For the Common Good – Responding to the global pandemic with OER

This is a, belated, transcript of the talk I gave at the ALT Summer Summit 2020. Slides from this presentation are available here: For the Common Good – Responding to the global pandemic with OER.

At the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO estimated that 1.57 billion learners in 191 countries worldwide had had their education disrupted.  In response to this unprecedented crisis, the organisation issued a Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through Open Educational Resources (OER).  The call highlights the important role that OER can play in supporting the continuation of learning in both formal and informal settings, meeting the needs of individual learners, including people with disabilities and individuals from marginalized or disadvantaged groups, with a view to building more inclusive, sustainable and resilient Knowledge Societies.

This Call for Joint Action builds on UNESCO’s 2019 Recommendation on Open Educational Resources, which represents a formal commitment to actively support the global adoption of OER.   Central to the Recommendation, is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 for Quality Education.

The Recommendation recognises that

“in building inclusive Knowledge Societies, Open Educational Resources (OER) can support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory as well as enhancing academic freedom and professional autonomy of teachers by widening the scope of materials available for teaching and learning.”

 And it outlines five areas of action:

  • Building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER
  • Developing supportive policy
  • Encouraging effective, inclusive and equitable access to quality OER
  • Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER
  • Promoting and reinforcing international cooperation

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Sharing the Labour of Care

This article was originally posted on WonkHE under the title We need to recognise where the burden of care falls in higher education.


Most of us work in higher education because we care; we care about our students, our colleagues, our subject specialisms, we care about learning, and we care about sharing knowledge.  Many of us even care about our institutions, even if that care is increasingly unreciprocated.  Our profession is distinguished by emotional commitment, compassion, and a strong ethic of care, but this burden of care is unevenly distributed across the academy.  This critical and largely invisible labour routinely falls to those who are already marginalised in the system; women, people of colour, early career researchers, those employed on precarious and part time contracts, those on lower pay grades.  Caring has always been regarded as women’s work, and as a result, the labour of caring is habitually devalued and taken for granted.  There is an assumption that caring is low skilled work, that anyone can do it, but of course that is far from true.  Despite the toll taken by the exploitation of this invisible labour, we all continue to do our best, to go the extra mile, to pick up the pieces for our students and our colleagues, which inevitably leads to stress, anxiety and burnout. In a timely twitter thread about the current round of UCU strikes, Máiréad Enright pointed out that

“There is emotional labour involved in knowing and being reminded that others will have to face the everyday crisis, because you aren’t there. It’s important that we recognise that this emotional labour is part of what’s distinctive about the neoliberal university. We govern ourselves and each other through emotion. Disunity, competition and compulsory individualism in the university ensure that.”

The reason many of us are striking, to protest universities’ failure to protect our pensions, and adequately address the gender pay gap, unrealistic workloads, and increasing casualisation, is not because we don’t care about our students and those who rely on our emotional labour, it’s because we care too much. And I am fully aware of the irony that I am writing this article while allegedly on strike. Withdrawing our emotional labour is a hard thing to do.

As with many other aspects of our employment and our practice, much of this burden of emotional labour has become mediated through and exacerbated by technology.  Whether it’s spending weekends answering e-mails from distraught students, peer reviewing journal papers and conference submissions, writing blog posts, taking part in twitter conversations, contributing to hashtags, writing Wikipedia articles, or keeping up with social media.  In a provocation recorded as part of Open Education Week, Leo Havemann argues that there is a lack of appreciation for the kind of labour and expertise involved in digital practice.  All too often digital labour is unrecognised and unrewarded invisible labour.  Of course there is a gendered aspect to digital labour in higher education too, which is largely unacknowledged and under researched. A notable exception is research undertaken by the Association for Learning Technology to analyse the results of their sector wide ALT Annual Survey through the lense of gender.  ALT’s research has provided some evidence of different priorities for men and women particularly with regard to dedicated time and recognition for career development.

While much of our invisible labour may be undervalued by our institutions, grass roots initiatives have sprung up to acknowledge, celebrate and support the contribution our digital and emotional labour makes to education.  One such initiative is femedtech, a reflexive emergent network of people learning, researching and practising in educational technology. The femedtech network is informal, unfunded, and cross sector and our resources are our passion, kindness, knowledge, enthusiasm and volunteer commitment. Our name, femedtech (feminist education technology), aligns us with a critical perspective on education and technology. We are alive to the specific ways that technology and education are gendered, and to how injustices and inequalities play out in these spaces.

