OER24: Gathering Courage

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

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

The themes of this year’s conference were: 

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

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

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

A Cautionary Fairy Tale

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

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

Ethical Dimensions of Generative AI and OER Creation

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

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

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

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

CC BY SA, Tom Pieroni, Open Data Institute

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

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

Student Engagement and Co-Creation

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

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

Open Education at the Crossroads

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

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

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

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

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

CC BY NC, Catherine Cronin & Laura Czerniewicz, OER24

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

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

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

The Splintering of Social Media

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

Gasta! 

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

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

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

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

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

OER24 Conference: Empowering Student Engagement with Open Education

This week I’m looking forward to traveling to Cork with OER Service intern Mayu Ishimoto for the OER24 Conference. The conference is being hosted by the Munster Institute of Technology this year and chaired by the Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin and Tom Farrelly.  The theme this year is digital transformation in education and Mayu and I will be presenting a research paper on Empowering Student Engagement with Open Education. 

At the University of Edinburgh student engagement is a fundamental aspect of our strategic support for OER and open education and our institutional commitment to digital transformation.  As part of Information Services Group’s programme of student employment, the university’s OER Service and Online Course Production Service regularly employ student interns in a number of roles including Open Content Curators, OER support officers, media studio assistants, and open textbook co-creators.  These roles enable students to gain a wide range of core competencies and transferable attributes including digital and information literacy skills, which open the door to new careers and employment opportunities, while also providing the opportunity to develop open practice and digital competence, and improve knowledge equity  

Our research paper will explore the transformative potential of engaging students with open education through salaried internships, exploring how these roles empower students to go on to become radical digital citizens and knowledge activists, not just passive consumers of information, but active and engaged creators of open knowledge.   We will also provide guidance on how other institutions can adopt and adapt this model to engage students with open education and transform their digital skills.

2023 End of Year Reflection

Posting an end of year round up at the end of January might seem a bit daft, but I’m already one step ahead of last year, when I posted my end of year reflection in February! 

The beginning of the year was a succession of real highs and lows.  UCU entered a long phase of industrial action which came at a particularly challenging time for me as January and February is usually when I’m preparing for Open Education Week and the OER Conference.  However I also took some time out for a trip to New York with friends, which turned out to be one of the high points of my year. 

Open Education Week

For Open Education Week we ran a webinar that celebrated 10 years of open course development at the University of Edinburgh and shared the open course creation workflow that we’ve developed and refined over the years. 

 

OER23 Conference

It was great to see the OER Conference returning to Scotland in March when it was hosted by UHI in Inverness.  Inverness is a place that is very close to my heart as it’s the main city in the Highlands and it’s also were we used to go on holiday when I was a kid.  Inverness is still a stopping off point on the journey home when I go to visit family in Stornoway so I had a slightly weird feeling of nostalgia and home-sickness while I was there, it was odd being in Inverness and not traveling on further north and west. 

One of the themes of this years conference was Open Scotland +10 and Joe Wilson and I ran a number of sessions including a pre-conference workshop and closing plenary to reflect on how the open education landscape in Scotland has evolved over the last decade, and to discuss potential ways to advance open education across all sectors of Scottish education. 

Photograph of Open Scotland Plenary Panel at the OER23 Conference.

Open Scotland Plenary Panel by Tim Winterburn.
Here, the closing Panel Plenary session

Generative AI

Like many working in technical, educational and creative sectors I found it impossible to ignore the discourse around generative AI, though I hope I managed to avoid getting swept up in the hype and catastrophising.  In July I wrote an off-the-cuff summary of some of the many ethical issues related to generative AI and LLMs that are becoming increasingly hard to ignore: Generative AI – Ethics all the way down.  I appreciated having an opportunity to revisit these issues again at the end of the year when I joined the ALT Winter Summit on Ethics and Artificial Intelligence which provided much food for thought. Helen Beetham’s keynote Whose Ethics? Whose AI? A relational approach to the challenge of ethical AI was particularly thoughtful and thought provoking. 

Student Interns

Much of the summer was taken up with recruiting and managing our Open Content Curator student interns.  It’s always a joy working with our interns, their energy and enthusiasm is endlessly inspiring, and this year’s interns, August and Mayu, were no exception. I suggested it might be fun for them to interview each other about their experience of working with the OER Service and, with the help of our fabulous Media Team, they produced this lovely video. 

 

I was delighted when August and Mayu were shortlisted for the Student Employee of the Year Award in Information Services Group’s Staff Recognition Awards, in acknowledgement of their outstanding work with the OER Service and their wider contribution to ISG and the University. 

Their Finest Hour

The OER Service welcomed another student intern in the summer, Eden Swimer, who joined us to help run a digital collection day as part of the University of Oxford’s Their Finest Hour, a National Lottery Heritage funded project at the University of Oxford, which is collecting and preserving the everyday stories and objects of the Second World War. Organising and running the digital collection day proved to be a huge undertaking and we couldn’t have done it without the help of 26 volunteers from across ISG and beyond who committed so much time and energy to the project.  

