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 Practice in Practice

Last week I had the pleasure of running a workshop on open practice with Catherine Cronin as part of City University of London’s online MSc in Digital Literacies and Open Practice, run by the fabulous Jane Secker.  Both Catherine and I have run guest webinars for this course for the last two years, so this year we decided collaborate and run a session together.  Catherine has had a huge influence on shaping my own open practice so it was really great to have an opportunity to work together.  We decided from the outset that we wanted to practice what we preach so we designed a session that would give participants plenty of opportunity to interact with us and with each other, and to choose the topics the workshop focused on. 

We began with a couple of definitions open practice, emphasising that there is no one hard and fast definition and that open practice is highly contextual and continually negotiated and we then asked participants to suggest what open practice meant to them by writing on a shared slide.  We went on to highlight some examples of open responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the UNESCO Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through open educational resources, Creative Commons Open COVID Pledge, Helen Beetham and ALT’s Open COVID Pledge for Education and the University of Edinburgh’s COVID-19 Critical Care MOOC

We then gave participants an opportunity to choose what they wanted us to focus on from a list of four topics: 

  1. OEP to Build Community – which included the examples of Femedtech and Equity Unbound.
  2. Open Pedagogy –  including All Aboard Digital Skills in HE, the National Forum Open Licensing Toolkit, Open Pedagogy Notebook, and University of Windsor Tool Parade
  3. Open Practice for Authentic Assessment – covering Wikimedia in Education and Open Assessment Practices.
  4. Open Practice and Policy – with examples of open policies for learning and teaching from the University of Edinburgh. 

For the last quarter of the workshop we divided participants into small groups and invited them to discuss

  • What OEP are you developing and learning most about right now?
  • What OEP would you like to develop further?

Before coming back together to feedback and share their discussions. 

Finally, to draw the workshop to a close, Catherine ended with a quote from Rebecca Solnit, which means a lot to both of us, and which was particularly significant for the day we ran the workshop, 3rd November, the day of the US elections.

Rebecca Solnit quote

Slides from the workshop are available under open licence for anyone to reuse and a recording of our session is also available:  Watch recording | View slides.

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.

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.

If it’s September, it must be Wiki Loves Monuments!

How is it September already?!  Time always seems to fly at the end of summer but this year has been particularly weird as we’ve started to ease out of lockdown. July seemed to run on for ages, and then August disappeared in the blink of an eye! 

The best thing about September is that it means Wiki Loves Monuments is back!  For those that haven’t come across it before, Wiki Loves Monuments is Wikimedia’s annual photography competition, which runs throughout the month of September. The rules are simple, all you need to do is register a Wikimedia Commons account, take an original picture of a scheduled monument or listed building, and upload it to Wikimedia Commons using this interactive map. In addition to the overall prizes for the best UK entries, there are also prizes for the best images from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  

One of the things I love about Wiki Loves Monuments, is that anyone can enter. You don’t need to be a professional photographer, you don’t need a fancy camera, any camera phone will do.  Last year, one of the winning images, a gorgeous picture of the interior of Arnol Blackhouse, was taken with a smartphone.  

91 Buccleuch Street, Garnethill High School For Girls, by Lorna M. Campbell, CC BY SA, on Wikimedia Commons.

Normally I’d encourage folk to use Wiki Loves Monuments as a great excuse to get out and about to explore sites and monuments across Scotland, but this year is a little different of course.  Many of our historic monuments are closed to the public and most of us are restricting travel unless it’s absolutely necessary.  However! There are still lots of ways you can join the competition.  Why not load up the interactive map, take a wander round your local area and photograph some of the listed buildings in the vicinity?  You might be surprised how many historic buildings there are right under our nose!  If you’re in Edinburgh, you might like to download the Curious Edinburgh app and explore some of the walking routes they have mapped out across the city.  And in Glasgow,  the Women’s Library have a series of Women’s Heritage Walks you can follow.  Although the guided walks aren’t running at the moment, you can download maps and audio guides of the routes to follow yourself. I did the Garnethill Women’s Heritage Walk a couple of years ago.  It was absolutely fascinating and I uploaded several of the pictures I took along the way to Wiki Loves Monuments later in the year, including this picture of the former Garnethill High School for Girls. 

You can even take part without leaving the comfort of your own home.  Why not dig out your old holiday snaps to see if you’ve got any pictures of sites and monuments you can upload?  It’s also a lovely way to relive holidays past, for those of us who haven’t been able to get away this year.  I’m a bit sad that I’ve already raided my (horribly disorganised) photo archive for previous years competitions, but I might have another look just in case there’s any I’ve missed. 

