Author Archives: Open World

Circuitous Routes – A personal reflection for #ALTC⤴

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I was really inspired by the blog posts Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell wrote reflecting on their personal feminist histories of working in education and technology in advance of their ALTC session A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018.  Catherine and Frances invited others to contribute their own personal reflection, so here’s mine. I confess this is rather hastily written, and I’m posting it at the eleventh hour, the night before the conference, but I hope it will add something to the debate.

Personal Reflection

My academic career started out not in technology but in archaeology, a subject I stumbled into accidentally and quickly fell in love with.  I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Glasgow in 1990 and was accepted to do a PhD on anthropomorphic landforms and newly emerging remote sensing technologies, but sadly I was unable to get funding so I had to turn down the place.  I was pretty devastated at the time, but decided to continue working in the field in the hope of securing funding at a later date.  I worked first as a field archaeologist and then as material sciences technician at the university.  Although I met and worked with a lot of amazing women in the field, the senior lecturers and professors who ran the research projects and excavations I worked on were invariably male.  There was only one female lecturer in the university at the time, the inimitable Dr Elizabeth Slater who went on to the University of Liverpool where she become one of the few female professors of archaeology in the UK.  I’m proud to say that last year I published a Wikipedia page for Professor Slater as part of Ada Lovelace Day.

It was through archaeology that I was introduced to critical theory, and in 1991 I was involved in setting up an interdisciplinary discussion group with like-minded postgrads and colleagues from architecture, archaeology, politics, literature, and philosophy.  It was through this group, that I came across French critical theory, and ideas I could directly relate to in the writings of Deleuze and Guaratti, Bataille, Blanchot and others.  It was these writings that took me out of the domain of archaeology and into the realms of gender and sexuality, a field that deeply fascinated me. In 1992 I presented a paper called Anteros and Intensity at the University of Warwick which was later published in Deleuze and the Transcendental Unconsciousness, a special issue of the Warwick Journal of Philosophy.  It was through Warwick that I also came across Sadie Plant’s book Zeros and Ones, which raised all sorts of questions in my mind regarding women and their relation the technology and the emergent web.

My relation to feminism at this time was more problematic. In 1994 I attended a women only feminist discussion forum at the National Bisexual Conference, where the particular brand of feminism being espoused appeared to me to be rigid and exclusionary (and indeed there had been bitter arguments about excluding trans women from the conference’s women only spaces.) During the discussion I commented that I didn’t necessarily identify with the type of Capital F feminist that some of the speakers advocated. In response, one participant said she could no longer be in the same room as someone like me and walked out.

The early 90s were also the era of the AIDS crisis, Section 28, the Criminal Justice Bill and Operation Spanner all of which had a profound impact on my personal identity and my understanding of homophobia and discrimination.

In 1994 I applied to do a part time staff PhD in sociology on perceptions of pornography and eroticism in the bisexual community but was turned down by the committee that governed technicians’ roles in the university on the grounds that the research wasn’t relevant to my job which, to be fair, it wasn’t.

At that stage I decided to cut my losses and leave archaeology while I still had some love for the subject. In 1996 I worked briefly for the first multimedia company in Scotland, set up by the Herald news group, building corporate websites and putting the newspaper online every morning. I can’t say I enjoyed the experience of working in the commercial media sector, but it did teach me valuable web skills.

In 1997 I came took those skills back into higher education when I got a job working on an early learning technology project, at the University of Strathclyde, funded by the Scottish Funding Council’s Use of the MANs Initiative.  I worked on a succession of innovative learning technology projects until 2002 when took up a post as Assistant Director of the Jisc Centre for Education Technology and Interoperability Standards (CETIS).  Still based in Strathclyde, I worked for CETIS for 13 years, representing UK F/HE on various international standard bodies and supporting a wide range of national learning technology development programmes. Most of my work was around technology and standards for the management and dissemination of educational resources. In 2009 I began working with Jisc to scope a new HEFCE pilot programme which went on to become UKOER, a programme I helped to support for four years.  It was UKOER that first introduced me to the concepts of open education and OER, which I now have a deep personal commitment to.

For most of my career as a learning technologist I was employed on precarious short-term contracts and securing funding to keep both myself, and the colleagues I line managed, in employment was a continuous struggle.  In 2006, still employed on rolling fixed term contracts I took time out to have my daughter and had to fight the university tooth and nail to secure maternity leave.

Between 2013 and 2015 as a result of widespread funding cuts across the UK education sector I was made compulsorily redundant.  This was a bruising experience made all the more difficult by the fact that my childcare responsibilities limited the jobs I was able to apply for and my ability to travel and network. I’ve experienced first-hand how precarity, redundancy and lack of adequate child care takes a disproportionate toll on women working in higher education and I am more than willing to take industrial action to fight for better conditions for all those working in the sector.

It was during this difficult transitional period that I also became more committed to open education and founded the Open Scotland initiative.  I was able to engage with a broad international community of open education practitioners online and build a new independent professional identity.   By various circuitous routes it was my work in open education that brought me to the University of Edinburgh.  After working briefly with EDINA, I moved to Learning Teaching and Web Services where I worked as OER Liaison and co-chaired the OER16 conference with LTW’s inspirational director Melissa Highton. I now help to manage the university’s OER Service, providing advice and guidance to staff and students on the creation and use of OER.

It’s almost impossible to work in open education without becoming politically engaged and over the years I’ve found my professional commitments and my personal politics and ethics have increasingly converged.  I’ve written and spoken a number of times about why my commitment to open education is so important to me and why I believe that open education has to be founded on equality and inclusivity and why we have to fight to remove systemic barriers and structural inequalities to enable everyone to participate in education equitably, and on their own terms.

