ALTC 2022 – Reconnecting

Earlier this month the annual ALT Conference returned as an in-person event for the first time since the pandemic.  Around 400 participants joined the hybrid conference at the University of Manchester, for both an in-person and online programme.  For many delegates it was their first in-person conference since the Before Times and I think it’s fair to say that everyone appreciated the opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues from across the sector. 

I had the pleasure of being one of the co-chairs of the conference, as to mark its in-person return, the event was was chaired collaboratively by the Trustees of ALT.  My term on the ALT Board came to an end at the AGM, so I’m proud to say that opening ALTC 2022 with a short reflection, alongside Natalie Lafferty and Puiyin Wong, was one of my last actions as an ALT Trustee. 

Natalie emphasised the need for learning technologists to become a collective voice that shapes the narrative and the future of learning and teaching.  Asking how we can consolidate the relationships we’ve developed with academics during the pandemic, Natalie urged us to be confident in our own role working at the intersection of academic and professional services.

Puiyin reflected on her own journey as a learning technologist over the last few years.  As a result of the pandemic, colleagues finally know who learning technologists are and what we do. We’re not just the people who fix Moodle, we understand pedagogy, we understand learning, we understand how to use technology in education, and how to make  learning engaging, accessible and fun.  Puiyin also urged us to welcome more TEL researchers into the community to share our knowledge and expertise.     

I touched on the ebook crisis and the increase in institutions establishing open textbook presses in response.  I hope that our libraries and open presses will draw on the OER expertise that already exists in the learning technology community to build on our knowledge of openness in education. I also emphasised the necessity of ethically informed approaches to how we implement and interact with learning technology and the importance of pedagogies of care, which are increasingly necessary during these uncertain times.  

Although openness wasn’t one of the specific themes of the conference, it remains one of ALT’s core values, and openness underpinned many of the sessions.  The Global OER Graduate Network presented an overview of their community values and research activities, and I also really appreciated Fereshte Goshtasbpour and Beck Pitt sharing their experience of re-purposing an existing open course for reuse in a different global context. Reuse and repurposing of existing OERs is something that we’re really interested in at Edinburgh, so it was useful to hear this case study. 

Ethics and care were two themes that also ran throughout the conference. Rob Farrow’s keynote presented a short overview of ethics in Western philosophy and highlighted the need for ethical frameworks for technology, such as the ALT Ethical Framework, and the space they offer for reflective collaborative thinking  Rob also picked up on the theme of ethics of care, which was explored by Chris Rowell in his talk on critical digital pedagogy.  Chris outlined six principles for critical digital pedagogy, all of which really spoke to me:

  1. Knowledge should be co-created between teachers and students.
  2. Digital education should challenge oppression.
  3. Digital education is a human process.
  4. Education and technology is inherently political.
  5. Knowledge should relate to and develop from the lived experience of teachers and students.
  6. Digital education is built on trust and belonging and should cultivate hope and optimism.

One beautiful manifestation of all these principles is the Femedtech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education, a craft activism project led by Frances Bell in collaboration with members of the FemEdTech network in 2019/2020.  You can read the story of the quilt on femedtech.net and also engage with the digital quilt at quilt.femedtech.net  The quilt was originally intended to be displayed at the OER20 conference, but as a result of the pandemic this is the first opportunity we have had to showcase the quilt in all its material glory

I spent most of the second day of the conference quilt sitting along with Frances Bell, Catherine Cronin and Sheila MacNeill. It was a really moving experience seeing people interacting with the quilt.  It was especially lovely to see people finding and reconnecting with squares they had created, pointing out this or that square – “That’s my daughter’s dress!” “That’s my mother’s earing!”  So many women, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, so many personal connections are sewn into the quilt. There was also an opportunity for people to contribute to the quilt by sewing on a button or a few stitches of embroidery and it was wonderful seeing people taking a quiet moment out of the busy conference schedule and becoming absorbed in the shared task of making. 

Sheila has already written a lovely reflection on the quilt here: Transcending the digital and physical at #altc22 – the #femedtechquilt. I particularly love this observation:

In quite a magical way, the presence of the quilt provided a way to bind many of us together by providing a safe, open, space to have long overdue catch ups, to share experiences and allow time for reflection and just “being”.

At the end of the day, those of us who had contributed to the quilt came together to suspend it over the balcony outside the main auditorium so it could be viewed by delegates.  It was an emotional (and slightly nerve wracking!) experience holding all that shared hope and creativity in our hands. 

We’re still living in desperately uncertain and insecure times, and our new normal is a world away from our old normal, however reconnecting with the learning technology community at ALTC 2022 gives me hope that if we can work together, to share our experiences and share the load, we can support and care for both our community and our learners.

The FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education

This short history of the FemEdTech Quilt formed part of a post on femedtech.net.

The FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education was a craft activism project led by Frances Bell in collaboration with members of the FemEdTech network in 2019/2020. FemEdTech is a reflexive, emergent network of people learning, practising and researching in educational technology, and committed to feminism and social justice. We are an informal organisation with no funding: our resources are our passion, kindness, knowledge, enthusiasm and volunteer time.

Ideas for a FemEdTech Quilt emerged following the 2019 OER Conference (OER19) and took further inspiration from the themes of OER20: The Care in Openness, particularly around care, criticality and sustainability. An open call was issued along with the OER20 Conference call for proposals, inviting all sewists and non-sewists, artists and dabblers, crafters, makers and writers, to contribute to the quilt by donating fabrics and found objects, creating quilt squares, and/or writing stories and reflections.

The project was originally intended to have three parts:

  • The preparation and assembly of a quilt linking themes of social justice and open education, making a contribution to activism in these areas.
  • The creation of a digital archive of the elements, components and finished quilt that becomes a shareable artefact and repository in its own right.
  • The completion of the quilt at a workshop at the OER20 conference, where it would be displayed in its material and digital forms.

