Open Education and OER in the Curriculum

Principles of Open Education and OER 

This blog post was originally posted on the University of Edinburgh’s Curriculum Transformation Hub.

The principles of open education were initially outlined in the 2008 Cape Town Declaration [1], which advocates that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, and redistribute educational resources without constraint, to nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need. 

Broadly speaking, open education encompasses teaching techniques and academic practices that draw on open technologies, pedagogical approaches and open educational resources (OER) to facilitate collaborative and flexible learning. This may involve both teachers and learners engaging in the co-creation of learning experiences, participating in online peer communities, using, creating and sharing open educational resources (OER) and open knowledge, sharing experiences and professional practice, and engaging with interdisciplinarity and open scholarship. 

Although open education can encompass many different approaches, open educational resources, or OER, are central to this domain. The UNESCO Recommendation on OER [2] defines open educational resources as 

 “teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.” 

Open Education and OER at the University of Edinburgh 

At the University of Edinburgh, we believe that open education and OER, are fully in keeping with our institutional vision, purpose and values, to discover knowledge and make the world a better place, while ensuring that our teaching and research is diverse, inclusive, accessible to all and relevant to society.   In line with the UNESCO Recommendation on OER, we also believe that OER and open knowledge are critical to achieving the aims of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals [3].   

To support open education and the creation and use of OER, the University has an Open Educational Resources Policy [4], 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.  We also have a central OER Service [5], based in Information Services Group, that provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER, engaging with open education and developing digital and copyright literacy skills.  Understanding authorship, copyright, and licensing is increasingly important at a time when both staff and students are actively engaged in co-creating digital resources and open knowledge.    

Benefits and Risks of Openness  

Open education approaches, such as collaborative flexible learning and co-creation of learning experiences, can be beneficial in many different contexts, but they are particularly well suited to hybrid teaching and learning, where no separation is made between digital and on campus student cohorts, and students are brought together by the way teaching is designed, enabling them to move between digital and classroom-based learning activities. 

Engaging with open education, OER and open knowledge through curriculum assignments can help to develop a wide range of core disciplinary competencies and transferable attributes including: 

  • Digital, data and copyright literacy skills, 
  • Understanding how knowledge and information is created shared and contested online, 
  • Collaborative working and collective knowledge creation, 
  • Information synthesis, 
  • Critical thinking and source evaluation, 
  • Writing as public outreach.  

However, it’s also important to consider the risks of openness, as any understanding of openness is highly personal, contextualised and continually negotiated. We all experience openness from different perspectives, depending on different intersecting factors of power, privilege, inclusion and exclusion.  

In his 5Rs for Open Pedagogy [6] Rajiv Jhangiani identifies Risk as being one of his values for Open Pedagogy. 

“Open pedagogy involves vulnerabilities and risks that are not distributed evenly and that should not be ignored or glossed over. These risks are substantially higher for women, students and scholars of colour, precarious faculty, and many other groups and voices that are marginalized by the academy.” 

Many systemic barriers and structural inequalities exist in open spaces and communities; open does not necessarily mean accessible to all.  When engaging with open education, we need to be aware of our own privilege and be sensitive to those who may experience openness differently, and we need to address the systemic barriers and structural inequalities that may prevent others from engaging with open education and to enable everyone to participate equitably, and on their own terms. 

The University has an invaluable Digital Safety and Citizenship Web Hub [7], that offers comprehensive information and resources on a range of digital safety and citizenship-related issues, including training and events, and advice on being an informed digital citizen.   

If we’re sensitive to these risks and inequities and work to mitigate them, integrating open education and OER into the curriculum can bring significant benefits, including building networks, relationships and communities, fostering agency and empowerment, developing strong societal values and an appreciation of equity, intersectionality and social justice. 

Open Education in the Curriculum 

Wikimedia in the Curriculum 

One way to engage with open education and the creation of open knowledge is by contributing to Wikipedia, the world’s biggest open educational resource and the gateway through which millions of people seek access to knowledge.  Working together with the University’s Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, colleagues from a number of schools and colleges have integrated Wikipedia and Wikidata editing assignments into their courses.  Editing Wikipedia provides valuable opportunities for students to develop their digital research and communication skills, and enables them to contribute to the creation and dissemination of open knowledge. Writing articles that will be publicly accessible and live on after the end of their assignment has proved to be highly motivating for students, and provides an incentive for them to think more deeply about their research. It encourages them to ensure they are synthesising all the reliable information available, and to think about how they can communicate their scholarship to a general audience. Students can see that their contribution will benefit the huge audience that consults Wikipedia, plugging gaps in coverage, and bringing to light hidden histories, significant figures, and important concepts and ideas. This makes for a valuable and inspiring teaching and learning experience, that enhances the digital literacy, research and communication skills of both staff and students. 

