The Benefits of Open Education and OER

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

What is open education?

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

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

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

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

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23 Things: Thing 13 Video

So here’s a thing…. (thing…get it?) …. although I consume as much online video as the next person I don’t actually produce a great deal, though there are plenty of embarrassing videos of me on YouTube from various conferences and events. Recently however I did have to produce a couple of videos.  The first was this video for the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Community Choice Awards earlier this autumn.  Although our media production colleagues here at the University did an excellent job of producing the video and stitching the content together, recording the film was a bit of a faff to say the least. Due to tight deadlines and people disappearing for summer vacations, Stuart Nicol and I ended up filming the clip ourselves using a camera balanced precariously on a stool on top of a table. We may have forgotten to turn the microphone on during the first take and we lost another take due to hopeless laughter.  Anyway, it was a bit of a hassle, so it’s no wonder we look a bit rabbit-in-the-headlights in the film :}

Fast forward a couple of months and I was asked to present a guest lecture for the University’s Introduction to Online Distance Learning course.  Because I was on leave in the Outer Hebrides the week I was scheduled to talk I offered to record my lecture instead.  This time I used MediaHopper, the University’s Kaltura based media management platform, to record my talk and I have to say I was very impressed.  Once I’d created my slides I was able to record my lecture on my own laptop which was incredibly convenient for me as I have to work from home two days a week owing to childcare responsibilities.  Everything worked perfectly and although it took over half-an-hour to upload the video file from my cranky home network, I was able to get the whole recording done and dusted in a few hours.  Sorted!  Unfortunately the MediaHopper embed code isn’t quite as effective and my slides don’t render properly when I embed the video in WordPress, however you can see the lecture complete with slides here: Open Education and Co-Creation.  And because it’s CC BY licensed you’re welcome to download and reuse it too 🙂

23 Things: Thing 11 & 12 Copyright and OER

First of all a confession – I can get quite emotional about copyright and licensing :’} So emotional in fact that Jane Secker’s ALT Conference keynote Copyright and e-learning: understanding our privileges and freedoms  actually brought a wee tear to my eye.  You might think I’m making this up but it’s true, and the reason why is that copyright and licensing is ultimately about rights and freedoms and, at this point in time more than ever, what could be more important and fundamental than that?

One of the things that fascinates me about copyright is that people often hold contradictory views on it at the same time.  On the one hand there is a nebulous fear of copyright founded on the assumption that both copyright and licenses are preventative and punitive and that getting it wrong will call down the wrath of lawyers. On the other hand there’s a general assumption that anything that’s out there on the internet can be reused without permission, because if you weren’t happy with your stuff being reused you wouldn’t put it online in the first place, right?

Encouraging colleagues to engage with copyright is no easy task, it’s seen as dry and dull and vaguely threatening. However engaging colleagues with open education resources (OER) is a great way to raise awareness of both copyright an licensing.  Learning about OER can help colleagues to think about their own rights and to consider how to express, in unambiguous terms, what they will or will not allow people to do with content that have created.

The beauty of Creative Commons licenses is that they are designed to enable reuse, rather than prevent it. Admittedly CC licences are not perfect, the Non-Commercial clause is widely regarded as being particularly problematic but it’s no exaggeration to say that they have played a fundamental role in facilitating the development of open education and OER. Creative Commons licenses are now so integral to my work that I can’t imagine life without them and I can’t think of copyright without also thinking of Creative Commons.

So the task for Thing 11 & 12 is to find two CC licensed resources and then find or create an OER, so in the best traditions of Blue Peter – here’s one I prepared earlier! Two CC licensed images from flickr and the open education resource I used them in – a guest lecture for the University of Edinburgh’s Introduction to Online distance Learning Course.

Free Speech Zone by Caitlyn_and_Kara CC BY 2.0

Free Speech Zone by Caitlyn_and_Kara CC BY 2.0

Free Hugs

Gratis by Abrazo Dan CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

23 Things: Thing 9 Google Hangouts / Collaborate Ultra

I am woefully behind with 23 Things owing to work and annual leave so I’m going to try and catch up with a few quick and dirty posts.

