Advanced Area: Knowledge Equity and Digital Labour

My advanced area will focus on leadership in the area of knowledge equity and digital labour in the domain of open education and open knowledge. 

As an open education practitioner and a Board member of Wikimedia UK and the Association for Learning Technology, I have a long standing personal and professional commitment to open education, knowledge equity, inclusion and social justice. 

Knowledge equity is one of the Wikimedia Foundations key strategic directions, and can be described as a commitment to focus on knowledge and communities that have been left out by structures of power and privilege, and to break down the social, political, and technical barriers preventing people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge.

From 2018 onwards I have explored the concept of knowledge equity in open spaces and communities through a series of conference keynotes.  I first touched on these issues in my OER18 keynote, The Long View: Changing Perspectives on OER [1].  Although this keynote focused primarily on how OER Conference themes over the years have reflected the changing nature of the open education domain, I also highlighted the importance of questioning who is included and excluded from open spaces and conceptualisations of openness. Those of us who are privileged enough to participate in open communities need to remind ourselves that while openness may be a personal ethical choice for some, or a sound business investment for our institutions, for those that are oppressed, excluded, or marginalised, openness may be an unattainable privilege, or potentially even a threat. 

FLOSS UK conference abstractI developed this theme in my 2018 FLOSS Spring Conference keynote, Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape [2] where I explored the boundaries between different open knowledge domains before going on to discuss inclusion, exclusion and structural inequality in these domains, highlighting examples of systemic bias, power imbalance, privilege and inequality in Open Access publishing, the Wikimedia projects, the Open Source Software domain and others.  

Later in 2018 I presented a third keynote at the CELT Symposium at NUI Galway.  In The Soul of Liberty: Openness, Equality and Co-Creation [3] I further explored different forms of open practice in higher education and noted that open does not necessarily mean accessible. Open spaces and communities are not without their hierarchies, their norms, their gatekeepers, and their power structures. We need to look around our own open communities and spaces and ask ourselves who is included and who is excluded, who is present and who is absent, and we need to ask ourselves why.  If certain groups of people are absent or excluded from spaces, communities or domains, it is not a result of preference, ability, or aptitude, it is a result of structural inequality, and in many cases, it is the result of multiple intersecting inequalities. All too often, open spaces replicate the power structures and inequalities that permeate society.  Following my CELT keynote I was invited to submit a version of my talk to the Rebus Community publication Open At The Margins: Critical Perspectives on Open Education [4].

I returned to the theme of knowledge equity in 2020 with a keynote at the Wikimedia in Education Summit.  In A Common Purpose: Wikimedia, Open Education and Knowledge Equity for all [5] I explored the shared common purpose of the Wikimedia projects and global open education initiatives to achieve knowledge equity for all.  I presented an overview of global policy initiatives, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, UNESCO’s Recommendation on OER, and the Wikimedia Movement Strategy, highlighting their shared objectives to widen access to open knowledge and remove barriers to inclusive and equitable quality education.  I noted that if knowledge and education are to be truly open, then they must be open to all regardless of race, gender, or ability, because openness is not just about definitions, recommendations and strategies, openness is about creativity, access, equity, and social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged radical digital citizens.

Photograph of L. Campbell speaking at the Wikimedia in Education Summit.

My keynote at the Wikimedia in Education Summit. © 2022 Wikimedia in Education UK Summit.

However there is another aspect of openness and knowledge equity that also requires consideration, and that is digital labour.  In parallel to exploring the themes of knowledge equity and inclusion, I have also been thinking about the intersection of open education and digital labour through a series of blog posts and other writings. These reflections are both timely and personal as they are inextricably bound up with the extended campaign of industrial action that is ongoing in the UK Higher Education sector. 

