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.

Better late than never! 2022 end of year round up.

Is February too late (or early??) to write an end of year round up post? People often complain about January dragging but I swear it passed in the blink of an eye this year, and somehow we’re already half way through February. This is way, way, after the fact, but there are a few things I did at the end of last year that I don’t want to get lost in the churn. 

Although I didn’t manage to write an end of year review for this blog, I did write one for Open.Ed, the University of Edinburgh’s OER Service, which you can read it here if you’re interested: OER Service 2022 Roundup

EDEN NAP Webinar

In early December I was invited to take part in an EDEN NAP webinar on Institutional Approaches to Supporting Open Educational Resources, which explored the different ways that Universities are building open education capacity and acting as enablers of innovative open practice. I spoke about our experience of embedding strategic support for open education and OER at the University of Edinburgh. The other speakers were Professor Daniel Burgos, Universidad Internacional de La Rioja (UNIR), Dr Carina Ginty, Atlantic Technological University, and Fiona Schmidbauer, DHBW Karlsruhe. There was an impressive turnout of over 160 participants from all over Europe.  The webinar was recorded and I’ll link to it here once it’s online. 

ENCORE+ Webinar

I also took part in another webinar on OER and credentialing, run by the European Network for Catalysing Open Resources for Education (ENCORE+) Project. ENCORE+ is an ERASMUS+ Knowledge Alliance project, funded by the European Commission, which supports the uptake and innovation of open educational resources for education and business.  Earlier in the year I was interviewed by Dai Griffiths as part of a series of interviews exploring innovative approaches to credentialing learning in the European OER ecosystem, the opportunities that they offer, and the barriers to their application.  During the interview we discussed strategic support for OER at the University of Edinburgh, the role (or not) of OER repositories, and benefits for students creating open education resources and open knowledge as part of their accredited courses.  The webinar brought together several of the interviewees to discuss some of the themes that had emerged in the interviews in more depth.  You can read my interview here: ENCORE+ Interview.

Femedtech

At the beginning of December I took over from Maren Deepwell as administrator of the femedtech Twitter account.  Maren has managed the account and our guest curators for the last year and I’m hugely grateful for the simple and efficient process she handed over to me.  Clearly we need to question the ongoing viability of Twitter as a platform for femedtech given the (lack of) ethics of its current proprietor and the degradation of the platform itself. Femedtech has always been a loose collective with multiple channels and I know that some of our curators this year will be exploring how we can use those other channels, including femedtech.net, and potentially Mastodon, going forwards.  In the meantime, we’re going to continue curating the femedtech account and hashtag on Twitter, so if you’d like to put your name down for a curation slot you can volunteer here: Get involved with femedtech

I also did my own curation slot during December, the first time I’d curated for a couple of years. (You can read my reflection on my last curation slot here: Reflections on @Femedtech Curation.) I had planned to open a discussion about the ethics of remaining on twitter, and the logistics of moving to another platform such as Mastodon, but I got sidetracked by the ongoing debate about the ethics of AI art algorithms, their use of art works scraped from the commons, and the harmful stereotypes that appear to be inherent in the datasets and algorithm themselves. 

Critical Ignoring

I think the real highlight of my curation slot was coming across this paper by Anastasia Kozyreva, Sam Wineburg, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Ralph Hertwig on Critical Ignoring as a Core Competence for Digital Citizens.  

Low-quality and misleading information online can hijack people’s attention, often by evoking curiosity, outrage, or anger. Resisting certain types of information and actors online requires people to adopt new mental habits that help them avoid being tempted by attention-grabbing and potentially harmful content. We argue that digital information literacy must include the competence of critical ignoring—choosing what to ignore and where to invest one’s limited attentional capacities.

Critical ignoring is not a concept I’ve come across before but it’s something I’ve been consciously practising for the last couple of years.  If you spend any amount of time online it’s really hard not to get sucked into spirals of negativity, outrage and despair, especially when social media algorithms actively promote “controversial” content and push it into our feeds. Some people I know have sworn off social media altogether or take regular breaks to decompress.  I make frequent use of block and mute functions, and I also try to make a conscious decision as to whether it’s worth expending valuable emotional energy engaging with posts that will only anger or upset me.  I’ve also made more of an effort to separate my “work” and “non-work” time online.  It’s not always easy to know where the boundary lies but on days that I’m “not working” I log out of my main twitter account and ignore any e-mail sent to my work address.  This does mean that I sometimes miss personal messages sent through these channels, but I’m trying not to feel too guilty about that.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  The irony in all this is that I haven’t actually read beyond the first page of the Critical Ignoring paper…

UCU Industrial Action

I can’t finish this post without mentioning the latest round of UCU industrial action, which will see university staff striking for 18 days throughout February and March in protest at pay erosion and inequality, precarity, unsustainable workloads and pension theft. The first quarter of the year is always a really busy time for me because several open education events, including Open Education Week and preparation for the OER Conference fall in this period, so I find it really stressful not being able to work.  It’s going to be a long couple of months and the financial impact is going to be painful, but the alternative, just buckling down and doing our best in a system that is increasingly inequitable and exploitative is no longer sustainable. 

Photograph of statue of Donald Dewar surrounded by banners during Right to Strike rally.  Buchanan Street, Glasgow.

Right to Strike rally, Glasgow, February, 2023. CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

Open Education Policies: Guidelines for Co-Creation

Cover of Open Education Policies: Guidelines for Co-CreationToday saw the publication of an important and very timely resource for open educators and policy makers: Open Education Policies: Guidelines for Co-Creation by Javiera Atenas, Leo Havemann, Jan Neumann and Cristina Stefanelli.  The aim of the guidelines is to: 

“support institutions and governments in the development of open education policies promoting the adoption of open educational practices and resources, and the fostering of collaborations amongst social-educational actors which favour the democratisation of knowledge access and production.”

In order to ensure policies have public value, the authors call for a “transversal and democratic approach to policymaking” and identify co-creation as a critical factor in policy effectiveness, in that it helps to ensure that policy makers and communities develop a sense of shared ownership, responsibility and purpose. 

One of the things I particularly appreciate about this work is that the authors very much practiced what they preach as the guidelines were co created with input from a diverse group of policy experts.  My small contribution to these guidelines centred on the relationship between normative (mandatory) policy and informative (permissive) policies, both of which I believe are necessary: 

“Campbell (2020b) notes that while organisations in receipt of public funding to create resources should be mandated to make these freely and openly available to the public, institutional OE policies focusing on the educational practices of staff and students should be primarily permissive rather than mandatory, thereby empowering those engaged in learning and teaching to come to their own decisions about whether and how to engage with OEP.”

My thinking in this area is very much influenced by Catherine Cronin who also contributed to the guidelines.  One of the points that Catherine and I both fed in is that: 

“OE aims to increase educational access and effectiveness, as well as equity, through fostering participation and knowledge co-creation, including by marginalised and traditionally under-represented groups.”

Centering the experiences and requirements of marginalised and under represented groups is just one of the reasons why it’s so important that open education policies are founded on co-creation. and the guidelines clearly articulate a step by step cycle to enable this process; from agenda setting, through development, formulation, implementation, evaluation and revision. 

The authors conclude by stating that.

“Co-creation of policies to support and foster inclusive, democratic approaches in education must follow an inclusive and participatory process.

And by co-creating these guidelines, the authors have done exactly that. 

Open Education Policies: Guidelines for Co-Creation is published by the Open Education Policy Lab and the Open Education Policy Hub and can be downloaded under CC BY-NC-4.0 licence from Zenodo.