My engagement with ALT has fluctuated throughout the years that I’ve worked as a learning technologist.  I first presented at the ALT Conference in Manchester in 2000, and have attended numerous conferences since then. For a number of reasons, my engagement with ALT waned and I stopped attending the conference between 2006 and 2011. Although I wasn’t able to attend the conference in 2014, it was meeting ALT’s new CEO Maren Deepwell, and listening to Catherine Cronin and Audrey Waters keynotes online, that reengaged me with the conference and I was honoured when ALT invited me to joint their social media team to live tweet the conference keynotes from 2015 onwards.   ALT have played an increasingly important role in shaping and supporting my career over the last few years; in 2016 I was honoured to become a Trustee of ALT and in 2017 I was delighted to be awarded CMALT.

As political, ideological and financial pressures on the education sector, have increased, I believe the role of organisations like ALT, which are truly independent and able to represent the interests of their members, are going to be critically important.  ALT have made a significant contribution to shaping the learning technology sector in the UK over the last 25 years and I feel sure that they will have an increasingly important role to play in years to come.

Looking forward to ALTC live tweeting⤴

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The ALT Conference is just one week away and I’m looking forward to reforming the ALTC Social Media Supergroup with Martin Hawksey (on live stream) Richard Goodman (on media tweets and replies), Chris Bull (on photography) and me (on keynote live tweets).  This will be the fourth year that we’ve provided social media coverage for the conference and it’s always a rather daunting, though very rewarding task.  Although I regularly live tweet any conferences and events I attend, live tweeting the ALT Conference keynotes in an official capacity is a rather different affair, as it’s important to ensure tweets are as factual, neutral and representative as possible.  It’s quite a different experience from tweeting thoughts and comments on my own account. This is something that I reflected on in my CMALT portfolio.

Sometimes it’s hard not to be a little overwhelmed by the responsibility of live tweeting ALT’s prestigious keynote speakers, all of whom have made a significant contribution to the domain of learning technology.  This year is no exception and I have to confess that I’m thrilled and just a little apprehensive about live tweeting three women who I have admired enormously for many years and who have had a significant impact on my own career as a learning technologist.

Maren Deepwell, CEO of ALT, needs no introduction; under her guidance and leadership, ALT has become an active and inclusive organisation that represents the interests of its members and truly espouses its core values of participation, collaboration, openness and independence.  As a CEO leading a national organisation, Maren is also a personal inspiration to me and to many other female colleagues, and her commitment to supporting and promoting the work of women across the sector is always to be admired.

I’ve known Amber Thomas for many years and was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with her on the UKOER programme between 2009 and 2012.  Amber provided the technical vision and strategy for UKOER and we worked closely together when Cetis delivered the technical support for the programme. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was Amber’s vision of OER that shaped my own early thinking around open education.  Amber always has a clear vision of the affordances and limitations of education technology and brings a thoughtful and thought provoking approach to everything she does.

I haven’t yet had an opportunity to meet Tressie McMillan Cottom but her work has been recommended to me so often and she is spoken about so highly by so many women who I greatly admire that I’m delighted to finally be able to hear her speak in person. I really hope I can do justice to capturing her opening keynote.

This year I’ll also be live tweeting the Gasta session chaired by Tom Farrelly of ILTA and featuring contributions from Donna Lanclos, Debbie Baff and Clint Lalonde. The abstract tells me that

“Gasta means “fast, clever, quick, smart” and in that spirit this session will involve active audience participation”

I suspect keeping up with this one will be a challenge!  Say a prayer for my fingers folks :}

Maren Deepwell, Lorna M.Campbell & Rich Goodman, ALT C 2017, CC BY, Chris Bull Photographer.

Wiki Loves Monuments 2018⤴

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Smailholm Tower, by Keith Proven, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Tomorrow marks the start of Wiki Loves Monuments, 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, this year there are new prizes, sponsored by Archaeology Scotland, for the best three images of Scottish monuments. There are also going to be prizes for the photographer who uploads the largest number of images of monuments that are not currently represented on Wikimedia Commons.  For further information you can contact Wikimedia UK’s Scotland Coordinator Sara Thomas.

The best thing about Wiki Loves Monuments, is that anyone can enter. You don’t need a fancy camera, you don’t need to be a history geek, and you don’t even need to go out of your way to photograph historic monuments, most of us pass dozens of listed buildings on our way to and from work every day. All you need to do is check the map for monuments near you, take a snap with your phone, upload it to Commons and voila!

I had great fun taking part in the competition last year and managed to upload 184 images, just a fraction of the amazing 1,351 uploaded by colleagues from the University of Edinburgh during the competition.  Most of the pictures I entered were old holiday snaps, and though I may not have won any prizes, it really is the taking part that counts.  It’s great to be able to make a contribution to the Commons. It’s also nice to see some of these open licensed pictures taking on a life of their own after the competition. My picture of Culzean Castle, which appears on the Wikipedia page about the film The Wicker Man, has now been viewed over 28,000 times.  And a picture I took of the Circular Records Hall at the National Archives of Scotland featured in an article in Atlas Obscura.

I’ll be raking through my old holiday snaps again this year, but I’ve also got a whole bunch of new pictures ready to upload that I took during my summer holidays in Galloway and the Outer Hebrides. Some of these pictures are places I have a real personal connection to; houses I passed every day as a child, my old school, the church that witnessed all my family’s births, deaths and marriages, the clock tower that’s all that remains of the building where my mother went to school in the 1940s, the castle where my granny worked as a cook. Others are monuments I stumbled on by accident, like the tiny Arts and Crafts church in Galloway, or snapped from the side of the road, like Cardoness Castle. I even have a picture of a 16th century cats paw print from Glen Luce Abbey chapter house!  I wonder where it will end up?

