Author Archives: Open World

How is it almost August?⤴

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This is another of those blog posts that starts “Where the hell have the last two months gone?!”  I’ve been sorely neglecting this blog since early May, not because I’ve got nothing to write about, quite the opposite, I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to get near it!  I’m about to go off on annual leave for a couple of weeks but I wanted to post a quick round up of the last two months before I go, so here’s wot I have been up to.

Innovation Projects

UoE OKN, CC BY Natalie Lankester-Carthy

A lot of my time has been tied up with two Information Services Innovation Fund projects.  The UoE Open Knowledge Network was a small project that aimed at drawing together the University’s activities in the area of Open Data, Open Access, Open Education, Open Research, Open Collections and Archives, to support cross-fertilisation and promote the institution’s activities in these areas. We ran three events, with the last one taking place in early July.  This event focussed on discussing priorities, ideas for the future and how we can sustain the network going forward.  You can read about the first two events on the project blog here: UoE Open Knowledge Network and I’ll be writing up the July event when I get back from leave in August.

The aim of the second project was to develop a MOOC for entrepreneurs, creative individuals, and SMEs to help them develop the knowledge and skills to find and access free and open licensed research, data and content produced by universities and higher education. I was lucky enough to recruit Morna Simpson of Geek Girl Scotland to work on the project however despite our best efforts and an incredible amount of work on Morna’s part the project faced a number of challenges which we struggled to overcome.  Rather than go ahead with a MOOC we will be releasing a series of twelve case studies on the theme of Innovating with Open Knowledge demonstrating how individuals and organisations can access and use the open outputs of University of Edinburgh research.  These case studies should be finished by early August so watch this space!

Media Hopper Replay

The University of Edinburgh is in the process of rolling out a new state of the art lecture recoding service, Media Hopper Replay, which will see 400 rooms enabled to deliver lecture recording by 2019.  As part of a training programme for staff, my colleague Charlie Farley and I have been developing training sessions on preparing for lecture recording covering accessible presentation design, copyright basics, and using open educational resources.

ALT

City of Glasgow College, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

I was honoured to be invited by ALT to join the selection panel for the prestigious Learning Technologist of the Year Awards.  The quality and diversity of the entries was really inspiring and while I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the entries it wasn’t easy to pick the best from such a strong field.  The winners of the awards will be announced at the ALT Annual Conference which this year takes place at the University of Liverpool.  I’ll be there rejoining my old partner in crime Richard Goodman to provide social media coverage of the conference for the third year running.

In June I also helped to organise ALT Scotland’s annual conference which focused on sharing strategy, practice and policy in learning technology.  We had really interesting talks on lecture recording policy and practice from the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and Joe Wilson reported back from two European open education policy events he recently attended on behalf of Open Scotland.  The real star of the show however was City of Glasgow College’s new state of the art campus where the event took place.

Celtic Knot Conference

In early July I was busy helping UoE’s Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, plan the University of Edinburgh / Wikimedia UK Celtic Knot Conference.  The conference showcased innovative approaches to open education, open knowledge and open data to support and grow Celtic and Indigenous language communities, and explore how our cultural heritage can be preserved as living languages.  The conference was attended by delegates from all over Europe and was an enormous success.  It was a real privilege to be involved in this event and as a Gael, I found the conference to be both moving and inspiring.  I may have got a little starry eyed listening to delegates talking animatedly in Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, Basque and too many other languages to mention.  And as an indication of the collaborative and supportive nature of the event, it was great to see all 50+ delegates come together to provide input and advice to Wikimedia Norge on how to support Sami language Wikipedia.

 

Wikimedia UK

Last weekend I was at the Wikimedia UK AGM and Board Meeting in London where it was a real pleasure to see Josie Fraser voted in as new chair of the Wikimedia Board and our very own UoE Wikimedia in Residence Ewan McAndrew awarded a very well deserved joint Wikimedian of the Year award together with Kelly Foster.  It was also great to hear that Sara Thomas has been appointed as the new Wikimedian in Residence at the Scottish Libraries and Information Council.

CMALT

And on top of all that I somehow managed to submit my CMALT portfolio at the end of May! Although it was a lot of hard work, and although I went right to wire (of course), I actually enjoyed the process of putting my portfolio together and I found it really useful to step back and reflect on my experience of working as a learning technologist in the broadest sense of the word. I would still like to write a proper post reflecting on my experience of developing my portfolio in the open but that will have to wait until the autumn.