Despite the burden of care that we carry, there is strength and solidarity to be gained from shared labour and a sense of community and belonging that traditionally derives from women’s work.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the femedtech Quilt for Care and Justice in Open Education project.  Created by Frances Bell in collaboration with members of the femedtech network, this craft activism project takes its inspiration from the themes of the 2020 OER Conference; The Care in Openness.  Women and men, from all over world have contributed quilt squares representing personal reflections on care, openness and social justice. You can find out more about the femedtech quilt project here https://quilt.femedtech.net/

#femedtch quilt, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

References

Association for Learning Technology, https://www.alt.ac.uk/

Enright, M., (2020), #UCUstrikes twitter thread, https://twitter.com/maireadenright/status/1234456632681168896?s=20

Femedtech, http://femedtech.net/

Femedtech Quilt for Care and Justice in Open Education, https://quilt.femedtech.net/

Havemann, L., (2020), The need for supportive policy environments, https://flipgrid.com/f61bc14c

Hawksey, M., (2019), #ThinkUHI #BalanceforBetter look at enablers/drivers for the use of Learning Technology (#femedtech), https://mashe.hawksey.info/2019/03/balanceforbetter-look-at-enablers-drivers-for-the-use-of-learning-technology-femedtech/

OER20 Conference: The Care in Openness, https://oer20.oerconf.org/

University and College Union HE Action, https://www.ucu.org.uk/heaction

Openness, Precarity and Equity

As part of Open Education Week, the ALT Open Education SIG and Femedtech facilitated an asynchronous event Open Policy – Who cares?  The organisers invited provocations from members of the open education community in the form of Flipgrid videos and writings on femedtech.net. This is my contribution. 


I’ve worked in the domain of open education for over ten years now and I passionately believe that publicly funded educational resources should be freely and openly available to the public.  In fact this is one of the founding principles of the Scottish Open Education Declaration.  When we talk about open policy the focus tends to be on “open” and “free”, however I think what is critical here is “funding”, because as we all know, open does not mean free. If we want to support the creation of open knowledge and publicly funded open education resources, then the education sector has to be supported by adequate funding and, perhaps more importantly, by equitable working conditions.  And this is where problems start to arise; at a time when casualisation is endemic in the UK higher education sector, too many colleagues are employed on exploitative precarious contracts.  This is why we are currently in the middle of a period of sustained industrial action that is protesting universities’ failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.  If you are a teaching assistant employed on a fixed hourly rate that doesn’t even begin to cover the preparation time for creating your teaching resources and lecturing materials, it’s hard to make the case, ethically and morally, that you should release your resources under open license, because you’re effectively giving your labour away for free, and very few marginalised workers have the privilege to be able to do that. So while I still believe that we do need more policy around open education, and that we have an ethical responsibility to make publicly funded educational resources available to all, we also need equitable working conditions that will enable us all to contribute to the shared knowledge commons.

Reflections on @Femedtech Curation

Despite the overwhelming gloom of Brexit, I got the year off to a positive start by curating the @femedtech twitter account for the first two weeks of January. I’ve been involved with femedtech in one way or another since its inception, and I often tweet using the hashtag, but this was the first time I’d actually taken a curation slot and it was a real honour to be the first curator of the New Year.  An obvious theme for my curation would have been New Years Resolutions, but to be honest, I’ve never been much of a fan of those.  I know they work for some people, but all too often they tend to become an additional source of guilt and pressure, which doesn’t strike me as a very good way to start a new year.

So instead I decided to focus on a theme of Inspiration. I had intended to tweet one source of inspiration every day, but I wasn’t quite able to do that. I did manage to tweet from the femedtech account several times every day, though this was a bit of a challenge once I was back at work.  It wasn’t hard to choose my first inspiration, Audrey Watters phenomenal roundup of 100 Worst Ed -Tech Debacles of the Decade

Audrey has been described as the Cassandra of ed tech, and indeed she is, but she is also our Mnemosyne, our collective memory.  Audrey reminds us of all the failures that the ed tech industry would prefer us to forget, but if we don’t remember, how can we possibly learn from out mistakes and move forward?

Other inspirations I shared over the course of the fortnight were…

Annual reflection posts shared by friends and colleagues

ALT

Wiki Loves Monuments Winners

Hong Kong Protest Artists

The #femedtechquilt project

My final inspiration was a twitter thread about Archive Of Our Own, which provides a salutary contrast to Audrey’s 100 Ed Tech Debacles, and which I’m posting in its entirety below. 

