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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Open At The Margins: Critical Perspectives on Open Education

“When we think this question “who appears?” we are asked a question about how spaces are occupied by certain bodies who get so used to their occupation that they don’t even notice it… To question who appears is to become the cause of discomfort. It is almost as if we have a duty not to notice who turns up and who doesn’t” – Making feminist points, Sara Ahmed.

Open at the Margins book coverThis week saw the launch of the Rebus Community’s publication of Open At The Margins: Critical Perspectives on Open Education. Open At the Margins is a global collection of diverse critical voices in open education curated by Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin, Laura Czerniewicz, Robin de Rosa and Rajiv Jhangiani. The collection aims to centre marginalised voices and ask critical questions of open education relating to community, equity, inclusion, rights, privileges, privacy and academic labour. All the chapters included have already been shared through informal channels, often as conference sessions, keynotes or blog posts, and several of them are pieces that have had a profound influence on my own journey as an open practitioner, including Audrey Watters From “Open” to Justice, Catherine Cronin’s Open Education, Open Questions, and Chris Bourg’s Open As In Dangerous. And there are many, many more chapters by authors who I deeply admire and respect, which I am looking forward to discovering.

I’m humbled to have a piece of my own included in the collection. The Soul Of Liberty: Openness Equality and Co-Creation is the transcript of a keynote I gave at the CELT Design for Learning Symposium, NUI Galway in 2018. This was the third in a series of three related keynotes that included The Long View: Changing Perspectives on OER (OER18 Conference) and Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape (FLOSS UK Spring Conference). All three pieces explored the different domains, communities and cultures that make up the the open knowledge landscape, and highlighted the problem of systemic bias and structural inequality in a wide range of “open” spaces.

The title, The Soul of Liberty, comes from a quote by 18th century Scottish feminist, social reformer and advocate for women’s equality in education, Frances Wright.

“Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.”

The piece questions what we mean when we talk about openness in relation to digital teaching and learning spaces, resources, communities and practices.  How open and equitable are our open online education spaces and who are they open to? And it explores how we can engage with students to co-create open education spaces and communities that are more equitable, inclusive and participatory.

The above quote from Sara Ahmed, which appears in the introduction of Open at the Margins, really resonated with me because it echoes a passage from the Soul of Liberty.

“We all need to be aware of the fact 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. Because nine times out of ten, 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. Far too often our open spaces replicate the power structures and inequalities that permeate our society.”

I think we still have a long way to go until the our open spaces and communities really are open to all, however Open at the Margins makes an important contribution to opening up these spaces, dismantling hierarchies, and centering voices that have been marginalized and excluded. I’d like to thank the editors for their commitment to this cause and I am excited to see what kind of conversations are possible as a result.

Sustaining an ethic of care

On Friday 13th of March I wrote a blog post called What Comes Next, which marked the end of the last round of UCU strikes and looked forward to my return to work the following week. Five days later, in response to the rapidly worsening coronavirus pandemic, my university advised all staff and students to leave campus and work from home, and the following week the whole UK went into lockdown. I think it’s fair to say that at that stage none of us could possibly have imagined what came next.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, it may be a cliché, but rarely has it been so true. In the fifteen weeks since lock down began, it’s been nothing short of inspiring to see the superhuman efforts of colleagues right across all sectors of education to ensure that teaching and learning could continue, while respecting the unique stresses and anxieties that we’ve all been facing in these Unprecedented Times.

Learning technologists have become the new superhero/ines, putting the technology in place to enable teaching continuity, upskilling academic colleagues to help them transition to online teaching, figuring out the practicalities of hybrid teaching, and working out the logistics of making it a reality at scale, all while dealing with the uncertainty that, for all the planning and modeling, we don’t really know what’s going to happen in September, and beyond that, what will happen in the longer term.

And all this effort has taken place against a back drop of hot takes from ed tech gurus, CEOs and journalists, who persist in comparing “traditional” on-campus face to face education to online learning, despite decades of evidence based research that direct comparisons between the two modes are unhelpful at best and specious at worst. Every day my twitter feed is full of educators and learning techs responding with tired outrage to articles claiming that online programmes require less staff, less skill, less effort, less funding, while providing an inferior learning experience and questionable outcomes.  

