OERxDomains21 – All Change

OER21 BadgeThe OER Conference is always one of the highlights of the year for me. I’ve been privileged to attend every single one since conference launched in 2010 and it’s been interesting to see how the event has changed as open education has evolved over the last 11 years. My keynote at the 2018 conference focused on this evolution and explored how themes and trends around open education had developed, and the OER conferences had responded by become more diverse, inclusive, and international. This year the OER conference entered a new phase of its evolution with a new partnership and a new technology platform. OER21 was run in conjunction with the Domains Conference as OERxDomains21 and, instead of Blackboard Collaborate, the event used Streamyard, YouTube and Discord. The event was brilliantly co-chaired by Joe Wilson, Louise Drumm, Lou Mycroft, Jim Goom and Lauren Hanks.

I have to confess I didn’t know quite what to expect as the conference approached, for the first time in years, I wasn’t able to join the conference committee owing to other work commitments. Streamyard was completely new to me, and although I’m very familiar with Discord I was a bit conflicted about using it for work purposes, as it’s one of my main non-work channels; basically, it’s where I hang out with my friends on group chat.  In the event, the technology worked brilliantly, with unflappable support from ALT and the Reclaim Hosting team.   Proving the adage that a change is as good as a rest, the new platform encouraged all kinds of opportunities for discussion and interaction and lots of participants commented that the event had much more of a social feel than other online conferences. Discord really did have the feel of a physical conference space, where everyone came together to chat, share and hang out, and the live Youtube comment facility that accompanied the presentations and keynotes really helped to encourage discussion.  My only small regret is that with so much of the engagement happening across multiple conference platforms, there was less activity on the hashtags on twitter, which makes it a little harder to look back over all the discussions that took place.

It’s not the technology that makes the OER Conference such a special experience though, it’s the community, and this year was no exception.  I was really delighted to be attending with three student interns, Ana Reina Garcia, Ifeanyichukwu Ezinmadu and Kari Ding, to present a paper on our Open Textbooks for Access to Music Education project.  Our presentation got a really positive response and it was great to see how enthusiastically everyone responded to the students’ involvement in both the project and the conference.  You can find a transcript and slides, as well as more information about the project, on our blog here The Scale of Open: Re-purposing open resources for music education.

I also helped to facilitate an Open Space session with Jane Secker, Chris Morrison, Greg Walters and Sarah Barkala exploring the relationship between open practices, copyright literacy and the shift to online teaching. The Open Space sessions ran in dedicated Discord channels, and although the platform is ideal for group chat, participants were a little shy about taking the mic, and without an in-channel chat facility, it meant that there was less discussion than we’d hoped.  However we did collate some useful resources on a padlet around four key questions related to copyright law, literacy and open practice.

I had to dip in and out of the conference owing to a bit of a crazy workload and a lot of meetings, sadly that’s not something that even the best conference organisation can solve, however the new platform did make it very easy for me to catch up with sessions that I’d missed, which I really appreciated.  I made a point of catching as many of the keynotes as possible, and came away truly inspired. Three themes that emerged strongly across the conference were playfulness and creativity, equity and care, and acknowledging the labour of openness.

OER21 bingo cardCreativity and playfulness was very much to the fore in Laura Gibbs keynote #BeyondLMS: Open Creativity, Randomized which focused on the transformative power of encouraging creative writing on the open web.  Not only did Laura randomise her keynote slides she also let participants create randomised bingo cards so we could play along during her keynote.  Believe it or not, I was the first to get bingo! Though of course it’s the taking part that counts, not the winning 😉

Another of the creative highlights of the conference was Eamon Costello and Prajakta Grime’s mind expanding University V is alive! Now open to the closed, the cruel and the dead.  More of an incantation than a presentation, this incredible multimedia experience left participants challenged and bewildered. I missed the live performance but there was such a buzz about it on Discord that I dropped everything to jump over to youtube to watch the recording. 