It’s an Open Source repository initiative, launched in 2009, which has over 2 million registered users, and over 5 million items. In had 281 million page views in the first week of January this year alone, and 1.12 billion in the month of December. It’s *huge*.  The repository is not for profit, has no foundation funding, no sponsorship, no advertising revenue. It supports anonymity and pseudonimity and it doesn’t collect or sell user data. It also has a hybrid tagging system maintained entirely by volunteers, which is a thing of wonder.  It’s based on inclusive feminist design principals and built and maintained almost entirely by women, many of whom are young, queer and nonbinary. Last year it won a prestigious international award in recognition of its achievements.  Some of you will already know what I’m talking about, others might be wondering why they’ve never heard of this astonishing initiative before.  It is of course Archive of our Own, the archive of fanfiction managed by the Organization for Transformative Works. It’s an incredible achievement that’s been almost completely ignored by the majority of the tech sector for the last decade. I’ll leave you to decide why. I started my curation with @audreywatters sobering “100 Worst Ed Tech Debacles of the Decade”, and I can’t help reflecting on what AO3s has achieved in the same period.  At a time when concerns are growing about identity, surveillance, data ownership, & ethics, AO3 shows us that there is another way to be, that another kind of internet is possible. If ed tech opened its eyes, it could learn a lot from AO3 *and* the women who built & maintain it.  To learn more about this incredible collaborative achievement I can highly recommend this 2018 Open Repositories Conference keynote by Casey Fiesler, @cfiesler,  And you can follow @ao3org and @OTWnews here.  I’ve also written a blog post AO3 – The mad woman in the open source attic?

That thread got quite a response when it was retweeted by AO3, and I was very grateful when Frances also drew attention to it at the start of her own curation, however I’m still not sure that many ed tech people sat up and took notice. 

Although I use the #femedtech hashtag frequently I felt a much greater sense of responsibility when tweeting from the account. I was very careful about what I shared, reading every blog post, paper or news article from start to finish before tweeting it from the account. In the process I discovered several voices I would not have come across otherwise, including Marianne Thamm, whose powerful article In Defence of South African Hope, was brought to my attention by Laura Czerniewicz.

At the same time that I was curating @femedtech, I was also tweeting from my own personal account and curating the University of Edinburgh’s OER Service account, @openededinburgh.  All three accounts require different approaches and voices and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the boundaries sometimes got a little blurred on occasion. I didn’t consciously try to mute my own voice while curating @femedtech, but I was always very conscious of the accountability of my words.  So it was really interesting after the end of my curation when Maha opened a conversation about the diversity of curators voices on femedtech.

All in all I found curating @femedtech to be a really positive and empowering experience and a great way to start the New Year.  I’m already wondering when I can sign up for my next slot! 

ALTC Personal Highlights

I’ve already written an overview and some thoughts on the ALTC keynotes, this post is an additional reflection on some of my personal highlights of the conference. 

I was involved in three sessions this year; Wikipedia belongs in education with Wikimedia UK CEO Lucy Crompton-Reid and UoE Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew, Influential voices – developing a blogging service based on trust and openness with DLAM’s Karen Howie, and Supporting Creative Engagement and Open Education at the University of Edinburgh with LTW colleagues Charlie Farley and Stewart Cromar.  All three sessions went really well, with lots of questions and engagement from the audience.  

It’s always great to see that lightbulb moment when people start to understand the potential of using Wikipedia in the classroom to develop critical digital and information literacy skills.    There was a lot of interest in (and a little envy of) UoE’s Academic Blogging Service and centrally supported WordPress platform, blogs.ed.ac.uk, so it was great to be able to share some of the open resources we’ve created along the way including policies, digital skills resources, podcasts, blog posts, open source code and the blogs themselves.  And of course there was a lot of love for our creative engagement approaches and open resources including Board Game Jam and the lovely We have great stuff colouring book.  

Stewart Cromar also did a gasta talk and poster on the colouring book and at one point I passed a delegate standing alone in the hallway quietly colouring in the poster.  As I passed, I mentioned that she could take one of the colouring books and home with her.  She nodded and smiled and carried on colouring.  A lovely quite moment in a busy conference.

It was great to hear Charlie talking about the enduringly popular and infinitely adaptable 23 Things course, and what made it doubly special was that she was co-presenting with my old Cetis colleague R. John Robertson, who is now using the course with his students at Seattle Pacific University.   I’ve been very lucky to work with both Charlie and John, and it’s lovely to see them collaborating like this.