Talking about a Wikipedia assignment that focused on improving articles on Islamic art, science and the occult, Dr Glaire Andersen, from Edinburgh College of Art commented 

“In a year that brought pervasive systemic injustices into stark relief, our experiment in applying our knowledge outside the classroom gave us a sense that we were creating something positive, something that mattered. As one student commented, “Really love the Wikipedia project. It feels like my knowledge is actually making a difference in the wider world, if in a small way.”   

Other examples include Global Health Challenges postgraduates collaborating to improve Wikipedia articles on natural or manmade disasters. History students re-examining the legacy of Scotland’s involvement in the transatlantic slave trade and presenting a more positive view of black British history. Digital Education Masters students collaborating to publish a new entry on Information Literacies. And Reproductive Biology Honours students work in groups to publish new articles on reproductive biomedical terms. 

Wikimedia in the Classroom assignment, Aine Kavanagh, Reproductive Biology, by Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence, University of Edinburgh, CC BY SA.

Our Wikimedian in Residence provides a free central service to all staff and students across the University, further information including testimonies from staff and students who have taken part in Wikimedia in the Curriculum assignments is available here: Wikimedian in Residence. 

Open Education and Co-creation – GeoScience Outreach 

Another important benefit of open education is that it helps to facilitate the co-creation of knowledge and understanding.  Co-creation can be described as student led collaborative initiatives, often developed in partnership with teachers or other bodies outwith the institution, that lead to the development of shared outputs.  A key feature of co-creation is that is must be based on equal partnerships between teachers and students and “relationships that foster respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility”[8]. 

One successful example of open education and co-creation in the curriculum is the Geosciences Outreach Course, which provides students with an opportunity to work with a wide range of clients including schools, museums, outdoor centres, and community groups, to design and deliver resources for STEM engagement. Students may work on project ideas suggested by the client, but they are also encouraged to develop their own ideas.  This provides students with the opportunity to work in new and challenging environments, acquiring a range of transferable skills that enhance their employability. They gain experience of science outreach, public engagement, teaching and learning, and knowledge transfer while at the same time developing communication, project and time management skills.  

A key element of the course is to develop resources with a legacy that can be reused by other communities and organisations. Open Content Curation student Interns employed by the University’s OER Service repurpose these materials to create open educational resources aligned to the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence, which are shared online through Open.Ed and TES Resources [9] where they can be found and reused by school teachers and learners.  These OERs, co-created by our students, have been downloaded over 58,000 times and the collection was recently awarded Open Education Global’s Open Curation Award [10].  

Open Education Awards for Excellence: Open Curation / Repository – University of Edinburgh by Stephanie (Charlie) Farley, CC BY SA. 

OER Assignments – Digital Futures for Learning 

OER creation assignments are also incorporated into the Digital Futures for Learning module, part of the MSc in Digital Education, where students create open resource that critically evaluate the implications of educational trends, such as the future of writing, complexity in education, and radical digital literacy.  Creating genuinely open resources that are usable and reusable requires careful attention to issues such as accessibility, structure, audience, and licensing. The students need to critically consider and apply their learning, and in doing so are able to create practical re-usable resources, while demonstrating a range of transferable skills and competencies.  

Commenting on this OER creation assignment, course leader Dr Jen Ross said 

“Experiencing first-hand what it means to engage in open educational practice gives student an appetite to learn and think more.  The creation of OERs provides a platform for students to share their learning. In this way, these assignments can have ongoing, tangible value for students and for the people who encounter their work.” [11] 

Reusing and Repurposing OER 

Reusing and customising existing open educational resources can help to diversify and expand the pool of teaching and learning resources available to staff and students. 

LGBT+ Resources for Medical Education 

In 2016 undergraduate medical students developed a suite of resources covering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual health. Although knowledge of LGBT+ health and of the sensitivities needed to treat LGBT patients are valuable skills for qualifying doctors, these issues are not well-covered in the medical curricula. This project remixed and repurposed resources originally created by Case Western Reserve University, and then contributed them back to the commons as OER. New open resources including digital stories recorded from patient interviews and resources for Secondary School children, were also created and released as OER. In a recent blog post on Teaching Matters [12], Dr. Jeni Harden, Senior Lecturer in Social Science and Health, reflected on how these resources have contributed to the medicine curriculum over the past five years. 

