OER24: Gathering Courage

Hands of Hope, Cork, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

Last week the OER24 Conference took place at the Munster Technological University in Cork and I was privileged to go along with our OER Service intern Mayu Ishimoto. 

The themes of this year’s conference were: 

  • Open Education Landscape and Transformation
  • Equity and Inclusion in OER
  • Open Source and Scholarly Engagement
  • Ethical Dimensions of Generative AI and OER Creation
  • Innovative Pedagogies and Creative Education

The conference was chaired with inimitable style by MTU’s Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin and Tom Farrelly, the (in)famous Gasta Master.

The day before the conference I met up with a delegation of Dutch colleagues from a range of sectors and organisations for a round table workshop on knowledge equity and open pedagogies. In a wide ranging discussion we covered the value proposition and business case for open, the relationship between policy and practice, sustainability and open licensing, student engagement and co-creation, authentic assessment and the influence of AI.  I led the knowledge equity theme and shared experiences and case studies from the University of Edinburgh.  Many thanks to Leontien van Rossum from SURF for inviting me to participate.

A Cautionary Fairy Tale

The conference opened the following day with Rajiv Jhangiani’s keynote, “Betwixt fairy tales & dystopian futures – Writing the next chapter in open education“, a cautionary tale of a junior faulty member learning to navigating the treacherous path between commercial textbook publishers on the one hand and open textbooks on the other.  It was a familiar tale to many North American colleagues, though perhaps less relatable to those of us from UK HE where the model of textbook use is rather different, OER expertise resides with learning technologists rather than librarians, OER tends to encompass a much broader range of resources than open textbooks, and open resources are as likely to be co-created by students as authored by staff. However Rajiv did make several point that were universal in their resonance.  In particular, he pointed out that it’s perverse to use the moral high ground of academic integrity to defend remote proctoring systems that invade student privacy, and tools that claim to identify student use of AI, when these companies trample all over copyright and discriminate against ESL speakers. If we create course policies that are predicated on mistrust of students we have no right to criticise them for being disengaged. Rajiv also cautioned against using OER as a band aid to cover inequity in education; it might make us feel good but it distracts us from reality. Rajiv called for ethical approaches to education technology, encouraging us not to be distracted by fairy tales, but to engage with hope and solidarity while remaining firmly grounded in reality. 

Rajiv Jhangiani, OER24, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell.

Ethical Dimensions of Generative AI and OER Creation

Generative AI (GAI) loomed large at the conference this year and I caught several presentations that attempted to explore the thorny relationship between openness and GAI. 

UHI have taken a considered approach by developing policy, principles and staff and student facing guidance that emphasises ethical, creative, and environmentally aware use of generative AI. They are also endorsing a small set of tools that provide a range of functionality and stand up to scrutiny in terms of data security.  These include MS Copilot, Claude, OpenAI ChatGPT, Perplexity, Satlas and Semantic Scholar. Keith Smyth, Dean of Learning & Teaching at UHI, outlined some of the challenges they are facing including AI and critical literacy, tensions around convenience and creation, and the relationship between GAI and open education. How does open education practice sit alongside generative AI? There are some similarities in terms of ethos; GAI repurposes, reuses, and remixes resources, but in a really selfish way. To address these ambiguities, UHI are developing further guidance on GAI and open education practice and will try to foster a culture that values and prioritises sharing and repurposing resources as OER. 

Patricia Gibson gave an interesting talk about “Defending Truth in an Age of AI Generated Misinformation: Using the Wiki as a Pedagogical Device”.  GAI doesn’t know about the truth, it is designed to generate the most most accurate response from the available data, if it doesn’t have sufficient data, it simply guesses or “hallucinates”. Patricia cautioned against letting machines flood our information channels with misinformation and untruth. Misinformation creates inaccuracy and unreliability and leads us to question what is truth.  However awareness of GAI is also teaching us to question images and information we see online, enabling us to develop critical digital and AI literacy skills. Patricia went on to present a case study about Business students working collaboratively to develop wiki content, which echoed many of the findings of Edinburgh’s own Wikipedia in the curriculum initiatives.  This enabled the students to co-create collaborative knowledge, develop skills in sourcing information, curate fact-checked information, engage in discussion and deliberation, and counter misinformation.

Interestingly, the Open Data Institute presented at the conference for what I think may be the first time. Tom Pieroni, ODI Learning Manager, spoke about a project to develop a GAI tutor for use on an Data Ethics Essentials course: Generative AI as an Assistant Tutor: Can responsible use of GenAI improve learning experiences and outcomes?  

CC BY SA, Tom Pieroni, Open Data Institute

One of the things I found fascinating about this presentation was that while there was some evaluation of the pros and cons of using the GAI tutor, there was no discussion about the ethics of GAI itself. Perhaps that is part of the course content? One of the stated aims of the Assistant AI Tutor project is to “Explore AI as a method for personalising learning.” This struck me because earlier in the conference someone, sadly I forget who, had made the sage comment that all too often technology in general and AI an particular effectively remove the person from personalised learning. 