A powerful ethic of care has been nurtured by the OER conferences year on year and it’s been humbling and inspiring to see seeds planted at previous conferences take root and grow.  Jasmine Robert’s keynote asked Open for Whom?: Revisiting the Global Commitments of Open Education and posed three key questions:

Jasmine reminded us that open is not always culturally appropriate in different cultural contexts and questioned the ease with which we assign authority to white men, while urging us to acknowledge and protect vulnerable scholars and people of colour who are doing the hard work of open scholarship. She closed her keynote by quoting bell hooks

“All the great social movements for freedom & justice in our society have promoted a love ethic. The testimony of love is the practice of freedom.”

And asking for “open education that is focused on a love ethic to move towards a path of global healing.”

In the Q&A session afterwards I asked Jasmine how we can work to ensure that the labour of care and social justice labour is fully acknowledged and more equally distributed?  She replied that we must begin by acknowledging how much we *all* benefit from social justice labour and care.

In the closing keynote, Rajiv Jhangiani also focused on the Curious Contradictions and Open-ended Questions of what it means to be open, who gets to decide what is open enough, and whether openness is always a good thing.  Rajiv cited an example highlighted by tara robertson of an instance where openness raised troubling ethical issues.  When the lesbian porn magazine On Our Backs was digitised and released under CC BY licence, women who had modelled for the magazine felt that work they had created for their own community had been appropriated for uses they had never intended and did not consent to. 

As someone who is passionate about knowledge activism and the representation of queer history in open culture, this really gave me pause for thought, particularly as I recently created a Wikipedia entry for another lesbian porn magazine Quim, which was co-created by a former On Our Backs photo editor.

Rajiv reminded us that:

“Openness can be leveraged for justice, but it can also do harm. Closed practices can also do harm, but there are times when closed is the empowered choice. Choice is key. We must serve justice, rather than merely being open.”

Another point Rajiv made that raised interesting questions for me was that “the OER Community is one where people are more comfortable to be vulnerable.”  This is certainly true, and I speak from experience, though of course we all have different relationships with that community and I wonder if we don’t always appreciate just how deeply uncomfortable vulnerability can make us feel, even within such a supportive community.  This had struck me during an earlier conference session where participants were asked so share, as part of a series of small groups discussions, stories of instances where care or equity had been lacking, and record them on slides to be shared with the larger group.  While sharing stories of this nature in a small group can be cathartic and empowering, it can be difficult and potentially risky for some to share examples from personal practice in public.  The exercise raised some interesting issues of power and inequity, points that the presenters acknowledged.  

For me, as is so often the case, it was Catherine Cronin who really captured the ethic of care that resonated at the heart of the conference by reminding us that

“Care without equity exacerbates inequality”.

To close I want to say a huge thank you to the teams at ALT and Reclaim hosting, the conference co-chairs and committee, and all the participants who made OER21 such a fun, engaging, thought provoking and empowering event.  And special thanks, as always, to Maren Deepwell who really embodies ALT’s commitment to community, care, equity and openness ♡

Open for Good – Open education and knowledge equity for all

This is a transcript of a keynote I gave at the Open University H818 The Networked Practitioner conference. 

The principles of open education were outlined in the 2008 Cape Town Declaration, one of the first initiatives to lay the foundations of what it referred to as the “emerging open education movement”. The Declaration advocates that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, and redistribute educational resources without constraint, in order to nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need.  One of the many contributors to the Cape Town Declaration was Wikimedia founder, Jimmy Wales.  Who commented in a press release to mark the launch of the Declaration:

“Open education allows every person on earth to access and contribute to the vast pool of knowledge on the web. Everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn.”

The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated on its 10th anniversary as Capetown +10, and I can highly recommend having a look at this if you want a broad overview of the principles of open education.