It’s as exhausting as it’s infuriating. Particularly when colleagues who were striking over precarity, inequality and workloads at the beginning of the year, returned from strike and immediately shouldered increased workloads without question or complaint. Meanwhile the pandemic has only exacerbated the inequalities that already exist in the system. Journal submissions from women scholars have fallen off a cliff, fixed term teaching contracts have been terminated, disproportionately affecting women, BAME colleagues and early career academics, and women are still carrying the invisible emotional burden of a system and a society under profound stress.

We’ve all had to adapt to the new normal and to do what we can to get by. But my concern is that the new normal still isn’t normal, and perhaps more importantly, it’s also not sustainable.  This level of physical, mental and emotional labour can’t be sustained in the long term without it taking a considerable toll.

As lockdown begins to lift, and we all start to breathe a tentative sigh of relief, my fear is that the delayed impact of that burden of labour will make itself felt just at the point when we have to step up a gear. Lifting of lockdown isn’t an opportunity to relax and get back to normal, it’s the start of a long uphill race with no visible finishing line in sight.

Academic colleagues, and the professional services staff who support them, face an astronomical task to prepare their courses for hybrid delivery, and to open the university to new and returning students in September. The online pivot, that all out sprint to ensure teaching continuity at the beginning of lockdown, has turned into a marathon and there are serious concerns whether we have the strength, stamina and resilience for it.

At the beginning of lockdown my own institution placed the emphasis squarely on communication, care and continuity, and by and large it has responded to the unique challenges of the pandemic with compassion and sensitivity. I sincerely hope that we don’t loose sight of that ethic of care as we move out of lockdown towards a new academic year that will be unlike anything we could ever have experienced or predicted, because that’s when we’re really going to need it the most.

OER20: Care, hope and activism

CC BY, Bryan Mather

The OER Conference is always one of the highlights of the year for me.   It’s the only open education conference I attend regularly and I’m privileged to have been present at every single one since the conference launched at the University of Cambridge back in 2010.  So needless to say, I was gutted that the f2f element of this year’s conference had to be cancelled, despite knowing that it was unquestionably the right thing to do.  I know from experience how much work and personal investment goes into planning the OER Conference and what a difficult decision it must have been for ALT and for co-chairs Mia Zamora, Daniel Villar-Onrubia and Jonathan Shaw.  That initial feeling of loss was tempered by ALTs announcement that they would be moving the event online, an ambitious plan, given that the conference was barely two weeks away.  I was always confident that ALT could pull off this #pivot as they already have a wealth of experience facilitating online conferences, through the annual winter online conference, and as an already distributed organisation they didn’t have to cope with the scramble to set up remote working that may other organisations and institutions faced.  What I didn’t expect though was for ALT and the conference co-chairs to deliver an entirely unique event.  They didn’t just move the planned face to face conference online they completely transformed it into a new, original and completely free online experience that welcomed over 1,000 registered participation from across the globe.  And please note, the OER20 conference wasn’t just free as in speech, it was also free as in beer, so if you participated in the event, either listening in to the presentations, or even just following the hashtag online, please consider making a donation to the conference fund.  Every little helps to support ALT and cover the cost.

Of course the theme of the conference, The Care in Openness, could not have been more timely or more prescient.  The whole notion of care has taken on new weight since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.  Care has literally become a matter of survival.  The only way we will get through this is if we care for each other, and if we protect and value those that care for us.  

If I was to pick two session that for me, really embodied this ethic of care it would have to be keynote sava saheli singh and Mia Zamora in conversation, and Frances Bell talking about the femedtech quilt project.  Both sessions featured films that provoked a really strong, but very different, emotional response.  Screening Surveillance’s Frames is a deeply unsettling tale of surveillance, commodification, dehumanisation and alienation.  Powerful, challenging and disturbing, watching Frames is a profoundly uncomfortable and thought provoking experience. The subsequent discussion brought to mind Jimmy Reid’s immortal address on becoming rector of the University of Glasgow in 1972; Alienation

“Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially de-humanises people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human being, self-centred and grasping.”