Cat's paw print from Glenluce Abbey Capter House

Pangur Ban? Cat’s paw print from Glenluce Abbey Chapter House. CC BY SA, Lorna M. Campbell

Univeristy of Edinburgh wins Wikimedia UK Partnership of the Year Award⤴

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Earlier in July I was delighted and a little stunned when the University of Edinburgh won Wikimedia UK’s Partnership of the Year award for the second time.  Delighted because so many people have worked so tirelessly and so enthusiastically to embed Wikipedia in teaching and learning across the University, led of course by our indefatigable Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew. And stunned because I had no idea we had even been nominated and I had the great honour of being the person to receive the award at Wikimedia UKs AGM at the Natural History Museum in London.  Sara Thomas, Wikimedia UK’s Scotland Coordinator, has a hilarious picture of me looking very surprised indeed after picking up the award, and if it ever surfaces again I will kill her.  Here’s a much better picture of just a few of the people who have played a part in supporting the use of Wikipedia across the University.

Left to right: Stephanie (Charlie) Farley, Open Education Resources; Lorna Campbell, OER Service; Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence; Anne-Marie Scott, Deputy Director of Learnng, Teaching & Web Services. CC BY, University of Edinburgh.

The University was acknowledged for leading the way in terms of Higher Education’s engagement with Wikimedia and for helping to the develop the Wikimedia community and its work in Scotland.

“Edinburgh University is becoming a strong advocate of a Wikimedian in Residence within a university, spreading the message at relevant sector conferences, working with the University of Glasgow, and connecting with the Open Education team at the Université Catholique de Louvain. The resident is facilitating dialogue between the National Library of Wales and Edinburgh University’s Digital Library with a view to increasing GLAM wiki work.”

Ewan’s masterful way with amusing gifs was also highlighted for recognition :}

You can read more about the University’s award winning entry here: Partnership of the Year 2018: The University of Edinburgh 

Open.Ed at RepoFringe18⤴

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Way back at the beginning of July my lovely OER Service colleague Charlie and I had a 10X10 presentation accepted for the the Repository Fringe conference. We agreed that I would write the talk and Charlie would go along and present on the day.  Alas disaster struck and poor Charlie came down with a nasty bug, so our fabulous Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew stepped in to save the day and present on our behalf.  Not All Heroes Wear Capes.  So here I am (very) belatedly posting the script and slides from that presentation.

The University of Edinburgh’s OER Service is based within information Services and provides staff and students with practical advice and guidance on creating, finding and using open educational resources.  Charlie Farley and Lorna Campbell run a wide range of workshops and initiatives within the University and beyond, and also maintain Open.Ed which provides a one stop shop to access open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university.  The University does not have a single OER Repository, instead we have multiple repositories across the institution for different kinds of content and we believe in sharing our open resources where ever they will be found most easily, e.g. Media Hopper Create, flickr, Vimeo, Sketchfab, TES, etc.

OER Mission, Vision and Policy

  • Provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students
  • Make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world.
  • OER Vision draws on history of the Edinburgh Settlement, excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Enlightenment.
  • OER Policy encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience.

At Edinburgh we believe that open education is strongly in line with our institutional mission to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, and to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing.

Our vision for OER builds on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission.   In addition to the OER Service, this vision is backed up by our OER Policy which encourages both staff and students to engage with the use and creation of OER and open knowledge, to enhance the quality of the student experience while at the same time making a significant contribution to the cultural and digital commons.

OER for Digital Skills

OER can help to develop digital skills for both staff and students. 23 Things for Digital Knowledge is an award winning, open online course, adapted from an open course developed by the University of Oxford.  23 Things is designed to encourage digital literacy by exposing learners to a wide range of digital tools for personal and professional development. Learners spend a little time each week, building up and expanding their digital skills and are encouraged to share their experiences with others.  All course content and materials are licensed under a CC BY licence and the University actively encourages others to take and adapt the course. The course has already been used by many individuals and organisations outwith Edinburgh and it has recently been adapted for use by the Scottish Social Services Council.

OER for Equality and Diversity

OER can make a significant contribution to diversifying the curriculum.  A number of studies, including the National LGBT Survey released by the Government today, have shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual health is not well-covered in Medical curricula, however knowledge of LGBT health and of the sensitivities needed to treat LGBT patients are valuable skills for qualifying doctors.

Using materials from the commons, a project at the University of Edinburgh, LGBT+ Healthcare 101, sought to address the lack of teaching on LGBT health within the curriculum through OER.  The project remixed and repurposed resources originally created by Case Western Reserve University, and then contributed these resources back to the commons as CC BY licensed OER.  New open resources including digital stories recorded from patient interviews, and resources for Secondary School children of all ages, were also created and released as CC BY OER.

OER for Knowledge Exchange

Open access makes research outputs freely accessible to all. It allows research to be disseminated quickly and widely, the research process to operate more efficiently, and has the potential to increase use and understanding of research by the wider public.  However it is not always easy for those outwith academia to know how to access these outputs, even though they are freely and openly available.   In order to address this issue, we’ve created a series of open educational resources in the form of video interviews and case studies called Innovating with Open Knowledge.  These resources are aimed at creative individuals, private researchers, and entrepreneurs to provide guidance on how to find and access the open outputs of Higher Education.  The resources focus on developing digital and data literacy skills and feature case study interviews with creative individuals and entrepreneurs engaging with the University of Edinburgh’s world class research outputs.

