Open for Good – Open education and knowledge equity for all

This is a transcript of a keynote I gave at the Open University H818 The Networked Practitioner conference. 

The principles of open education were outlined in the 2008 Cape Town Declaration, one of the first initiatives to lay the foundations of what it referred to as the “emerging open education movement”. The Declaration advocates that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, and redistribute educational resources without constraint, in order to nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need.  One of the many contributors to the Cape Town Declaration was Wikimedia founder, Jimmy Wales.  Who commented in a press release to mark the launch of the Declaration:

“Open education allows every person on earth to access and contribute to the vast pool of knowledge on the web. Everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn.”

The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated on its 10th anniversary as Capetown +10, and I can highly recommend having a look at this if you want a broad overview of the principles of open education.

As conceived by the CapeTown Declaration, open education is a broad umbrella term, there’s is no one hard and fast definition.  In the words of open education scholar Catherine Cronin, open education is complex, personal, contextual and continually negotiated.

One conceptualisation of open education that I like is from the not-for-profit organization OER Commons which states that

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation.”

And what I particularly like about this interpretation is the focus on empowerment, equity and co-creation, which to my mind are the most important aspects of open education and open knowledge.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Owing to its contextual nature, open education encompasses many different aspects however open educational resources, or OER, are of course central to any understanding of this domain. Although there are multiple definitions of the term OER, the one I tend to default to is the UNESCO definition.

“OER are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.”

UNESCO OER Recommendation

The reason this definition is significant is that in November 2019 UNESCO made a formal commitment to actively support the global adoption of OER, when it approved its Recommendation on Open Educational Resources.

Central to the new Recommendation, is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4: to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

 The Recommendation recognises that

“in building inclusive Knowledge Societies, Open Educational Resources (OER) can support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory as well as enhancing academic freedom and professional autonomy of teachers by widening the scope of materials available for teaching and learning.”

And it outlines five areas of action

  • Building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER
  • Developing supportive policy
  • Encouraging effective, inclusive and equitable access to quality OER
  • Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER
  • Promoting and reinforcing international cooperation

Equality and diversity is centred throughout the Recommendation with the acknowledgement that

“In all instances, gender equality should be ensured, and particular attention paid to equity and inclusion for learners who are especially disadvantaged due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.”

Wikimedia Movement Strategy

Elsewhere in the open knowledge domain, and running in parallel with the development of the UNESCO Recommendation, the Wikimedia Foundation has been undertaking its own Movement Strategy exercise to shape the strategic direction of the movement. The movement strategy, comprises 10 recommendations for change, and 10 guiding principles, many of which echo of principals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation. 

Enshrined in the Wikimedia Movement Strategy, are the key concepts of Knowledge as a Service and Knowledge Equity.

Knowledge as a service, is the idea that, Wikimedia will become a platform that serves open knowledge to the world across interfaces and communities.

And knowledge equity, is the commitment to focus on knowledge and communities that have been left out by structures of power and privilege, and to break down the social, political, and technical barriers preventing people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge.

Structural Inequality in the Open Knowledge Landscape

And to my mind it is this commitment to knowledge equity that is key to the open education and open knowledge movements, because as I’m sure we are all aware, the open knowledge landscape is not without its hierarchies, its norms, its gatekeepers and its power structures. We all need to be aware of the fact that open does not necessarily mean accessible. Far too often our open spaces replicate the power structures and inequalities that permeate our society.

For example Wikimedia’s problems with gender imbalance,  structural inequalities and systemic bias are well known and much discussed. On English language Wikipedia just over 18% of biographical articles are about women, and the number of female editors is somewhere between 15 and 20%. Some language Wikipedias, such as the Welsh Wicipedia, fare better, others are much worse. Despite Wikipedia’s gender imbalance being an acknowledged problem, that projects such as Wiki Women In Red have sought to address, too often those who attempt to challenge these structural inequalities and rectify the systemic bias, have been subject of targeted hostility and harassment.   

In an attempt to tackle these problems Wikipedia recently launched a new Universal Code of Conduct intended to make Wikimedia projects more welcoming to new users, especially underrepresented groups who have too often faced harassment and discrimination.   It’s too early yet to know how much impact this Code of Conduct will have but it’s certainly a much-needed step in the right direction.