Fundamentals of Music Theory 

Fundamentals of Music Theory [13] is an open textbook co-created by staff and students from the Reid School of Music with support from the University’s OER Service.  This Student Experience Grant funded collaborative project [14] repurposed existing open licensed MOOC content and blended-learning course materials to co-create a proof-of-concept open textbook. The project enabled our student partners to develop digital and copyright literacy skills, an understanding of OER and open textbooks, familiarity with ebook applications, and experience of working with educational media and content. Their input enhanced the original teaching materials and brought about further teaching and learning enhancement. Open textbooks have the potential to benefit universities in the post-pandemic world by reducing textbook costs, benefit staff by providing access to easily customisable open textbooks, and benefit students by providing free, high quality digital learning materials. Furthermore, open textbooks and OER have the potential to facilitate the democratic reshaping of teaching materials through student engagement and co-creation. 

Further Information  

These are just some examples of ways that open education and OER have already been integrated into the curriculum here at the University of Edinburgh.  They demonstrate how valuable co-creating open knowledge and open educational resources through curriculum assignments can be to help students develop essential digital skills, core competencies and transferable attributes, and enable our learners to become fully engaged digital citizens. 

For further information about open education and OER please visit the University’s OER Service at Open.Ed or e-mail us at open.ed@ed.ac.uk.  

References 

  1. Capetown Open Education Declaration https://www.capetowndeclaration.org/read/
  2. UNESCO, (2019), Recommendation on Open Educational Resources, http://portal.unesco.org/en/ev.php-URL_ID=49556&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html
  3. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals https://sdgs.un.org/goals
  4. University of Edinburgh Open Educational Resources Policy, https://www.ed.ac.uk/files/atoms/files/openeducationalresourcespolicy.pdf
  5. OER Service, https://open.ed.ac.uk/
  6. Jhangiani, R, (2019), 5Rs for Open Pedagogy, Rajiv Jhangiani, Ph.D. Blog, https://thatpsychprof.com/5rs-for-open-pedagogy/
  7. Digital Safety and Citizenship Web Hub, https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/help-consultancy/is-skills/digital-safety-and-citizenship
  8. Lubicz-Nawrocka, T., (2019), An introduction to student and staff co-creation of the curriculum, Teaching Matters Blog, https://www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk/an-introduction-to-student-and-staff-co-creation-of-the-curriculum/
  9. University of Edinburgh Open.Ed Hub, TES Resources, https://www.tes.com/teaching-resources/shop/OpenEd
  10. OE Awards for Excellence https://awards.oeglobal.org/awards/2021/open-curation/open-ed-collection-of-geoscience-outreach-oers-and-more-on-tes/
  11. Ross, J., (2019), Digital Futures for Learning: An OER assignment, Open.Ed Blog, https://open.ed.ac.uk/digital-futures-for-learning-an-oer-assignment/
  12. Farley, S. and Harden, J., (2021), Five years on: The LGBT+ Healthcare 101 OER, Teaching Matters Blog, https://www.teaching-matters-blog.ed.ac.uk/five-years-on-the-lgbt-healthcare-101-oer/
  13. Edwards, M., Kitchen, J., Moran, N., Moir, Z., and Worth, R., (2021), Fundamentals of Music Theory, Edinburgh Diamond, DOI: https://doi.org/10.2218/ED.9781912669226
  14. Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education Project, https://blogs.ed.ac.uk/opentextbooks/

Opening Online Learning with OER

This is the transcript of a talk I gave last week at the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine’s Post Graduate Tutors Away Day at the University of Edinburgh.  Slides are available here: Opening Online Learning with OER

Before I go on to talk about open education and OER, I want you to think about Ra’ana Hussein’s inspiring video where she articulates so clearly why participating in the MSc in Paediatric Emergency Medicine has been so empowering for her. 

Ra’ana said that the course helps her to be better at her work, and that she gains knowledge and learning that she can implement practically. It’s enabled her to meet people from diverse backgrounds, and connect with a global community of peers that she can share her practice with.  She finds online learning convenient, and tailored to her needs and she benefits from having immediate access to support, which helps her to balance her work and study commitments.