But perhaps the best thing about Wiki Loves Monuments is that not only is it great fun to take part, you can also enjoy the fact that you’re making a positive contribution to our shared knowledge commons, and that’s a lovely thought to brighten up a dreich September! 

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.

OER20: Care, hope and activism

CC BY, Bryan Mather

The OER Conference is always one of the highlights of the year for me.   It’s the only open education conference I attend regularly and I’m privileged to have been present at every single one since the conference launched at the University of Cambridge back in 2010.  So needless to say, I was gutted that the f2f element of this year’s conference had to be cancelled, despite knowing that it was unquestionably the right thing to do.  I know from experience how much work and personal investment goes into planning the OER Conference and what a difficult decision it must have been for ALT and for co-chairs Mia Zamora, Daniel Villar-Onrubia and Jonathan Shaw.  That initial feeling of loss was tempered by ALTs announcement that they would be moving the event online, an ambitious plan, given that the conference was barely two weeks away.  I was always confident that ALT could pull off this #pivot as they already have a wealth of experience facilitating online conferences, through the annual winter online conference, and as an already distributed organisation they didn’t have to cope with the scramble to set up remote working that may other organisations and institutions faced.  What I didn’t expect though was for ALT and the conference co-chairs to deliver an entirely unique event.  They didn’t just move the planned face to face conference online they completely transformed it into a new, original and completely free online experience that welcomed over 1,000 registered participation from across the globe.  And please note, the OER20 conference wasn’t just free as in speech, it was also free as in beer, so if you participated in the event, either listening in to the presentations, or even just following the hashtag online, please consider making a donation to the conference fund.  Every little helps to support ALT and cover the cost.

Of course the theme of the conference, The Care in Openness, could not have been more timely or more prescient.  The whole notion of care has taken on new weight since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.  Care has literally become a matter of survival.  The only way we will get through this is if we care for each other, and if we protect and value those that care for us.  

If I was to pick two session that for me, really embodied this ethic of care it would have to be keynote sava saheli singh and Mia Zamora in conversation, and Frances Bell talking about the femedtech quilt project.  Both sessions featured films that provoked a really strong, but very different, emotional response.  Screening Surveillance’s Frames is a deeply unsettling tale of surveillance, commodification, dehumanisation and alienation.  Powerful, challenging and disturbing, watching Frames is a profoundly uncomfortable and thought provoking experience. The subsequent discussion brought to mind Jimmy Reid’s immortal address on becoming rector of the University of Glasgow in 1972; Alienation

“Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially de-humanises people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human being, self-centred and grasping.”

This quote particularly resonates with me.  So much has changed in the 50 years since Reid’s address, but so much remains the same. It is the system of capitalism that is still so often the root cause of our dehumanisation and alienation. Industrialisation may have given way to surveillance capitalism, but digital technology is simply the latest mechanism for our alienation. 

sava ended her brilliant keynote session with a much needed call for compassion and action:

“We need to approach everyone with compassion…All of us are activists now.”

It was a huge privilege to hear sava and Mia in conversation, and my only regret is that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet them in person. I hope that will happen one day.

Nowhere is that compassion and activism more visible than in the making of the femedtech quilt, a craft activism project and a material manifestation of care led by the indefatigable Frances Bell.  Frances produced this beautiful film about the making of quilt and it’s safe to say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after watching it.   Like the quilt itself, the up-swell of collective emotion was “beautifully imperfect, imperfectly beautiful.”


 

I find it hard to put my profound appreciation for this project into words, but Su-Ming Khoo spoke for many of us when she thanked Frances for giving us all “somewhere to put our connection and our gratitude”.

My other highlights of the conference included….

The launch of the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK’s Wikimedia in Education handbook.  Edited by Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, this free, open licensed booklet brings together 14 case studies from educators across the UK who are already integrating Wikimedia assignments in their courses and classes.   I know how much work has gone into the production of this booklet so it was great to see it being launched. I’m sure it will be an invaluable  and inspirational resource that will encourage educators to see the huge potential of integrating Wikmedia projects in education.

Staying with the Wikimedians, Wikimedia UK’s Scotland Programmes Coordinator Sara Thomas gave an impassioned talk on Wikimedia and Activism.  I love listening to Sara present, she always makes me want to storm the barricades! Sara reminded us that learning and creating open knowledge are always political acts. Creating knowledge encourages agency, but access to information alone does not result in enlightenment. Knowledge is nothing without literacy and information literacy is crucial for participatory democracy.