That’s just a few of the things that have been taking up most of my time over the last couple of months.  I’m now off for a fortnight’s holiday during which we are going to attempt to coax our aged VW van to take us all the way to Brittany.  If we make it to the Borders we’ll be lucky!   I’ll be back in early August with a new role at the University of Edinburgh as Learning Technology Team Leader in the Department of Education Development and Engagement.

Mary Susan McIntosh and the Women in Red⤴

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I was chuffed to discover today that English Wikipedia’s main page features a link to sociologist, feminist, and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights Mary Susan McIntosh.  It’s always great to see women featured on Wikipedia’s main page, which is viewed by around 4 million people, but I confess to being doubly pleased because I created the article on Mary at a recent editathon to mark International Women’s Day here at the University of Edinburgh.  This editathon was facilitated by Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence here at the University, and Ewan was also instrumental in nominating Mary to appear on the main page.

Wikipedia 11 May 2017

Only last week I had been complaining on twitter about the lack of gender balance on English Wikipedia’s main page which happened to feature 18 named men but only 4 named women that particular day. The main page changes on a daily basis but you can see the edition from 4th May on archive.org here.

WikiProject Women in Read

Of course this is not particularly surprising; Wikipedia has a well known problem with gender imbalance, only 16% of biographical entries on the English Wikipedia are of women, and the main page is a pretty accurate reflection of this imbalance.  The Wikimedia Foundation and the various Wikimedia chapters around the world, including Wikimedia UK, are well aware of this problem and are attempting to address it through a range of projects and initiatives.  WikiProject Women in Red raises awareness of this issue and aims to turn red links blue, by creating new biographical articles about women who are referenced on Wikipedia but who do not have their own pages. And here at the University of Edinburgh, one of the objectives of our Wikimedian in Residence is to encourage more women to get involved with editing Wikimedia.  Ewan regularly runs editathons focused on addressing the coverage of articles about women in general and Scottish women in particular.

Before I went along to the International Women’s Day editathon, I confess knew nothing about Mary Susan McIntosh, I picked her name at random from a list of “Women in Red” because she sounded interesting.  It didn’t take me long to realise what a hugely significant and influential woman Mary was.  In addition to being one of the early members of the UK Gay Liberation Front, and sitting on the committee that lowered the homosexual age of consent in the UK from 21 to 18, Mary published important research arguing that homosexuality should be regarded as a social construct, rather than a psychiatric or clinical pathology.  Mary’s paper The Homosexual Role helped to shape the concept of social constructionism, later developed by Michel Foucault.  Mary’s contribution to shaping this important philosophical construct has of course been largely overlooked.  My Wikipedia article barely scrapes the surface of Mary’s life and academic career and her important contribution to social theory and political activism.  I hope to do a bit more work on Mary’s Wikipedia page sometime in the future but it would be great if there are any philosophers, sociologists or critical theorists out there that could help with editing to ensure that Mary gets the recognition she deserves.

CMALT – An open portfolio⤴

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I’ve finally made a start on drafting my CMALT Portfolio, and in the interests of open practice I’m going to attempt to write and present the whole thing here on my blog.  If you look up on the nav bar you’ll see a new page, CMALT Portfolio, where I’ll be building up my portfolio over the coming weeks.  I’ve just drafted the first two sections of Core Area 1: Operational Issues and I’ll be adding more sections shortly I hope. I’d love to have some feedback on  my portfolio so if you’ve got any thoughts, comments or guidance I’d be very grateful indeed.  I’d also be very interested to know if anyone else has created their portfolio as an exercise in open practice, and if so, how they found the experience.

Wish me luck!

CC BY @BryanMMathers for ALT

re:publica – #FreeBassel: The cost of loving free culture⤴

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This video is a small contribution to a session taking place as part of the re:publica 17 media and digital culture convention in Berlin this week.  The session #FreeBassel : The Cost of Loving Free Culture is part of the Love Out Loud strand and is being led by Barbara Rhüling, CEO of Booksprints and Melanie Dulong de Rosnay, Research Associate Professor, CNRS.

The session will feature a public reading of texts dedicated to Bassel Khartabil, loved and celebrated Internet volunteer who was detained in Syria in 2012, demanding his immediate release and reflecting on the love and the costs of free culture.

