film poems from the Lucey collection for the Magma Poetry journal.  And we’ve also released open film snippets from our MOOC content that can be reused in a wide range of creative contexts.

These are just a few examples of how the OER Services encourages staff and students at the University of Edinburgh to engage with and contribute to a wide range of open content collections, while enhancing their own digital skills and contributing resources back to the digital commons.

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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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