This quote particularly resonates with me.  So much has changed in the 50 years since Reid’s address, but so much remains the same. It is the system of capitalism that is still so often the root cause of our dehumanisation and alienation. Industrialisation may have given way to surveillance capitalism, but digital technology is simply the latest mechanism for our alienation. 

sava ended her brilliant keynote session with a much needed call for compassion and action:

“We need to approach everyone with compassion…All of us are activists now.”

It was a huge privilege to hear sava and Mia in conversation, and my only regret is that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet them in person. I hope that will happen one day.

Nowhere is that compassion and activism more visible than in the making of the femedtech quilt, a craft activism project and a material manifestation of care led by the indefatigable Frances Bell.  Frances produced this beautiful film about the making of quilt and it’s safe to say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after watching it.   Like the quilt itself, the up-swell of collective emotion was “beautifully imperfect, imperfectly beautiful.”


 

I find it hard to put my profound appreciation for this project into words, but Su-Ming Khoo spoke for many of us when she thanked Frances for giving us all “somewhere to put our connection and our gratitude”.

My other highlights of the conference included….

The launch of the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK’s Wikimedia in Education handbook.  Edited by Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, this free, open licensed booklet brings together 14 case studies from educators across the UK who are already integrating Wikimedia assignments in their courses and classes.   I know how much work has gone into the production of this booklet so it was great to see it being launched. I’m sure it will be an invaluable  and inspirational resource that will encourage educators to see the huge potential of integrating Wikmedia projects in education.

Staying with the Wikimedians, Wikimedia UK’s Scotland Programmes Coordinator Sara Thomas gave an impassioned talk on Wikimedia and Activism.  I love listening to Sara present, she always makes me want to storm the barricades! Sara reminded us that learning and creating open knowledge are always political acts. Creating knowledge encourages agency, but access to information alone does not result in enlightenment. Knowledge is nothing without literacy and information literacy is crucial for participatory democracy.

I also really enjoyed Bonnie Stewart and Dave White’s thoughtful and compassionate session on Designing for Systems of Care: Can Open Pedagogy Scale Caring? Dave spoke about the dangerous grey area between surveillance and care, and argued that personalised, individualised learning is actually reducing our agency, our self-direction and self-determination. We’re at a point where the tech sector appears to be telling us “we’ll care for you and personalise your experience, if you tell us everything about you.” But we can’t use technology to lock everything down, we need to create a culture of trust now more so than ever.

I made one very small contribution to the conference this year, a short alt-format talk on open practice and invisible labour, which you can read here and listen to here.  Sadly this talk became all the more relevant with news reports yesterday afternoon that hundreds of university staff on precarious contracts have been made redundant by the universities of Bristol, Newcastle and Sussex.  As my colleague Melissa Highton succinctly put it “This is why we strike.

There is always a strong social element to OER conferences and there was a risk that this would be lost with the move online.  However the conference team excelled themselves and, if anything, this was one of the most social and inclusive conferences I’ve participated in, ether on or off-line.  The social bingo was hugely popular and a great use of Alan Levine’s fabulous TRU Collector SPLOT. (If you enjoyed playing OER social bingo, you might like to support Alan’s work by contributing to his Patreon.)  The KarOERke was also priceless.  Anyone who knows me will know that karaoke is my idea of HELL. I can barely even bring myself to watch it, never mind participate!  However, I had great fun dipping in and out of the online KarOERke on ds106.tv.  My only regret is that I missed Lucy Crompton-Reid singing Kate Bush.  The final rousing chorus from Les Mis was something to behold though.  Y’all are daft as brushes.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the OER20 though was that none of the emotion and connection that is so characteristic of the OER conferences was lost. If anything, this was heightened by the #unprecedented global situation we find ourselves living through.  Suddenly these tenuous temporal connections we made with colleagues from all over the world during the two days of the conference, felt more important than ever before.  A valuable lifeline, and a network of care, hope and activism that connected us all at a time of uncertainty and isolation. Ultimately these are the things that matter and these are the things that will see us through.

Working from Home: Adjusting to the new normal

It’s been nothing short of inspiring to see the heroic efforts of learning technologists all over the country to help their colleagues move their teaching online over the last week.  Special shout out to my colleagues in LTW who have calmly and patiently trained over six hundred academic staff to use our core tools and move their teaching online under difficult and stressful circumstances.

