Growing Their Own: Building an Archive and a Community for Fanfiction
by Casey Fiesler, JD, Ph.D.
Archive of Our Own, a fanfiction repository with millions of users and works, was developed entirely by the community it serves, with a focus on representing the values of that community in its design and policies. Its history is rooted in needs for preservation, advocacy, and empowerment. This talk traces the growth and features of the archive, including grassroots development, design that promotes openness and inclusivity, and the benefits and challenges of maintaining a team of volunteers. Archive or Our Own is a unique example of a repository that has had a transformational effect on a community of content creators, and represents a design philosophy that could benefit other platforms as well.
Towards the end of last year I had the pleasure of working with ALT to develop a policy briefing on Open Education and OER. Open Education and OER – A guide and call to action for policy makers was co-authored by Maren Deepwell, Martin Weller, Joe Wilson and I and it can be downloaded from the ALT Open Access Repository here https://repository.alt.ac.uk/2425/
ALT has produced this call to action to highlight to education policy makers and professionals how Open Education and OER can expand inclusive and equitable access to education and lifelong learning, widen participation, and create new opportunities for the next generation of teachers and learners, preparing them to become fully engaged digital citizens.
Open Education can also promote knowledge transfer while enhancing quality and sustainability, supporting social inclusion and creating a culture of inter-institutional collaboration and sharing.
One of ALT’s three strategic aims is to increase the impact of Learning Technology for the wider community and we are issuing this call to action for policy makers to mandate that publicly funded educational resources are released under open licence to ensure that they reside in the public domain and are freely and openly available to all.
This will be of wide benefit, but in particular will enable education providers and learning technology professionals to:
- Keep up to date with the rapid pace of technological innovation
- Develop critical, informed approaches to the implementation of Learning Technology and the impact on learners
- Scale up knowledge sharing and its benefits across sectors.
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.
- Creative Writing: Writing historical fiction with Peter Ramscombe
- Citizenship: The Conscientious Objectors Project with Nick Williams at WEA Scotland
- Climate Change: Solving Climate Change with Ecometrica
- Crafts: Bookbinding with Emma Frazer
- Heritage: Spirit of Leithers with Fraser Parkinson
- Maker Spaces: uCreate Studio with Mike Boyd
- Grand designs: Wikihouse with Akiko Kobayashi and Duncan Bain
- Open-source Software: with Scott Wilson, Cetis LLP & OSS Watch
- Citizen Science: Dogslife with Dylan Clements
- Bioinformatics: Bioinformatics in the Classroom with Heleen Plaisier & Daniel Barker
- Drug Discovery: Parkure with Lysimachos Zografos
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.
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.
Open Access Week seems like a good time to write my first blog post about two new projects I’m going to be working on over the coming months. One is to facilitate a University of Edinburgh Open Knowledge Network and the other is to create a MOOC for small to medium enterprises on how to access open research outputs produced by the UK Higher Education sector. Both projects have been funded by the University of Edinburgh’s Information Services Innovation Fund.
UoE Open Knowledge Network
The aim of the network will be to draw together the University’s activities in the area of Open Data, Open Access, Open Education, Open Collections and Archives and to promote collaboration and cross fertilisation across these areas. The Open Knowledge Network will host a series of meetings that will bring together guest speakers and open practitioners from across the institution to share ideas and practice. The project will also aim to raise awareness of the benefits of open licensing and sharing open data, collections, scholarly works and OER within the institution and across the sector.
Accessing Open Research Outputs MOOC
This project will scope and develop a short information Services MOOC for small to medium enterprises on how to access open research outputs. The course will focus on developing digital and data literacy skills and search strategies to find and access open research outputs including Open Access scholarly works and open research data sets. The course will be developed with Edinburgh Research and Innovation and will feature case studies based on the University of Edinburgh’s open research outputs. In line with the University’s commitment to OER, all resources developed for the course will be released under open license and will be available to be re-used and re-purposed through a range of channels.
If you have an innovative case study that could feature in the new course, or if you’d like to get involved in the Open Knowledge Network you can drop me a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet to me at @lornamcampbell.
Open Access Week
Open Access Week is a global event that provides an opportunity for the academic and research community to learn about the potential benefits of Open Access, to share what they’ve learned with colleagues, and to inspire wider participation in helping to make Open Access a new norm in scholarship and research.
Towards the end of last year, following an invitation from Adam Hyde of booksprints.net, I wrote a contribution for a free and open online book called The Cost of Freedom. The book is dedicated to Syrian internet volunteer and open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil, باسل خرطبيل, who has been detained in Syria since March 2012. On the 3rd October 2015 Bassel’s name was deleted from the Adra Prison’s register where he was detained and no further information has been obtained about his whereabouts.
The Cost of Freedom is not a statement about freedom and culture — it is a primal scream — the sum of our questions and desires. It is the raw expression of our lives. It talks about what is ultimately made through the dream of free culture: us.
The book was written in Pourrières in France during a five day book sprint in early November 2015, with additional contributions being submitted by writers from all over the world. Here’s my contribution, a personal reflection on what openness means to me.