There was an overwhelming response to the invitation to contribute to the quilt, with 67 six-inch and 17 twelve-inch squares being sent in from around the world, along with fabrics and other artefacts. As contributions arrived, the quilt grew in size from a single artefact to four linked quilts, each assembled by Frances Bell, Suzanne Hardy, and a group of volunteer quilters and sewers in Macclesfield, UK.

A corresponding digital quilt was created by Anne-Marie Scott at https://quilt.femedtech.net/. This enabled contributors to reflect on the process of creating their quilt squares and to tell the stories behind them. The digital quilt was also intended to allow those who were unable to attend the OER20 Conference in person to see and explore the quilt and its stories.

In the optimistic days of early 2020, when beautiful creative quilt squares were being sent in from all over the world, we could not have foreseen the advent of the global pandemic and the impact it would have. At the same time, we could not have imagined just how necessary the FemEdTech Quilt would become as a project of hope in those dark days as the threads of our shared labour wove the FemEdTech community together.

With the advent of the pandemic, the theme of OER20, The Care in Openness, could not have been more timely or prescient. ALT rapidly moved the conference online and lifted the registration fee, enabling over 1000 participants to come together from all over the globe. Although the pandemic initially deprived us of the opportunity to experience the physical artefact of the quilt, it became a powerful material manifestation of care, compassion and activism. Frances produced and presented a beautiful film about the making of quilt for OER20, which resulted in an upswell of collective emotion that, like the quilt itself, was “beautifully imperfect, imperfectly beautiful.” In the words of Su-Ming Khoo, the quilt became “somewhere to put our connection and our gratitude”.

The FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice continues to stand as a powerful symbol of the strength and solidarity that can be gained from shared labour, the sense of community and belonging that traditionally derives from women’s work, and the power of craft activism.

Senior CMALT – Credit where credit’s due

I was delighted to receive notification from ALT last week that my Senior CMALT portfolio, which I submitted in May, had been approved. Hurray!  When I wrote my original CMALT portfolio, I blogged about the process and shared drafts here on my blog as I was writing them.  I didn’t do that this time because, tbh, I had so many false starts, I wasn’t sure I would ever get it finished and submitted!  I have shared the whole portfolio here under open licence though, and I’ll also be submitting it to ALT’s portfolio repository. 

One of the things I struggled with when writing both portfolios, and something other CMALT candidates often struggle with too I think, is claiming credit for work we have undertaken as part of a team.  As learning technologists, the vast majority of the work we do is in collaboration with other learning technologists, academics, students, colleagues from other institutions, and from across the ALT community.  This is particularly the case when working in open education.  Trying to pin point exactly what you did as part of a wider team effort is never easy, also many of us are reticent about blowing our own trumpets, and imposter syndrome is a real thing.  Writing first person singular feels really awkward to me, I’m so used to writing “we”, that “I” doesn’t really come naturally to me anywhere other than on this blog.  As a CMALT assessor, I often find myself providing gentle feedback asking for more information on the candidate’s own contribution to specific activities and initiatives. This was very much at the forefront of my mind while I was writing my own portfolio, but I found it was impossible to talk about my own work without frequently referring to the work of a large number of colleagues and open education practitioners. So I just want to take a moment to acknowledge some of those who I’ve worked closely with over the last few years, and those whose scholarship and open practice has influenced and challenged me, many of whom are name checked in my portfolio. 

Javiera Atenas, Phil Barker, Frances Bell, Helen Beetham, Lucy Crompton-Reid, Catherine Cronin, Maren Deepwell, Charlie Farley, Josie Fraser, Leo Havemann, Melissa Highton, Karen Howie, Rajiv Jhangiani, Alan Levine, Ewan McAndrew, Neil McCormick, Nikki Moran, Gary Needham, Stuart Nicol, Tara Robertson, Jane Secker, Audrey Waters, Martin Weller, Joe Wilson.

Thank you. My Senior CMALT portfolio wouldn’t exist without you.

My Liminal Podcast: Open for good!

Earlier in the summer, way back at the end of June, I had the very great pleasure of joining Puiyin Wong on her fabulous My Liminal Podcast. We had a really engaging and wide ranging discussion covering open education, OER, digital labour, knowledge equity, Wikimedia in the classroom, and perhaps most importantly, cats!  You can listen to Puiyin’s My Liminal Podcast on anchor.fm and Spotify, and follow on twitter at @MyLiminalPod.

Adventures in Hybrid Conferencing

I’ve been to three hybrid conferences over the course of the last few months so I thought it might be interesting to write a bit of a reflection on my experience of being both a delegate and a speaker at these events, what worked, what didn’t, and what I learned in the process. 

OER22 Conference

The first event was the OER22 Conference run by ALT at the end of April. This conference marked a return to in-person events for ALT for the first time since the pandemic started, and I know that there was some understandable anxiety about bringing people together for a face-to-face event. The conference ran for three days; kicking off with a day of in-person talks and parallel sessions in London, followed by a day of recorded online talks, and finally a day of live online parallel sessions. About 80 people attended the in-person day of the conference, with around twice that number taking part online.  ALT have a wealth of experience when it comes to running both in-person and online conferences and, despite having a very small staff team, their events invariably run like clockwork.  As expected, ALT handled the logistics of bringing people back together with real sensitivity and empathy, with plenty of space at the venue so that people never felt crowded, and plenty of time in the programme for people to network and socialise.

For the online component of the conference ALT used the same suite of technologies that they’ve used for several previous online events, which includes Streamyard, YouTube and  Discord, all of which worked well. The programme was easily accessible and simple to navigate, and it was possible to move between sessions if you wanted to catch presentations that were taking place in parallel. I did have a bit of trouble getting into my own online presentation session, due to some technical weirdness, but ALT dealt with the hitch smoothly, and it didn’t detract from my experience as a presenter.  A Discord server provided a social space where delegates could share slides and resources, and meet and chat informally throughout the conference.  There was also a dedicated channel for help and support. I confess I was not enthusiastic when ALT first started using Discord as part of their online conference platform, primarily because it’s a channel I use a lot outside work, however I have to admit that it works really well and it really adds to the online conference experience.  I’ve written a longer reflection on the OER22 here: OER22 In Person & Online.