OER and Co-creation 

We believe strongly in engaging both staff and students in the co-creation of open education and one hugely successful example of this is the School of Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course.  Over two semesters, students develop an outreach project that communicates an element of GeoSciences outside the university community.  Students work with schools, museums, and community groups to create a wide range of resources for science engagement. Students gain experience of science outreach, public engagement, and knowledge transfer while working in new environments and developing transferable skills to enhance employability.  A key element of the course is to develop reusable resources which are then repurposed by our Open Content Curation Interns to create OER that are then shared online through Open.Ed and TES where they could be found and reused by other teachers and learners.

e.g. The Sea-Level Story, http://open.ed.ac.uk/the-sea-level-story-geoscience/

Open Content Curation Student Interns 

Open Content Curation student interns play an important role in OER creation at the University.  These fully-paid interns help to repurpose and share resources created by staff and other students while at the same time developing their own digital literacy skills. We’re now in the third year of this internship and the feedback we’ve received from the students has been nothing short of inspiring. This is Tomas Sanders who worked as our Open Content Curation Intern last year, and who then went on to run a successful Wikipedia editathon for Black History Month with the student History Society.

 

OER for Playful Learning

The OER Service also runs a wide range of events that develop playful and creative strategies for finding and reusing open licensed content.  Board Game Jam is a popular workshop that leads groups through creating, licensing, and sharing an OER board game using digitised images from the University collections.  It’s a fun and creative way to teach copyright and open licensing by stealth.   GifItUp is another workshop that provides an introduction to creating GIFs using free and open tools and openly licensed and public domain images.  It teaches colleagues how to find and use open licensed public heritage content and encourages discussion of the ethical responsibilities we as creators have towards those materials.

OER for Creativity

Eric Lucey was a pioneering biologist and film maker at the University of Edinburgh whose film collection from the 1950s and 60s has now been made available under open license by University’s Centre for Research Collections. With help and guidance from the OER Service on open licensing and content reuse, students from Edinburgh College of Art and the Edinburgh Film Society have created film poems from the Lucey collection for the Magma Poetry journal.  And we’ve also released open film snippets from our MOOC content that can be reused in a wide range of creative contexts.

These are just a few examples of how the OER Services encourages staff and students at the University of Edinburgh to engage with and contribute to a wide range of open content collections, while enhancing their own digital skills and contributing resources back to the digital commons.

What I did on my holidays⤴

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I’m not long back from annual leave and still wading though the inevitable backlog. There are a couple of posts I need to write about events that took place earlier in the summer, and the Wikimedia UK partnership award which the University of Edinburgh won in July 🙂  In the meantime here’s a pretty picture I took while I was at home visiting family in the Outer Hebrides.

This is Traigh Mheilein beach on the Isle of Harris which is reached by a precipitous walk up and over a slightly scary sea cliff.  I tweeted this the day we walked to the beach and was rather chuffed when Harris Distillery (they who make the gorgeous Harris Gin) tweeted it with credit from their account earlier this week.  Since people seemed to like the picture, I uploaded it to Wikimedia Commons where anyone can use it free of charge with attribution only.

I spent quite a lot of my holiday taking pictures for Wiki Loves Monument, Wikimedia’s annual photography competition, which will be running throughout the month of September.  Last year I raided my old holiday snaps for the competition, this year I have a whole bunch of new pictures to upload including  a 16th century chapter house, a cute little Arts and Crafts church that Anne-Marie Scott rudely described as lumpy and squat, the castle where my granny used to work, a Stephenson lighthouse, and the remains of an old whaling station. No strip clubs though….

Circular Records Hall on Atlas Obscura⤴

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I was quietly chuffed a couple of weeks ago when one of my photographs was featured in Atlas Obscura, and even more so, because the picture in question was one that I uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as part of the Wiki Loves Monuments competition last year.  See?  Good things happen when you contribute to the Commons.  You can read the Atlas Obscura article here: General Register Building of the National Archives of Scotland, and the original image is available on Wikimedia Commons here: General Register Office, Circular Record Hall.

I actually snapped this picture during a consultation meeting on the Scottish Government’s Digital Educations strategy a few years ago and as far as I ca recall it was taken on an ancient beaten up old iPhone.

Reflections on CELT Symposium 2018⤴

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I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit NUI Galway last week for the annual CELT Symposium. It was the first time I’d been to Galway, but it reminded me a lot of a (much!) bigger version of my home town of Stornoway in the Western Isles so it felt a bit like home away from home.

The theme of this years symposium was Design for Learning: Teaching and Learning Spaces for Higher Eduction and, as always, it was a really thought provoking and engaging event. Although I’ve never been to CELT before I always follow the conference hashtag on twitter so it was great to be invited to participate in person this year. I’m not going to attempt to summarise the entire symposium, but I do want to briefly mention a few highlights.

Alastair Blyth, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Architecture at the University of Westminster, opened the conference with a keynote on Re-imagining Learning Spaces in Higher Education. Alastair noted that conversations about space are never just about space, they’re conversations about pedagogy, curriculum, technology, time and most importantly people. Learning is a social process, so learning spaces need to be learner centred and inclusive, and they need to enable collaboration between both students and teachers.  Alastair also highlighted the important civic function of universities, which blurs the boundary of public and private space.  This is a function that has always been central to the University of Edinburgh and indeed the university’s civic mission is written into the institution’s vision for open eduction.

Lorna Campbell & Donna Lanclos, CC BY-SA 2.0, Catherine Cronin

Anthropologist Donna Lanclos also gave a really inspiring keynote on supporting active learning pedagogies through creative physical spaces.  Creating the space is just the starting point, staff need time to develop a curriculum that maximises the effectiveness of active learning spaces. Experimenting with teaching in this way can be unsettling for students, as it’s a different model of authority. Teachers that are comfortable in active learning spaces, are comfortable with the realisation that they are not the main point of the learning experience.  Research shows that active pedagogies and active teaching and learning strategies break down inequalities in student success. If we choose not to adopt these approaches, then it becomes a social justice issue.  Donna cautioned against asking students what they want from libraries and learning spaces; instead, ask them what they do, where they go, ask them about their own learning spaces. We need institutional spaces that facilitate collaborative learning, we can’t just send our students to Starbucks. Donna also introduced us to the wonderfully icky concept of Sticky Campuses – campuses that students want to come back to.

