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.

Inspiring students, pioneering women and virtual dragons

February and March are always busy months for Open Education and this year was no exception, with the University’s Festival of Creative Learning, Open Education Week and International Women’s Day all coming back to back.

Niko is unimpressed…, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

The fun and games kicked off with Festival of Creative Learning in mid February.  My OER Service colleague Charlie ran a really fun and thought provoking 23 Things for Digital Confidence workshop.  The workshop challenged us to explore how we engage with technology in creative ways and we also got to play with some really cool augmented reality toys.  Oh, and there were dragons!  I took them home but I don’t think my cat was very impressed :}

Later in the week I helped to run a Get Blogging! workshop with Karen, Lila and Mark from DLAM, which guided students through the process of setting up a blog on Reclaim Hosting and provided them with some pointers on the benefits of blogging and topics they could write about.  I don’t usually get to work directly with undergraduate students so it was a really rewarding experience.  Their enthusiasm was infectious and it was great to see how proud and excited they were to leave at the end of the day with their very own brand new blog.  The fabulous feedback the students left was just the icing on the cake.  My slides from the day are here: Why Blog?

At the beginning of March we celebrated Open Education Week, I’ve already written a post about the activities we planned over the course of the week, and they all went really well.  We curated eight blog posts from staff, students and graduates on the Open.Ed blog over the course of the week, each bringing a unique perspective on engaging with open education. You can read a round-up of of these posts here.  I particularly like this quote from Martin Tasker, our very first Open Content Curation Intern, who is now building a career as a software engineer.

“In an age where where the world is both more connected and less trusting than ever, the onus is on institutions such as universities to use their reputations and resources to promote open education. As well as benefiting the public, it benefits the institutions themselves – there’s little better in the way of marketing than having potential applicants having already experienced some learning at your institution.” 

I’ve often quoted Martin’s Open Content Curation blog posts when I talk, and I’m sure I’ll be quoting his Open Education Week blog post, Reflecting on the Importance of Open Education, too.  

My daughter’s contribution to International Women’s Day, CC BY SA, RJ McCartney

International Women’s Day fell at the end of Open Education Week and Information Services marked the event by hosting a Women of Edinburgh Wikipedia Editathon and naming the Board Room in Argyle House after Brenda Moon, the first woman to head up a research university library in the 1980s, and who played a major role in bringing the University into the digital age. I spent part of the day updating the Wikipedia entry I’d previously written about Mary Susan McIntosh to include information about her work as a Women’s Rights Advocate campaigning for legal and financial rights for married and co-habiting women, defending the right to sexual expression, and arguing against censorship of pornography.  

The following week I was off down to UCL for their Open Education Symposium.  It was a privilege to be invited to share the University of Edinburgh’s strategic approach to Open Education, and it was great to hear about some of ways that openness is supported across UCL.  I particularly enjoyed hearing a group of Arts and Sciences BASc students reflecting on their positive experience of engaging with Wikibooks.  Their comments reflected those of our Edinburgh student who have participated in Wikipedia assignments and editathons. 

Somehow, in amongst all that, there was also several ALTC submissions, the launch of femedtech.net, and my daughter’s 13th birthday.  How the hell did that happen?! 

Sustainable Support for OER

This blog post was originally posted on Open.Ed as part of a series of posts for Open Education Week 2019. 

Sustainability is key to supporting open education and OER, and one factor that lays the foundations for sustainability is aligning the value proposition for OER with an organisation’s institutional mission and strategic vision.

At the University of Edinburgh, we believe that supporting OER is squarely in line with our institutional mission and vision to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, challenging the boundaries of knowledge, and making a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world.

In 2016 the University launched an OER Service, based in Information Services Group, to support the institution’s new OER Policy.  This policy, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, was approved by the University’s Learning and Teaching Committee, situating OER directly in the domain of teaching and learning.  Both the policy and the service are part of the University’s strategic vision for OER which is founded on traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment, excellent education and research collections, and the University’s civic mission.

At the University of Edinburgh one of the key value proposition for OER is that it mitigates the risk of what Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web services division, and the architect of the University’s OER vision, has referred to as copyright debt; the cost and risk accrued when copyright of teaching and learning resources is not cleared and they are upload to institutional systems.

In order to develop a sustainable approach to address this issue, the OER Service focuses on developing digital skills, copyright and information literacy for staff and students in schools and colleges across the University.  The OER Service embeds digital skills training and support in the institution’s strategic initiatives including lecture recording, academic blogging, VLE foundations, MOOCs and distance learning at scale, to build sustainability, enhance digital literacy, and minimise the risk of technical debt. 