University of Edinburgh Learning & Teaching Conference

Like OER22, the University of Edinburgh’s internal Learning & Teaching Conference ran as a hybrid event after having run online for two years during the pandemic.  The first day of the event took place in the magnificent McEwan Hall and surrounding buildings, and consisted of an exhibition space, posters, keynotes and parallel sessions. The second and third days took place online and consisted of parallel tracks of online talks.  I don’t know how many people attended the conference but I’d guess maybe 60 – 80 people were present for the in-person day of the event.  The content of the conference was excellent, all the sessions I attended online and in person were really thoughtful and thought provoking.  The exhibition space in particular provided a great opportunity for colleagues to network and socialise after so long apart, and I appreciated that the breaks were long enough not to feel rushed.  

The conference platform was based on Eventscase and Zoom and this is where some problems crept in.  The platform could be accessed via the web, but we were also asked to download an app and a QR code to join the conference.  Normally I avoid loading work apps onto my personal devices, so I wasn’t mad keen on having to do this, however as it turned out, I didn’t need to use either the app or the QR code after downloading them. Navigating the programme on Eventscase was tricky; the schedule was available as a web page and in a calendar view, which also allowed delegates to book on to specific sessions.  However because the calendar view only showed sessions that had to be booked, you had to go back to the webpage to find information about keynotes and plenaries, so there was a bit of confusion about what was happening where and when during the first day.  Also while I appreciate the reasons for encouraging delegates to book onto online sessions, it didn’t seem to be possible to change sessions, to listen to different presentations running in parallel, even when there were still places available, which was more than a little frustrating.  Presenters had to book on to their own sessions in order to be able to present, but getting into the sessions wasn’t always straightforward, and in some cases session chairs had to e-mail speakers Zoom links instead.   The session chairs were unfailingly helpful though, as were all the conference helpers who directed delegates around the campus on the first day of the event. Although I really enjoyed the conference the Eventscase platform did feel unnecessarily complicated and at times seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help. 

ALT Scotland Annual Conference

The ALT Scotland Annual Conference was a much smaller event, which provided a really interesting opportunity to experiment with a different kind of hybrid conference; one where some participants attended online and some attended in-person simultaneously.  The event, which ran for one day, was hosted by City of Glasgow College, and brought together learning technologists and policy makers from across all sectors of Scottish education.  Again, I’m not sure exactly how many people attended, but I’d estimate there were c.20 people attending in person and perhaps the same number again online. The conference took place on the day of a national rail strike which meant that quite a lot of folk who had planned to attend in person, had to join online instead. The event was facilitated using Thinglink, Zoom, and a double screen and camera set up that had been donated to the college by a vendor whose name I didn’t catch. We had one person chairing the event in the room and another coordinating Zoom online.  The screens at the front of the room showed Zoom but unfortunately it was difficult to see the online discussion from where I was sitting.  Several of the attendees in the room also joined Zoom from their laptops so they could participate in the online chat with colleagues who were attending remotely.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get on to Eduroam so I wasn’t able to join the online interaction, and it did rather feel like I was missing out.  Several of the presenters joined remotely via Zoom which worked well for participants both online and in person.  I gave a short talk in-person, which was a bit of an odd experience.  Standing at the front of the room facing the camera meant that the screens were behind me, so I couldn’t help feeling like I’d turned my back on the online participants.  This also meant that I couldn’t see the Zoom chat which meant that some of the remote participants felt as though their questions were being ignored.  When I finished speaking, the camera stayed locked on to me and followed me all the way back to my seat, which was a little disconcerting! 

As a group of learning technologists, the conference gave us an excellent opportunity to experiment with the kind of technologies that might be used to facilitate hybrid teaching and learning, and we had a really interesting discussion at the end of the day about the pros, cons and practicalities of running hybrid events like this.  I think we all agreed that it’s not easy, and we need a lot more practice to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Joe Wilson, who chaired the event in-person commented that it would have been impossible to coordinate everything, online and in-person, without the help of Louise Jones who was managing Zoom.  Sheila MacNeill has written an interesting blog post about the ALT Scotland Conference, which includes some reflection on a questionable “attention tracking” feature of the conferencing system, which I hasten to add we didn’t experiment with during the event.

Reflection

In terms of my takeaways from these three quite different hybrid events I’d say that running conferences that have in-person and online components on different days is a good way to ensure that an event is accessible to as many people as possible.  I did really appreciate being able to get together with colleagues in person, and I wouldn’t want to lose that again, however there are many advantages to having an online component too.  Online events are generally more accessible, convenient, they reduce the necessity to travel and as a result they’re better for the environment.

In terms of the technology, simple is better. It’s often more convenient to have the conference programme available on a simple web page rather than in an interactive calendar that takes multiple clicks to navigate. Also requiring delegates to download apps onto their personal devices is not a good idea for numerous reasons. 

When it comes to running events online and in-person simultaneously, we still have a lot to learn. As is so often the case, it’s not necessarily the technology that trips us up, it’s the human interactions that really make a difference, and clearly we still need a lot of practice to ensure that simultaneous events provide an equitable experience for everyone involved. 

Open for Good – New brochures from the OER and Online Course Production Services

I’m very excited that the OER Service has a new brochure to celebrate 5 years of support for open education at the University of Edinburgh. Writing the text and gathering the images for this brochure has taken up a lot of my time over the last couple of months and I’m really pleased with the way at turned out, thanks to the fabulous design skills of Nicky Greenhorn from Information Services Group’s Graphic Design Service.

Open for Good: OER at the University of Edinburgh tells the story of five years of support for OER and open knowledge at the University of Edinburgh.  The brochure includes information about our award-winning open policies, our outreach activities, and our commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  It also features case studies of student engagement and OER in the curriculum from across the University, along with a timeline of significant open education developments and events.