 

The digital collection day took place in Rainy Hall, New College at the end of November and it was a huge success. Over 100 visitors attended and volunteers recorded over 50 interviews and took thousands of photographs, all of which will be uploaded to an open licensed archive that will be launched by the University of Oxford in June this year.  It was a deeply moving event, many of the stories recorded were truly remarkable and the visitors clearly appreciated having the opportunity to share their families stories.  In some cases these stories were being told by the last surviving relatives of those who had witnessed the historic events of WW2 and there was a real sense of preserving their experiences for posterity. 

Their Finest Hour digital collection day by Fiona Hendrie

The collection day was covered by STV and you can see a short clip of their news item here: Second World War memories to be preserved at university collection day

Publications

It was a privilege to work with co-authors Frances Bell, Lou Mycroft, Guilia Forsythe and Anne-Marie Scot to contribute a chapter on the “FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education” to Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz’s timely and necessary Higher Education for Good: Teaching and Learning Futures. 

“Quilting has always been a communal activity and, most often, women’s activity. It provides a space where women are in control of their own labour: a space where they can come together to share their skill, pass on their craft, tell their stories, and find support. These spaces stand outside the neoliberal institutions that seek to appropriate and exploit our labour, our skill, and our care. The FemEdTech-quilt assemblage has provided a space for women and male allies from all over the world to collaborate, to share their skills, their stories, their inspiration, and their creativity. We, the writers of this chapter, are five humans who each has engaged with the FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education in different ways, and who all have been active in the FemEdTech network.” 

I was also invited to submit a paper to a special open education practice edition of Edutec Journal.  Ewan McAndrew, Melissa Highton and I co-authored a paper on “Supporting open education practice: Reflective case studies from the University of Edinburgh.”

“This paper outlines the University of Edinburgh’s long-running strategic commitment to supporting sustainable open education practice (OEP) across the institution. It highlights how the University provides underpinning support and digital capability for OEP through central services working with policy makers, partners, students, and academics to support co-creation and active creation and use of open educational resources to develop digital literacy skills, transferable attributes, and learning enhancement. We present a range of case studies and exemplars of authentic OEP evidenced by reflective practice and semi-structured ethnographic interviews, including Wikimedia in the Curriculum initiatives, open textbook production, and co-creation of interdisciplinary STEM engagement resources for schools. The paper includes recommendations and considerations, providing a blueprint that other institutions can adopt to encourage sustainable OEP. Our experience shows that mainstreaming strategic support for OEP is key to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Writing this paper was an interesting experience as Edutec is a research journal that expects evidence to be presented in a very particular way.  As a service division, we support practice rather than undertaking academic research, so the case studies we present are based on authentic reflective practice rather than empirical research, however it was useful to think about this practice from a different perspective. 

Wikimedia UK

In July I was awarded Honorary Membership of Wikimedia UK in recognition of my contribution to the work of the charity during my six years as a Trustee. When my term as a trustee came to an end, I was hoping that I’d have more time to contribute to the Wikimedia projects.  That hasn’t quite happened, I didn’t manage to do any Wikipedia editing in 2023, but I did enjoy taking part in Wiki Loves Monuments again.  I also digitised some pictures I took of the Glasgow Garden festival way back in 1988 and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons to share them with the fabulous After the Garden Festival project, which is attempting to locate and archive the legacy of the festival. 

Teddy Bears Picnic, sponsored by Moray District Council. CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell on Wikimedia Commons.

ALT

I made short-lived trip to the ALT Conference in Warwick in September.  Unfortunately I  had to leave early as I came down with a stinking cold. I was really disappointed to have to miss most of the conference as it was outgoing CEO Maren Deepwell’s last event and I was also due to receive an Honorary Life Membership of ALT award. It was a huge honour to receive this award as ALT has been a significant part of my professional life for over two decades now.  You can read my short reflection on the award here: Honorary Life Membership of ALT. 

For almost three decades Lorna has been a champion of equitable higher education and an open education activist. Lorna ‘s lifelong commitment to and passion for equality and diversity clearly is evident in her work, yet Lorna tends not to push herself forward and celebrate – or even self-acknowledge – her many achievements. 
ALT press release.

Kenneth White, 1936 – 2023

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Kenneth White in August.  Despite being an avid reader of Scottish poetry, and having studied Scottish Literature at Glasgow University for a couple of years, I hadn’t come across White until my partner introduced me to him in 2002.  His absence from Glasgow’s curriculum, and indeed his relative obscurity in his homeland, is striking given that he was a graduate of Glasgow University who went on to become the chair of 20th century poetics at Paris-Sorbonne. White, however, has always been a writer who divides the critics, particularly in Scotland. A poet, writer, philosopher, traveller, and self-identified transcendental Scot, White founded the International Institute of GeoPoetics and was a regular visitor to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where I was fortunate to see him read.  To say that White’s writing, particularly his meditations on openness and the Atlantic edge, had a profound effect on me, is something of an understatement. This blog is named after the title of White’s collected poetic works and his lines frequently find their way into more unguarded pieces I’ve written.  I’ll leave you with a few words from the man himself. 

Image of the coast with the words of Scotia Deserta by Kenneth White.