Wikimedia is not the only open space that suffers from issues of systemic bias and structural inequality.  In a chapter on Open Initiatives for Decolonising the Curriculum, in Decolonising the University edited by Gurminder K Bhrambra, open source software developer Pat Lockley notes that UK universities with the highest percentages of black, Asian and minority ethnic staff are those which spend the least, and in many cases nothing, on open access article processing charges. And he goes on to ask whether Open Access really is broadening and diversifying academia, or merely reinforcing the existing system.

Similarly, in a 2017 survey on open source software development practices and communities, Github, another important open online space, reported huge gaps in representation and concluded that the gender imbalance in open source remains profound. From a random sample of 5,500 respondents 95% were men; just 3% were women and 1% are non-binary.

And there are many other examples of similar structural inequalities in open spaces and communities.

In a 2018 article titled “The Dangers of Being Open” Amira Dhalla, who at the time led Mozilla’s Women and Web Literacy programs, wrote:

“What happens when only certain people are able to contribute to open projects and what happens when only certain people are able to access open resources? This means that the movement is not actually open to everyone and only obtainable by those who can practice and access it.

Open is great. Open can be the future. If, and only when, we prioritize structuring it as a movement where anyone can participate and protecting those who do.”

This lack of equity in the open knowledge landscape is significant, because if knowledge and education are to be truly open, then they must be open to all regardless of race, gender, or ability, because openness is not just about definitions, recommendations and strategies, openness is about creativity, access, equity, and social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged digital citizens.

OER and the COVID-19 pandemic

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic the role of OER in helping to provide access to inclusive and equitable education for all has become ever more critical.

In April last year, at the first peak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO estimated that 1.57 billion learners in 191 countries worldwide had had their education disrupted.  In response to this unprecedented crisis, the organisation issued a Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through Open Educational Resources (OER).  The call highlights the important role that OER can play in supporting the continuation of learning in both formal and informal settings, meeting the needs of individual learners, including people with disabilities and individuals from marginalized or disadvantaged groups, with a view to building more inclusive, sustainable and resilient Knowledge Societies. 

OER at the University of Edinburgh

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that both open education and open knowledge are strongly in keeping with our institutional vision and values; to discover knowledge and make the world a better place, and to ensure our teaching and research is accessible, inclusive, and relevant to society. In line with the UNESCO OER Recommendation, we also believe that OER and open knowledge can contribute to achieving the aims of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which the University is committed to through the SDG Accord. 

The University’s vision for OER has three strands, building on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment, and the university’s civic mission.

This vision is backed up by an OER Policy, 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.

The University’s vision for OER is the brainchild of Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal Online Learning, and the student union were also 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.

To support this policy we also have an OER Service that provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER, engaging with open education and developing information and copyright literacy skills. The OER Service places openness at the heart of the university’s strategic initiatives in order to build sustainability and minimise the risk of what my senior colleague Melissa Highton has referred to as copyright debt. The service also maintains a one stop shop that provides access to open educational resources created by staff and students across the university.

This strategic support for OER and open knowledge enabled the University to respond rapidly to the uniquely complex challenges presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic and what I want to do now is highlight some of those responses.

Critical Care MOOC

With support from the Online Learning and OER Service, and from our partners at FutureLearn, the University’s MSc Critical Care team was able to rapidly launch a COVID-19 Critical Care online learning resource for frontline clinical staff supporting critical care patients.  It took a little over a fortnight of working day and night to collate the resources and get them onto the FutureLearn platform, and they went live on the 5th of April 2020, just as many European countries were first going into lockdown.  Over 5,000 learners enrolled on the first day of the course and by the end of the first 6 week run, over 40,000 learners from 189 countries had accessed the learning materials.  The University’s strategic support for OER and open knowledge, and FutureLearn’s willingness to prioritise the project, helped enable us to develop this resource at speed.  The team comprised staff from the University, FutureLearn, NHS Lothian, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and NHS Education Scotland, who came together to make something positive happen at a difficult and stressful time for many, motivated by the knowledge of how valuable this educational resource would be to staff on the frontline of critical care.