We worked alongside our Online Course Production Service, who also produced their own brochure: 

Short Online Courses unpacks our open course development process from a learning design perspective, covering our commitment to accessibility, continuing professional development, and learner-centred approaches to online learning. The brochure highlights our partnerships with Coursera, EdX and Futurelearn, and provides access to a wealth of online courses, and free resources, including open course production templates and Creative Commons licensed media.

Both brochures showcase open licensed images from the University’s unique archives and collections, and feature forewords by Dr Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal and Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services, along with testimonials from our staff and students. 

We’re planning to make online versions of both brochures available to browse and download shortly.  If you would like printed copies in the meantime, please e-mail open.ed@ed.ac.uk or course-production-team@ed.ac.uk.

OER22 In Person & Online

Last week I was at the OER22 Conference, and I was actually at the conference because for the first time in two years the OER Conference was in person and online.  OER22 was a hybrid conference in every sense of the word; the first day took place in London, the second day featured recorded online presentations, and the final day was live sessions online.  The event was organised seamlessly by ALT and chaired by the GO-GN Network.  The opening day of the conference in London was the first opportunity many of the OER community had to get together in person since the OER19 Conference in Galway, so it was understandably an emotional experience and a little overwhelming.  ALT handled the logistics of bringing people back together with real sensitivity and empathy, with plenty of space at the venue so that people never felt crowded, and plenty of time in the programme for people to network and socialise. 

Sketch of a cartoon penguin in blue pen against a white and blue backgroundBryan Mathers opened the conference with a thoughtful and humorous illustrated talk that gave us all a much needed opportunity to ease our way back into in-person conferencing.  It culminated with everyone drawing their own version of the GO-GN penguin and sharing them in the fabulous Visual Thinkery ReMixer.  Bryan set the tone for the conference perfectly and I think the little drawing exercise helped everyone overcome any residual anxiety they may have had about participating in an in person event.  Everyone said my penguin looked scary, but honestly he’s just a bit shy. 

The themes of the conference were; Pedagogy in a time of crisis – what does an ‘open’ response look like? Open textbooks: making the most of their potential; Open in Action: open teaching, educational practices and resources; and Open research around any aspect of open education. 

I took part in two panels, the first with Jane Secker, Catherine Cronin, Leo Havemann and Julie Voce focused on the approaches adopted by our various institutions and projects to support and develop open educational practices. These include teaching a module on open practices as part of a Masters in Academic Practice, creating open education and copyright literacy policies that signify institutional commitment to open practices, modelling open approaches in sharing our own teaching and learning resources, and advocacy work with organisations at a local, national and international level, to promote better understanding of open practice and copyright literacy.  I spoke about how the University of Edinburgh’s OER Policy, supported by the OER Service, enabled and encouraged open practice across the institution, and the importance of supporting digital skills development around copyright literacy.  Slides from the panel are available here: Open in Action

Image by Jane Secker on Twitter.

I was also invited to take part in a plenary panel discussion on open textbooks along with Gary Elliot-Cirigottis (Open University), Dhara Snowden (UCL Press), and Jane Secker (City University London), chaired by Beck Pitt (Open University) who was previously involved in the UK Open Textbooks project. Our institutions all had very different experiences of supporting and engaging with the use and creation of open textbooks so it made for an interesting and wide ranging discussion, covering how open resources enabled institutions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the pandemic on the cost of resources, the role of open textbooks and our vision for OER in UK HEIs.  A recording of the plenary panel will be available shortly.

Image by Josie Fraser on Twitter.

I also attended a couple of other interesting sessions on open textbooks including Catrina Hey talking about the University of Sussex’s Open Press which is based on Pressbooks and informed by NUI Galway’s Open Press and the Jisc’s New University Press Toolkit.  I also really enjoyed hearing about the Open Pedagogy Project Roadmap: A Resource for Planning and Sustaining Open Educational Practices at Penn State University from Bryan McGeary and Christina Riehman-Murphy.  Their examples of student co-created open textbooks (e.g. Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature.) were really inspiring and gave me some ideas for initiatives we could explore at the University of Edinburgh.  

Other highlights for me included Javiera Atenas talking about the importance of professional conversation as a fundamental aspect of open practice during her presentation about creative project design for open education practitioners.  Slides from this session are available here: Creative Project Design.   There was also some really lively and thought provoking discussion around what open technology platforms do with your data during Javiera and Leo’s session on Co-creating a framework for platform governance in open education – policy, data ethics and data protection.  Leo and Javiera made the point that it isn’t enough for platforms, technologies and textbooks to be free, they must also resist surveillance and other forms of intrusion. Josie Fraser raised a pertinent counter point that this has to be balanced against benefit, noting that some school children had no contact with their teachers at all during the pandemic as some schools adopted an overly cautious approach to online conferencing platforms due to fears over how they store and use data.  

On the last day of the conference, I gave an online presentation on our Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education project.  Along with our student interns, we gave a talk about the early stages of this project last year at OER21, so this year I was back to reflect on the project outputs and what we learned along the way.  Unusually, we had all kinds of technical gremlins during the session, which Maren dealt with in her own calm and professional manner.  We got there in the end and I was really touched with the positive comments on this student co-creation project. Slides and transcript of this talk are available on our project blog. 

Sadly I had to miss a lot of day 2 and 3 of the conference due to juggling meetings and other work commitments, but I did enjoy catching up with discussions and resources on the conference Discord, and I’m looking forward to dipping in to the recorded sessions.

One final reflection more generally…Given that one of themes of OER22 was open textbooks, it was perhaps understandable that over the course of the conference the term OER was often used to refer specifically to open textbooks. I still had to do a bit of mental adjustment as I tend to think of OER as being a much wider class of thing, with open textbooks being just one form of open educational resources among many.  While I’m really exited about the possibility of open textbooks taking off in the UK, particularly if they are co-created and founded on open practice, I am a little concerned that we might lose sight of the broader understanding of OER.  Over the last few months I’ve seen a few think pieces and comments about the crisis in etextbook costs, which suggest that there has been little adoption of OER in the UK.  While it’s true that there has been less adoption of open textbooks by academic libraries in the UK than in the US, (though this is changing rapidly), there has of course been considerable engagement with open education resources and practices supported by learning technologists across the sector.  With more and more institutions launching open presses and libraries exploring the affordances of open textbooks, I hope they’ll work together with learning technologists, open education practitioners, and academic colleagues who have a wealth of experience of supporting and engaging with open education resources and practices of all kinds. Otherwise we may run the risk of recreating OER repositories the wheel. 