I began trying to articulate these issues in a post titled Open Practice and Invisible Labour [6], which I shared on the femedtech Open Space in early 2019.  This post asked when do the hours that we willingly devote to open education start to become unacknowledged, invisible digital labour?  We all want to be good citizens of our shared knowledge commons, but so often, those who do much of the work are marginalised in some way; women, people of colour, early career researchers, those employed on precarious contracts. At what point does personal commitment become unwitting exploitation of labour? These are problems that exist right across academia and open education is far from immune. 

The following year, I was invited to write a piece for WonkHE [7] about digital labour which built on these themes and explored gendered aspects of digital and emotional labour in Higher Education.  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, resulting in further exploitation.  

Screen cap of my WonkHE article.

In the same week my wonkHE piece was published, I also took part in an Open Education Week event facilitated by the ALT Open Education SIG and the femedtech network, Open Policy – Who cares? As part of this asynchronous event I shared a provocation, Openness, Precarity and Equity [8], that focused on the relationship between funding and labour conditions in relation to open education. If we want to support the creation of open knowledge, and publicly funded open educational resources, then the education sector has to be supported by adequate funding and, perhaps more importantly, by equitable working conditions.  

I presented a short talk outlining some of the ideas I’d been exploring around openness and digital labour at the OER20 The Care in Openness Conference, Drawing the Line: Reflections on open practice and digital labour [9], asking how much does the open community rely on this invisible labour?  And more importantly, how far does it exclude those who are unable or unwilling to contribute their labour for free? And how do we mitigate this?

Later in 2020 I also helped to organise and co-facilitate an international panel-led twitter chat on Labor Implications in Open Publishing [10] as part of the Open Publishing Festival, which raised four key questions relating to digital labor, social justice, knowledge equity and technology in relation to Open Publishing and Open Educational Resources [11]:

  • How are individuals from underrepresented groups involved in open publishing initiatives, and what can be done to improve equity in participation?
  • What drives successful, equitable open publishing initiatives in education? 
  • In what ways will open publishing change education in the context of increased economic austerity?
  • Is the open publishing model just? Who has the privilege to be able to contribute their labor? Who can afford to pay APCs?

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, issues of knowledge equity, (who gets to contribute to the creation of knowledge), and digital labour, (who has the ability to contribute their labour), became ever more critical.  As women shouldered a greater burden of caring responsibilities and emotional labour than ever before, their ability to undertake research was constrained, and contributions to scholarly journals written by women authors declined vertiginously.  In response to this crisis, members of the femedtech community came together to issue an Open Letter to Editors and Editorial Boards [12] of scholarly journals to acknowledge and mitigate the disproportionate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women researchers and scholars.  I was one of the co-authors of the open letter and it directly references my article on Openness, Precarity and Equity [8]. 

I am still thinking about the complex relationship between knowledge equity and digital labour and in early 2022 I submitted a chapter outline exploring these themes in response to the Higher Education for Good: Teaching and Learning Futures call for proposals. to labour for freedom synthesizes some of the points I’ve highlighted in the writings mentioned above and asks how we can achieve knowledge equity when our shared commons may exclude those who are unwilling or unable to contribute their labour for free.  Although my proposal was not accepted for inclusion in HE for Good, it received positive feedback from the editors and I plan to post a version of it on 


I believe that the work I have undertaken to explore issues relating to knowledge equity and digital labour demonstrates leadership and impact in the open education domain and highlight my long standing commitment to ALT’s core principles. 

To demonstrate my commitment to exploring and understanding the interplay between technology and learning I believe that as an advocate for openness and a leader in the domain of open education, it is important for me to highlight both the positive and negative affordances of engaging with open practice, open education and open knowledge, and to critically evaluate how this engagement is mediated by both technology and policy.  To do this I have explored the complex relationship between knowledge equity and digital labour, and how they relate to open practice and open education at a personal and institutional level in the current context of UK Higher Education.  I have engaged with a wide range of strategic open policy initiatives from the University of Edinburgh’s OER Policy, to the Wikimedia Movement Strategy, and the UNESCO OER policy instruments.  I have also contributed to initiatives that have sought to address ethical issues relating to open policy, open practice and knowledge equity, including contributing to Open At The Margins: Critical Perspectives on Open Education, and participating in the Creative Commons Ethics of Open Sharing working group.   I have used the platform provided by my keynotes to encourage colleagues to consider who is included and excluded in their open spaces and communities, and to question whether open technologies are enabling or impeding knowledge equity. 