“Bassel Khartabil, loved and celebrated Internet volunteer was detained in Syria on March 15, 2012. His name was deleted from the Adra Prison’s register, where he was detained, on 3 October 2015, and there has been no information about his current status or whereabouts since.

Seeing Bassel paying a high price for his love and participation in free culture, many of his friends and fellow free culture activists have reflected on their own fates, actions, and choices. As part of the #freebassel campaign, 44 activists, artists, designers, developers, researchers, and writers involved with free knowledge movements wrote and compiled more than 50 original contributions in the book “Cost of Freedom”. The contributions include paintings, poems, personal reflections, critical observations, polemical pieces, and theoretical treatises.

Many contributions by Bassel’s friends and family, including his wife Noura Safadi, create a collective memory of Bassel and urge for his immediate release to his normal life and freedom. Other contributions by free culture advocates such as Lorna Campbell, Lawrence Lessig, and Jon Phillips offer personal reflections about the experience of working within free culture.”

The video above is my reading of The Open World, the short piece I wrote for Cost Of Freedom, a book dedicated to Bassel in 2015.

International Open Science Conference report⤴

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A brief report on the International Open Science Conference held in Berlin in March, presented at the University of Edinburgh Open Knowledge Network event on 28th April 2017.

The Open Science Conference held in Berlin in April was the 4th international conference sponsored by the Leibniz Research Alliance and it grew out of the former Science 2.0 Conference.

The stated aim of the Open Science Conference is to bring together three communities; the research community engaging in open science, the library community and the computer centres who maintain and run the infrastructure.  Participants included researchers, librarians, practitioners, politicians, and other stakeholders.  Many of the delegates I spoke to were librarians and and it was interesting to note that many of them were familiar with the work of the Digital Curation Centre here at the University, and spoke highly of the service they provide.

The conference was co located with the Open Science Policy Platform (OSPP)  which advises the European Commission on how to develop and implement the European Open Science policy an initiative is being led by Germany and the Netherlands.

The conference featured two days of presentations, lightning talks, poster sessions, workshops, panels and a barcamp which provided a forum to discuss putting Open Science into practice.

This year the special thematic focus of the conference was Open Educational Resources which is why I was invited along to speak. ¨ My talk Crossing the Field Boundaries looked at the interface between OER, open data and open science and our experience at the University of Edinburgh of promoting open education through the School of GeoSciences Outreach and Engagement course. Some of you may have seen Colin Graham’s talk on building student capital through student led outreach and engagement at our last Open Knowledge Network event and it was a real honour to be able to present a case study on this innovative course at such a prestigious conference.  There was a lot of interest in the co-creation of learning model developed by the Geosciences Outreach and Engagement Team and also in the Open Content Internship project that subsequently repurposed the student produced materials into Open Educational Resources.  As a result of this presentation and a subsequent conversation at the OER17 conference a team from the University of Louvain are hoping to come to Edinburgh to learn from our experience of implementing and supporting a digital strategy for open knowledge and open education.

The first day of the conference, which unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend, focused primarily on open science and the main themes appeared to be open science policy, the development of a European open science cloud, federated infrastructure, altmetrics and open peer review.  One lengthy panel on open peer review seemed to get particularly heated but I confess I’d rather lost the thread of the argument at that point.

It was really on the second day that the agenda switched to open education. There was a panel on the impact of open education on HE and society and a couple of talks on a German OER programme the Federal government is currently funding.   ¨ Dirk van Damme, Head of the Innovation at OECD in France presented the findings of the OECD commissioned report OER a catalyst for innovation in education and Marco Kalz UNESCO chair of Open Education at the OUNL also explored open education as a driver for innovation from a critical perspective. Marco acknowledged that reuse and adaptation are notoriously hard to track and measure, as are direct and indirect effects of OER. Quoting Sian Bayne and Jeremy Knox’s research Marco agreed that “discussions of OER too often tend to optimism and lack of critique” and he argued that the open education field must move from being advocacy driven to become more research driven.

Two specific points struck me about the discussions around open education and OER at the Open Science Conference.  The first was the tendency to conflate OER with education technology more generally, this resulted in some sweeping statements about the power of OER to transform education which rang all sorts of alarm bells.  Although I don’t believe it’s necessarily beneficial to nail down the semantics of open education, it’s also unhelpful to equate OER with education technology. Similarly, it’s unrealistic to claim that OER alone can transform education, OER certainly has a role to play, but such sweeping generalization can result in raising expectations to unrealistic levels.