Being among the OER community again, among good friends and colleagues, was a much needed breath of fresh air.  It really made me appreciate the hope that co-chairs Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz left us with at the end of OER19 in Galway, and how much it sustained us through the last two years. 

Open Education and OER in the Curriculum

Principles of Open Education and OER 

This blog post was originally posted on the University of Edinburgh’s Curriculum Transformation Hub.

The principles of open education were initially outlined in the 2008 Cape Town Declaration [1], which advocates that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, and redistribute educational resources without constraint, to nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need. 

Broadly speaking, open education encompasses teaching techniques and academic practices that draw on open technologies, pedagogical approaches and open educational resources (OER) to facilitate collaborative and flexible learning. This may involve both teachers and learners engaging in the co-creation of learning experiences, participating in online peer communities, using, creating and sharing open educational resources (OER) and open knowledge, sharing experiences and professional practice, and engaging with interdisciplinarity and open scholarship. 

Although open education can encompass many different approaches, open educational resources, or OER, are central to this domain. The UNESCO Recommendation on OER [2] defines open educational resources as 

 “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.” 

Open Education and OER at the University of Edinburgh 

At the University of Edinburgh, we believe that open education and OER, are fully in keeping with our institutional vision, purpose and values, to discover knowledge and make the world a better place, while ensuring that our teaching and research is diverse, inclusive, accessible to all and relevant to society.   In line with the UNESCO Recommendation on OER, we also believe that OER and open knowledge are critical to achieving the aims of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [3].   

To support open education and the creation and use of OER, the University has an Open Educational Resources Policy [4], approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, expand provision of learning opportunities, and enrich our shared knowledge commons.  We also have a central OER Service [5], based in Information Services Group, that provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER, engaging with open education and developing digital and copyright literacy skills.  Understanding authorship, copyright, and licensing is increasingly important at a time when both staff and students are actively engaged in co-creating digital resources and open knowledge.    

Benefits and Risks of Openness  

Open education approaches, such as collaborative flexible learning and co-creation of learning experiences, can be beneficial in many different contexts, but they are particularly well suited to hybrid teaching and learning, where no separation is made between digital and on campus student cohorts, and students are brought together by the way teaching is designed, enabling them to move between digital and classroom-based learning activities. 

Engaging with open education, OER and open knowledge through curriculum assignments can help to develop a wide range of core disciplinary competencies and transferable attributes including: 

  • Digital, data and copyright literacy skills, 
  • Understanding how knowledge and information is created shared and contested online, 
  • Collaborative working and collective knowledge creation, 
  • Information synthesis, 
  • Critical thinking and source evaluation, 
  • Writing as public outreach.  

However, it’s also important to consider the risks of openness, as any understanding of openness is highly personal, contextualised and continually negotiated. We all experience openness from different perspectives, depending on different intersecting factors of power, privilege, inclusion and exclusion.  

In his 5Rs for Open Pedagogy [6] Rajiv Jhangiani identifies Risk as being one of his values for Open Pedagogy. 

“Open pedagogy involves vulnerabilities and risks that are not distributed evenly and that should not be ignored or glossed over. These risks are substantially higher for women, students and scholars of colour, precarious faculty, and many other groups and voices that are marginalized by the academy.” 

Many systemic barriers and structural inequalities exist in open spaces and communities; open does not necessarily mean accessible to all.  When engaging with open education, we need to be aware of our own privilege and be sensitive to those who may experience openness differently, and we need to address the systemic barriers and structural inequalities that may prevent others from engaging with open education and to enable everyone to participate equitably, and on their own terms. 

The University has an invaluable Digital Safety and Citizenship Web Hub [7], that offers comprehensive information and resources on a range of digital safety and citizenship-related issues, including training and events, and advice on being an informed digital citizen.   

If we’re sensitive to these risks and inequities and work to mitigate them, integrating open education and OER into the curriculum can bring significant benefits, including building networks, relationships and communities, fostering agency and empowerment, developing strong societal values and an appreciation of equity, intersectionality and social justice. 

Open Education in the Curriculum 

Wikimedia in the Curriculum 

One way to engage with open education and the creation of open knowledge is by contributing to Wikipedia, the world’s biggest open educational resource and the gateway through which millions of people seek access to knowledge.  Working together with the University’s Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, colleagues from a number of schools and colleges have integrated Wikipedia and Wikidata editing assignments into their courses.  Editing Wikipedia provides valuable opportunities for students to develop their digital research and communication skills, and enables them to contribute to the creation and dissemination of open knowledge. Writing articles that will be publicly accessible and live on after the end of their assignment has proved to be highly motivating for students, and provides an incentive for them to think more deeply about their research. It encourages them to ensure they are synthesising all the reliable information available, and to think about how they can communicate their scholarship to a general audience. Students can see that their contribution will benefit the huge audience that consults Wikipedia, plugging gaps in coverage, and bringing to light hidden histories, significant figures, and important concepts and ideas. This makes for a valuable and inspiring teaching and learning experience, that enhances the digital literacy, research and communication skills of both staff and students. 

Talking about a Wikipedia assignment that focused on improving articles on Islamic art, science and the occult, Dr Glaire Andersen, from Edinburgh College of Art commented 

“In a year that brought pervasive systemic injustices into stark relief, our experiment in applying our knowledge outside the classroom gave us a sense that we were creating something positive, something that mattered. As one student commented, “Really love the Wikipedia project. It feels like my knowledge is actually making a difference in the wider world, if in a small way.”   