I endeavour to keep up to date with new technologies by engaging with a wide range of open communities including open education communities, the Wikimedia community, learning technology communities and Open Source Software communities.  I believe it is important to bring a critical and ethical awareness to all new technologies when considering their application to higher education.  It is not enough to assume that a technology is “good” simply because it is “open”.  For example, while I regularly highlight the benefits of integrating Wikimedia assignments in the curriculum, through my conference keynotes and peer reviewed presentations, I also make a point of raising Wikpedia’s gender imbalance and lack of knowledge equity, and the steps that are being taken to address the structural inequalities that give rise to these problems.  Similarly, while free and open source software can be a viable ethical alternative to commercial educational technology platforms with questionable business models and data processes, it is not a panacea, and it is important to consider who has the ability to contribute to open source projects.  During my FLOSS keynote [2], I highlighted research from Github in 2017 that found that open source contributors do not reflect the broad audience of users and that a “profound” gender imbalance exists in open source development communities. 

Fanny Wright, public domain image, Wikimedia Commons.

As an open education practitioner I am continually learning from a broad and diverse community of colleagues from different backgrounds and specialist areas, including students, academics, librarians, learning technologists, developers, open knowledge advocates, union members, labour rights campaigners, authors, journalists, and many others.  My advocacy, and my personal and professional open practice, is inspired by and builds on the work of many colleagues in the UK and beyond, to whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude. I purposefully seek out diverse voices and wherever possible I try to foreground the experiences of those who are marginalised or excluded from our open spaces and communities.  In the knowledge equity keynotes I have presented over the last four years, I have highlighted the work of scholars of colour and women working in the open knowledge domain. I’ve been inspired by the work of Iranian mathematician Maryam Mirzakhani, who I quoted in my FLOSS keynote [2], and 18th century feminist and social reformer Frances Wright, who provided the title for my CELT keynote  [3].  I also try to ensure we remember the sacrifice of open knowledge advocates Aaron Swartz and Bassel Khartabil Safadi, both of whom I referred to in my FLOSS keynote.  Whenever I am invited to speak about open knowledge and open education, I also make a point of including students’ voices.  In many of my keynotes and talks, I regularly include quotes from our Open Content Curation interns, who have inspired me so much over the years. 

As an advocate for open education and open knowledge I am committed to communicating and disseminating effective practice in open domains through a wide range of channels and media.  This includes providing leadership through high profile keynotes, such as the ones referred to here, participating in plenary panels, presenting peer reviewed papers at conferences and events, organising and participating in open webinars and panels, writing professional blog posts highlighting the affordances of open education and reflecting on my own open practice, contributing to strategy and policy, engaging with peers and colleagues through social media, and publishing through more traditional channels including books, journals and the news sites. I feel strongly that it is important to reach out to those who may not have the means or the privilege to attend conferences and events, so I always make a point of posting transcripts of my talks on my blog and sharing recordings where they are available [13]. 

I believe it’s important to communicate widely, but perhaps more importantly, to also listen to diverse audiences.  To communicate widely and effectively I believe it’s important to push myself out of my comfort zone, by presenting personal reflections on what it means to be an open practitioner [14][15], and by talking to other audiences and communities in the open domain.  My FLOSS keynote was a case in point. Presenting a non-technical keynote to an all-male audience of technical developers was challenging, particularly as my talk highlighted the problem of systemic bias and structural inequality in open domains and communities. I believe it is important to acknowledge these challenges so I wrote a blog post reflecting on my experience following the conference [16]. 