As conceived by the CapeTown Declaration, open education is a broad umbrella term, there’s is no one hard and fast definition.  In the words of open education scholar Catherine Cronin, open education is complex, personal, contextual and continually negotiated.

One conceptualisation of open education that I like is from the not-for-profit organization OER Commons which states that

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

And what I particularly like about this interpretation is the focus on empowerment, equity and co-creation, which to my mind are the most important aspects of open education and open knowledge.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Owing to its contextual nature, open education encompasses many different aspects however open educational resources, or OER, are of course central to any understanding of this domain. Although there are multiple definitions of the term OER, the one I tend to default to is the UNESCO definition.

“OER are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.”

UNESCO OER Recommendation

The reason this definition is significant is that in November 2019 UNESCO made a formal commitment to actively support the global adoption of OER, when it approved its Recommendation on Open Educational Resources.

Central to the new Recommendation, is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4: to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

 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

Equality and diversity is centred throughout the Recommendation with the acknowledgement that

“In all instances, gender equality should be ensured, and particular attention paid to equity and inclusion for learners who are especially disadvantaged due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.”

Wikimedia Movement Strategy

Elsewhere in the open knowledge domain, and running in parallel with the development of the UNESCO Recommendation, the Wikimedia Foundation has been undertaking its own Movement Strategy exercise to shape the strategic direction of the movement. The movement strategy, comprises 10 recommendations for change, and 10 guiding principles, many of which echo of principals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation. 

Enshrined in the Wikimedia Movement Strategy, are the key concepts of Knowledge as a Service and Knowledge Equity.

Knowledge as a service, is the idea that, Wikimedia will become a platform that serves open knowledge to the world across interfaces and communities.

And knowledge equity, is the 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.

Structural Inequality in the Open Knowledge Landscape

And to my mind it is this commitment to knowledge equity that is key to the open education and open knowledge movements, because as I’m sure we are all aware, the open knowledge landscape is not without its hierarchies, its norms, its gatekeepers and its power structures. We all need to be aware of the fact that open does not necessarily mean accessible. Far too often our open spaces replicate the power structures and inequalities that permeate our society.

For example Wikimedia’s problems with gender imbalance,  structural inequalities and systemic bias are well known and much discussed. On English language Wikipedia just over 18% of biographical articles are about women, and the number of female editors is somewhere between 15 and 20%. Some language Wikipedias, such as the Welsh Wicipedia, fare better, others are much worse. Despite Wikipedia’s gender imbalance being an acknowledged problem, that projects such as Wiki Women In Red have sought to address, too often those who attempt to challenge these structural inequalities and rectify the systemic bias, have been subject of targeted hostility and harassment.   

In an attempt to tackle these problems Wikipedia recently launched a new Universal Code of Conduct intended to make Wikimedia projects more welcoming to new users, especially underrepresented groups who have too often faced harassment and discrimination.   It’s too early yet to know how much impact this Code of Conduct will have but it’s certainly a much-needed step in the right direction.

Wikimedia is not the only open space that suffers from issues of systemic bias and structural inequality.  In a chapter on Open Initiatives for Decolonising the Curriculum, in Decolonising the University edited by Gurminder K Bhrambra, open source software developer Pat Lockley notes that UK universities with the highest percentages of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff are those which spend the least, and in many cases nothing, on open access article processing charges. And he goes on to ask whether Open Access really is broadening and diversifying academia, or merely reinforcing the existing system.

Similarly, in a 2017 survey on open source software development practices and communities, Github, another important open online space, reported huge gaps in representation and concluded that the gender imbalance in open source remains profound. From a random sample of 5,500 respondents 95% were men; just 3% were women and 1% are non-binary.

And there are many other examples of similar structural inequalities in open spaces and communities.

In a 2018 article titled “The Dangers of Being Open” Amira Dhalla, who at the time led Mozilla’s Women and Web Literacy programs, wrote:

“What happens when only certain people are able to contribute to open projects and what happens when only certain people are able to access open resources? This means that the movement is not actually open to everyone and only obtainable by those who can practice and access it.