Other examples include Global Health Challenges postgraduates collaborating to improve Wikipedia articles on natural or manmade disasters. History students re-examining the legacy of Scotland’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and presenting a more positive view of black British history. Digital Education Masters students collaborating to publish a new entry on Information Literacies. And Reproductive Biology Honours students work in groups to publish new articles on reproductive biomedical terms. 

Wikimedia in the Classroom assignment, Aine Kavanagh, Reproductive Biology, by Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence, University of Edinburgh, CC BY SA.

Our Wikimedian in Residence provides a free central service to all staff and students across the University, further information including testimonies from staff and students who have taken part in Wikimedia in the Curriculum assignments is available here: Wikimedian in Residence. 

Open Education and Co-creation – GeoScience Outreach 

Another important benefit of open education is that it helps to facilitate the co-creation of knowledge and understanding.  Co-creation can be described as student led collaborative initiatives, often developed in partnership with teachers or other bodies outwith the institution, that lead to the development of shared outputs.  A key feature of co-creation is that is must be based on equal partnerships between teachers and students and “relationships that foster respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility”[8]. 

One successful example of open education and co-creation in the curriculum is the Geosciences Outreach Course, which provides students with an opportunity to work with a wide range of clients including schools, museums, outdoor centres, and community groups, to design and deliver resources for STEM engagement. Students may work on project ideas suggested by the client, but they are also encouraged to develop their own ideas.  This provides students with the opportunity to work in new and challenging environments, acquiring a range of transferable skills that enhance their employability. They gain experience of science outreach, public engagement, teaching and learning, and knowledge transfer while at the same time developing communication, project and time management skills.  

A key element of the course is to develop resources with a legacy that can be reused by other communities and organisations. Open Content Curation student Interns employed by the University’s OER Service repurpose these materials to create open educational resources aligned to the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, which are shared online through Open.Ed and TES Resources [9] where they can be found and reused by school teachers and learners.  These OERs, co-created by our students, have been downloaded over 58,000 times and the collection was recently awarded Open Education Global’s Open Curation Award [10].  

Open Education Awards for Excellence: Open Curation / Repository – University of Edinburgh by Stephanie (Charlie) Farley, CC BY SA. 

OER Assignments – Digital Futures for Learning 

OER creation assignments are also incorporated into the Digital Futures for Learning module, part of the MSc in Digital Education, where students create open resource that critically evaluate the implications of educational trends, such as the future of writing, complexity in education, and radical digital literacy.  Creating genuinely open resources that are usable and reusable requires careful attention to issues such as accessibility, structure, audience, and licensing. The students need to critically consider and apply their learning, and in doing so are able to create practical re-usable resources, while demonstrating a range of transferable skills and competencies.  

Commenting on this OER creation assignment, course leader Dr Jen Ross said 

“Experiencing first-hand what it means to engage in open educational practice gives student an appetite to learn and think more.  The creation of OERs provides a platform for students to share their learning. In this way, these assignments can have ongoing, tangible value for students and for the people who encounter their work.” [11] 

Reusing and Repurposing OER 

Reusing and customising existing open educational resources can help to diversify and expand the pool of teaching and learning resources available to staff and students. 

LGBT+ Resources for Medical Education 

In 2016 undergraduate medical students developed a suite of resources covering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual health. Although knowledge of LGBT+ health and of the sensitivities needed to treat LGBT patients are valuable skills for qualifying doctors, these issues are not well-covered in the medical curricula. This project remixed and repurposed resources originally created by Case Western Reserve University, and then contributed them back to the commons as OER. New open resources including digital stories recorded from patient interviews and resources for Secondary School children, were also created and released as OER. In a recent blog post on Teaching Matters [12], Dr. Jeni Harden, Senior Lecturer in Social Science and Health, reflected on how these resources have contributed to the medicine curriculum over the past five years. 

Fundamentals of Music Theory 

Fundamentals of Music Theory [13] is an open textbook co-created by staff and students from the Reid School of Music with support from the University’s OER Service.  This Student Experience Grant funded collaborative project [14] repurposed existing open licensed MOOC content and blended-learning course materials to co-create a proof-of-concept open textbook. The project enabled our student partners to develop digital and copyright literacy skills, an understanding of OER and open textbooks, familiarity with ebook applications, and experience of working with educational media and content. Their input enhanced the original teaching materials and brought about further teaching and learning enhancement. Open textbooks have the potential to benefit universities in the post-pandemic world by reducing textbook costs, benefit staff by providing access to easily customisable open textbooks, and benefit students by providing free, high quality digital learning materials. Furthermore, open textbooks and OER have the potential to facilitate the democratic reshaping of teaching materials through student engagement and co-creation. 

Further Information  

These are just some examples of ways that open education and OER have already been integrated into the curriculum here at the University of Edinburgh.  They demonstrate how valuable co-creating open knowledge and open educational resources through curriculum assignments can be to help students develop essential digital skills, core competencies and transferable attributes, and enable our learners to become fully engaged digital citizens. 

For further information about open education and OER please visit the University’s OER Service at Open.Ed or e-mail us at open.ed@ed.ac.uk.  