Free Short Online Courses

Providing open access to high quality online learning opportunities and widening access to our scholarship has always been an important cornerstone of the University’s commitment to open knowledge exchange and community outreach and we  provide a wide range of online courses including masters degrees, MOOCs and MicroMasters programmes.  Ensuring continued access to course materials for online learners, has always been a priority, and now more so than ever when many learners may find it challenging to meet fixed deadlines as a result of other personal commitments and stresses in their lives. To address this issue, we ensure that the majority of online learning content created for these courses can be released under open licence, this includes over 500 high quality MOOCs videos which can be accessed and downloaded from our Open Media Bank channel. The Open Media Bank hosts legacy content covering a wide range of topics, including some that directly address the challenges of the pandemic, such as videos from our former MOOC Critical Thinking in Global Challenges  which explores important global challenges including epidemics and the spread of serious infectious, and the challenges of human health and wellbeing in the modern world. 

Free Teaching and Learning Resources for Home Schooling

Our commitment to knowledge exchange and community outreach also extends to the school sector.   Through TES Resources the OER Service shares a growing collection of interdisciplinary teaching and learning materials, aimed at primary and secondary school level, covering topics as diverse as climate change, food production, biodiversity, and LGBTQ+ issues.    These fun and creative resources are designed to be easily customisable for different learning scenarios.  When schools are closed as a result of lockdown and parents have to take on homeschooling, the OER Service uses its social media channels to disseminate this ready-made collection of free teaching resources to all who might need them.  One of the really nice things about this collection of open educational resources is that they have all been co-created by undergraduates and student interns in collaboration with colleagues from the School of GeoSciences and the OER Service. So this is a lovely example of the benefits of open education and co-creation in action.

Wikimedian in Residence

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that contributing to the global pool of Open Knowledge through Wikimedia is squarely in line with our institutional mission and that Wikipedia is a valuable learning tool to develop a wide range of digital and information literacy skills at all levels across the curriculum. Our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, works to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, through skills training sessions, editathons, Wikipedia in the classroom initiatives and Wikidata projects, in order to increase the quantity and quality of open knowledge and enhance digital literacy.  Creating Wikipedia entries enables students to demonstrate the relevance of their field of study and share their scholarship in a real-world context, while contributing to the global pool of open knowledge.  And if you want to find out more about Wikimedia in the Curriculum we’ve recently published this book of case studies which you can download here.

Knowledge Equity

Finally I want to return to the theme of knowledge equity; many of our open education and Wikimedia activities have a strong focus on redressing gender imbalance, centering marginalised voices, diversifying and decolonising the curriculum, and uncovering hidden histories. Some inspiring examples include our regular Wiki Women in Red editathons; Women in STEM editathons for Ada Lovelace Day and International Women’s Day; LGBT+ resources for medical education; open educational resources on LGBT+ Issues for Secondary Schools; UncoverED, a student led collaborative decolonial project uncovering the global history of the university; Diverse Collections, showcasing stories of equality and diversity within our archives; and the award winning Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Wikidata project.

Projects such as these provide our staff and students with opportunities to engage with the creation of open knowledge and to improve knowledge equity, and we often find that this inspires our staff and students to further knowledge activism. 

Conclusion

All these projects are examples of knowledge equity in action; the dismantling of obstacles that prevent people from accessing and participating in education and knowledge creation. Ultimately, this is what knowledge equity is about; counteracting structural inequalities and systemic barriers to ensure just representation of knowledge and equitable participation in the creation of a shared public commons.

Before I finish, I want to return to the UNESCO Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through OER, and this quote which reminds us why engaging with open education and OER is of critical importance to us all.

“Today we are at a pivotal moment in history. The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a paradigm shift on how learners of all ages, worldwide, can access learning. It is therefore more than ever essential that the global community comes together now to foster universal access to information and knowledge through OER.”

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.

For the Common Good – Responding to the global pandemic with OER

This is a belated transcript of the talk I gave at the ALT Summer Summit 2020. Slides from this presentation are available here: For the Common Good – Responding to the global pandemic with OER.

At the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO estimated that 1.57 billion learners in 191 countries worldwide had had their education disrupted.  In response to this unprecedented crisis, the organisation issued a Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through Open Educational Resources (OER).  The call highlights the important role that OER can play in supporting the continuation of learning in both formal and informal settings, meeting the needs of individual learners, including people with disabilities and individuals from marginalized or disadvantaged groups, with a view to building more inclusive, sustainable and resilient Knowledge Societies.