Thing 9 is Google Hangouts and Collaborate Ultra and I did actually manage to dial into the live sessions Charlie ran a couple of weeks ago which were a lot of fun. I’ve worked remotely in one way or another for most of my career in ed tech, either working from home, working for distributed organisations, or working on projects with multiple international parters, so I’ve lost count of the number of remote collaboration tools I’ve used over the years.  Here’s a brief run down of the way I use some of the current crop of tools.


Still my favourite for one to one calls and personal conversations. I use Skype routinely on both my laptop and my phone and would be lost without it. I tend to use Skype for audio calls, text chat and transferring documents and images, it’s not often I make video calls.  The downside of Skype is that it’s still flakey with more than a few people, so I tend not to rely on it if there are more than about four people on a call. Also the way Skype updates its interface and randomly hides features is annoying as hell.

Google Hangouts

I can’t say I was impressed with Google hangouts in the early days.  I remember having a call with a Google project manager in the US not long after hangouts were launched and they insisted on using a telephone conference line rather than a hangout, which kinda spoke volumes. Initially I found them really flakey and in my experience there are often problems with scheduling and people getting into hangouts.   Having said that, things have improved, the interface is nice and clean, and once you’re in I find that hangouts are pretty robust. You can only have up to 10 people actively participating in a video hangout which is an obvious limiting factor, though you can have a much larger number listening in.  One nice feature is that you can stream hangouts directly on to Youtube which makes them a useful broadcasting tool. Here’s a link to an ALT Community Call which essentially involved Martin Hawksey interviewing me in a hangout and streaming it directly on to Youtube. So I tend to find hangouts are useful for project meetings, small committees, and broadcast interviews.  Also filters and ponies.

Google Hangout interface

Susan Greig channelling her inner Elsa in a Google Hangout

Google Hangouts with ponies

Not many collaboration tools offer ponies as standard

Collaborate Ultra

I’ve been using various incarnations of this tool since the dawn of time and it’s never been exactly user friendly.  Anyone else remember the days of having to install Java before you could run the damn thing? No, not that version of Java, this version of Java. *sigh*  However there’s no denying that Collaborate is very useful indeed for more formal online collaboration, particularly webinars and online lectures, which may have a large audience.  In my experience you need at least two people to run a successful Collaborate webinar, one doing the talking and one watching the chat window, and if you’ve got someone else acting as administrator then that’s even better. Of course to use Collaborate Ultra you need a subscription, but if you have access, it’s a very useful tool indeed.

Collaborate Ultra interface

Collaborate Ultra – no ponies


23 Things: Thing 8 Facebook

Thing 8 is Facebook and here is a cautionary tale….

I have not been a Facebook user for a couple of years now, but that is more by accident than design.  I first started using Facebook in 2007, primarily to chat with work colleagues outside work and to keep in touch with various friends and family.  I used it fairly consistently over the next seven years, though to be honest it was really starting to annoy me. In addition to Facebook’s high handed attitude to privacy I found the targeted advertising intrusive, sexist, and annoying.  (No Facebook, for the millionth time, I do not want to loose weight or go on a diet. Please fuck off.)

Anyway, in 2013 I was made redundant by the University of Strathclyde where I had worked for sixteen years.  My entire online identify was tied up with an institutional e-mail address which I was told would be deleted 3 months after my contract was terminated. Needless to say, untangling all my accounts and subscriptions from my Strathclyde e-mail address was a significant task, but I did it, and I now use a non-academic e-mail address to subscribe to my social media accounts. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.

A couple of years later the hard disk on my mac and my iphone died within a couple of weeks of each other and when I replaced them and went to log back into Facebook I discovered that not only had I forgotten my password (yeah, go on, laugh) my account was also still associated with my Strathclyde address which had long since been deleted.  That meant that I couldn’t get my password reset and I was locked out of my account.  Needless to say I was pretty pissed off, but really I had no one to blame but myself.  I did eventually discover that there is a way to reset your account by passing keys back and forth to nominated friends but I never quite got round to requesting the keys to be sent and, before long, I realised that I didn’t actually miss Facebook at all. I quite happily washed my hands of it and moved on.