Open is great. Open can be the future. If, and only when, we prioritize structuring it as a movement where anyone can participate and protecting those who do.”

This lack of equity in the open knowledge landscape is significant, because 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 digital citizens.

OER and the COVID-19 pandemic

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic the role of OER in helping to provide access to inclusive and equitable education for all has become ever more critical.

In April last year, at the first peak 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. 

OER at the University of Edinburgh

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that both open education and open knowledge are strongly in keeping with our institutional vision and values; to discover knowledge and make the world a better place, and to ensure our teaching and research is accessible, inclusive, and relevant to society. In line with the UNESCO OER Recommendation, we also believe that OER and open knowledge can contribute to achieving the aims of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which the University is committed to through the SDG Accord. 

The University’s vision for OER has three strands, building on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment, and the university’s civic mission.

This vision is backed up by an OER Policy, approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, expand provision of learning opportunities, and enrich our shared knowledge commons.

The University’s vision for OER is the brainchild of Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal Online Learning, and the student union were also instrumental in encouraging the University to adopt an OER policy, and we continue to see student engagement and co-creation as being fundamental aspects of open education and open knowledge.

To support this policy we also have an OER Service that provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER, engaging with open education and developing information and copyright literacy skills. The OER Service places openness at the heart of the university’s strategic initiatives in order to build sustainability and minimise the risk of what my senior colleague Melissa Highton has referred to as copyright debt. The service also maintains a one stop shop that provides access to open educational resources created by staff and students across the university.

This strategic support for OER and open knowledge enabled the University to respond rapidly to the uniquely complex challenges presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic and what I want to do now is highlight some of those responses.

Critical Care MOOC

With support from the Online Learning and OER Service, and from our partners at FutureLearn, the University’s MSc Critical Care team was able to rapidly launch a COVID-19 Critical Care online learning resource for frontline clinical staff supporting critical care patients.  It took a little over a fortnight of working day and night to collate the resources and get them onto the FutureLearn platform, and they went live on the 5th of April 2020, just as many European countries were first going into lockdown.  Over 5,000 learners enrolled on the first day of the course and by the end of the first 6 week run, over 40,000 learners from 189 countries had accessed the learning materials.  The University’s strategic support for OER and open knowledge, and FutureLearn’s willingness to prioritise the project, helped enable us to develop this resource at speed.  The team comprised staff from the University, FutureLearn, NHS Lothian, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and NHS Education Scotland, who came together to make something positive happen at a difficult and stressful time for many, motivated by the knowledge of how valuable this educational resource would be to staff on the frontline of critical care.

Free Short Online Courses

Providing open access to high quality online learning opportunities and widening access to our scholarship has always been an important cornerstone of the University’s commitment to open knowledge exchange and community outreach and we  provide a wide range of online courses including masters degrees, MOOCs and MicroMasters programmes.  Ensuring continued access to course materials for online learners, has always been a priority, and now more so than ever when many learners may find it challenging to meet fixed deadlines as a result of other personal commitments and stresses in their lives. To address this issue, we ensure that the majority of online learning content created for these courses can be released under open licence, this includes over 500 high quality MOOCs videos which can be accessed and downloaded from our Open Media Bank channel. The Open Media Bank hosts legacy content covering a wide range of topics, including some that directly address the challenges of the pandemic, such as videos from our former MOOC Critical Thinking in Global Challenges  which explores important global challenges including epidemics and the spread of serious infectious, and the challenges of human health and wellbeing in the modern world. 