This Call for Joint Action builds on UNESCO’s 2019 Recommendation on Open Educational Resources, which represents a formal commitment to actively support the global adoption of OER.   Central to the Recommendation, is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 for Quality Education.

The Recommendation recognises that

“in building inclusive Knowledge Societies, Open Educational Resources (OER) can support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory as well as enhancing academic freedom and professional autonomy of teachers by widening the scope of materials available for teaching and learning.”

 And it outlines five areas of action:

  • Building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER
  • Developing supportive policy
  • Encouraging effective, inclusive and equitable access to quality OER
  • Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER
  • Promoting and reinforcing international cooperation

Continue reading

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! 

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.

Working from Home: Adjusting to the new normal

It’s been nothing short of inspiring to see the heroic efforts of learning technologists all over the country to help their colleagues move their teaching online over the last week.  Special shout out to my colleagues in LTW who have calmly and patiently trained over six hundred academic staff to use our core tools and move their teaching online under difficult and stressful circumstances.

Thanks also to Martin Weller and the fabulously talented Bryan Mathers for this hilarious and slightly disturbing image.

 

And of course learning technologists have been doing all this while trying to rapidly adjust to radically different working conditions and the prospect of working from home being the new normal for the foreseeable future.  I’ve worked remotely most of my career, often as part of a widely distributed team, and once you get used to it, it’s easy to forget how difficult and disruptive it can be for those who have little or no experience of home working.  Luckily there are lots of great tips and resources for remote workers available online, some of which I’ve linked below, and more remote workers are sharing their experience every day.  Wikimedia UK’s Scotland Programme Coordinator and experienced home worker, Sara Thomas, has written an excellent blog post that I would highly recommend to anyone who is new to home working: Remote working the Wikimedia UK way.  Here’s a few additional suggestions based on my experience of remote working.

The new normal isn’t normal

The first thing to be aware of is that this is not a normal home working scenario. Everyone is trying to adapt very quickly to a uniquely stressful and uncertain situation. We’re all trying to cope with caring for loved ones, covering childcare and home schooling, dealing with shortages, while being mindful of our own mental health and wellbeing.  Bearing that in mind, some of the advice I would normally recommend for remote working just doesn’t apply right now.  Usually I would stress that it’s important to communicate to your family, children, housemates, that when you’re working from home, you are actually working, and you shouldn’t be interrupted.  I don’t think that applies right now.  If your kid wants to show you their drawing in the middle of a conference call that’s fine, share it with your colleagues too! Or your partner just wants to sit down and talk to you for a few minutes, make time for them. Being there for each other is the most important thing we can do right now.

Routine is good

Do try to get into a routine and to keep normal working hours as much as possible, but don’t get too stressed if you need to take time out to take a breather.  When we work in an office we benefit from all kinds of little social interactions that we may not really be aware of.  Working from home, it’s easy to worry that we’re not doing enough, or that we’re wasting time if we browse social media, read the news for a few minutes, or clear up the dishes.  However, it’s almost impossible to stay focused for hours on end without social interaction so I try to see these small breaks as being equivalent to all the little interactions you would normally have when you’re working with others.

Set up your workspace

Tempting as it may be to work from the couch, I would highly recommend setting up a dedicated workspace, even if it’s just a corner of the kitchen table.  This will help you to get into the right frame of mind for working and it also means that it’s easier for you to “leave work” at the end of the day.  

Knowing when to stop

After over a decade of remote working, one thing I still struggle with is stopping at the end of the day.  It’s very easy to let your working day stretch on way beyond your contracted work hours when you’re working from home.  Sometimes it takes discipline to shut your laptop and step away from work.

Get out!

Bearing in mind the current social distancing restrictions, do try to get out of the house at least once a day.  If you’ve got a park nearby, make the most of it. On days I work from home I always go for a walk round the park before sitting down to start working.

Online meetings are tiring

Online meetings are much more exhausting that face to face meetings, even when the technology works.  I don’t know why, they just are.  So try to be realistic about how much time you can expect your colleagues to spend in remote meetings.  Don’t let a Teams meeting drag on for an hour if you can get it over and done with in half that time. 