References 

  1. Capetown Open Education Declaration https://www.capetowndeclaration.org/read/
  2. UNESCO, (2019), Recommendation on Open Educational Resources, http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=49556&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
  3. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals https://sdgs.un.org/goals
  4. University of Edinburgh Open Educational Resources Policy, https://www.ed.ac.uk/files/atoms/files/openeducationalresourcespolicy.pdf
  5. OER Service, https://open.ed.ac.uk/
  6. Jhangiani, R, (2019), 5Rs for Open Pedagogy, Rajiv Jhangiani, Ph.D. Blog, https://thatpsychprof.com/5rs-for-open-pedagogy/
  7. Digital Safety and Citizenship Web Hub, https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/help-consultancy/is-skills/digital-safety-and-citizenship
  8. Lubicz-Nawrocka, T., (2019), An introduction to student and staff co-creation of the curriculum, Teaching Matters Blog, https://www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk/an-introduction-to-student-and-staff-co-creation-of-the-curriculum/
  9. University of Edinburgh Open.Ed Hub, TES Resources, https://www.tes.com/teaching-resources/shop/OpenEd
  10. OE Awards for Excellence https://awards.oeglobal.org/awards/2021/open-curation/open-ed-collection-of-geoscience-outreach-oers-and-more-on-tes/
  11. Ross, J., (2019), Digital Futures for Learning: An OER assignment, Open.Ed Blog, https://open.ed.ac.uk/digital-futures-for-learning-an-oer-assignment/
  12. Farley, S. and Harden, J., (2021), Five years on: The LGBT+ Healthcare 101 OER, Teaching Matters Blog, https://www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk/five-years-on-the-lgbt-healthcare-101-oer/
  13. Edwards, M., Kitchen, J., Moran, N., Moir, Z., and Worth, R., (2021), Fundamentals of Music Theory, Edinburgh Diamond, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2218/ED.9781912669226
  14. Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education Project, https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/opentextbooks/

The Penguin and the Piper: Telling a different story

This post was originally posted on the Open.Ed blog

Today is Word Penguin Day so I took the opportunity to share some of my all time favourite open licensed images from the University’s collections on twitter; the famous pictures of the piper and the penguin.

These images were taken during the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition led by William Speirs Bruce in 1902 – 1904, and they are preserved among the papers of Spiers Bruce in the University’s collections.  One of these images had its own 15 minutes of fame several years ago after it was added to the Wikipedia article about the expedition and a twitter user noted dryly….

I also happen to use one of these images in my slides when I talk about the University OER Service as it’s a great way to promote the University’s open licensed image collections and a fun way to illustrate that the OER Service is composed of about one and a half people!

However these pictures also tell a different story. When I tweeted them, Malcolm Brown from the University’s Digital Imaging Unit contacted me to point out that the penguin is actually tethered to the spot with a rope tied around its legs.  The rope can’t be seen in most of the low resolution images shared on the web under open licence but it is visible in the high resolution scans.  Suddenly these fun images start to look rather cruel.

Image of piper and penguin in the Antarctic with rope visible. Image of penguin with rope visible around legs

This raises an important question about the ethics of sharing and reusing open licensed historical content.  As more museums, galleries and institutions open up their collections, all kinds of images that we might now regard as questionable at best or offensive at worst, are released into the public domain or shared under open licence. While I believe that it’s vitally important that public heritage collections are freely and openly available to the public, it’s equally important that we view these collections through a critical lens and that we consider the ethical implications of the historical images we share and reuse.

Obviously we don’t know what happened to the penguin in these pictures.  I hope it was released and was none the worse for its unexpected moment in the spotlight.  Learning more about this famous image has certainly made me think about how I use this picture myself, and whether I want to continue using it.  Perhaps now would be a good time to have another look through our image collections to see if I can find a different open licensed image to use on my slides.

2021 – Finding a way

At the end of each year, I used to write a round up of significant work and life events over the previous 12 months.  That didn’t happen last year.  Just getting to the end of the year felt like an achievement.  That was enough.  I’ve kept this blog ticking over for the last year, though I’ve written fewer posts here than in previous years.  It’s partly that I’ve been blogging elsewhere, on the OpenEd, Teaching Matters, and Open Textbooks blogs. But it’s also a question of bandwidth; surviving in the midst of a global pandemic, and taking care of those around you, be they family, friends, or work colleagues, takes up a lot of emotional energy, so there often wasn’t much energy left over to reflect on what I was actually doing.  I’m still committed to using this blog to share my practice though, so I want to end the year on a hopeful note with a blog post about all the things I’ve done that I didn’t manage to write about at the time, or that I only touched on in passing. 

Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education

Fundamentals of Music Theory open textbook coverAt the start of the year I was awarded a University of Edinburgh Student Experience Grant, and together with Dr Nikki Moran and three brilliant student interns from the Reid School of Music, we undertook an experimental project to repurpose open resources from an existing MOOC and on-campus course to create a prototype open textbook, Fundamentals of Music Theory.  Working with Nikki and the students was a delight and we learned a lot about different publishing platforms and the process of editing and creating ebooks in different formats. My InDesign skills are basic at best, but my old HTML skills came in very handy!  We gave a talk about the project at the OERxDomains Conference, The Scale of Open: Repurposing Open Resources for Music Education, and it was great to receive such positive feedback on the importance of working together with students on projects like this. In his final reflection on the project our intern Ifeanyichukwu Ezinmadu wrote;

“This project has got me inspired towards creating an independent OER project in music theory based on the ABRSM theory syllabus. To achieve this new goal of mine, I look forward to deploying skills developed on this project such as collaboration, research, design thinking, and other technical skills. I will dearly miss the entire team that has made this Project a possibility – Lorna, Charlie, Nikki, Kari, and Ana – and I look forward to engaging with other opportunities within and beyond the University of Edinburgh to learn and contribute meaningfully towards music education projects.”

You can read more about the project on our blog here: Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education, and download our open textbook here: Fundamentals of Music Theory.

Learn Ultra Base Navigation Upgrade

Another project I was involved in earlier this year was the Learn Ultra Base Navigation Upgrade project, which investigated the implications and feasibility of upgrading to UBN in advance of a full upgrade to Learn Ultra.  I’m not usually directly involved in supporting and delivering our Learn VLE service, but we were short handed so I was drafted in to do some of the project management. Although it was a bit of a steep learning curve for me, it was a really good opportunity to connect with colleagues who maintain and support the Learn Service and the Learn Foundations project, and it was interesting to have a preview of UBN and the functionality it provides. 