Since then I have actually remembered my password (you’re still laughing, aren’t you?) but I haven’t reactivated my account because I don’t miss it, I don’t want it, and I certainly don’t want it associated with the social media accounts I do actually use.  I suppose I should really just go and salvage anything that’s worth keeping and then delete the whole account but somehow I never seem to get round to doing that.

I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from this cautionary tale :}

Facebook timeline

23 Things: Thing 7 Twitter

I first signed up for twitter in April 2007 and I’ve been tweeting pretty much continually ever since; over 23,000 tweets and counting! It’s no exaggeration to say that, in terms of work, I would be lost without twitter.  Twitter has become so fundamental to my work and my identity as an open educational practitioner that I genuinely don’t think I could do my job without it.  Twitter is my workspace, it’s my office, it’s where I hang out with friends and connect to colleagues all over the world.  It’s where I pick up news, find new ideas, and listen to fresh perspectives. It’s where continuous professional development happens.  It’s where I learn. As someone who works remotely a lot of the time, twitter enables me to be part of a global connected community of open education practitioners.

Live tweeting ALTC

Live tweeting ALTC by

Twitter is also an invaluable tool for communicating and disseminating educational events all kinds of. It’s second nature for me to live tweet every event I attend and if I can’t get online, I feel a bit lost. I find that live tweeting helps me to process what I’m listening to and the 140 character limit means I have to synthesise the ideas as I go along. Sometimes I get invited to live tweet events, such as the ALT Conference and the Day of Digital Ideas, in a more official capacity. Live tweeting in an official capacity requires a slightly different approach to live tweeting from my own account.  When I live tweet on behalf of an event organiser I try to keep my tweets as factual, neutral and representative as possible.  If I’m tweeting personally, I tend to tweet the points that interest or irritate me, adding my own thoughts and comments along the way. It feels  quite different. If you’re interested in finding out more about how to use twitter to amplify academic events, here’s a presentation I gave at the Day of Digital Ideas at the University of Edinburgh: Using Social Media to Amplify Academic Events.

Despite the fact that twitter is such an important channel for me, I actually use very few twitter tools. I have tweetbot installed for occasions when I want to manage multiple accounts but I prefer to use the generic web interface.  I do have a couple of lists set up, but I very rarely use them, I prefer not to filter as I love the random serendipity of my twitter feed.  The only twitter tools I use with any regularity are Storify, for collating event tweets, and Martin Hawksey’s fabulous TAGs for archiving and visualising tweets associated with event hashtags.

Although I think of twitter as a work channel first and foremost, I tend not to filter what I tweet.  I don’t just tweet about educational technology, I tweet about all kinds of things that interest me – naval history, poetry, sexuality and gender,tattooing, art, politics, rugby, whatever.  These things are all part of my real life identity, so they’re part of my online identity too.

My twitter feed

23 Things: Thing 6 Accessibility

Thing 6 is all about web accessibility and it’s a thing I have had a very on and off relationship with over the years. Despite the fact that I am fully signed up to the belief that accessible design is good design for all, I think I probably pay less attention to accessibility online than I did ten or fifteen years ago. When I used to build websites for other people, I made a point of trying to ensure they were as accessible as possible within the constraints of the web browsers of the day. It’s a long time since I actually built a website though, most of the content I now put on line appears on blogs or social media platforms which come with their own user interface or stylesheets. Consequently I’ve got very blase about accessibility because the design of the user interface is usually beyond my control.  However I know I’m just being lazy and there is a lot more I could be doing to make sure my blogs are accessible, so it was really interesting to run one of my blogs through the Web Accessibility eValuation Tool.

wave_outputThe blog I chose was the Open Scotland, a simple WordPress blog running on Reclaim Hosting and you can see the results here.  To be honest most of the errors and alerts didn’t surprise me as they relate to heading abuse and images without alt text.  One thing that did surprise me though is that justified text is problematic.

“Large blocks of justified text can negatively impact readability due to varying word/letter spacing and ‘rivers of white’ that flow through the text.”

This made me very sad, because I love justified text and I justify all my blog posts and documents.  I will have to try and wean myself off justification, starting here today.  I still think unjustified text looks messy though.