The second point was the repeated emphasis on the importance of quality standards to encourage OER uptake.  Quality has always been a cornerstone of the European education technology landscape, but to be honest I think this is a bit of a red herring, particularly when it comes to OER.  Primarily because quality is less an inherent property the resource itself and is more a result of the context of use.  So for example a high quality open education resource, can be used in an inappropriate context resulting in a poor quality learning experience.  Admittedly several delegates did argue this very point, but there was still more emphasis on Qualty than I think is necessarily helpful.

On a more positive note one other broad theme that emerged was recognition of the importance of bringing open science into the class room as education doesn’t just create scientists it creates citizens and I think this is one reasons why the Geosciences Outreach and Engagement Course case study went down so well.  It was noticeable that one strand that ran through all the presentations and discussions I saw was an unshakable belief in the responsibility of open science to contribute to the global pool of open knowledge.

If you’d like to find out more about the conference most of the papers are available from the conference website here.   In addition the Open Knowledge Open Education Group hosted a webinar with myself and Guido Scherp, coordinator of Leibniz Research Alliance Science 2.0 where we discussed and reflected on some of the conference themes, and you can access a recording of that webinar here.

CMALT – Advice from the community⤴

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Last week I wrote a reflective blog post about starting out on the CMALT journey, What do you do?, and was delighted to get lots of really helpful practical input from the ALT community on twitter.  I’ve captured the advice and discussions in a Storify here Starting CMALT – Advice from the community so I can look back on them and in case they’re of use to others. Here’s some of the highlights.

Matt Cornock had useful advice on completing Section 3 if you’re not in a teaching role.

Phil Barker kicked off an interesting discussion about how long it takes to complete a portfolio.

Working together with a colleague seems to be a good way to make progress

Kate Mitchell was particularly interested in the tensions of our role:

While Martin Hawksey may have blow my cover 😉

Open Pedagogy – A view from a distance⤴

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I’ve been thinking on and off for the last few days about the fascinating discussions going on around Open Pedagogy. Maha Bali has curated a diverse and thought provoking series of posts on the topic here and has organized a hangout to discuss What is Open Pedagogy? later today. Other than commenting on a few blog posts here and there, I haven’t contributed much to this debate and it’s taken me a little while to figure out why.

To some extent this is bound up with a post I wrote last week What do you do? That post is an off the cuff reflection prompted by my first attempt to make a start on my CMALT portfolio, but it does relate, if only tangentially, to the question of open pedagogy too. I think one of the reasons that I’ve felt slightly distanced from the open pedagogy discussions is that to my mind pedagogy is intrinsically bound up with the theory and practice of teaching and although I’ve worked in Higher Education for years, I’ve rarely been involved in teaching and I have never considered myself to be a teacher or an academic. This is one of the issues I was trying to grapple with, all be it facetiously, in my What do you do? post. I’ve very rarely taught staff or students, though I do hope that people have learned things from me along the way. I do help to support teaching and learning, but even then, I’m several steps removed from the pedagogy and the teaching process. I don’t do teaching so I’ve always felt I don’t really do pedagogy either.

What I do consider myself to be is an education practitioner. I participate in the process and practice of education and hopefully, some way further down the line, this contributes to teaching and pedagogy. Perhaps more importantly for my own personal and professional identity, I see myself as an open practitioner. I try very hard to practice my profession in the open, I try to learn from other open practitioners, I try to listen and learn and engage, and I try to be guided by the principals of openness and inclusivity.

This is why I identified so strongly with the questions Josie asked in her blog post Waves not Ripples

“I’m suspicious of the current distinction between open pedagogy and open practice, and in particular, how little explanation is being given to the privileging or even just use of the term pedagogy over the term practice. Is the use of pedegogy being used as shorthand for educational practice? Is it being used to underline the importance of formal education, or the primacy of teaching? Why not open heutagogy? Is it being used as a form of interpellation, a signal to include and exclude specific groups within open education? What is wrong with ‘practice’? How do we benefit from continuing to insist on a break between theory and practice, or theory and politics? Is this distinction as harmful as the disavowal of the relationship between the personal and the political?”

Josie’s questions also called to mind the point Amber Thomas made in her wonderful blog post Perhaps I’m not one, which I linked to from my earlier post. Amber’s blog post is primarily a reflection on what makes a learning technologist, but she also includes this thought, which still resonates with me three years later.

