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)

Nudging the Door Open

Last week I presented one of the keynotes at the FLOSS UK Spring Conference in Edinburgh.  I had been invited to present as the organising committee were keen to diversify both the scope and the gender balance of their event, after a first call for papers brought in only male speakers.  Persuaded by the enthusiasm and commitment of the organisers, and after discussing the invitation with colleagues at the University, I accepted their invitation.  However after a second round of blind peer review again brought in only male speakers (thus illustrating the problem of blind submission in any domain that already lacks diversity) I began to get a bit apprehensive.  Normally I would politely decline an invitation to participate in an all-male panel and now here I was keynoting at an all-male conference.

I discussed my concerns with the organisers who once again were sensitive to the issue, keen to talk and open to suggestions.  And I was more than a little relieved when my inspirational senior colleague Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at University of Edinburgh was invited to open the conference, and Christel Dahlskjaer, VP of Open Source and Digital Advocacy at Private Internet Access, was also added to the programme.

My talk was scheduled to take place on the second day, but I went along on the first day to hear Melissa’s opening address and Debian Project Leader Chris Lamb’s keynote.  I had expected female delegates to be in the minority, but I was a little startled to discover there were only three women in the room out of an audience in the region of around eighty people.  Melissa raised this issue diplomatically in her opening address which included a call for more diversity and inclusion in technology industries.

Although I get a little keyed up when I’m speaking in public I don’t generally get too nervous, however I was extremely apprehensive about presenting a non-technical keynote to an all-male audience of technical developers.  Particularly given that my talk, an over view of the Open Knowledge Landscape, highlighted the problem of systemic bias and structural inequality in a wide range of “open” communities.  In an effort to work up a little courage I did something I don’t often do; I called for back-up.  The evening before my keynote I tweeted…

To say that I was overwhelmed by the response would be an understatement, so I’d like to thank each and every one of you who replied to my tweet, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated your support.

I also tweeted a thread of all the inspiring projects and initiatives that I had included in my talk, because if you’re speaking about diversity and representation I think it’s really important to give credit where credit is due.  The twitter thread proved to be really popular so I might do this again next time I’m giving a talk.

On the morning of my keynote I was encouraged to see a couple more women in the audience, maybe five in total?  But it was still pretty daunting to get up onto that stage.  The audience however were faultlessly polite and engaged, particularly when I spoke about structural inequality and lack of representation in technology domains and open communities.

I ended by highlighting the story of Bassel Khartabil and the Memorial Fund that Creative Commons established to commemorate his legacy, because I believe it demonstrates why it’s so important for all those of us who work in the broad domain of Open Knowledge to come together to break down the barriers that divide us.  I always find it difficult to talk about Bassel and this time was no exception. I choked when I tried to read a passage he wrote from Adra Prison in Damascus and I was almost in tears by the end.  However I make no apology for getting emotional over such an important story.

There was only time for a couple of questions after my talk, one about business models for openness and another about how the conference could become more diverse and inclusive without compromising the integrity of their peer review process. During the break afterwards, I was really touched by a young delegate from the University of York who said he had benefitted so much from working in open source software projects and using Wikipedia, and wanted to know how he could give something back to the community.  I suggested becoming a Wikipedia editor and gave him some pointers on how to get started.  And I also really enjoyed chatting with some Edinburgh Informatics students who were hugely enthusiastic about the University’s commitment to Open Knowledge. Although there wasn’t a great deal of activity around the conference hashtag, I was touched to get one or two really supportive comments from delegates.

All in all the conference was a pretty daunting event for me, but it’s one that I learned a lot from, not least how supportive my own Open Knowledge community is and how willing other communities can be to listen to new stories and alternative points of view.  So I’d like the take this opportunity to thank the organisers once again for inviting me to keynote.

Last word has to go to the fabulous Kelsey Merkley.

Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape

Transcript and slides from my keynote at the FLOSS UK Spring Conference in Edinburgh.

I’m not a programmer.  I’m not a developer.  And I don’t contribute directly to the creation of free and open source software.  I originally started out as an Archaeologist but I now work in the domain of Open Knowledge and more specifically open education.  I currently work for the Open Education Resources Service within the Information Services Group 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. All these organisations are part of the Open Knowledge landscape and what I want to do today is provide a broad overview of some of the different domains, communities and cultures that make up this landscape including open education, open data, open textbooks and Open Access Scholarly works.  And I also want to explore the boundaries that crisscross this landscape and demarcate these open spaces, and ask who is included, who is excluded, and what we can do to make our communities more diverse and inclusive.

In the words of the late, great Maryam Mirzakhani, former professor of mathematics at Stanford University and the first female winner of the Fields Medal, who sadly passed away last year.

“I like crossing the imaginary boundaries people set up between different fields—it’s very refreshing. There are lots of tools, and you don’t know which one would work. It’s about being optimistic and trying to connect things.”

So that’s what I want to do today, to look at how we can cross the imaginary boundaries of the Open Knowledge landscape and connect our different open communities.

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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!

The Long View: Changing Perspectives on OER

Transcript and slides from my keynote at the OER18 Open For All Conference in Bristol. A recording of the keynote is available here.

Being invited to keynote is always a privilege, and I’m particularly honoured to have been invited to present the opening keynote at this year’s OER18 Conference here in Bristol. Not least because I’m following in the footsteps of the three inspirational women who presented last year’s keynotes; Diana Arce, Maha Bali and Lucy Compton-Reid, but also because it’s a real privilege to be here talking, and more importantly, listening to you. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s the people at this conference, people like you, who have shaped my thinking on OER and my career as an open education practitioner more than any other. 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 huge pleasure of chairing the OER Open Culture conference at the University of Edinburgh with my inspiring colleague Melissa Highton.