Another session that really captivated me was Catriona Carlin‘s lovely talk about designing biodiverse spaces to feel joy and inspire learning. Catriona reminded us that the outdoors isn’t just for ecologists, the outdoors enables people to think outside the frameworks that constrain them, allowing them to notice, observe and think.  A timely reminder for us all!

Given the Symposium’s focus on physical teaching and learning spaces, I was a little worried that my closing keynote, The Soul of Liberty,  on digital open learning spaces, might be a little off the mark, so I was really encouraged by all the positive feedback I got from participants on twitter both during my talk and after I posted the transcript here on my blog.  It’s particularly gratifying to see such a positive response to our Open Content Curation Student Interns and the Wikimedia in the Classroom initiatives led by our wonderful Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew.  I’d also like to give a little shout out to Alice White, WiR at the Wellcome Library, and my colleague Anne-Marie Scott, whose gorgeous photographs of the Processions collaborative art work I used in my slides.

I’d just like to finish by thanking Catherine Cronin and Ian McLaren for inviting me to the Symposium and to all at NUI Galway who worked so hard to make it such a welcoming and engaging event. Tapadh leibh a huille duinne!

The Soul of Liberty: Openness, Equality and Co-creation⤴

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Transcript and slides from my keynote at the CELT 2018 Design for Learning Symposium, NUI Galway.

The theme of today’s conference is designing teaching and learning spaces to facilitate active learning, collaboration and student engagement however my experience lies not so much in physical spaces but in online and digital spaces and specifically open education spaces situated within the open knowledge landscape. I currently work for the Open Education Resources Service at the University of Edinburgh, I’m a Board member of both the Association for Learning Technology and Wikimedia UK, and a member of Open Knowledge International’s Open Education Working Group, and all these organisations are part of the broad Open Knowledge landscape.

What I want to look at today is what we mean when we talk about openness in relation to digital teaching and learning spaces, resources, communities and practices. I also want to highlight the boundaries that demarcate these open spaces, the hierarchies that exist within them, and look at who is included and who is excluded. And I want to explore what we can do to make our open spaces more diverse and inclusive by removing systemic barriers and structural inequalities and by engaging both staff and students in the co-creation of our own teaching and learning experience.

I don’t want to get too hung up on semantics, but I do want to start off by looking at a few definitions. What do we mean if we talk about openness in relation to digital education and open knowledge? This is a question that has been posed numerous times, in numerous contexts by independent scholar and technology journalist  Audrey Watters who, in a 2015 post titled “What Do We Mean By Open Education?” asked

“What do we mean when we use the word? Free? Open access? Open enrollment? Open data? Openly- licensed materials, as in open educational resources or open source software? Open for discussion? Open for debate? Open to competition? Open for business? Open-ended intellectual exploration? Those last two highlight how people can use the word “open” in education and mean not just utterly different things, but perhaps even completely opposite.”

Like Audrey, I don’t have a simple answer to these questions because, as Catherine Cronin reminded us in her thoughtful 2017 paper Open Education, Open Questions, “openness is a constantly negotiated space”. It’s critically important to appreciate that open means very different things to different people, and that our perspective of openness will be shaped by our personal experiences and the privilege of our vantage point.

These are some of the spaces that populate the Open Knowledge landscape as I see it. Your perspective of this open landscape might look very different.

● Open licenses
● Open educational resources
● Open education policy and
● Open pedagogy
● Open practice
● Open textbooks
● Open badges
● Open online courses
● MOOCs (a very contested open space.)
● Open data
● Open science
● Open Access scholarly works
● Open source software
● Open standards
● Open government
● Open GLAM

I’m not going to attempt to cover all these areas, as we’d be here until next week, but I do want to explore what open means, or rather how it is understood, in some of the spaces I am most familiar with.

Open Education and OER

So let’s start off with open education and OER…

The principles of open education are outlined in the 2007 Cape Town Declaration, which laid the foundations of the “emerging open education movement” and advocated for the development of open education policy to ensure that taxpayer-funded educational resources are available under open license. The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated last year 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.

There is no one hard and fast definition of open education but one I like is from the not for profit organization OER Commons…

“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. Open Educational Resources (OER) offer opportunities for systemic change in teaching and learning content through engaging educators in new participatory processes and effective technologies for engaging with learning.”

And I want to come back and look at these concepts of participation and co-creation later.

Though Open Education can encompass many different things, open educational resources, or OER, are central to any understanding of this domain.

UNESCO define open educational resources as

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

It’s useful to note that this definition accommodates a wide range of different resource types and it’s notable that the term OER is interpreted very differently in different communities. In the US currently, OER tends to equate to open textbooks, while in the UK we have a much broader understanding of OER that encompasses a wide range of teaching, learning and cultural heritage resources.

One of the key characteristics of open educational resources is that they are either in the public domain or they are released under an open licence, and generally that means a Creative Commons licence. However not all Creative Commons licences are equal and there is considerable debate as to whether resources licensed with No Derivatives and Non Commercial licences can be regarded as OER. Some argue from a strong ethical standpoint that while education resources produced by public funding should be freely and openly available, they should be protected from commercial exploitation by Non Commercial licences. Others take the position that open education resources should be freely and openly available to all, without exception or restriction. And there are arguments that in order for open business models to be sustainable, they must enable both free and commercial reuse. For example some cultural heritage institutions will make low resolution images of their digitised collections freely available under open license, however users must pay a premium to access high resolution images. It’s not my position to make a value judgement on these different perspectives as choice of licence will always be dictated by many factors and will always be highly contextualised.

One prominent voice in the debate about defining the open in OER is David Wiley who has defined five 5 permissions or activities that characterise open educational resources. These are referred to as the 5 Rs:

1. Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways.
2. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself.
3. Remix – the right to combine content with other material to create something new.
4. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the content with others.
5. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content.