Free Teaching and Learning Resources for Home Schooling

Our commitment to knowledge exchange and community outreach also extends to the school sector.   Through TES Resources the OER Service shares a growing collection of interdisciplinary teaching and learning materials, aimed at primary and secondary school level, covering topics as diverse as climate change, food production, biodiversity, and LGBTQ+ issues.    These fun and creative resources are designed to be easily customisable for different learning scenarios.  When schools are closed as a result of lockdown and parents have to take on homeschooling, the OER Service uses its social media channels to disseminate this ready-made collection of free teaching resources to all who might need them.  One of the really nice things about this collection of open educational resources is that they have all been co-created by undergraduates and student interns in collaboration with colleagues from the School of GeoSciences and the OER Service. So this is a lovely example of the benefits of open education and co-creation in action.

Wikimedian in Residence

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that contributing to the global pool of Open Knowledge through Wikimedia is squarely in line with our institutional mission and that Wikipedia is a valuable learning tool to develop a wide range of digital and information literacy skills at all levels across the curriculum. Our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, works to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, through skills training sessions, editathons, Wikipedia in the classroom initiatives and Wikidata projects, in order to increase the quantity and quality of open knowledge and enhance digital literacy.  Creating Wikipedia entries enables students to demonstrate the relevance of their field of study and share their scholarship in a real-world context, while contributing to the global pool of open knowledge.  And if you want to find out more about Wikimedia in the Curriculum we’ve recently published this book of case studies which you can download here.

Knowledge Equity

Finally I want to return to the theme of knowledge equity; many of our open education and Wikimedia activities have a strong focus on redressing gender imbalance, centering marginalised voices, diversifying and decolonising the curriculum, and uncovering hidden histories. Some inspiring examples include our regular Wiki Women in Red editathons; Women in STEM editathons for Ada Lovelace Day and International Women’s Day; LGBT+ resources for medical education; open educational resources on LGBT+ Issues for Secondary Schools; UncoverED, a student led collaborative decolonial project uncovering the global history of the university; Diverse Collections, showcasing stories of equality and diversity within our archives; and the award winning Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Wikidata project.

Projects such as these provide our staff and students with opportunities to engage with the creation of open knowledge and to improve knowledge equity, and we often find that this inspires our staff and students to further knowledge activism. 

Conclusion

All these projects are examples of knowledge equity in action; the dismantling of obstacles that prevent people from accessing and participating in education and knowledge creation. Ultimately, this is what knowledge equity is about; counteracting structural inequalities and systemic barriers to ensure just representation of knowledge and equitable participation in the creation of a shared public commons.

Before I finish, I want to return to the UNESCO Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through OER, and this quote which reminds us why engaging with open education and OER is of critical importance to us all.

“Today we are at a pivotal moment in history. The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a paradigm shift on how learners of all ages, worldwide, can access learning. It is therefore more than ever essential that the global community comes together now to foster universal access to information and knowledge through OER.”

Open Policy for Learning and Teaching

This post also appears on the Open.Ed blog. 

Earlier in September, my colleague Neil McCormick, Education Technology Policy Officer at LTW, and I took part in Jane Secker and Chris Morrison’s regular ALT webinar Copyright, Fair Dealing and Online Teaching at a Time of Crisis on the topic of lecture recording and virtual classroom policies.  This is an area of policy that is particularly pressing for many institutions right now as they manage the transition to hybrid and online teaching.  It’s also a live issue for staff who are faced with the prospect of recording not only their lectures but also their seminars and small group teaching sessions as well, in order to ensure that different cohorts of students on campus and online, have equitable access to their classes. 

At the University of Edinburgh we already have a Lecture Recording Policy that was approved in 2018 following extensive consultation with academic colleagues, legal services and the unions.  Much of this policy has been replicated in a new Virtual Classroom Policy that was approved earlier in September.  Neil is the policy officer responsible for drafting both policies, a responsibility he has undertaken with notable patience and diligence.  The OER Service’s contribution has been to provide some input around copyright and open licensing, and this was one of the topics under discussion during the webinar.