Unfortunately I missed Javiera Atenas and Leo Havemann’s session on A data ethics and data justice approach for AI-Enabled OER, but I will definitely be dipping in to the slides and resources they shared. 

Student Engagement and Co-Creation

Leo Havemann, Lorna M. Campbell, Mayu Ishimoto, Cárthach Ó Nuanáin, Hazel Farrell, OER24, CC0.

I was encouraged to hear a number of talks that highlighted the importance of enabling students to co-create open knowledge as this was one of the themes of the talk that OER Service intern Mayu Ishimoto and I gave on Empowering Student Engagement with Open Education. Our presentation explored the transformative potential of engaging students with open education through salaried internships, and how these roles empower students to go on to become radical digital citizens and knowledge activists. There was a lot of interest in Information Services Group’s programme of student employment and several delegates commented that it was particularly inspiring to hear Mayu talking about her own experience of working with the OER Service.  

Open Education at the Crossroads

Laura Czerniewicz and Catherine Cronin opened the second day of the conference with an inspiring, affirming and inclusive keynote The Future isn’t what it used to be: Open Education at a Crossroads OER24 keynote resources.  Catherine and Laura have the unique ability to be fearless and clear sighted in facing and naming the crises and inequalities that we face, while never losing faith in humanity, community and collective good. I can’t adequately summarise the profound breadth and depth of their talk here, instead I’d recommend that you watch to their keynote and read their accompanying essay.  I do want to highlight a couple of points that really stood out for me though. 

Laura pointed out that we live in an age of conflict, where the entire system of human rights are under threat. The early hope of the open internet is gone, a thousand flowers have not bloomed. Instead, the state and the market control the web, Big Tech is the connective tissue of society, and the dominant business model is extractive surveillance capitalism.

AI has caused a paradigmatic shift and there is an irony around AI and open licensing; by giving permission for re-use, we are giving permission for potential harms, e.g. facial recognition software being trained on open licensed images.  Copyright is in turmoil as a result of AI and we need to remember that there is a difference between what is legal and what is ethical. We need to rethink what we mean by open practice when GAI is based on free extractive labour.  Having written about the contested relationship of invisible labour and open education in the past, this last point really struck me. 

HE for Good was written as an antidote to these challenges.  Catherine & Laura drew together the threads of HE for Good towards a manifesto for higher education and open education, adding:

“When we meet and share our work openly and with humility we are able to inspire each other to address our collective challenges.”

CC BY NC, Catherine Cronin & Laura Czerniewicz, OER24

Change is possible they reminded us, and now is the time.  We stand at a crossroads and we need all parts of the open education movement to work together to get us there.  In the words of Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and current Chair of the Elders:

“Our best future can still lie ahead of us, but it is up to everyone to get us there.”  

Catherine Cronin & Laura Czerniewicz, OER24, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell.

The Splintering of Social Media

One theme that emerged during the conference is what Catherine and Laura referred to as the “splintering of social media”, with a number of presenters exploring the impact this has had on open education community and practice.  This splintering has lead people to seek new channels to share their practice with some turning to the fediverse, podcasting and internet radio. Blogging didn’t seem to feature quite as prominently as a locus for sharing practice and community, but it was good to see Martin Weller still flying the flag for open ed blogging, and I’ve been really encouraged to see how many blog posts have been published reflecting on the conference.  

Gasta! 

The Gasta sessions, overseen by Gasta Master Tom Farelly, were as raucous and entertaining as ever.  Every presenter earned their applause and their Gasta! beer mat. It seems a bit mean to single any out, but I can’t finish without mentioning Nick Baker’s Everyone’s Free..to use OEP, to the tune of Baz Luhrmann “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)”, Alan Levine’s Federated, and Eamon Costello’s hilarious Love after the algorithm: AI and bad pedagogy police.  Surely the first time an OER Conference has featured Jon Bon Jovi sharing his thoughts on the current state of the pedagogical landscape?!

Eamon Costello, Jon Bon Jovi, Tom Farrelly, Alan Levine, OER24, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

The closing of an OER Conference is always a bit of an emotional experience and this year more so than most. The conference ended with a heartfelt standing ovation for open education stalwart Martin Weller who is retiring and heading off for new adventures, and a fitting and very lovely impromptu verse of The Parting Glass by Tom. Tapadh leibh a h-uile duine agus chì sinn an ath-bhliadhna sibh!

Martin Weller, Tom Farrelly, Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell, OER24.

* The title of this blog post is taken from this lovely tweet by Laura Czerniewicz.

OER23 Conference: Imagining hopeful futures

I’m a bit late with this OER23 reflection, it’s taken me a couple of weeks to catch up with myself and to let some of the ideas generated by the conference percolate.  

It was fabulous to see the OER Conference returning to Scotland for the fist time since we hosted it at the University of Edinburgh in 2016, and I was particularly pleased to see the conference visit the University of the Highlands and Islands in Inverness.  Inverness holds a rather special place in my heart as the site of many childhood holidays (it seemed like such a big city compared to Stornoway!) and as a stopping off point on annual journeys home to the Hebrides.  I had a slightly weird feeling of nostalgia and home-sickness while I was there, it was odd being in Inverness and not traveling on further north and west. Perhaps not coincidentally, sense of place and community were two themes that emerged throughout the conference. 