“And another thing: I’m not an academic and I don’t teach. I consider myself to be a para-academic. (Like a paralegal, or a paramedic ). I have a particular skillset which has a place in universities. I’ve lost count of the number of sessions I’ve been in at elearning conferences over the year where the presenter asks “how many people in the room actually teach?”. Cue a few hands raised and the majority looking down at their feet, embarrassed, as if the 5/10/15 years experience in education counts for nowt. Universities are multi-professional places and learning technologists, in all their flavours, have a rightful place at the table. People like me shouldn’t have to pretend to be something we’re not.”

Like Amber, I’m not an academic and I don’t teach, so I’m not sure how much I can contribute to discussions about pedagogy. It’s not that I’m disinterested, far from it, it’s more that when people talk about pedagogy is often feels like they’re talking about something I don’t do, something I haven’t thought deeply enough about.

Of course that may simply be a massive misconception on my part, but there’s no denying that I tend to feel I have more to contribute to discussions about open practice, policy and politics than discussions about open pedagogy. Josie asks whether open pedagogy is being used as a signal to include and exclude specific groups within open education. I’m not sure I would go as far as to say that I feel excluded, but I do feel slightly distanced.

I don’t know how to draw this post to a sensible conclusion, because I don’t really know if I have one, but I suspect I’ll continue thinking about these issues of identity, experience, inclusion and exclusivity for some time to come. And perhaps if I can joint the hangout later today I’ll find out whether there is anything I can contribute to the discussions about open pedagogy, and whether this feeling of distance is just a misconception on my part after all.

A view from a distance

“What do you do?” – Starting out on CMALT⤴

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“So what do you do?” can be a bit of a difficult question to answer when you work in the domain of learning technology.  And depending on which area of learning technology you work in it can be a harder question to answer for some than others.  My default answer tends to be “I work at a University” followed by “I work in education technology”, often with the added explanation “It’s about the use of new technology in education.”  “Open education” tends to get you blank looks outwith academia (now there’s a topic for discussion), and thank god I don’t work in “education technology interoperability standards” these days.

My family have defaulted to telling people that I’m a spy on the basis that they don’t actually know what I do, other than travel a lot and disappear for days at a time. It’s hard to argue with them tbh.

Lorna Campbell – Spy

Sometimes I think it’s easier to explain what I don’t do; I don’t teach, I don’t do formal academic research, I’m not a programmer, I don’t develop or implement systems, I don’t provide help desk services, I don’t run the VLE.   I do manage projects and provide advice to colleagues. I provide input to policies. I support networks and disseminate practice.  I write a lot, talk a lot and present a lot.  I facilitate events and chair conferences.  I sit on boards, steering groups and executive committees. Maybe it is easier to tell people I’m a spy.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that after months of procrastination, I’m finally making a start on my CMALT application.  I had hoped to do this towards the end of last year but two new projects took precedence, so CMALT went on the back burner.

I had mixed feelings about CMALT for a number of years, primarily because for a long time I didn’t really seem to fit any recognisable definition of what a learning technologist is.  I tried to explain this anxiety in a blog post I wrote in 2014 Thoughts on ALT’s CPD Rebooted.  That post also refers to a brilliant piece written by Amber Thomas Perhaps I’m not one,  which I identified with strongly at the time, and still do.  The main point I was trying to make in CPD Rebooted was that formal certification can be difficult for people whose roles don’t neatly fit into the kind of boxes that make up accreditation frameworks.   This is doubly true for those on short term contracts, who have to jump from project to project and rarely have much time for formal CPD.  I ended that blog post with a question I asked on twitter:

Things have changed a lot for me since 2014, both professionally and personally.  Our understanding of what it means to be a learning technologist has matured and become more inclusive, and although contracts in higher education have become increasingly precarious, I’m very lucky that my own employment situation is more secure than it was three years ago.  In fact I’m incredibly fortunate to work for an institution that not only allows dedicated time for CPD but that also actively promotes and supports CMALT membership. Information Services at the University of Edinburgh offer bursaries to enable learning technologists to become Certified Members of ALT and my colleague Susan Grieg supports colleagues to help them prepare their portfolios.