The Open World
In Open is not a License Adam Hyde has described openness as
‘a set of values by which you live…a way of life, or perhaps a way of growing, an often painful path where we challenge our own value system against itself.’
To my mind, openness is also contradictory. I don’t mean contradictory in terms of the polar dichotomy of open vs. closed, or the endless debates that seek to define the semantics of open. I mean contradictory on a more personal level; openness raises contradictions within ourselves. Openness can lead us to question our position in the world; our position in relation to real and perceived boundaries imposed from without and carefully constructed from within.
In one way or another I have worked in the open education space for a decade now. I have contributed to open standards, created open educational resources, developed open policy, written open books, participated in open knowledge initiatives, facilitated open events, I endeavour to be an ‘open practitioner’, I run a blog called Open World. However, I am not by nature a very open person; my inclination is always to remain closed. I have had to learn openness and I’m not sure I’m very good at it yet. It’s a continual learning experience. Openness is a process that requires practice and perseverance. (Though sometimes circumstances leave us with little choice, sometimes it’s open or nothing.)
And of course, there is a cost; openness requires a little courage. When we step, or are pushed, outside our boundaries and institutions, it’s easy to feel disoriented and insecure. The open world can be a challenging and unsettling place and it’s easy to understand the impulse to withdraw, to seek the security of the familiar.
When large scale open education funding programmes first started to appear, (what an impossible luxury that seems like now), they were met with more than a little scepticism. When a major OER funding initiative was launched in the UK in 2009 (UKOER), the initial response was incredulity (OER Programme Myths). Surely projects weren’t expected to share their resource with everyone? Surely UK Higher Education resources should only be shared with other UK Higher Education institutions? It took patience and persistence to convince colleagues that yes, open really did mean open, open for everyone everywhere, not just open for a select few. One perceptive colleague at the time described this attitude as ‘the agoraphobia of openness’(1).
Although open licences and open educational resources are more familiar concepts now, there is still a degree of reticence. An undercurrent of anxiety persists that discourages us from sharing our educational resources, and reusing resources shared by others. There is a fear that by opening up our resources and our practice, we will also open ourselves up to criticism, that we will be judged and found wanting. Imposter syndrome is a real thing; even experienced teachers may fail to recognise their own work as being genuinely innovative and creative. At the same time, openness can invoke a fear of loss; loss of control, loss of agency, and in some cases even loss of livelihood. Viewed through this lens, the distinction between openness and exposure blurs.
But despite these costs and contradictions, I do believe there is inherently personal and public value in openness. I believe there is huge creative potential in openness and I believe we have a moral and ethical responsibility to open access to publicly funded educational resources. Yes, there are costs, but they are far outweighed by the benefits of open. Open education practice and open educational resources have the potential to expand access to education, widen participation, and create new opportunities while at the same time supporting social inclusion, and creating a culture of collaboration and sharing. There are other more intangible, though no less important, benefits of open. Focusing on simple cost-benefit analysis models neglects the creative, fun and serendipitous aspects of openness and, ultimately, this is what keeps us learning.
In the domain of knowledge representation, the Open World Assumption ‘codifies the informal notion that in general no single agent or observer has complete knowledge’. It’s a useful assumption to bear in mind; our knowledge will never be complete, what better motivation to keep learning? But the Open World of my blog title doesn’t come from the domain of knowledge representation; it comes from the Scottish poet Kenneth White (2), Chair of 20th Century Poetics at Paris-Sorbonne, 1983-1996, and a writer for whom openness is an enduring and inspiring theme. White is also the founder of the International Institute of Geopoetics, which is ‘concerned, fundamentally, with a relationship to the earth and with the opening of a world’ (3). In the words of White:
no art can touch it; the mind can only
try to become attuned to it
to become quiet, and space itself out, to
become open and still, unworlded (4)
disquiet ambient/electronica have recorded a number of the contributions to the book, including mine, which you can listen to here.
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- I cannot remember who said this, but the comment has always stayed with me.
- White, K., (2003), Open World. The Collected Poems, 1960 – 2000, Polygon.
- White, K., (2004), Geopoetics: place, culture, world, Alba.
- White, K., (2004), ‘A High Blue Day on Scalpay’ in Open World. The Collected Poems, 1960 – 2000, Polygon.
- The Cost of Freedom http://costoffreedom.cc/book/
- Free Bassel Campaign http://freebassel.org/
- Bassel Khartabil باسل خرطبيل https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bassel_Khartabil
- Disquiet Junto Project 0202: Text-to-Speech-to-Free http://disquiet.com/2015/11/12/disquiet0202-costoffreedom/
Earlier this week I was invited by Ewan Klein and Melissa Highton to speak at Open.Ed, an event focused on Open Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh. A storify of the event is available here: Open.Ed – Open Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh.
“Open Knowledge encompasses a range of concepts and activities, including open educational resources, open science, open access, open data, open design, open governance and open development.”