Thanks also to Martin Weller and the fabulously talented Bryan Mathers for this hilarious and slightly disturbing image.

 

And of course learning technologists have been doing all this while trying to rapidly adjust to radically different working conditions and the prospect of working from home being the new normal for the foreseeable future.  I’ve worked remotely most of my career, often as part of a widely distributed team, and once you get used to it, it’s easy to forget how difficult and disruptive it can be for those who have little or no experience of home working.  Luckily there are lots of great tips and resources for remote workers available online, some of which I’ve linked below, and more remote workers are sharing their experience every day.  Wikimedia UK’s Scotland Programme Coordinator and experienced home worker, Sara Thomas, has written an excellent blog post that I would highly recommend to anyone who is new to home working: Remote working the Wikimedia UK way.  Here’s a few additional suggestions based on my experience of remote working.

The new normal isn’t normal

The first thing to be aware of is that this is not a normal home working scenario. Everyone is trying to adapt very quickly to a uniquely stressful and uncertain situation. We’re all trying to cope with caring for loved ones, covering childcare and home schooling, dealing with shortages, while being mindful of our own mental health and wellbeing.  Bearing that in mind, some of the advice I would normally recommend for remote working just doesn’t apply right now.  Usually I would stress that it’s important to communicate to your family, children, housemates, that when you’re working from home, you are actually working, and you shouldn’t be interrupted.  I don’t think that applies right now.  If your kid wants to show you their drawing in the middle of a conference call that’s fine, share it with your colleagues too! Or your partner just wants to sit down and talk to you for a few minutes, make time for them. Being there for each other is the most important thing we can do right now.

Routine is good

Do try to get into a routine and to keep normal working hours as much as possible, but don’t get too stressed if you need to take time out to take a breather.  When we work in an office we benefit from all kinds of little social interactions that we may not really be aware of.  Working from home, it’s easy to worry that we’re not doing enough, or that we’re wasting time if we browse social media, read the news for a few minutes, or clear up the dishes.  However, it’s almost impossible to stay focused for hours on end without social interaction so I try to see these small breaks as being equivalent to all the little interactions you would normally have when you’re working with others.

Set up your workspace

Tempting as it may be to work from the couch, I would highly recommend setting up a dedicated workspace, even if it’s just a corner of the kitchen table.  This will help you to get into the right frame of mind for working and it also means that it’s easier for you to “leave work” at the end of the day.  

Knowing when to stop

After over a decade of remote working, one thing I still struggle with is stopping at the end of the day.  It’s very easy to let your working day stretch on way beyond your contracted work hours when you’re working from home.  Sometimes it takes discipline to shut your laptop and step away from work.

Get out!

Bearing in mind the current social distancing restrictions, do try to get out of the house at least once a day.  If you’ve got a park nearby, make the most of it. On days I work from home I always go for a walk round the park before sitting down to start working.

Online meetings are tiring

Online meetings are much more exhausting that face to face meetings, even when the technology works.  I don’t know why, they just are.  So try to be realistic about how much time you can expect your colleagues to spend in remote meetings.  Don’t let a Teams meeting drag on for an hour if you can get it over and done with in half that time. 

Virtual presence

Virtual presence is a good thing.  It’s a great way to let your colleagues know you’re there, and it can help you feel connected to your team. There are lots of different ways to manage remote presence, I tend to use twitter, but it can be as simple as setting your online status at the beginning of the day.  Turning off virtual presence at the end of the day is also a good way to remind everyone, yourself included, that you are no longer working.  Remember that you don’t have to be available 24/7. 

Social media

Social media really comes into its own when you’re working remotely. It’s a great way to stay connected to colleagues at an informal social level.  I’ve used twitter as my main work social media channel for over a decade now, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I’d be lost without the fabulous community of learning technologists and open educators who hang out there.  Having said that, I would never pressure anyone to use social media tools that they are not comfortable with.  Twitter is great if you’ve got a community of friends and colleagues there, but it can also be hostile and stressful for many people.  Let folk use what ever channels they are most comfortable with and always remember to respect people’s boundaries.