I’d like you to try and hold Ra’ana’s words in your mind while we go on and take a look at open education, OER and what it’s got to do with why we’re here today.

Continue reading

Introducing the femedtech Open Space

This blog post, by Frances Bell and I, originally appeared on the OER19 Conference website earlier this week and I’m cross-posting it here for International Women’s Day.  Frances and I first started discussing the idea of a femedtech Open Space when OER19 launched their call for proposals, and right from the off we knew we wanted to create a space that was as open and inclusive as possible, one that would allow those who were unable to attend the conference to participate, and one that would live on after it.  I was keen to explore the use of the TRU Writer SPLOT template, having previously had a lot of fun with other SPLOT templates through our work at the University of Edinburgh.  Out of these vague ideals, lots of late night e-mail and twitter conversations, and with the generous help of the people acknowledged below, the femedtech Open Space was born. Find out more about this initiative and please consider contributing your voice to our community. 

One of the real strengths of the OER Conferences is that in recent years they have increasingly facilitated an ongoing critical discourse that seeks to question and renegotiate what openness means to educators, teachers and learners within different contexts and perspectives.  This discourse ripples out from the physical and temporal boundaries of the conferences in the form of blogs posts, twitter conversations, research papers and discussions that enable us to trace the evolution of narratives of open from year to year.  OER17 The Politics of Open explored the challenges current political movements posed for Open Education and how they might further or hinder values of inclusivity, sharing, connectedness, equity, voice, agency, and openness. OER18 Open For All sparked discussions around power and marginality, inclusivity, diversity, identity, decolonisation and respect, and these themes will be explored further during OER19.  When Co-Chair Catherine Cronin introduced the themes of OER19 Recentering Open: Critical and Global Perspectives at the end of OER18 in Bristol she stressed the imperative of moving beyond hero narratives and including marginalised voices.

These themes and values align strongly with those of femedtech, an open, inclusive and voluntary network of education technology practitioners informed by feminist principles.  femedtech is committed to creating inclusive online spaces where marginalised voices can speak and be heard. We acknowledge that this is an ongoing work in progress and a learning experience for all of us.

With this in mind, the femedtech network will be facilitating an inclusive Open Space session around OER19 to explore themes and conversations that have emerged from previous OER conferences around power, marginality, equality, diversity and inclusion.  We’ll be seeking to question dominant narratives of “open”, explore whose voices are included and whose are excluded from our open spaces and open practices, whose voices we choose to amplify and whose are silenced. 

Questions we hope to consider before, during and after the OER19 session include;

  • How do we balance privacy, openness and personal ethics?
  • How do we mediate our place in the open community, aspects of which might conflict with our personal ethics?
  • Is openness an act of conformance and / or defiance? And are there performative aspects to openness?
  • Do we feel pressured to be more open than we are comfortable with, or do our boundaries constrain us?
  • How do we manage sustainable spaces for exploring challenging issues around open?

In order to facilitate these discussions and to ensure the widest participation from the community, we are building an online femedtech Open Space, http://femedtech.net/, to gather stories, thoughts, reflections, responses and reactions, in the form of written content, images, audio, and media.  We welcome reflections on all aspects and experiences of openness from feminist perspectives and we encourage participants to raise their own questions and tell their own stories.  We acknowledge that our understanding of openness is highly personal and contextualised, and appreciate that there is no standard definition of openness to which we must comply.  In order to ensure that engaging with the #femedtech Open Space will be as widely accessible and inclusive as possible, participants are able to contribute to these conversations anonymously if they choose.   

Through the femedtech Open Space, we also aim to explore how we build our communities and practices here and elsewhere in the #femedtech network, and evaluate whether this is a sustainable model for growing the #femedtech community and network. Inspired by Dignazio & Klein (2018), we will develop our inclusive values statement iteratively in conjunction with activities on the Open Space and across the femedtech community. 

During the conference session, we will briefly introduce the Open Space for those who haven’t seen it before, and invite delegates and virtual participants to contribute and discuss their own ideas and reflections. We’ll summarise progress to date, invite feedback from session participants, outline future plans, and encourage participants to engage with others’ contributions after the conference. We also hope to encourage remote participation in the conference session.

We invite you to visit the femedtech Open Space to contribute your thoughts, reflections, comments, stories and ideas: http://femedtech.net/

Acknowledgements

This is an extra-institutional project taking place within the broad venture of the femedtech network. 

Thanks to Maren Deepwell and Sheila MacNeill who have contributed to shaping this initiative and will be helping to facilitate our OER19 conference session. 