I also really enjoyed Bonnie Stewart and Dave White’s thoughtful and compassionate session on Designing for Systems of Care: Can Open Pedagogy Scale Caring? Dave spoke about the dangerous grey area between surveillance and care, and argued that personalised, individualised learning is actually reducing our agency, our self-direction and self-determination. We’re at a point where the tech sector appears to be telling us “we’ll care for you and personalise your experience, if you tell us everything about you.” But we can’t use technology to lock everything down, we need to create a culture of trust now more so than ever.

I made one very small contribution to the conference this year, a short alt-format talk on open practice and invisible labour, which you can read here and listen to here.  Sadly this talk became all the more relevant with news reports yesterday afternoon that hundreds of university staff on precarious contracts have been made redundant by the universities of Bristol, Newcastle and Sussex.  As my colleague Melissa Highton succinctly put it “This is why we strike.

There is always a strong social element to OER conferences and there was a risk that this would be lost with the move online.  However the conference team excelled themselves and, if anything, this was one of the most social and inclusive conferences I’ve participated in, ether on or off-line.  The social bingo was hugely popular and a great use of Alan Levine’s fabulous TRU Collector SPLOT. (If you enjoyed playing OER social bingo, you might like to support Alan’s work by contributing to his Patreon.)  The KarOERke was also priceless.  Anyone who knows me will know that karaoke is my idea of HELL. I can barely even bring myself to watch it, never mind participate!  However, I had great fun dipping in and out of the online KarOERke on ds106.tv.  My only regret is that I missed Lucy Crompton-Reid singing Kate Bush.  The final rousing chorus from Les Mis was something to behold though.  Y’all are daft as brushes.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the OER20 though was that none of the emotion and connection that is so characteristic of the OER conferences was lost. If anything, this was heightened by the #unprecedented global situation we find ourselves living through.  Suddenly these tenuous temporal connections we made with colleagues from all over the world during the two days of the conference, felt more important than ever before.  A valuable lifeline, and a network of care, hope and activism that connected us all at a time of uncertainty and isolation. Ultimately these are the things that matter and these are the things that will see us through.

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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Where to draw the line?

Today I am on strike to support the industrial action called by UCU over changes to the USS pension scheme and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.  You can find out more about the UCU strikes here: Everyone Out

Having worked on short term contracts for much of my academic career, casualisation and precarity are causes particularly close to my heart and it’s appalling to see how contracts and conditions have deteriorated over the years. I experienced precarity working as a contact researcher for almost twenty years from 1997 to 2015 and I am well aware that my experience pales in comparison to the casualisation and exploitation that many academic colleagues, support staff and early career researchers are currently facing. It’s hard to overestimate the stress caused by constantly scrabbling to get your contract renewed, not knowing if you’ll be employed next month, next semester, next year, not being able to commit to this or that project because you don’t know if you’ll still have a job, not knowing if you’ll be able to pay the mortgage, the rent, the childcare.  Coupled with wildly unrealistic workloads, grinding insecurity, invisible emotional labour, and an “always on” culture exacerbated by social media, it’s hardly any wonder that higher education is facing a mental health crisis. 

But. Here’s the thing, when your personal commitments and professional identity are so tied up with an exploitative system, where do you draw the line?  This is something I’ve grappled with for years. I currently work 0.8 fte at an institution where my primary responsibility is to support uptake and engagement with open education and OER. I’m immensely privileged to work in a field I love at an institution with a strong civic mission and a real commitment to openness and sharing knowledge.  I also have a long standing commitment to open education and social justice that stretches back for well over a decade and I use the time I’m not employed by my institution to contribute my labour to other organisations and initiatives that support like minded goals, sometimes as a volunteer, sometimes in a more formal capacity, as a Trustee or committee member, sometimes just for fun.  These include #Femedtech, ALT, Wikimedia UK, the Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group and Open Scotland.  But when my own personal and political commitments and activism are so interwoven with my professional employment the boundaries become blurred and it’s hard to know where, if anywhere, to draw the line.  I’ve written about the issue of open education and invisible labour before, and I still don’t have any good answers to the questions I raised in this post: Open Practice and Invisible Labour.

So although I am supporting the UCU strikes today, and I will be back on the digital picket line next week, I have not cancelled a commitment to take part in a free event hosted by Wikimedia DE and ALT in Berlin this week on the theme of Open for a cause: fostering participation in society and education.  I’ve done a lot of soul searching to reach this decision, and I’m not sure if it’s the right one, however I believe that many of the conversations that will be aired at this event are directly relevant to the systemic issues plaguing higher education, which the UCU strike is calling for action on.  I’m still deeply conflicted about this decision, but this is where I’m drawing the line, even if it’s terribly blurred.  In lieu of striking for the three days I’ll be in Berlin, I’ve made a contribution to the UCU Fighting Fund instead.