– Ewan Klein
Ewan set the benchmark for the day by reminding us that open data is only open by virtue of having an open licence such as CC0, CC BY, CC SA. CC Non Commercial should not be regarded as an open licence as it restricts use. Melissa expanded on this theme, suggesting that there must be an element of rigour around definitions of openness and the use of open licences. There is a reputational risk to the institution if we’re vague about copyright and not clear about what we mean by open. Melissa also reminded us not to forget open education in discussions about open knowledge, open data and open access. Edinburgh has a long tradition of openness, as evidenced by the Edinburgh Settlement, but we need a strong institutional vision for OER, backed up by developments such as the Scottish Open Education Declaration.
I followed Melissa, providing a very brief introduction to Open Scotland and the Scottish Open Education Declaration, before changing tack to talk about open access to cultural heritage data and its value to open education. This isn’t a topic I usually talk about, but with a background in archaeology and an active interest in digital humanities and historical research, it’s an area that’s very close to my heart. As a short case study I used the example of Edinburgh University’s excavations at Loch na Berie broch on the Isle of Lewis, which I worked on in the late 1980s. Although the site has been extensively published, it’s not immediately obvious how to access the excavation archive. I’m sure it’s preserved somewhere, possibly within the university, perhaps at RCAHMS, or maybe at the National Museum of Scotland. Where ever it is, it’s not openly available, which is a shame, because if I was teaching a course on the North Atlantic Iron Age there is some data form the excavation that I might want to share with students. This is no reflection on the directors of the fieldwork project, it’s just one small example of how greater access to cultural heritage data would benefit open education. I also flagged up a rather frightening blog post, Dennis the Paywall Menance Stalks the Archives, by Andrew Prescott which highlights the dangers of what can happen if we do not openly licence archival and cultural heritage data – it becomes locked behind commercial paywalls. However there are some excellent examples of open practice in the cultural heritage sector, such as the National Portrait Gallery’s clearly licensed digital collections and the work of the British Library Labs. However openness comes at a cost and we need to make greater efforts to explore new business and funding models to ensure that our digital cultural heritage is openly available to us all. For those that are interested, my slides are available on Slideshare here: open.ed
Ally Crockford, Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland, spoke about the hugely successful Women, Science and Scottish History editathon recently held at the university. However she noted that as members of the university we are in a privileged position in that enables us to use non-open resources (books, journal articles, databases, artefacts) to create open knowledge. Furthermore, with Wikpedia’s push to cite published references, there is a danger of replicating existing knowledge hierarchies. Ally reminded us that as part of the educated elite, we have a responsibility to open our mindsets to all modes of knowledge creation. Publishing in Wikipedia also provides an opportunity to reimagine feedback in teaching and learning. Feedback should be an open participatory process, and what better way for students to learn this than from editing Wikipedia.
Robin Rice, EDINA and Data Library, asked the question what does Open Access and Open Data sharing look like? Open Access publications are increasingly becoming the norm, but we’re not quite there yet with open data. It’s not clear if researchers will be cited if they make their data openly available and career rewards are uncertain. However there are huge benefits to opening access to data and citizen science initiatives; public engagement, crowd funding, data gathering and cleaning, and informed citizenry. In addition, social media an play can important role in working openly and transparently
Jim Bednar, talking about computational neuroscience and the problem of reproducibility, picked up this theme, adding that accountability is a big attraction of open data sharing. Jim recommended using iPython Notebook for recording and sharing data and computational results and helping to make them reproducible. This promoted Anne-Marie Scott to comment on twtter:
Very cool indeed.
James Stewart spoke about the benefits of crowdsourcing and citizen science. Despite the buzz words, this is not a new idea, there’s a long tradition of citizens engaging in science. Darwin regularly received reports and data from amateur scientists. Maintaining transparency and openness is currently a big problem for science, but openness and citizen science can help to build trust and quality. James also cited Open Street Map as a good example of building community around crowdsourcing data and citizen science. Crowdsourcing initiatives create a deep sense of community – it’s not just about the science, it’s also about engagement.
After coffee (accompanied by Tunnocks caramel wafers – I approve!) We had a series of presentations on the student experience and students engagement with open knowledge.
Paul Johnson and Greg Tyler, from the Web, Graphics and Interaction section of IS, spoke about the necessity of being more open and transparent with institutional data and the importance of providing more open data to encourage students to innovate. Hayden Bell highlighted the importance of having institutional open data directories and urged us to spend less time gathering data and more making something useful from it. Students are the source of authentic experience about being a student – we should use this! Student data hacks are great, but they often have to spend longer getting and parsing the data than doing interesting stuff with it. Steph Hay also spoke about the potential of opening up student data. VLEs inform the student experience; how can we open up this data and engage with students using their own data? Anonymised data from Learn was provided at Smart Data Hack 2015 but students chose not to use it, though it is not clear why. Finally, Hans Christian Gregersen brought the day to a close with a presentation of Book.Ed, one of the winning entries of the Smart Data Hack. Book.ed is a app that uses open data to allow students to book rooms and facilities around the university.
What really struck me about Open.Ed was the breadth of vision and the wide range of open knowledge initiatives scattered across the university. The value of events like this is that they help to share this vision with fellow colleagues as that’s when the cross fertilisation of ideas really starts to take place.