As one of the few universities in Scotland, along with Edinburgh, with a strategic commitment to open education, including an OER Policy and a Framework for the Development of Open Education Practices, UHI was a fitting venue for the conference. Keith Smyth and his UHI colleagues were the warmest of hosts and the airy Inverness campus was a beautiful location with plenty of space to breathe, think, and (re)connect. It was lovely seeing so many colleagues from around the world experiencing a Highland welcome for the first time. 

UHI Inverness, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

One of the main themes of the conference was “Open Education in Scotland – celebrating 10 years of the Scottish Open Education Declaration” and Joe Wilson and I ran both a pre-conference workshop and the closing plenary panel to reflect on progress, or not, over the last ten years and to map a way forward.  I’ll be reflecting on these discussions in another post.

Rikke Toft Nørgård opened the conference with a fantastic and fantastical keynote on “Hyper-Hybrid Futures? Reimagining open education and educational resources Places // Persons // Planets” (slides, recording) that challenged us to imagine and manifest transformative speculative futures for education.  Her call for “open hopepunk futures in grimdark times” clearly resonated with participants. Rikke described hopepunk as a sincerely activist approach to fighting for a more hopeful future.  I particularly liked her vision for place-ful OERs; education that has a home, that belongs and dwells in placefulness, being some-where, not any-where. 

Anna-Wendy Stevenson also picked up on this idea of belonging and placefulness in her keynote “Setting the Tone: The democratisation of music eduction in the Highlands and Island and beyond” (recording). Anna-Wendy is the course leader of UHI’s award-winning BA in Applied Music, a blended learning course that enables students to study music in their own communities while providing opportunities for both virtual and place based residencies in the Outer Hebrides and beyond.  Having grown up in the Hebrides I appreciate the importance of having the opportunity to study at home, and the benefits this can bring to students and the community.  I left the islands to go to university and, like many graduates, never returned.  While eighteen-year-old me wouldn’t have passed up on the opportunity to move to “the mainland” in a month of Sundays (IYKYK), I would have jumped at the chance if there had been a possibility to go back home to continue studying archaeology at postgraduate level. It’s wonderful that students now have that opportunity. After Anna-Wendy’s keynote, it was lovely to hear her playing traditional Scottish music with some of her students who have benefited from this place-based approach to music education. 

It was great being able to attend the conference with a group of colleagues from the University of Edinburgh, several of whom were experiencing the conference for the first time. Fiona Buckland and Lizzy Garner-Foy from the Online Course Production Service gave a really inspiring presentation about the University’s investment in open education, which has resulted in 100 free short online courses and over 1000 open educational resources (OER) that have benefited almost 5 million learners over the last 10 years. It makes you proud 🙂

Tracey Madden told the story of the University’s digital badges pilot project and the challenges of developing a sustainable service that assures both quality and accessibility. Stuart Nicol and I shared the university’s experience of transforming the curriculum with OER and presented case studies from the fabulous GeoScience Outreach course and our indefatigable Wikimedian in Residence (slides). We shared a padlet of open resources, along with staff and student testimonies, which you can explore here: Open For Good – Transforming the curriculum with OER at the University of Edinburgh.

 

The Edinburgh team also had a really productive meeting with a delegation of colleagues from a wide range of institutions and organisations in the Netherlands to share our experiences of supporting open education policy and practice at institutional and national level in our respective countries. 

As with so many OER Conferences, hope and joy were prominent themes that were woven into the fabric of the event. Catherine Cronin gave us an update on the eagerly anticipated book Higher Education for Good: Teaching and Learning Futures, which she has been editing with Laura Czerniewicz. 

Prajakta Girme spoke about “Warm Spaces”; open multicultural space, or “pockets of community” for vulnerable communities and non-students within the university environment. Frances Bell and Lou Mycroft asked how we can use feminist posthuman storytelling to promote activism in FemEdTech and open education, challenging us to develop “productive approaches to exploring uncertain educational futures critically, retaining the pragmatic hope offered by Posthuman Feminism.”  Frances had brought one of the Femedtech quilts (it was lovely to see my Harris Tweed square at home in the Highlands) and she invited us to write speculative futures for the quilt assemblage.  You can read my micro-speculative future on femedtech.net here: Reconnecting with Joy.

Frances Bell and the Femedtech quilt, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

I also had a really lovely conversation with Bryan Mathers of Visual Thinkery about our shared experience of reconnecting with our Gàidhlig / Gaeilge language and culture. His Patchwork Province zines had me laughing and nodding along in rueful recognition. 

I always leave the OER Conferences inspired and hope-full and this year it was lovely to end the conference by sharing a quiet, reflective train journey with Catherine, Joe and Louise Drumm, who captured this beautiful image as we traveled home through the Highlands.