The femedtech Open Space is generously hosted by Reclaim Hosting.  Reclaim Hosting provides educators and institutions with an easy way to offer their students domains and web hosting that they own and control.   The site uses the open source TRU Writer SPLOT WordPress theme developed by Alan Levine and available on Github. 

Our Code of Conduct is adapted with permission from  PressED Conference run by Natalie Lafferty and Pat Lockley. It incorporates elements from ukmedchat and FOAMed and is intended to be interpreted according to feminist principles.

OER18: Listening to the voices

I always struggle a bit when it comes to writing OER Conference reflections.  I come back from the event buzzing with so many new ideas and connections and often with strong emotions too, and this year was no exception.  So before I go any further I just want to say a huge thank you to Viv Rolfe and David Kernohan for co-chairing such a thought provoking conference and to ALT for supporting such a welcoming and inclusive event.

The theme of OER18 was Open For All and the conference encompassed discussions around marginality, inclusivity, diversity, identity, decolonisation, and respect.  It was truly inspiring to hear so many new voices; Momadou Sallah‘s keynote on developing counter narratives of disruption and resistance through open practise was joyful, challenging and thought provoking, and it was a privilege to hear bold and articulate voices from the global south such as Pritee Aukloo and Taskeen Adams.  Other highlights for me included my colleague Anne-Marie Scott’s moving and sensitive talk on using open licensed images and Wikimedia Commons to raise awareness of Phoebe Anna Traquair’s culturally significant and deeply affecting murals  painted for the Mortuary Chapel at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, Ewan McAndrew’s stories of student empowerment through engaging wih Wikipedia, and Nicole Allen gathering global voices to critique and contribute to Capetown +10. In such a packed programme I missed many more amazing sessions, particularly  Maha Bali, Catherine Cronin, Christian Friedrich, Christina Hendricks, Taskeen Adam, Jamison Miller, and Sukaina Walji’s conversation about ethics, epistemology, equity and power, and Nick Baker on inclusivity, diversity and what openness means to non-Eurocentric cultural groups. I hope my opening keynote, a personal reflection on the history of the OER Conference, helped to set the scene for these discussions and provide some context for where the OER Conference finds itself today, and where it might go next.

These themes of diversity and inclusion will be front and centre at next year’s OER19 conference which will be co-chaired by two women who have been a continual inspiration to me; Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz.  The theme of OER19 will be Recentering Open: Critical and Global Perspectives, and Catherine stressed the need to focus on moving beyond hero narratives and including marginalised voices.

And that’s where I want to pause.

We talk a lot about diversity and inclusivity in the open “movement” (and there’s a contentious phrase in itself) but too often the narrative we hear is still dominated by white male voices from the global north.  Some of those voices are not ones that I identify with, and I am uncomfortable being part of any community or movement that includes them.  Personally I really don’t care how significant a contribution an author such as Eric S. Raymond has made to the open movement if he also espouses views that are intolerant, racist, sexist and homophobic. We all understand the distinction between free as in speech and free as in beer, but surely we also understand by now that freedom of speech does not mean freedom of consequences?  Too often there is a painful lack self awareness and self reflection in these hero narratives and the definitions they espouse.  I find it ironic, for example, that one of the tenets of the Open Source Definition is “no discrimination against persons or groups”, when the community and tech industry discriminates massively against women, people of colour and other marginalised groups.

In his keynote on the history of the open source and open content movement, David Wiley said “not everyone can and will contribute, but that’s okay”, and while that is true on one level, there is an important discussion to be had here about structural inequality and discrimination. The questions we should be asking ourselves are what are the barriers that prevent some people from contributing, and what can we do to remove those systemic obstructions? How can we lower the ladder again, so to speak. And to me this is what openness is about, the removal of systemic barriers and structural inequalities to enable everyone to participate equitably, and on their own terms. It’s not easy to move beyond these dominant narratives when they are so all pervasive that we barely recognise them for what they are, and it’s not easy to hear the voices that they marginalise, but I have every faith that next year’s conference, under the guidance of these two amazing women, will meet these challenges head on.

CC BY @ammienoot https://twitter.com/ammienoot/status/986979802149244928

Phil Barker and Sheila MacNeill have also written excellent blog posts that reflect on similar issues; #OER18 Open to all but beware the wingnuts and Open Chasms – definitions dividing or uniting the open community? Some thoughts from #oer18.