Wiley also argues that the requirements and restrictions some organisations place on open content, such as the use of the Share Alike licence, harm the global goals of the broader open content community.

I have no quibble with the 5Rs per se, and indeed I think it’s useful for anyone who is engaged in open education to be familiar with this conceptual framework, however I would caution against regarding this as a standard to which open education resources must conform as they arguably obscure some of the more important aspects of the open in open education. Indeed some argue that any attempt to standardise what may or may not be regarded as OER is contrary to the very spirit of openness.

During the 2017 Open Education Conference Ryan Merkley, Executive Director of Creative Commons stressed that

“Open has to be about more than the 5Rs. It is also about our values: access, equity, innovation & creativity.”

And Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition also emphasised that

“Open is not just a set of attributes, it’s a set of values and practices that make education better.”

Personally, when it comes to definitions such as these, I think there is a careful balance to be struck between speaking a common language, encouraging diverse opinions and listening with respect.

Open Education Practice

These values and practices are often encompassed by the term open education practice.

Broadly speaking, open education practice encompases teaching techniques and academic practices that draw on open technologies, pedagogical approaches and OER to facilitate collaborative and flexible learning. This may involve both teachers and learners participating in online peer communities, engaging with, reusing and creating open educational content, and sharing experiences and professional practice.

One description I like of open education practice is from the Cape Town Declaration

“Open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues.”

And what I particularly like about this definition is that it focuses on collaboration and empowerment, which to me is what open education is all about.

Although I’m not a teaching academic, I do regard myself as an open education practitioner, and these are some of the ways that this practice manifests in terms of my work.

I own my own domain on Reclaim Hosting, an independent company that builds on the principles of the open web. I maintain a blog on this domain, Open World, which I use to reflect on my work and the open education initiatives I’m involved in. My blog also acts as an open record of my practice and it’s where I host my professional CMALT portfolio. I maintain an active twitter account which I use to communicate and collaborate with my peers. I ensure that all the resources I produce are released under open licence, and I try to reuse open licensed content whenever possible. This is what my open practice looks like, yours will likely be quite different. However to my mind, the most important aspects of open practice are reflecting openly on your experiences, sharing that reflection with your peers, and engaging in collaborative learning.

MOOCs

I now want to move on to look at a much more contested open space; MOOCs. MOOCs have their roots in a small number of connectivist courses run by institutions such as Athabasca University and The University of Mary Washington from 2008 onwards. These innovative courses, such as the anarchic DS-106 digital storytelling course, focused on knowledge creation and generation and encouraged learners to play a central role in shaping their learning experiences. From 2010 onwards however a number of primarily venture-capital funded commercial MOOC providers, including Udacity, EdX, Coursera and FutureLearn, entered the market with a huge amount of hype and promises to disrupt education. Although MOOCs did not disrupt Higher Education, they do fill an interesting space in the education market, and I use that term advisedly in this instance.

My problem with MOOCs is that they are not open in any real sense of the word. The word “open” in MOOC simply means that anyone can join a course free of charge, regardless of qualifications. The platforms themselves are proprietary, and even if course content is openly licensed it is often difficult to extricate from the platform. Most MOOCs are free as in beer rather than free as in speech and even this is increasingly debatable as many now charge for premium features such as certification and continued access to course materials.

Of course one solution to this is to ensure all MOOC content is also available in open spaces off these commercial platforms, and that’s the road we’ve gone down at Edinburgh.  In order to make sure the high quality MOOC content we produce for the courses we run on FutureLearn, Coursera and EdX is accessible and reusable, for both our own staff and students, and others outwith the University, we make sure is can be downloaded under open license from our multi media asset management system, Media Hopper Create.

Wikimedia

Of course no discussion of open online spaces would be complete without Wikpedia and its associated projects.

Here in Ireland there is an active Community User Group which promotes the creation, promotion, and dissemination of free knowledge. And in the UK we have a Wikimedia chapter, Wikimedia UK, which works in partnership with organisations from the cultural and education sectors to unlock content, remove barriers to knowledge, develop new ways of engaging with the public and enable learners to benefit from the educational potential of the Wikimedia projects. Wikimedia UK also supports a number of Wikimedians in Residence who work with a range of education and public heritage organisations throughout the country. A new Wikimedia Scotland Coordinator, has also just been appointed and in Wales there is a National Wikimedian, based at the National Library in Aberystwyth.

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 we also believe 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.

There is no question that Wikipedia is an invaluable source of open knowledge, however it is not without bias. The coverage of subject matter on Wikipedia is neither uniform nor balanced and many topics and areas are underrepresented, particularly those relating to women, people of colour and minority groups. For example, on English language Wikipedia only about 17% of biographical articles are about women, and the number of female editors is between 10 & 14%. Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you why this lack of diversity and inclusivity is a serious problem. However it is a problem that is being addressed by the Foundation itself, by projects such as  Wikiwomen in Red, and by editors and Wikimedians in Residence across the world.

At Edinburgh an important aspect of our Wikimedian in Residence’s work is to help improve the coverage and esteem of Wikipedia articles about women, and underrepresented minorities, and to redress the gender imbalance of contributors by encouraging more women to become editors. And I’m very pleased to say that over the last year 65% of participants at our editathons were women. There has also been phenomenal progress in Wales, and in 2016, Welsh Wikipedia became the biggest language Wikipedia in the world to achieve gender balance.