Silly gifs and cat pics

It’s really important to encourage informal social interaction, otherwise people can begin to feel stressed and isolated.  Never underestimate the therapeutic value of stupid gifs and cat pics.  One day into remote working and we already had an impromptu #ISGpets tag on twitter to share pictures of our four-legged co-workers.  It’s still going strong and it’s been a joy to get acquainted with colleagues’ talented cats, dogs, guinea pigs and …um… robots.

There are lots of ways to encourage social interaction across remote teams. Post a picture of your work space, your favourite coffee mug, your pet, the view from your window.  Set up a shared playlist on Spotify or youtube.   I’ve known some teams to have dress up days where everyone wears a specific colour or item of clothing and then shares a picture.  Get creative and don’t afraid to be a bit silly.  A word of caution though, some people will be more comfortable with the silliness that others, so don’t expect everyone to engage in the same way.  If you’re already stressed, being pushed out of your comfort zone to participate in daft activities isn’t going to help. 

Ultimately the most important thing to bear in mind at this point in time is that we need to be kind, patient and caring.  That’s really all that matters right now. 

ETA….

Resources

Remote Working the Wikimedia Way.  Sound advice from Wikimedia UK’s Sara Thomas.

Ramblings of a Remote Worker Marieke Guys, ex UKOLN and Open Knowledge Foundation, maintained this blog about remote working until 2015, and it’s still one of the best around. 

Virtual Teams The Association for Learning Technology operates as an entirely distributed organisation. CEO Maren Deepwell and Chief Innovation, Community and Technology Officer Martin Hawksey have shared their experience of managing remote teams. 

Homeworking – a guide for employers and employees. Guidance from ACAS. 

What comes next

Today marks the end of the current round of UCU strike action and it’s been an unsettling few weeks in more ways than one. I didn’t join the strike until half way through the first week as I had already agreed to present a keynote at the Wikimedia in Education summit at Coventry University before the strike dates were announced. This is the second time I’ve broken a strike to participate in an event of this kind and in both instances it wasn’t a decision I took lightly. However as the event, and my keynote, had a strong focus on equity and social justice, and addressed some of the issues that the UCU strike has been highlighting, I took the decision to go ahead.

Since then I’ve withdrawn my labour from my university and have done what I can to support the strike. I haven’t been picketing because I can’t afford the travel costs on top of the eye watering loss of wages, but I’ve been trying my best to observe the digital picket, by not tweeting anything directly related to my work at the University of Edinburgh. Although I’ve continued tweeting information related to the strike, and sharing posts on #femedtech, withdrawing from the open education community on twitter has been quite an isolating experience.

Because I work part time for my university, I also contribute my labour to several other oganisations on a voluntary basis, so I’ve continued to participate in some events and activities in a personal capacity, however it’s been a constant struggle to decide where to draw the line. So, for example, although we didn’t plan any Open.Ed activities for Open Education Week, which fell in the middle of the strike, I did participate, as a member of the #femedtech network, in an asynchronous event Open Policy – Who cares? organised by the ALT Open Ed SIG.  Was that the right thing to do? I have no idea. I also participated in two VConnecting Missed Conversations that explored some of the themes we discussed at the ALT / Wikimedia DE Open for a Cause event in Berlin in December, wrote a blog post about “women’s work” and the femedtech quilt, and an article about the labour of care in Higher Education for WonkHE.

Care was one theme that emerged repeatedly during the strike. Care for ourselves, care for our students, care for our colleagues, care for our profession. And now that diligence of care is going to take on a whole new dimension as we do our best to care for each other in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Going back to work next week in these exceptional circumstances is going to be difficult and challenging for everyone so I hope we can hold onto that ethic of care over the coming months.

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.

2019: Inspiration and Hope

2019 was a difficult year by any standards, what with Brexit looming, the disastrous general election, the strike, and other issues rather closer to home. However I don’t want to dwell on the negatives, instead I want to focus on the people and events that inspired me and gave me hope over the course of the year.

OER19

The OER conferences are always inspirational but this year that inspiration was particularly necessary and timely. The theme of OER19 was Recentering Open: Critical and Global Perspectives and the conference gave a much-needed platform to many of the diverse voices that are often marginalized in the open knowledge domain. More than anything else though, the conference was about hope. From Kate Bowles uplifting opening keynote, to co-chairs Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz quoting Rebecca Solnit in their closing address, OER19 provided a much needed beacon of hope.