Having spent the day pouring over the CMALT guidelines I can see that ALT have worked hard to create an accreditation framework that is as broad as it is inclusive.  However I’m still sitting here sifting through projects, webinars, presentations, papers, twitter conversations and reflective blog posts wondering how the hell I’m going to fit all this into that. How on earth can I demonstrate an “understanding of my target learners” when I don’t actually teach?  Of course the answer is that I’m going to have to think creatively.  I may not have a teaching role, but hopefully all those webinars and talks and blog posts do help my peers and colleagues to learn and to develop their professional practice.  I’m still at the stage where I’m struggling to fit my experience into the CMALT framework, but hopefully if I keep thinking about it and reflecting on what I actually do, it will all start to fall into place.  Having access to the CMALT Portfolio Open Register is already proving to be enormously helpful but I’d be very interested to hear how others have approached this.

Organising my CMALT portfolio like

(Belatedly realising I have no idea how to licence memes….)

OER17 – Open Education in a time of Trump and Brexit⤴

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As well as my paper (The Distance Travelled) and lightning talk (Shouting from the Heart) at OER17, I also took part in a panel session organised by Jim Luke: Open Education in a time of Trump and Brexit.  The panel featured video provocations from Robin DeRosa, Nadine Aboulmagd, Chris Gilliard, and David Kernohan and responses from Jim, Martin Weller, Maha Bali and I.

The aim of the panel was to “provide different perspectives on the relationship between Open Education and the political changes represented by Brexit and the Trump election” and to address the following questions:

  • What challenges do these political movements pose for Open Education? What opportunities?
  • Open Education movement has largely embraced values of inclusiveness, sharing, connectedness, equity, voice, agency, and openness. How might these values be furthered under these new regimes? How might these values be hindered?
  • Will our work in the open education movement change?
  • In what ways can we shape the future of the Open Education Movement?

I don’t think any of us quite knew what to expect from the session, but we had a really lively and wide ranging conversation with some brilliant contributions from the audience including Helen Beetham, Audrey Watters, Laura Czerniewicz and Sheila MacNeil.

All the videos and materials created for the session are available from Jim’s website here Open Ed, Trump, Brexit and there’s a Storify of tweets here #Trexit.  Huge thanks to Autumn Caines who periscoped the whole session: #oer17 safety in open online learning, and to Bryan Mather’s for capturing the discussion.

@bryanMMathers, CC BY ND

OER17 – The Distance Travelled⤴

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Reflections on open education policy in the UK since the Cape Town Declaration

Paper presented at the OER17 Politics of Open conference.

2017 has officially been designated the “Year of Open”.

The Year of Open is a global focus on open processes, systems, and tools, created through collaborative approaches, that enhance our education, businesses, governments, and organizations … Open represents freedom, transparency, equity and participation … During the Year of Open, we want to capture and display these efforts to increase participation and understanding of how open contributes to making things better for everyone.

This initiative is backed by many of the major international players in the field of open education, including Creative Commons, the Open Education Consortium, OER Africa, etc.

And the reason that this is the Year of Open is that we have a number of important anniversaries

It’s the 15th anniversary of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, and it’s also the ¨ 15th anniversary of the release of the first Creative Commons licence.

It’s the 10th anniversary of the Cape Town Declaration which laid the foundations of the “emerging open education movement” and advocated the development of open education policy to ensure that taxpayer-funded educational resources are openly licensed. And if you haven’t read the Cape Town Declaration recently, I can highly recommend revisiting it, it’s really quite inspiring and inspiring statement.

And it’s also the 5th Anniversary of the UNESCO Paris OER Declaration which, five years after Cape Town, strengthened this call by encouraging governments and authorities to open license educational materials produced with public funds in order to realize substantial benefits for their citizens and maximize the impact of investment.

The Paris declaration was an output of the World OER Congress held at the UNESCO Headquarters in Paris in June 2012 and to mark this anniversary, UNESCO, in collaboration with the Government of Slovenia and the Commonwealth of Learning will host the 2nd World OER Congress in Lubljana in September this year.

This event will bring together government ministers, policy makers and open education practitioners in order to:

  • Examine solutions to meet the challenges of mainstreaming OER
  • Showcase best practices in OER policies and initiatives
  • Provide recommendations for the mainstreaming of OER

In advance of this event, the Commonwealth for Learning are undertaking a series of regional consultations in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific and in addition, to these consultations, COL have circulated a questionnaire to government education ministries and stakeholders focused on OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education.  Both the consultations and survey are ongoing, so I don’t have figures for the number of governments that have participated, but I want to come back to this initiative later.