The wide range of digital skills development activities supported by the OER Service includes online courses such as the award winning 23 Things for Digital Knowledge, playful learning initiatives such as Board Game Jams and Gif It Up!, workshops including Blogging to Build Your Professional Profile, and student internships.  All the digital skills training materials we create for these activities are made available as CC BY  licensed open educational resources from our Edinburgh’s OERs showcase.  We hope you find these resources useful.

Spring into Open Education Week

Today marks the start of Open Education Week, the global celebration of the Open Education movement.  Last year my OER Service colleagues and I didn’t participate in Open Education Week as it coincided with the USS Strike so this year, we’re making up for lost time and we’ve got a whole pile of activities and events lined up. 

Open.Ed Spring Newsletter

We’ve published our latest Open.Ed newsletter to coincide with Open Education Week and to highlight events we’ll be running over the course of the week, along with other open activities and initiatives going on around the University.  You can read the latest edition of the newsletter here:  Welcome to the OER Service’s Spring Newsletter, and find back issues of the newsletter here Open.Ed Newsletter.

Open.Ed Blog Series

Over the course of the week, the Open.Ed Blog will be featuring a series of posts from students, staff, and open education practitioners from across the University of Edinburgh, covering a wide range of topics including Masters level OER assignments, Wikipedia and Translation Studies, tools for creating OERs, and much more. The series kicks off today with one post by me on Sustainable Support for OER and another by Jen Ross on Digital Futures for Learning: An OER assignment

Supporting Open Education and Open Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh

On Tuesday 5 March at 12.00-13.00, the OER Service will be hosting a free and informal lunchtime webinar during which we’ll be sharing our approaches to supporting Open Education and Open Knowledge at the University of Edinburgh.  Come and join me, Stuart Nicol (Education Design and Engagement), Ewan McAndrew (Wikimedian in Residence), Charlie Farley (OER Service), Rachael Mfoafo (EDE) and Anne-Marie Scott (DLAM) to talk about supporting open education through digital skills development, playful approaches to copyright literacy, embedding Wikipedia in the curriculum, and open approaches to MOOCs and distance learning at scale.  The webinar is free and open to all, joining details are available here.

Decolonise & Diversify the Curriculum with OER

This one-hour workshop on Tuesday 6 March at 12.00 – 13.00 will explore what it means to decolonise and diversify the curriculum with EUSA VP of Education Diva Mukherji. My lovely OER Service colleague Charlie Farley will also demonstrate how creating, using, and sharing OER can be one avenue towards diversifying and opening up curriculum materials. The workshop is open to University of Edinburgh staff and students, further information is available here

And of course I’ll be blogging and tweeting on the #OEWeek hashtag and hoping to catch some of the other fabulous activities going on over the course of the week too. 

Daffodils in George Square, CC BY, University of Edinburgh

WonkHE: Openness in Education – a call to action for policy makers

As part of Open Education Week I’m delighted that Maren Deepwell, CEO of ALT, and I have an article published in WonkHE on Openness in education: a call to action for policy makers.  The article introduces the recent ALT policy guide,  highlights some of the benefits of OER, and articulates why we need policy makers to embrace open education.

Open Education Week and USS Strike

This week is Open Education Week and it’s normally one of the busiest weeks of the year for me with lots of events, webinars, blog posts and tweets lined up. This year however my calendar is empty and I’m watching fabulous open education events all over the world going by on my twitter feed without retweeting a single one.  Why?  Because although open education is a deeply held personal principle for me, it’s also a large part of my job and I am currently on strike as part of the University and College Union’s (UCU) industrial action to defend our right to a fair pension.  I had really hoped that the strike would be over in time for Open Education Week, but unfortunately UUK are dragging their heels in an unforgivable fashion, so I’ll be maintaining my digital picket line for as long as it takes.

That doesn’t mean I’ve completely put open education on the back burner though.  I’ve been thinking a lot about my OER18 keynote and these strikes have really helped to focus my mind because at the root of this dispute is the belief that we all deserve to be treated fairly and equitably, and fairness and equity are among the founding principles of open education.

There is one event I will be participating in this week though.  The ALT Open Education SIG have helpfully re-scheduled their OER18 Conference Preview webinar for Friday 9th March (13.00 – 14.00) when the strike breaks for a day.  I’ll be joining my fellow keynote speakers to give a brief introduction to some of the themes I’ll be addressing in my talk.  I’ll be keeping things informal as I won’t be able to prepare slides in advance due to the strike action, but I certainly don’t think I’ll be short of things to talk about.  Come and join us it you can.