Our Witchfinder General intern Emma Carroll presented a brilliant gasta talk on using Wikidata to geographically locate and visualise the different locations recorded within the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database.  It’s an incredible piece of work and several delegates commented on how confidently Emma presented her project.  You can see the outputs of Emma’s internship here https://witches.is.ed.ac.uk/about

Emma Carroll, CC BY NC 2.0, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

I really loved Kate Lindsay’s thoughtful presentation on KARE, a kind, accessible, respectful, ethical scaffolding system to support online education at University College of Estate Management.  And I loved her Rosa Parks shirt. 

Kate Lindsay, CC BY NC, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

I also really enjoyed Claudia Cox’s engaging and entertaining talk Here be Dragons: Dispelling Myths around BYOD Digital Examinations.  Claudia surely wins the prize for best closing comment…

Sheila MacNeill and Keith Smyth gave a great talk on their conceptual framework for reimagining the digital university which aims to challenge neoliberalism through discursive, reflective digital pedagogy.  We need this now more than ever.

Keith Smyth, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

Sadly I missed Helen Beetham’s session Learning technology: a feminist space? but I heard it was really inspiring.  I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been able to hear Helen talk, we always seem to be programmed in the same slot!  I also had to miss Laura Czerniewicz’s Online learning during university shut downs, so I’m very glad it was recorded. I’m looking forward to catching up with is as soon as I can.

The Learning Technologist of the Year Awards were truly inspiring as always. Lizzie Seymour, Learning Technology Officer, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland at Edinburgh Zoo was a very well deserved winner of the individual award, and I was really proud to see the University of Edinburgh’s Lecture Recording Team win the team award.  So many people across the University were involved in this project so it was great to see their hard work recognised.

UoE Lecture Recording Team, CC BY NC, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

Without doubt though the highlight of the conference for me was Frances Bell‘s award of Honorary Life Membership of the Association for Learning Technology.  Frances is a dear friend and an inspirational colleague who really embodies ALT’s core values of participation, openness, collaboration and independence, so it was a huge honour to be invited to present her with the award.  Frances’ nomination was led by Catherine Cronin, who wasn’t able to be at the conference, so it gave me great pleasure to read out her words.

“What a joy to see Frances Bell – who exemplifies active, engaged and generous scholarship combined with an ethic of care –being recognised with this Honorary Life Membership Award by ALT.

As evidenced in her lifetime of work, Frances has combined her disciplinary expertise in Information Systems with historical and social justice perspectives to unflinchingly consider issues of equity in both higher education and wider society.

Uniquely, Frances sustains connections with people across higher education, local communities and creative networks in ways which help to bridge differences without ignoring them, and thus to enable understanding.

Within and beyond ALT, we all have much to thank her for.” 

I confess I couldn’t look at Frances while I was reading Catherine’s words as it was such an emotional moment.   I’m immensely proud of ALT for recognising Frances’ contribution to the community and for honouring her in this way.

Frances Bell, Honorary Life Member or ALT, CC BY NC, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

And finally, huge thanks to Maren, Martin and the rest of the ALT team for organising another successful, warm and welcoming conference. 

ALTC Keynotes: Data, Dialogue and Doing

Social Media Dream Team, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Last week the ALT Conference took place in the magnificent McEwan Hall at the University of Edinburgh.  Chaired by Melissa Highton, Keith Smyth and Louise Jones, the conference was a huge success, thanks in no small part to the ALT Team, and a large number of volunteers from across the ALT community.   As Martin Weller pointed out in his blog post, The Meticulous Informality of ALTC, it takes a lot of hard work and expertise to make running such a big conference appear so effortless.  And as always, it was a real pleasure to be able to contribute to the conference as part of the ALTC Social Media Dream Team.  I even got a badge this year!

I’ve written before about my experience of livetweeting the ALTC keynotes, and how it differs from tweeting from my own personal account.  When I’m providing formal social media coverage I also have a different experience of actually participating in the conference, and listening to the keynotes in particular.  I tend to be so focused on listening, summarising and typing, that I often get to the end of the keynote and realise that I can barely remember even half of what the speaker has said! So it’s really useful to me to be able to look back over the livestreams and the tweets and to read all the post-conference blog posts to fill in the gaps.

One of the things that really struck me this year was how closely all three keynotes focused on the key conference themes of Data, Dialogue and Doing. 