There’s no denying that there have been significant advances in open education in the ten years since the Cape Town Declaration.  And you only have to look at the programme of this conference to get an idea of the diverse range of open education initiatives that are going on worldwide. Even the International Open Science Conference had a special focus on OER this year. During that conference Dirk Van Damme of OECD gave a great talk on how OER can act as a catalyst for innovation.  Much of Dirk’s presentation was based on  this OECD report, which I can highly recommend.  One of the figures Dirk quoted was this one; out of 33 countries that responded to a 2012 survey undertaken by OECD, 76% of them had policies to support OER production and use. 76% is a pretty impressive figure, particularly if it’s representative.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if 76% of governments worldwide had OER policies?  But if we look at this map you’ll notice that one of the countries highlighted is the UK and the UK does not in fact have any government policies that support the creation and use of open licensed educational content. And neither do the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales.  In fact government support for open education has arguably declined since this survey was undertaken.  To be fair to OECD, I suspect the UK was originally included in these figures as a result of the UKOER programme, which came to an end in 2012.  UKOER did not result in the creation of government policy, that was never it’s aim, though it did result in the creation of institutional OER policies, and again, I want to come back to that later.  Funding for UKOER did come through government channels, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing as actually having government policy on OER.

To my knowledge, the Westminster Government has not invested any further direct funding in open education since the end of the UKOER Programme and in the intervening years, central support for open education has diminished.  Jisc, the organization that coordinated and supported UKOER and once led the field in technology innovation for open education, is no longer active in this space and, as I’m sure many of you will be aware, last year they closed Jorum, the UK’s central OER repository. Selected resources from Jorum have been migrated to the new Jisc Store, which is intended to host both open licensed and paid for content, a move that resulted in some discussion and concerns about open washing when the prototype was launched last year.

As many of you will be aware, Scotland did not participate directly in the UKOER programme, as funding came from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and therefore, quite rightly, only English institutions were eligible to bid.  It’s my understanding that the Scottish Funding Council were invited to contribute to the pot, but for reasons that remain obscure, chose not to.  Some of us, who were involved in supporting the UKOER programme and happened to be based in Scotland, thought that was rather short sighted of SFC so we launched the Open Scotland initiative as a result. I’m not going to say too much about Open Scotland as I suspect many of you will have heard me talk about it before, but just briefly, Open Scotland is a voluntary cross sector initiative that aims to raise awareness of open education, encourage the sharing of open educational resources, and explore the potential of open policy and practice to benefit all sectors of Scottish education. Open Scotland has been supported by a number of organisations over the years, most recently ALT Scotland and the University of Edinburgh.

One of the main outputs of the Open Scotland initiative is the Scottish Open Education Declaration, which is based on the Paris OER Declaration of 2007, but which broadens the scope of the original to include all aspects of open education. And again, I’m sure some of you will have heard me speak about the Declaration before. Open Scotland has been lobbying the Scottish Government since 2013 to encourage them to endorse the principals of the Declaration and recommend the use of open licenses for educational resources produced with Scottish public funding. I’ve been personally involved in leading this initiative and after four years I can stand here with my hand on my heart and say that despite our best efforts we have had next to no influence on government policy.  We have contacted three consecutive Ministers for Education, and although two made vaguely encouraging noises about the Declaration, they had no inclination to support the principals of the Declaration.

I should add at this point that the Scottish Government isn’t completely blind to the concept of open education.  In 2014 the then Cabinet Secretary for Education, Mike Russell,  allocated £1.3 million to the Open University to launch the major Opening Educational Practices in Scotland Project.  That project, which has had considerable success in engaging the third sector in open education, is coming to an end on July this year and some of the team are here at the conference if you want to find out more about this initiative.

The Scottish Government’s lack of interest in open education can be seen at policy level too. In September last year Scot Gov launched their new digital learning and teaching strategy for Scottish schools.  Key themes are closing the attainment gap, developing digital skills, embedding technology across the curriculum, and using digital technology to improve the assessment process. While it’s encouraging that the strategy acknowledges the potential of digital technology to enhance learning and teaching, and equip learners with digital skills, it’s disappointing that it doesn’t acknowledge the significant role that open education can play in achieving these objectives. Similarly, the Government’s “refreshed” Digital Strategy makes no mention of open education, though it does talk about open data and digital education.