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark.

OER19, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

ALT and Wikimedia UK

I was honoured to be re-elected to the boards of both ALT and Wikimedia UK for a second term in 2019. I can’t speak highly enough of my fellow board members, board chairs and the CEOs of both organisations. Their commitment to supporting their members and communities for the greater good of all is endlessly inspiring. It’s a privilege to be able to make a small contribution to both organisations.

Wikimedia UK Board 2019. By Josie Fraser.

Society for Nautical Research

I stepped down as a board member of the Society for Nautical Research, after five years as chair of the SNR’s Publications and Membership Committee. It was an experience that was equal parts rewarding and frustrating, particularly when I was often the only female voice in the room. However I’m very grateful to my colleagues on Pubs Comm who supported me throughout, and I was pleased and surprised to be made a Fellow of the Society when I stepped down in July.

Femedtech

I’ve been peripherally involved in Femedtech since it’s inception but last year was the first time I sat down and really made a contribution with the femedtech Open Space, femedtech.net, which Frances Bell and I built for OER19, with the generous support of Alan Levine and Reclaim Hosting. I was overjoyed by the response to the Open Space and I’m delighted to see it living on to host subsequent femedtech projects and initiatives.

Frances Bell, Life Member of ALT

Although I’ve known Frances and admired her work for many years, so it was a joy to work with her to build the femedtech Open Space. It was a real privilege to be able to learn from her experience, commitment and empathy. So I was over the moon to see Frances’ contribution to the ed tech community and beyond acknowledged by ALT when she was awarded Life Membership of ALT at the ALT Conference in September. Being invited by ALT CEO Maren Deepwell to present the award to Frances was, without doubt, one of my personal highlights of the year.

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

Wikimedia for Peace in Vienna

In June I took time out from work to go to the Wikipedia for Peace editathon, which took place in Vienna to coincide with Europride 2019. It was amazing to be able to meet and work with a group of inspiring editors, all of whom are deeply committed to upholding the rights of marginalized individuals and communities through knowledge equity. I’m very grateful to Wikimedia UK and Josie Fraser for supporting my participation in this event.

Wikipedia for Peace editathon, CC BY SA 4.0, Mardetanha, on Wikimedia Commons.

Dunfermline College on Wikipedia

I didn’t manage to do as much Wikipedia editing this year as I would have liked, but one thing I was able to do was to edit the rather sparse page for Dunfermline College of Physical Education. I was inspired to do this by the University of Edinburgh’s Body Language exhibition and the fact that my mother had been a student of the college in the 1950’s. I inherited my mother’s college photograph album when she passed away several years ago and many of her photographs are now illustrating the college’s shiny new Wikipedia page. Many thanks to Michael Maggs for guiding me through the OTRS process.

ICEPOPS

The ICEPOPS Conference came to Edinburgh in July and I was delighted to be able to go along, not just because I’m a big admirer of Jane Secker and Chris Morrison’s work, but also because my OER Service colleague Charlie Farley was presenting one of the keynotes. Charlie is a joy and an inspiration to work with it was wonderful to hear her presenting her first keynote.

Stephanie (Charlie) Farley and Jane Secker, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Once Upon An Open

I first heard Sara Thomas’ moving story Once Upon An Open when she uploaded it to the femedtech Open Space during OER19 and it moved me to tears.  I missed Sara telling the story live at the conference, but I heard her perform this piece again at the Wikimedia AGM in Bristol.  Since then, I’ve listened to it countless times and urged everyone I know to listen to it too, it’s worth five minutes of anyone’s time. 

Open For a Cause

In early December ALT and Wikimedia DE invited me to Berlin, where I had the privilege of participating in Open For a Cause: Fostering participation in society and education. It was a humbling experience to sit alongside a group inspirational thinkers, including Laura Czerniewicz, Audrey Watters, Martin Hawksey,  Maren Deepwell and Christian Friedrich, all of whom have had a huge impact on my own understanding of the open knowledge domain. It was also lovely to spend time in Berlin, a city I’m very fond off, with such good friends.