I have a strong ethical commitment not just to promoting the positive impact and affordances of openness, but also to highlighting the risks, and I hope that my talks and keynotes on knowledge equity have encouraged colleagues to think deeply about open education and open knowledge and to evaluate their own open practice. 

Presenting these keynotes has given me a valuable opportunity to think critically about open education and open knowledge, and who has the privilege to participate in these domains. My thinking around knowledge equity and digital labour is continually evolving and I am grateful to be able to learn from such a wide group of colleagues through the ALT, Wikimedia and femedtech communities.  Engaging with such a diverse group of peers continually challenges me, reminding me of my own privilege and, as a leader in the open community, reminding me that it is important to know when to speak, when to be silent, and when to step aside to make space for, and to listen to, other voices. 

“Those of us here today already have the privilege to participate in open education spaces and open knowledge communities, and we can not keep that privilege to ourselves. We need to identify the barriers that prevent some people from participating in the spaces we enjoy, and we need to do what we can to remove these systemic obstructions. We need to be aware of our own privilege, and be sensitive to whose voices are included and whose are excluded, we need to know when to speak and when to be silent. To me this is what openness is really about, the removal of systemic barriers and structural inequalities to provide opportunities to enable everyone to participate equitably, and on their own terms. We need to ensure that when we design our learning spaces, whether physical or virtual, online or on campus, they really are open to all, regardless of race, gender, or ability, because openness is not just about attributes, definitions and licences, openness is also about creativity, access, equality, and inclusion, and ultimately, it’s about expanding access to education, supporting social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged digital citizens.” 

~ The Soul of Liberty: Openness, Equality and Co-creation, by Lorna M. Campbell


  1. Campbell, L.M., (2018), The Long View: Changing Perspectives on OER, keynote, OER18 Open to All Conference, Bristol.
  2. Campbell, L.M., (2018), Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape, keynote, FLOSSUK Spring Conference, Edinburgh.
  3. Campbell, L.M., (2018), The Soul of Liberty: Openness, Equality and Co-Creation, keynote, CELT Symposium, NUI Galway.
  4. Campbell, L.M., (2020), “The Soul of Liberty: Openness, Equality and Co-creation”. In Bali, M., Cronin, C., Czerniewicz, L, de Rosa, R., and Jhangiani, R. (eds), Open At The Margins: Critical Perspectives on Open Education, The Rebus Community.
  5. Campbell, L.M., (2020),  A Common Purpose: Wikimedia, Open Education and Knowledge Equity for all, keynote, Wikimedia in Education Summit, Disruptive Media Learning Lab, Coventry University.
  6. Campbell, L.M., (2019), ​Open Practice and Invisible Labour,
  7. Campbell, L.M., (2020), We need to recognise where the burden of care falls in higher education, WonkHE. 
  8. Campbell, L.M., (2020), Openness, Precarity, Equity, Open World Blog. 
  9. Campbell, L.M., (2020), Drawing the Line: Reflections on Open Practice and Digital Labour, OER20 Conference. 
  10. Labor Implications in Open Publishing, event announcement.  A panel-led twitter chat I co-organised and co-facilitated along with Billy Meinke, Phil Barker and Pay Lockley.  
  11. Campbell, L.M., (2020), Labour Implications in Open Publishing,  A post about this event I wrote for 
  12. An Open Letter to Editors and Editorial Boards,  The femedtech open letter, which I co-authored with other members of the network. 
  13. A list of my peer reviewed and invited talks and presentations, including transcripts and recordings: Presentations and Events
  14. Campbell, L.M., (2017), Shouting from the Heart, Open World Blog.  Transcript and recording of a deeply personal talk on open education that I gave at the OER17 Politics of Open Conference.
  15. Campbell, L.M., (2017), OER17 – It’s been emotional, Open World Blog.  My reflection on the above talk, and some of the feedback I received. 
  16. Campbell, L.M., (2018), Nudging the Door Open, Open World Blog.  My reflection on keynoting at the FLOSS Spring Conference.