Neil explained that the approach taken by both the Lecture Recording and Virtual Classroom policy is that everyone involved in the recording retains their rights, while the recording is licensed for specific purposes that are clearly defined by the policies.  In the case of lecture recordings and virtual classroom recordings, the recording is shared with “students and staff on the instance of the course to which the lecture relates”. Students may use the recording only for personal study and schools may “use recordings in exceptional situations to provide continuity as specified within business continuity plans relevant to the School”.

The University also has an Open Educational Resources Policy, approved in early 2016, which encourages staff and students to use, create, and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, enhance the provision of learning opportunities for all, and improve teaching practices.   In supporting this policy, the OER Service encourages colleagues and students to share all kinds of teaching and learning resources under open licence.  You can see a showcase of some of these resources here on the Open.Ed website.  We also  have over 3,500 Creative Commons licensed videos on Media Hopper Create and a large number of open licensed blogs on Blogs.Ed.

During the webinar, Chris raised a question that has come up a number of times before, about the tension that exists between lecture and classroom recording policies and openness:

“particularly in the case of teachers who are expected to record what they do in what is typically a closed private space and the idea of openness and sharing, and things going wherever they go on the internet without being able to control them.”

In terms of the Edinburgh policies it’s important to note that none of the three policies mandate the use of open licences.  The OER Policy is informative and permissive, it encourages the use of open licences, it does not mandate them.  The Lecture Recording and Virtual Classroom Policies are normative policies, which do permit lecturers to share their recordings under open licence but only if they have the appropriate permissions from all parties to do so.

“A lecturer may publish a recording of their lecture as an open educational resource, with appropriate modifications and safeguards, including an appropriate attribution, licence and having obtained any permissions required from other participants or third parties whose intellectual property resides within the recording. Guidance on this is contained within the Open Educational Resources Policy and Website Accessibility Policy.”

The important point here is that colleagues always have a choice as to whether they share their content under open licence, and if they do choose to share that content then they are required to respect the rights of all relevant parties, whether that is other colleagues, students or third party copyright holders, and to provide appropriate attribution as necessary.  Choice and attribution are both fundamental aspects of open education and open educational resource creation.

In order to ensure that colleagues are in a position to understand the rights of all parties involved in recorded content the OER Service provides a range of resources and workshops focused on copyright literacy and understanding licences.  When lecture recording was rolled out across the University, one of the first workshops launched as part of a comprehensive digital skills programme was Lecture Recording – Licensing, Media Use and OER. Resources from these training sessions are available to reuse under open licence.

With rights come responsibilities and the University has also recently launched a comprehensive set of Digital Safety and Citizenship resources curated by Digital Safety Support Officer Dr Vicki Madden.  These resources include a Digital Citizenship Guide which is designed to be read alongside the University’s Virtual Classroom Policy.  In addition, Neil has developed a set of slides covering etiquette, identity and recording, designed for use in virtual classroom sessions.

In keeping with the University’s commitment to OER and open knowledge, all three policies, together with the Digital Citizenship Guide and slides, are available under open licence for other institutions to adapt and reuse: Open Policy for Learning and Teaching.

I’d like to thank Jane and Chris for inviting us to take part in their webinar, a recording which is available here: Copyright, Fair Dealing and Online Teaching at a Time of Crisis: Lecture recording and virtual classroom policies.

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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Policy, Practice and Permission

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about open policy this year, and I want to take a moment to try and put some of these thoughts into writing.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the global pandemic, there have been some significant policy developments in the broad domain of open knowledge this year. In April, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO issued a Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through Open Educational Resources (OER).  This call builds on UNESCO’s Recommendation on Open Educational Resources, which was approved towards the end of 2019.  Elsewhere in the open knowledge domain the Wikimedia Foundation has been undertaking its own Movement Strategy exercise to shape the strategic direction of the movement, and outline the processes required to enable Wikimedia to achieve its goal of becoming the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge by 2030. 