Inclusion, Exclusion and Structural Inequality

Wikipedia’s well known problem with gender balance is a notable example of systemic bias. Wikimedia is an open community, an open space, that anyone can contribute to in theory, however in reality there are many factors that prevent certain groups from entering this space.  In the case of women editors, former Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner identified a range of systemic factors that discourage women from contributing to the encyclopaedia, including lack of time, lack of self confidence, aversion to conflict, and the misogynistic atmosphere of the community. In addition, the very principles which underpin the encyclopaedia discriminate against marginalised groups. Wikipedia is based on citation, yet in fields where women and people of colour have been traditionally barred, or their contribution has been neglected or elided, it is much harder to find reputable citations that are critical for the creation of good quality articles. Any article that is deemed to be inadequately cited runs the risk of rapid deletion, thus replicating real world power imbalances, privileges and inequalities.

Wikimedia is not the only open space that suffers from issues of systemic bias and structural inequality.  In a paper on Open Initiatives for Decolonising the Curriculum, in the forthcoming book Decolonising the University edited by Gurminder K Bhramba, open source software developer Pat Lockley notes that universities with the highest percentages of black 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.

When we look at MOOCs supported on commercial platforms, the situation is arguably worse. Far from democratizing higher education and reaching out to disadvantaged groups, numerous studies have shown that the majority of MOOC enrolments tend to be young, male, educated, and from the developed countries of the global north. Gayle Christensen, one of the authors of an important report on the University of Pennsylvania’s Coursera courses, noted that MOOCs are failing to reach they students they had intended to empower and instead they are giving more to those who already have a lot.

Similarly, in its 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. We all need to be aware of the fact that open does not necessarily mean accessible. Open spaces and communities are not without their hierarchies, their norms, their gatekeepers and their power structures. We need to look around our own open communities and spaces and ask ourselves who is included and who is excluded, who is present and who is absent, and we need to ask ourselves why. Because nine times out of ten, if certain groups of people are absent or excluded from spaces, communities or domains, it is not a result of preference, ability, or aptitude, it is a result of structural inequality, and in many cases it is the result of multiple intersecting inequalities. Far too often our open spaces replicate the power structures and inequalities that permeate our society.

In a recent article titled “The Dangers of Being Open” Amira Dhalla, who leads 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.”

So how do we change this? Well half the battle is recognising that there is a problem in the first place, taking steps to understand that problem, and then doing the hard work to effect change. And those of us who are already inside these open spaces and communities need to take positive action to make these spaces, not just open, but accessible and inclusive. And to do that, to borrow a phrase from the Suffragettes, we need Deeds not Words.

Open Education and Co-Creation at UoE

One way we can start to ensure that our open education spaces, communities and resources really are open and participatory is to engage with our students in co-creation.  So what I want to do now is briefly look at a few initiatives from the University of Edinburgh that involve students in the co-creation of learning experiences, open knowledge and open educational resources.

At Edinburgh we believe that open education is strongly in line with our institutional mission to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, and to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing. Students have always played a key role in shaping the our vision of openness, indeed it was the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) that provided the initial impetus for the development of an OER policy at the university. Our vision for OER builds on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission, and right from its inception this vision has encouraged both staff and students to engage with the use and creation of OER and open knowledge, to enhance the quality of the student experience while at the same time making a significant contribution to the cultural and digital commons. This vision is backed up by our OER Policy and an OER Service which provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER, and which provides a one stop shop where you can access open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university. Because we believe its crucially important to back up our policy and vision with support.

So let’s look at some examples of how our students are engaging in the co-creation of open learning and open knowledge

LGBT+ Healthcare 101

A number of studies have shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual health is not well-covered in Medical curricula, however knowledge of LGBT health and of the sensitivities needed to treat LGBT patients are valuable skills for qualifying doctors.

The LGBT+ Healthcare project involved a team of undergraduate medical students, who sought to address the lack of teaching on LGBT health through OER. The students remixed and repurposed resources originally created by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. In order to contextualise these materials, new open resources in the form of digital stories recorded from patient interviews were also created by the students and released under open license.  These resources were then repurposed by Open Content Curation Student Interns, to create open educational resources suitable for Secondary School children of all ages. All resources are available through multiple channels including the University’s OER Service Open.Ed portal and TES.

Open Content Curation student interns play an important role in OER creation at the University, helping to repurpose and share resources created by staff and other students while at the same time developing their own digital literacy skills. We’re now in the third year of this internship and the feedback we have received from the students has been nothing short of inspiring.

Geosciences Outreach and Engagement

Another hugely successful example of co-creation is the School of Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course.  Over two semesters, students develop an outreach project that communicates an element of GeoSciences outside the university community.  Students work with schools, museums, outdoor centres and community groups to create a wide range of resources for science engagement. Students gain experience of science outreach, public engagement, teaching and learning, and knowledge transfer while working in new and challenging environments and developing a range of transferable skills that enhance their employability.

The Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course has proved to be hugely popular with both students and clients. The course has received widespread recognition and a significant number of schools and other universities are exploring how they might adopt the model.

Here’s just one quote from a student, Rebecca Astbury, who participated in the course;

“Geoscience Outreach and Engagement is one of the most interesting courses I have undertaken in my 5 years at Edinburgh. Not only do I get the opportunity to find new and exciting ways to inform people of all ages about Geosciences, I’m also learning valuable skills to enhance my future career after university. This course has taught me that everyone has a different way of learning, and instead of following one strict path, we should expand our ideas on how to effectively communicate science to the general public.”

A key element of the Course is to develop resources with a legacy that can be reused by other communities and organisations. Our Open Content Curation Interns repurpose these materials to create open educational resources which are then shared online through Open.Ed and TES where they could be found and reused by other teachers and learners.

Wikimedia in the Classroom

I’ve already mentioned the work of our Wikimedian in Residence and I’m not going to go into this  amazing project in any detail as that would be a whole other talk and I’m already running out of time. Instead I’m going to let one of our students speak for themselves. This interview with Senior Honours Biology student Aine Kavanagh was recorded by our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew. Here’s Aine is talking briefly about her experience of writing a Wikipeda article as part of a classroom assignment in Reproductive Biology.