Virtual presence

Virtual presence is a good thing.  It’s a great way to let your colleagues know you’re there, and it can help you feel connected to your team. There are lots of different ways to manage remote presence, I tend to use twitter, but it can be as simple as setting your online status at the beginning of the day.  Turning off virtual presence at the end of the day is also a good way to remind everyone, yourself included, that you are no longer working.  Remember that you don’t have to be available 24/7. 

Social media

Social media really comes into its own when you’re working remotely. It’s a great way to stay connected to colleagues at an informal social level.  I’ve used twitter as my main work social media channel for over a decade now, and it’s no exaggeration to say that I’d be lost without the fabulous community of learning technologists and open educators who hang out there.  Having said that, I would never pressure anyone to use social media tools that they are not comfortable with.  Twitter is great if you’ve got a community of friends and colleagues there, but it can also be hostile and stressful for many people.  Let folk use what ever channels they are most comfortable with and always remember to respect people’s boundaries.

Silly gifs and cat pics

It’s really important to encourage informal social interaction, otherwise people can begin to feel stressed and isolated.  Never underestimate the therapeutic value of stupid gifs and cat pics.  One day into remote working and we already had an impromptu #ISGpets tag on twitter to share pictures of our four-legged co-workers.  It’s still going strong and it’s been a joy to get acquainted with colleagues’ talented cats, dogs, guinea pigs and …um… robots.

There are lots of ways to encourage social interaction across remote teams. Post a picture of your work space, your favourite coffee mug, your pet, the view from your window.  Set up a shared playlist on Spotify or youtube.   I’ve known some teams to have dress up days where everyone wears a specific colour or item of clothing and then shares a picture.  Get creative and don’t afraid to be a bit silly.  A word of caution though, some people will be more comfortable with the silliness that others, so don’t expect everyone to engage in the same way.  If you’re already stressed, being pushed out of your comfort zone to participate in daft activities isn’t going to help. 

Ultimately the most important thing to bear in mind at this point in time is that we need to be kind, patient and caring.  That’s really all that matters right now. 

ETA….

Resources

Remote Working the Wikimedia Way.  Sound advice from Wikimedia UK’s Sara Thomas.

Ramblings of a Remote Worker Marieke Guys, ex UKOLN and Open Knowledge Foundation, maintained this blog about remote working until 2015, and it’s still one of the best around. 

Virtual Teams The Association for Learning Technology operates as an entirely distributed organisation. CEO Maren Deepwell and Chief Innovation, Community and Technology Officer Martin Hawksey have shared their experience of managing remote teams. 

Homeworking – a guide for employers and employees. Guidance from ACAS. 

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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Dunfermline College of Physical Education: A personal connection

While I was off on strike I was able to spend some time finishing a project I’ve been working on for a couple of months; editing the Wikipedia page for Dunfermline College of Physical Education.  I was inspired to update the existing page by the recent Body Language exhibition at the University of Edinburgh Library which delved into the archives of Dunfermline College and the influential dance pioneer Margaret Morris, to explore Scotland’s significant contributions to movement and dance education. And the reason I was so keen to improve this page, which was little more than a stub when I started editing, is that my mother was a student at Dunfermline College from 1953 – 1956, and when she died in 2011 my sister and I inherited her old college photograph album.  

My mother was not a typical Dunfermline student. Unlike many of her fellow students, who were privately educated and went straight to the college on leaving school, my mother was educated at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, and after leaving school she took an office job while working her way through the Civil Service exams.  She’d been working a year or so when the college came to the island to interview prospective students, and her father suggested she apply.  Her interview was successful, and she was awarded a place and a bursary to attend the college, which at that time was in Aberdeen.  Having experienced a degree of independence before going to Dunfermline, my mother chaffed at the rigid discipline of the residential college, which expected certain standards of decorum from its “girls”.  She didn’t take too kindly to the arbitrary rules, and it’s perhaps no surprise that her motto in the college year book was “Laws were made to be broken”.  She did however make many life-long friends at college and she went on to have a long and active teaching career.