And remember the Commonwealth for Learning’s Regional OER Consultation and Survey I mentioned earlier?  Open Scotland liased closely with COL to facilitate Scottish Government participation in this initiative. Again, we had no response, the government did not send a representative to the consultation and to my knowledge they have not participated in the survey either.   ¨ Open Scotland did actually send a representative to the consultation, Joe Wilson attended on our behalf, and in actual fact Joe was the only person who attended from the UK.

To be fair, both the UK and Scottish governments have had other things on their mind recently, but this lack of engagement with international open education initiatives strikes me as being both short sighted and rather depressing.

So why is this?  Why is it that open education generates barely a flicker of interest at government level? In Scotland at least, there is a perception that open education is peripheral to government priorities, primarily because there is a lack of statistical evidence base supporting the impact of open education on learners.

This is not a new issue, many open education practitioners and scholars have highlighted the need for more evidenced based research into the impact of open education. In a challenging talk at the recent Open Science Conference Marco Kalz, UNESCO chair of Open Education at the OUNL, acknowledged that reuse and adaptation are notoriously hard to track and measure, as are direct and indirect effects of OER, and he pointed out, there are no studies that show a direct correlation between OER and innovation. Quoting Sian Bayne and Jeremy Knox’s research at the University of Edinburgh, Marco agreed that “discussions of OER too often tend to optimism and lack of critique” and he argued that the open education field must move from being advocacy driven to become more research driven.

That’s not to say that there is no high quality research into the impact of open education, I’ve already mentioned the work of the Digital Education team at the University of Edinburgh and of course there’s the OER Research Hub at the Open University who do sterling work.  There’s also a lot of good research being undertaken in the US, however much of this focuses on the significant cost savings associated with the adoption of open textbooks. However these figures don’t easily translate across the Atlantic and it has proved much harder to quantify the benefits of open education in sectors that are less reliant on textbooks.  Impressive though the figures are, knowing for example, that Maricopa Community College district saved students $5 million over 5 years isn’t going to cut the ice with education ministers if learners aren’t expected to buy costly textbooks in the first place.

So it’s not so much that there’s no research, its that we need more of it, we need more diverse research and we need research that directly addresses strategic government priorities.   One of the most frustrating things about all this is that we actually have an excellent evidence base for research on the long term impact of open education here in the UK.  The UKOER programme ended in 2014, but very little in depth research or evaluation has been undertake on its impact and outputs. This is primarily because the end of the programme coincided with JISC’s transition from government quango, to not for profit company and its subsequent shift in priorities.   Of course the political and education landscapes have changed radically since the end of the UKOER programme but I still believe there is useful research to be done here. After all, you don’t have to look far to see the continued impact of the programme.  Many people predicted the demise of the OER conference when the HEFCE funding came to and end, and yet here we all are participating in the biggest most diverse OER conference ever and despite all the funding cuts, despite all the political doom and gloom we are making progress.  We may not have had a significant impact on Government policy yet but there are a wealth of open education and OER initiatives going on all over the UK.

Several Higher Education institutions, including the University of Edinburgh[1], have formally adopted OER policies, policies I should add which have their roots in the UKOER programme, and there have been notable successes in the public sector with charities such as the Wellcome Trust and public institutions such as the National Library of Scotland and the British Library taking positive steps to make their collections more open and to support openness at scale. Other organisations such Wikimedia UK and ALT have also stepped in to play an important role in supporting open education policy and practice across the UK. And it’s been really encouraging to see ALT placing openness right at the heart of their new strategy.

Ten years ago the Cape Town Declaration identified a number of barriers to realizing the vision of open education

  • Educators remain unaware of the growing pool of open educational resources.
  • Governments and educational institutions are either unaware or unconvinced of the benefits of open education.
  • Differences among licensing schemes for open resources create confusion and incompatibility.
  • The majority of the world does not yet have access to the computers and networks that are integral to most current open education efforts.

Clearly some of these barriers remain to be overcome and on the evidence of our experience in the UK, I would argue that there is still much to be done to convince governments of the benefits of open education.  Some governments are really starting to get it though.

We may still be struggling to convince the Scottish Government of the benefits of open education but I was delighted to hear just a few days ago, that as a result of the Open Med project the Moroccan Government plans to endorse and adapted version of the Scottish Open Education Declaration making it the first country in Africa to have an open education policy I believe.  It’s perhaps not the kind of impact we envisaged for the Open Scotland initiative but I think it’s a brilliant example of the unexpected, serendipitous aspect of openness and I hope that where Morocco leads, the UK will, eventually, follow.