Video by Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence, University of Edinburgh

And the article that Aine wrote on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most common forms of ovarian cancer, has now been viewed almost 34,000 times. It’s hard to imagine another piece of undergraduate work having such an impact. This is just one of a number of courses at the University that have successfully embedded Wikipedia assignments and you can listen to more of our students’ testimonies and find out about the work of our Wikimedian in residence here.

These are all examples of open education initiatives that are not just open, but open, diverse collaborative and participatory and, to my mind, this is what is really important

Conclusion

To conclude, I want to go right back to the title of this talk, The Soul of Liberty, which is taken from a quote by Frances Wright, the Scottish feminist and social reformer, who was born in Dundee in 1795, but who rose to prominence in the United States as an abolitionist, a free thinker, and an advocate of women’s equality in education. Frances wrote:

“Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.”

I think the same could also be said of openness; equality is the soul of openness. Two hundred years down the line, Frances’ conviction strikes a chord that echoes with Amira Dhalla’s affirmation that open can only be the future if we design and structure open spaces and communities so that anyone can participate.

Those of us here today already have the privilege to participate in open education spaces and open knowledge communities, and we can not keep that privilege to ourselves. We need to identify the barriers that prevent some people from participating in the spaces we enjoy, and we need to do what we can to remove these systemic obstructions. We need to be aware of our own privilege, and be sensitive to whose voices are included and whose are excluded, we need to know when to speak and when to be silent. To me this is what openness is really about, the removal of systemic barriers and structural inequalities to provide opportunities to enable everyone to participate equitably, and on their own terms. We need to ensure that when we design our learning spaces, whether physical or virtual, online or on campus, they really are open to all, regardless of race, gender, or ability, because openness is not just about attributes, definitions and licences, openness is also about creativity, access, equality, and inclusion, and ultimately, it’s about expanding access to education, supporting social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged digital citizens.

AO3 – The mad woman in the open source attic?⤴

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Earlier in April when I was preparing my keynote for the FLOSS UK Conference, which focused partially on issues of structural discrimination and lack of equality and diversity in open knowledge and open source communities, it struck me rather forcefully that there is one hugely successful OSS initiative supported by an almost entirely female developer and user community that rarely, if ever, gets spoken about in open knowledge and tech circles. That initiative is Archive Of Our Own. Hands up who’s heard of it? I suspect many of you won’t have heard of it. I know a few of you will have. I bet one or two of you won’t admit it.

So why the reticence?  Run by the not for profit Organisation for Transformative Works, the Archive is a massively successful project that has been sustained by a hugely diverse community of volunteers for almost ten years now. It’s about as open as anything could possibly be. Why are we not singing its praises from the rafters? Why is AO3, as it’s commonly known, the mad woman in the open source attic? Some of us know it’s there, but no one really wants to talk about it. The reason for this reticence, is also the reason for the Archive’s success. AO3 is a repository of transformative works, otherwise known as fanfiction.

I’m not going to debate the validity of fan works as a creative endeavour here, there is plenty of scholarly discussion on that point in other disciplines such as sociology and media, however I really do want to talk about why we don’t acknowledge AO3 as a hugely successful open project founded on the principals of equality, inclusion and diversity. Why aren’t we celebrating it and learning from it?

The success of AO3 is nothing short of staggering. Built on the Ruby on Rails framework, the archive is an open source platform developed, built and maintained by an army of volunteers, the vast majority of whom are women. The project is funded by subscriptions and donations; there is no foundation funding, no sponsorship, no advertising revenue. Indeed AO3 was originally created as a haven to protect fanworks from being monetized by unscrupulous commercial ventures who sought to turn fan labour into profit for their own gain. The Archive itself now has one and a half million users and hosts around four million individual works. It’s free and open to everyone, all user accounts are pseudonymous, and at no point are users required to reveal personally identifying information. In order to manage those four million works AO3 maintains probably the only large scale community generated tagging system that I’ve ever seen working in practice. And it’s all made possible by a large community of tag wranglers who manage the free text tags provided by users.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, the Organisation for Transformative works also publishes a peer reviewed open journal, Transformative Works and Cultures, maintains the Fanlore wiki to preserve the history of transformative works, it provides voluntary legal advice to creators to protect their works from legal challenge, and it has an active project, Open Doors, to absorb and curate other fan archives elsewhere on the web that are threatened by obscurity, obsolescence or deletion.

It’s an astonishing achievement, but it’s an achievement that many passionate open advocates know nothing about, and, if I’m being honest, that is something that’s pissed me off enormously for years.

So I was absolutely over the moon when I spoke to Claire Knowles, Library Digital Development Manager at the University of Edinburgh, at the recent Digital Day of Ideas (always a thought provoking event that pushes the boundaries) and she told me that Casey Fiesler, a member of OTW’s legal committee, would be presenting the opening keynote at this year’s Open Repositories Conference in Bozeman, Montana. Earlier this week I listened to Casey’s keynote through the conference livestream and was blown away by her talk.  Casey did an amazing job of communicating just what an important achievement AO3 is and how we can learn from its success. Giving an overview of the history and development of the Archive, Casey pointed out that AO3 is an example of amazing design, created for a community that already existed. The open software was designed and built entirely by women, which is remarkable given the small number of women in the open source community. And she concluded her keynote by asking

Is there something here that’s the key to making open source more welcoming to women? I don’t know. What I do know is that if you love something enough you can build your own thing and make it work. AO3 is a great example of a successful open repository but it’s an even better example of the power of community and everything that can come out of it.

The recording of Casey’s keynote isn’t online yet, though I’m sure it will be soon, but in the meantime, I’ve captured my live tweets from her keynote here; Growing Their Own: Building an Archive and a Community for Fanfiction. Many thanks to Casey for her amazing keynote and to the Open Repositories Conference Committee for inviting such an inspiring speaker.