Revisiting the affordances and implications of interconnectedness and socially mediated publicness

– Sue Beckingham, Sheffield Hallam University

Sue set the scene with a wide ranging opening keynote covering the long history of the myriad technologies that collect and process our data in various ways, shapes and forms; from the panopticon to the Echo Dot, via keystroke tracking, store cards, VLEs, facebook and the invisible algorithms of the web.  Sue asked how many of us read the terms of service of the websites and apps we sign up to? How many of us know how our data is being used?

Sue also highlighted the pros and cons of engaging with social media. Twitter can be toxic, filled with disinformation, misinformation and fake news, but it can also be invaluable for promoting research, disseminating crisis communications, highlighting achievements, and building community.  Sue stressed that it’s no good banning social media, we need to have meaningful conversations with students about how their data is being used. And we also need to ensure that those who are marginalised from our education communities are accepted, wanted and drawn in.  Sue quoted Fosslien and West Duffy who define “diversity as having a seat at the table, inclusion as having a voice, and belonging as having that voice be heard”. Social media can enable diverse voices to be included and heard but we need to be cognisant of how our data is being used by these platforms.

Sue Beckingham, ALTC keynote

Sue Beckingham, CC BY NC 2.0, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

Watch Sue’s keynote https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2019/sessions/altc-keynote-sue-beckingham/

Critcal Pedagaogy, Civil Disobedience and Edtech

– Jessie Stommel, University of Mary Washington

Jessie picked up on many of the themes Sue introduced.  Within a framework of critical pedagogy and digital agency he explored the interfaces between agency, data and technology, and how the tools we use as educators influence our relationship with our students.  Jessie urged us to ask hard questions of vendors and to engage students in this critical evaluation.  What assumptions about learning and teaching does a tool make? What data does it collect? Who has access to it? Is it accessible? To visually impaired, to introverts, to extroverts? 

Jessie argued that while some tools can be hacked to good use, others have bad pedagogy baked in and are problematic to the core.  It was no surprise that the tool he chose to shine the spotlight of critical evaluation on was Turnitin.  It’s easy to critique Turnitin from many different perspectives, not least of which is that it effectively has a monopoly on student writing, with a staggering 98% of UK HE institutions subscribing to its services.  Jessie highlighted Turnitin’s problematic Terms of Reference but, perhaps more importantly, he also argued that Turnitin has suspicion of students baked into it and entrenches the belief that students are not to be trusted.

“We are opting in to a culture of suspicion of our students and Turnitin enables this.”

Jessie reminded us that our students are human beings not data assets.  We need to trust our students, to learn from and with them, and we need to believe what they tell us about how they learn.  Throughout his keynote Jessie returned again and again to Paulo Friere and bell hooks with their focus on learning as a space of wonder and marvel and the importance of generating excitement, joy and pleasure in education. Quoting bell hooks Jessie reminded us that 

 “If we’re not talking about joy we’re doing something wrong.”

Jessie Stommel, ALTC Keynote

Jessie Stommel, CC BY NC 2.0, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

Watch Jessie’s keynote: https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2019/sessions/altc-keynote-jesse-stommel/

Learning, Teaching and Technology

– Ollie Bray, The Lego Foundation

Ollie certainly brought excitement and joy to his keynote when he handed out packets of Lego to the entire audience and challenged everyone to make a duck in 40 seconds! We ended up with as many different ducks as delegates, but Ollie pointed out that every duck was meaningful to the person who made it. Furthermore, the activity itself was meaningful because it was actively engaging, socially interactive, iterative and joyful. These are typical characteristics of a playful experience and they are also characteristics of an excellent learning experience.

Ollie challenged us to think about how we could reimagine learning as it could be, while still working within the distinct boundaries of our education systems and social contexts.  Creative skills are highly contextual and it’s important to develop personalised skills that suit specific needs. 

Picking up on another of Jessie’s themes, Ollie noted that we hear a lot about learning from our students, but less about learning with them. If we want young learners to be creative, we need children and adults working together in co-creative learning teams.   Despite the rhetoric that AI will “solve” education, solving complex problems comes down to people, pedagogy and leadership.

Making Lego ducks at ALTC

40 second Lego duck challenge, CC BY NC 2.0, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

Watch Ollie’s keynote: https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2019/sessions/altc-keynote-ollie-bray/

One of the things I loved about Ollie’s keynote was that it rippled out beyond the bounds of the conference.  Lots of delegates took the Lego duck challenge home and posted pictures of ducks made by their families.  These are the ducks my family made.  I’m sure they’re meaningful to them somehow :}  

Lego ducks

Meaningful ducks? CC BY Lorna M. Campbell