OER Policy update

On more familiar territory, I enjoyed working with our Education Technology Policy officer Neil McCormick to review and revise the University of Edinburgh’s OER Policy.  The University’s original policy was approved in 2015 and five years later, in September this year, our new policy was approved by Education Committee.  This new policy, which has adopted UNESCO’s definition of OER, strengthens the University’s commitment to open knowledge and achieving the aims of the Agenda for Sustainable Development.  You can read about the new OER Policy on Teaching Matters here: A new OER Policy for the University, and access the policy itself here: University of Edinburgh OER Policy

Open Education Global Awards

The OER Policy is just one of a sweet of open policies for teaching and learning that the University shares under Creative Commons licence, and we were delighted when these policies were awarded Open Education Global’s Open Policy Award as part of their 2021 Awards for Excellence.  Edinburgh rather swept the boards at the awards, also winning the Open Curation Award for our collection of OERs on TES Resources, co-created by GeoScience Outreach undergraduates and our fabulous Open Content Curation interns.  Melissa Highton won the Open Leadership Award, and Wikimedia intern Hannah Rothman won the Open Student Award.  We didn’t win the Open Resilience Award, but Charlie and I made a very cool video for our entry so I’m sharing it here anyway 🙂

ALT, Wikimedia UK, Creative Commons

I’ve continued serving as a trustee for ALT and Wikimedia UK and it’s always an honour to give something back to both these organisations, given their ongoing commitment to  openness, equity, community engagement and knowledge activism. This year I was privileged to sit on the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Awards panel, which is always an inspiring experience, and the recruitment panel for the new ALT CIO. I also stepped briefly into the role of interim Chair of Board for Wikimedia UK, when Nick Poole’s term came to an end and before our new chair Monisha Shah took up the role.  With my Wikimedia UK hat on, I contributed to the Creative Commons working group on the ethics of open sharing, chaired by Josie Fraser.  You can read the outputs and recommendations of this working group here: Beyond Copyright: the Ethics of Open Sharing.

Knowledge Activism

I made my own small contribution to knowledge activism at the beginning of the year, when the University’s Disabled Staff Network and Staff Pride Network decided to run an editathon for LGBT History Month, I suggested HIV and AIDS activism in Scotland as a topic. As a result of the HIV Scotland Editathon, six new articles were created and several others improved, making a significant contribution to representing the history of HIV and AIDS activism in Scotland on Wikipedia.  I created a new article about Scottish AIDS Monitor and I also wrote and article about Jill Nalder, the Welsh actress who inspired the character of Jill in Russel T. Davis’ drama Its a Sin. Later in the year, Gary Needham invited me to present a webinar on Knowledge Activism: Representing the History of HIV and AIDS activism on Wikipedia for the University of Liverpool’s School of the Arts.  Gary and I have a formative shared queer history that goes back many years, so it really meant a lot to me to be able to speak to him and his colleagues about the challenges of representing queer lives and experiences in this way. 

A different kind of knowledge activism was provoked by the BBC drama series Vigil, which opened with distressing scenes of a fishing trawler being sunk by a nuclear submarine off the West Coast of Scotland.  I certainly wasn’t the only one who noted similarities to the sinking of the fishing vessel Antares by hunter killer submarine HMS Trenchant off Arran in 1990, despite the BBC denying that the incident was based on any specific real life event.  At the time, there was no Wikipedia entry about the sinking of the Antares and HMS Trenchant‘s entry made only a veiled reference to the incident, so I fixed that.  It’s important that we remember tragedies like this and equally important that we remember who was responsible. 

And while we’re on the subject of activism and loss of life at sea, please consider supporting the Royal National Lifeboat Institution if you can.  Their volunteers risk their own lives to save those who find themselves in peril at sea, and they are facing increasing hostility and abuse for their selfless courage and humanity. 

COP26

Activism of a different kind was going on all over Glasgow in November to coincide with COP26.  I can’t say I’m hugely optimistic about the outcomes of the conference or the will of global leaders and developed nations to enact meaningful change to halt the climate crisis, however it was hugely inspiring to hear the voices of so many young indigenous community activists.  These are the radical voices we need to listen to and make space for.  Also kudos to my daughter for snapping what surely has to be the most accurate photograph of the conference and the crisis we face, when we joined the climate march through Glasgow on 7 November. 

COP26 Climate Crisis March, Glasgow, CC BY NC SA, Rhuna McCartney

Open Scotland

Another area where we’ve made less progress than I would have hoped is with Open Scotland.  As a purely voluntary initiative Open Scotland hasn’t been particularly active for a number of years now, but many of those involved are still supporting open education, open practice and OER through other initiatives and activities. We remain committed to the aims of the Scottish Open Education Declaration and we haven’t given up hope that one day, the Scottish Government will wake up to the benefits and affordances of sharing publicly funded educational resources under open licence.  In March this year, with support from Creative Commons, we made another attempt at engaging the Cabinet Secretary for Education with the the UNESCO Recommendation on OER and the Scottish Open Education Declaration, but again we were disappointed to receive a generic response from a civil servant.  At a time when inclusive and equitable access to quality education and lifelong learning opportunities has never been more important, Scottish Government’s continued failure to engage with open education and OER is disappointing to say the least. 

Hello Helo

On a more positive note, we got a new kitten this year.  This is Helo and he behaves more like a puppy than a cat.  He’s very cute, but he’s also an absolute menace.  My two long suffering adult cats are getting no peace. 

Helo, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

Home

I got home to the Hebrides in the summer for the first time in two years.  It was a joy to see family again and when I finally got to the beach (yes, that beach) I felt like I could breath again for the first time in months.

Traigh na Berie, Isle of Lewis, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

Hope

In what has been a difficult and challenging year on many levels, I’ve been privileged to continue working with so many kind, compassionate, fierce and committed open education practitioners and open knowledge advocates.  You give me hope. 

It seems fitting to end with a quote from the late, great bell hooks, whose courage and clarity touched so many and whose words provide hope for us all.

“My hope emerges from those places of struggle where I witness individuals positively transforming their lives and the world around them. Educating is a vocation rooted in hopefulness. As teachers we believe that learning is possible, that nothing can keep an open mind from seeking after knowledge and finding a way to know.”

~ bell hooks (1952 – 2021)