Maren Deepwell, Audrey Watters, and me. CC BY Martin Hawksey

UCU Strike

The UCU strike was difficult this year, I’m not going to deny it. It was long and hard and came at a difficult time of the year with Brexit and the general election looming. It had to be done though and I’m immensely proud of colleagues across the UK who joined the strike, and stood up for the rights of all those working in Higher Education today.

UCU Strike Rally, CC BY SA, Lorna M. Campbell on Wikimedia Commons

Open Scotland

In my end of year reflection last year, I noted that one of my frustrations had been that I had neglected Open Scotland due to lack of time and headspace. I’m pleased to say that at the end of 2019 Joe Wilson and I made an effort to resurrect the initiative. Open Scotland has now moved to a shared curation model inspired by femedtech and I’d like to thank all those who volunteered for enough curation spots to see us through into the New Year.

Return of the Magic Bus

Another woe from last year was the sad demise of our faithful old VW T25 camper van. After months of swithering we finally decided to bite the bullet and shell out for a new engine and by mid summer the magic bus was back on the road and heading for the Outer Hebrides where we spent a fabulous week visiting family and touring the length of the islands.

Scurrival Campsite, Barra. CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Friends

And last, but by no means least, friends. Friends and colleagues have been an endless inspiration and support this year and I am grateful to every one of them. It was a particular pleasure to reconnect with the old Strathclyde crew, Allison, Sheila, Sarah and Karen, and to be able to revisit our favourite old haunt Café Gandolfi. Good times. Here’s hoping there will be many more of them.

Where to draw the line?

Today I am on strike to support the industrial action called by UCU over changes to the USS pension scheme and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.  You can find out more about the UCU strikes here: Everyone Out

Having worked on short term contracts for much of my academic career, casualisation and precarity are causes particularly close to my heart and it’s appalling to see how contracts and conditions have deteriorated over the years. I experienced precarity working as a contact researcher for almost twenty years from 1997 to 2015 and I am well aware that my experience pales in comparison to the casualisation and exploitation that many academic colleagues, support staff and early career researchers are currently facing. It’s hard to overestimate the stress caused by constantly scrabbling to get your contract renewed, not knowing if you’ll be employed next month, next semester, next year, not being able to commit to this or that project because you don’t know if you’ll still have a job, not knowing if you’ll be able to pay the mortgage, the rent, the childcare.  Coupled with wildly unrealistic workloads, grinding insecurity, invisible emotional labour, and an “always on” culture exacerbated by social media, it’s hardly any wonder that higher education is facing a mental health crisis. 

But. Here’s the thing, when your personal commitments and professional identity are so tied up with an exploitative system, where do you draw the line?  This is something I’ve grappled with for years. I currently work 0.8 fte at an institution where my primary responsibility is to support uptake and engagement with open education and OER. I’m immensely privileged to work in a field I love at an institution with a strong civic mission and a real commitment to openness and sharing knowledge.  I also have a long standing commitment to open education and social justice that stretches back for well over a decade and I use the time I’m not employed by my institution to contribute my labour to other organisations and initiatives that support like minded goals, sometimes as a volunteer, sometimes in a more formal capacity, as a Trustee or committee member, sometimes just for fun.  These include #Femedtech, ALT, Wikimedia UK, the Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group and Open Scotland.  But when my own personal and political commitments and activism are so interwoven with my professional employment the boundaries become blurred and it’s hard to know where, if anywhere, to draw the line.  I’ve written about the issue of open education and invisible labour before, and I still don’t have any good answers to the questions I raised in this post: Open Practice and Invisible Labour.

So although I am supporting the UCU strikes today, and I will be back on the digital picket line next week, I have not cancelled a commitment to take part in a free event hosted by Wikimedia DE and ALT in Berlin this week on the theme of Open for a cause: fostering participation in society and education.  I’ve done a lot of soul searching to reach this decision, and I’m not sure if it’s the right one, however I believe that many of the conversations that will be aired at this event are directly relevant to the systemic issues plaguing higher education, which the UCU strike is calling for action on.  I’m still deeply conflicted about this decision, but this is where I’m drawing the line, even if it’s terribly blurred.  In lieu of striking for the three days I’ll be in Berlin, I’ve made a contribution to the UCU Fighting Fund instead. 

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