Also as an aside, when I used to work in technology standards development I had a very peripheral involvement in some of the web accessibility standards groups.  I was never actually a member of any of the working groups but I was occasionally called in to comment on metadata issues. Negotiating consensus in standards working groups is never an easy task but in the accessibility groups it could be particularly fraught, so kudos to all those to worked hard to bring these standards to fruition.

23 Things: Thing 5 Diversity

“A lot of communication online is now via the mode of emoji/emoticon images. Traditionally these have been displayed as a yellow standard, but recent releases of more diverse emoji choices have raised a number of conversations. Read the two articles on reactions to the Apple and Facebook release of diverse emoji/emoticons in 2015 and 2016. Now consider the emoji alternative Bitmoji
Thing 5 

To be honest I’m not big on avatars and emjois.  I used the same twitter avatar (a rather fetching picture of the back of my head) for nine years and only got round to changing it a couple of months ago :}  I also don’t use emojis very often so I’ve never really given much thought to who they may or may not represent.  Now I stop and think about it though, that lack of regard is a clear reflection of my own position of privilege.  I may not use emojis, but if I ever wanted to, it wouldn’t be difficult to find plenty that would broadly represent me.  So the article about the furore surrounding Apple’s multicultural icons certainly gave me pause for thought.  It also made me think of the recent news articles about Rayouf Alhumedhi, a Saudi teenager living in Germany who has submitted a proposal to the Unicode Consortium’s emoji subcommittee for the inclusion of hijab and keffiyeh wearing emojis. Motherboard quoted Alhumedhi as saying

“Emojis can seem like a trivial topic but people use emojis to represent themselves and their lives. When the different couples and different skin tone emojis were added there was a huge buzz, and this was because people finally felt represented and acknowledged, which is the same case with the headscarf emoji.”

Rayouf Alhumedhi

Rayouf Alhumedhi

There are several things I find really inspiring about this story. Firstly it’s about choice and empowerment.  Here is a young woman who felt she lacked representation online and took it upon herself to change that.  And secondly it’s about diversity and engagement with standards bodies.  The way that Alhumedhi went about creating an icon that represented herself was by submitting a proposal directly to the formal standards body that governs unicode emojis.  That takes some doing.  I worked with technology standards bodies for many years, though admittedly not the Unicode Consortium, and to say that women are underrepresented in these bodies would be something of an understatement. I got so used to being the only woman in the room that I stopped even noticing and I don’t think I ever encountered a woman of colour in any of the standards working groups I was involved with over a period of about fifteen years.  So more power to Alhumedhi for taking her campaign for representation straight to the body that governs the standard.  If we had more people like Alhumedhi involved in the the development of standards and software perhaps the web would be a more diverse and inclusive place and companies like Apple wouldn’t find themselves in such a mess when it comes to dealing with issues of race, representation and diversity.

The Hijab Emoji Project
The Unicode Consortium
Unicode Emoji Subcommittee


23 Things: Bonus Thing A – About Me page

Consider creating a definitive ‘About Me page’. This is a space where you can tell the world who you are, what you do, where your interests lie, and link your online presences all together in the one place.

This one’s easy.  I’ve got an about me page right here I first posted this page in 2013 but because my job tends to change pretty rapidly I update it regularly.  Looking at it today though I realise I could do with updating it again.

I also recently started keeping a google doc for short bios, because I’m always being asked for bios for one thing or another and tend to end up writing variations of the same thing over and over again.

I did used to keep an page but I haven’t updated it for ages and since the system changed it now looks a mess so I should probably delete that account.

23 things is proving to be very useful for highlighting all these little digital housekeeping jobs that I never seem to get round to doing!

23 Things: Thing 4 Digital Security

So Thing 4 is all about checking your digital security and privacy settings.  This isn’t actually something I’ve done before but I’m glad I didn’t have any nasty surprises.  I actually don’t use many apps, I tend not to link them together, I don’t turn on location services unless it’s absolutely necessary and I keep bluetooth off.  That might make me sound very careful about my digital privacy and security but I have to confess, it has more to do with the fact that I have a rather old iPhone with hardly any storage capacity and crap battery life!  In actual fact I’m a bit blase when it comes to this kind of thing so it would probably do me no harm to follow up with one of the recommended digital security courses.

Credit: Wowser, CC BY NC 2.0,

Credit: Wowser, CC BY NC 2.0,