Closer to home, this year also marks five years of the OER Policy and Service at the University of Edinburgh.  The OER Service was launched in 2015 in order to support the University’s new OER Policy which was approved by Senate Learning and Teaching Committee in January 2016.   The architect of the University’s Vision for OER is Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal and Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services, and development of the policy was led by Stuart Nicol, Head of Educational Design and Engagement.

The aim of the University of Edinburgh’s OER Policy is to

“…encourage staff and students to use, create, and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, enhance the provision of learning opportunities for all, and improve teaching practices. It also recognises that use, creation, and publication of OERs are consistent with the University’s reputation, values, and mission to “make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing”.

One of the significant aspects of this policy is that it is informative and permissive.   It encourages staff to use and create OER, it does not mandate that they must.  In addition to positively encouraging colleagues to engage with OER, the policy also provides them with the reassurance that they have permission to share their teaching and learning resources under open licence.  Indeed the policy goes on to state that:

“Unless stated to the contrary, it is assumed that use, creation and publication of single units or small collections will be allowed.”

The role of the OER Service is to support the policy and enable colleagues to make informed decisions about using open licences and creating and engaging with OER.  As such, the service focuses on supporting the development of digital skills around copyright and information literacy, while highlighting examples of innovative open education practice from around the University.

Although it’s difficult to definitively measure the impact of this permissive policy at the University, there is ample evidence of increased engagement with OER.  Colleagues have created over 3000 open licensed videos which are hosted on Media Hopper Create, the University’s media asset management platform.  This collection includes over 500 high quality audio and video resources created for our MOOCs, and all content now created for MOOCs and free short online courses is designed to be shared under open licence. On TES Resources we’ve shared 50 free interdisciplinary teaching and learning resources, aimed at primary and secondary school level, co-created by undergraduates and student interns in collaboration with colleagues from the School of GeoSciences, and supported by the OER Service. Ten undergraduate and masters level courses incorporate Wikimedia in the curriculum assignments, supported by the University’s Wikimedian in Residence, and several more include OER creation assignments, including the Digital Futures for Learning course which is part of the MSc in Digital Education. 

The University has recently acknowledged the importance of open educational resources not only for excellence in student education but also for academic career progression.  New Principles and Exemplars of Excellence for recognition and reward in academic careers paths, include creating open educational resources as an example of “Dissemination of excellence in student education”.

This permissive approach to policy is quite different from the Open Access mandates adopted by research councils which require institutions to make the scholarly outputs of their research available through open access repositories.  Although both approaches have a similar objective; sharing knowledge openly, approaches that are designed with scholarly works in mind are rarely effective for educational resources.  Scholarly works are relatively static resources that are one of the endpoints of the research process. Learning materials, by comparison, are more fluid and dynamic, and rarely benefit from being treated as static resources.  In particular, open access repositories that are designed for hosting scholarly works, are rarely well suited to accommodating open educational resources.  At the University of Edinburgh there is no single central OER repository, instead the policy states that:

“Digital teaching resources should be published in an appropriate repository or public-access website in order to maximise discovery and use by others.”

The University’s OER Service hosts a showcase of Edinburgh’s OERs on the Open.Ed website and also maintains dedicated channels on a number of online platforms to share open educational resources created by staff and students under the Open.Ed banner. 

Another significant aspect of the Edinburgh OER Policy is that it applies to both staff and students and indeed students have played an important role in shaping the University’s vision for OER since the outset.  EUSA, the student union, were instrumental in encouraging the University to adopt an OER policy, and we continue to see student engagement and co-creation as being fundamental aspects of open education and open knowledge.

While permissive policies are effective in encouraging practice at the individual level and across the institution, there is also a role for mandatory policy in open education, particularly with regard to publicly funded educational resources.  I still believe strongly that publicly funded educational content, should be freely available to the public under open licence.  This is one of the founding principles of the Scottish Open Education Declaration, an open community policy based on the UNESCO OER Declaration, which calls on the Scottish Government to foster awareness of open education practice across all sectors of Scottish education, and support the use of open licences for all educational materials produced with public funds.  Although the Declaration has not gained traction with the Scottish Government, it has been influential in shaping open policy developments in other nations and has been an important advocacy tool for promoting OER and open education practice within institutions.