My mother worked as a PE teaching on the Isle of Lewis, first as a travelling teacher working in tiny rural schools across the island, and later in the Nicolson Institute.  She passionately believed that all children should be able to enjoy physical education, regardless of aptitude or ability, and she vehemently opposed the idea that the primary role of PE teachers was to spot and nurture “talent”.  Her real interest was movement and dance and many of the children she taught in the small rural schools where convinced she was really just a big playmate who came to play with them once a week.  Sporting facilities were pretty much non-existent in rural schools in the Western Isles the 1970s. Few schools had a gyms or playing field, so she often organised games and sports days on the machair by the beaches. The first swimming pool in the islands didn’t open until the mid 1970s and prior to that she taught children to swim in the sea, on the rare occasions it was sufficiently calm and warm.  None of the schools she taught in had AV facilities of any kind and I vividly remember the little portable tape recorded that she carried around with her for music and movement lessons.  She retired from teaching in 1987, not long after the acrimonious national teachers pay dispute.  Despite being rather scunnered with the education system by the time she retired, it’s clear that the years she spent at Dunfermline played a formative role in shaping not just in her career, but also her personal relationships and her approach to teaching. Typically, she was proud to be known as the rule breaker of her “set” and I think she’d appreciate the irony of her old pictures appearing on the college Wikipedia page. 

In order to add these images to Commons, I’m having to go through the rather baroque OTRS procedure, and I’d like to thank Michael Maggs, former Chair of Board of Wikimedia UK, for his invaluable support in guiding me through the process.  Thanks are also due to colleagues at the Centre for Research Collections, which holds the college archive, for helping me access some of the sources I’ve cited. 

One last thing….when I was producing our OER Service Autumn newsletter I made this GIF to illustrate a short news item about the Body Language exhibition. 

Garden Dance GIF

Garden Dance, CC BY, University of Edinburgh.

The gif is part of a beautiful 1950s film featuring students from Dunfermline College called Garden Dance, which was released under open licence by the Centre of Research Collections.  The film is described as “Dance set in unidentified garden grounds, possibly in Dunfermline” however when I was looking through my mother’s college album I found this picture of the very same garden, so it appears it was filmed in Aberdeen. If you click through to the film, you can clearly see the same monkey puzzle tree in the background. It was obviously something of a landmark!  I wonder if my mother is one of the dancers? 

 

Wiki Loves Monuments Winners

The winners of the 2019 Wiki Loves Monuments competition were announced a couple of weeks ago and I was delighted to see four entries from Scotland among the winners. The overall winner for the UK is this gorgeous shot by MHoser of Kilchurn Castle, the stronghold of the Campbells of Glen Orchy.

Kilchurn Castle at sunrise, CC BY-SA 4.0, MHoser.

Of all the prize winning images, the one that I really love is this image of Arnol Blackhouse by Castlehunter (David C. Weinczok), which won the prize for best image of an interior. Arnol Blackhouse on the Isle of Lewis is a site I know well and have visited many times and this shot really captures the unique atmosphere of the house. It’s a really evocative image for me as I spent a lot of my childhood playing in the roofless ruins of houses like this. Just about every croft had the remains of an “old house”, which was pressed into service as a barn or a byre, a place to pen ewes with sickly lambs, store rusting rolls of old fencing wire, or just left to fall quietly into disrepair.

Arnol Blackhouse, CC BY-SA 4.0, David C. Weinczok

I was also quietly chuffed that two of my own photographs made it onto the long lost. I really enjoy taking part in Wiki Loves Monuments, but I’m definitely not in it or the prizes, in fact as a Wikimedia UK Board member I can’t be shortlisted.  I just really enjoy knowing that my amateurish snaps are making a positive contribution to the Commons, and in some cases are providing a visual record of sites and monuments that would otherwise be unrepresented. Both my long listed images are of the interior of Glasgow City Chambers and show the stunning Carrara Marble staircase. I’ve taken a few picture of the City Chambers before and some of my pictures already appears on the Wikipedia pages for both the Chambers and Carrara Marble.

Glasgow City Chambers, George Square, Glasgow, CC BY-SA 4.0, LornaMCampbell

And in case you’re thinking that Wiki Loves Monuments is just for experienced photographers with fancy cameras, it’s worth noting that both my long listed images, and Castlehunter’s stunning photograph of Arnol Blackhouse, were taken with smart phones. So when Wiki Loves Monuments comes around next September, why not head out with your phone in your pocket and snap some pictures.  You never know, you might win a prize too!