Over the years I’ve seen this conference grow in scale and scope, I’ve seen themes and trends around open education change and evolve, and I’ve watched with real pleasure as the conference has become more diverse, inclusive, and international. The OER conference really is increasingly open for all.

One of the things that I’ve always loved about open education, and indeed about learning technology more generally, is that we have all arrived here by very different, often circuitous, and sometimes surprising routes. We all came from somewhere else and we all bring something different to the domain of open education in terms of experience, practice and perspective.

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PressED Conference – The morning after the night before

I’m touched and a little overwhelmed by the response to my talk at last night’s PressED Conference.  I was stupidly nervous before hand, I always am when I’m taking about something a little more personal, and I was terrified my crappy home broadband was going to keel over mid tweet.  It didn’t, thank the lord.  My experience of surviving precarity and rebuilding an academic identity through open practice and the awesomeness that is WordPress and Reclaim Hosting seemed to touch a cord. There was also a lot of interest in using ALT’s CMALT accreditation as formal recognition of skills that are often built up informally and in an ad hoc manner.  I’m now in the very fortunate position that my employer, the University of Edinburgh, supported me through CMALT accreditation, but if anyone is out there wondering it they can do CMALT without institutional support the answer is absolutely yes!  ALT provides an enormous amount of support and resources for candidates and there is an active and entirely voluntary CMALT community online who are incredibly supportive and generous with their time and experience.

Back in the day I would have used Storify to archive the conversation around my “talk” but, because I’ve learned *that* lesson the hard way, I’m going to archive some of them here instead.  On WordPress.  The sensible way.

Huge thanks once again to Natalie Lafferty and Pat Lockley for making this amazing event happen.  You’re stars. Both of you.

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Using WordPress to build an online academic identity

This is my presentation for the amazing PressED Conference #PressEdConf18, run by the equally amazing Pat Lockley @pgogy, and Natalie Lafferty @nlafferty.   My “talk” is about surviving precarious employment and using WordPress to build an independent academic identity and support formal CPD through CMALT.

Hello, I’m Lorna & I work at the OER Service @OpenEdEdinburgh at @EdinburghUni. I’m also an independent open education practitioner.  I’m going to talk about how you can use WordPress to support open education practice, personal academic identity & formal CPD #pressedconf18

Before joining @EdinburghUni I worked for the @Jisc Cetis service @UniStrathclyde for 15 years. Most of that time I was employed on a series of short term precarious contracts.  In 2015 my dept was shut down & I was made compulsorily redundant. It wasn’t fun. #pressedconf18

After 15 years my prof. identity was tied up with the Uni & Cetis, extricating myself hard.  1st thing I did was set up a WordPress blog to reassemble evidence of my work & my career. It’s called Open World after a Kenneth White poem http://lornamcampbell.org/ #pressedconf18

Setting up my blog allowed me to take ownership of my academic identity, #outwith the constraints of the institution.  This was an important positive step that helped me through a difficult period of transition and uncertainty. #pressedconf18

It was also reassuring and encouraging to gather evidence of my skills in one place, and my blog now hosts my cv, papers, presentations, history research. #pressedconf18

It’s also where I think out loud &, along with twitter, where I connect with my community & share my practice & personal politics with my peers.  You can listen to me Shouting From The Heart about why blogging is so important to me #pressedconf18

Having reclaimed my professional academic identity, in 2016 I took the next logical step as an open practitioner, and moved my blog to Reclaim Hosting. The process couldn’t have been simpler and I can’t recommend the service highly enough. #pressedconf18

Anyone who has worked on short term or precarious contracts know’s how difficult it is to manage career progression & CPD, esp. in a domain as diverse & rapidly changing as learning technology. I wrote a blog post about this here: Thoughts on ALT’s CPD Rebooted #CMALT #pressedconf18

I’m now fortunate to work at @EdinburghUni which supports learning technologists to undertake CPD through @A_L_T’s #CMALT programme. In 2017 I started gathering evidence for my CMALT portfolio  #pressedconf18

Because I had already gathered evidence of my professional practice on my blog, it was easy to find the information I needed.  Choosing which evidence to use for my #CMALT portfolio was much harder! #pressedconf18

Being an open practitioner, I decided to practice what I preach & build my portfolio in the open on my existing WordPress blog http://lornamcampbell.org/cmalt/  I shared it with the #CMALT community on twitter and got lots of helpful advice & feedback. #pressedconf18

Developing my #CMALT portfolio in the open, & using WordPress, was a really positive experience for me & you can read my reflection on the process here: CMALT Reflection and Thanks #pressedconf18

I was delighted when my CMALT portfolio was approved on first submission with the peer assessor commenting on my commitment to open education and open practice.  None of this would have been possible without my Open World blog. #pressedconf18

CC BY, @ammienoot

I still keep my Open World blog at & my OER blog posts are now pulled through to our Open.Ed blog  enabling me to maintain my own academic identity & still share my practice with my colleagues. #pressedconf18

And last but not least….#pressedconf18

WonkHE: Openness in Education – a call to action for policy makers

As part of Open Education Week I’m delighted that Maren Deepwell, CEO of ALT, and I have an article published in WonkHE on Openness in education: a call to action for policy makers.  The article introduces the recent ALT policy guide,  highlights some of the benefits of OER, and articulates why we need policy makers to embrace open education.

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