I believe there’s something to be said about the relationship between policy and practice in open education.   OER policies have sometimes been criticised for focusing on resources rather than practice, with critics pointing out that resources alone cannot bring about the transformative affordances of open education, that can only happen with the development of open education practices.  However it’s extremely difficult to legislate for open educational practice when it is by its very nature highly diverse and contextual (Cronin, 2017).  However, in order to create and use OER, you do need to engage with open practice, so I would argue that OER policies are important enablers of open practice, even if the focus of the policy itself is on resources rather than practices.  

At the University of Edinburgh we’ve seen how an informative, permissive policy, supported by a central service focused on developing digital and information literacy skills and supporting student engagement, has enabled a wide range of open education practices to emerge across the institution.

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.

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.

A Common Purpose: Wikimedia, Open Education and Knowledge Equity for all

At the end of February I was honoured to be invited to present the closing keynote at the Wikimedia in Education Summit at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab at Coventry University.  This is the transcript of my talk. 


Introduction

Although I’m originally an archaeologist by background, I’ve worked in the domain of learning technology for over twenty years and for the last ten years I’ve focused primarily on supporting the uptake of open education technology, resources, policy and practice, and it’s through open education that I came to join the Wikimedia community.  I think the first Wikimedia event I ever took part in was OER De a cross-sector open education conference, hosted by Wikimedia Deutschland in Berlin in 2014. I remember being really impressed by the wide range of innovative projects and initiatives from across all sectors of education and it really opened my eyes to the potential of Wikimedia to support the development of digital literacy skills, while enhancing the student experience and enriching our shared knowledge commons. And I think we’ve seen plenty of inspiring examples today of that potential being realised in education institutions around the UK.

So what I want to do this afternoon is to explore the relationship between the open education and Wikimedia domains and the common purpose they share; to widen access to open knowledge, remove barriers to inclusive and equitable education, and work towards knowledge equity for all. I also want to turn our attention to some of the structural barriers and systemic inequalities that prevent equitable participation in and access to this open knowledge landscape. We’ll begin by taking a brief look at some of the recent global policy initiatives in this area, before coming back closer to home to explore how the University of Edinburgh’s support for both open education and Wikimedia in the curriculum forms part of the institution’s strategic commitment to creating and sharing open knowledge.

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Into the Open: Exploring the Benefits of Open Education and OER

Transcript and slides from my keynote at the Open all Ours event at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

This talk covers a broad overview of the domain of open education before going on to provide examples of how we support engagement with open education and OER at the University of Edinburgh. Hopefully this will provide inspiration by highlighting the many different ways you can integrate different aspects of open education and OER into your teaching practice.

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What gets lost in the fray

The blog post I wrote last week on the context, centrality and diversity of the Open Ed conference community sparked a lot more discussion than I expected, most of it on twitter, but also during a VConnecting session at the end of the conference. I even got an actual comment on the actual blog post, thanks pgogy! As might be expected, the decision to end the Open Ed conference in its current format generated a huge volume of tweets, headlines, blog posts, columns and articles. Mine was just one of dozens. However as the discussion has been distilled into more mainstream press reports, such as Inside HigherEd’s Open Education… Is Closed, a good deal of the nuance and diversity of those multiple voices has been lost.  Perhaps that’s inevitable, but it’s also a little ironic, and as Maha Bali commented:

This post by Mandy Henk, Being A Critical Voice, also really resonated with me, particularly with regard to how we understand power in the open community. 

So for the sake of posterity, and for my own personal reflection, I’m collating the discussion around that blog post here, because sometimes it’s interesting to look back at the voices that get lost in the fray.