Author Archives: Open World

EDEN Webinar – How To Be More Open: Advice for Educators and Researchers⤴

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It’s Open Education Week and I’m delighted to be participating in a special EDEN webinar on How To Be More Open: Advice for Educators and Researchers.  I’ll be joining Fabio Nascimbeni, Catherine Cronin and Chrissi Nerantzi to discuss a range of questions including:

  • Why should I be more open in my practice and profession?
  • How do you practice openness (as researcher, teacher, student)?
  • How do we deal with the “publish or perish” reality?
  • What if my institution doesn’t allow me to be open?
  • I want to be more “open” as a teacher, researcher, or student. Where do I start? Advice from panelists.
  • What platforms/environments do you recommend in supporting my practice as an open academic?

The webinar, facilitated by EDEN Vice-President Lisa Marie Blaschke, takes place on  Wednesday 29th March, 14:00-15:00 CET and you can register here.

Crossing the Field Boundaries: Open Science, Open Data & Open Education⤴

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Last week I was invited to speak at the International Open Science Conference in Berlin which this year had a special focus on OER.  My talk featured a case study of the University of Edinburgh’s Geosicence Outreach and Engagement Course so I’d like to thank Colin Graham and all those involved in the course for allowing me to present their inspirational work.

This talk focuses on 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.

The title of this paper, “Crossing the field boundaries”, comes not from the domain of GeoScicences though, but from Maryam Mirzakhani, professor of mathematics at Stanford University and the first female winner of the Fields Medal.  In a 2014 interview Maryam said

“I like crossing the imaginary boundaries people set up between different fields—it’s very refreshing. There are lots of tools, and you don’t know which one would work. It’s about being optimistic and trying to connect things.”

A Tenacious Explorer of Abstract Surfaces, Quanta Magazine, August 2014

I am not a mathematician, or a scientist, but I do have some experience of crossing field boundaries, and since open education is all about breaking down boundaries and cutting across fields, this seems like a nice metaphor to hang this talk on.

I’ve worked in open education technology for a long time now, but like most education technologists my background is not originally in either education or technology. In my case I started out as an archaeologist.  I studied archaeology at the University of Glasgow and after working there as a field worker and material sciences technician for a number of years, I decided to cross over into another field, and by rather circuitous routes I found myself working in open education technology.  Over the intervening years I’ve developed a strong personal commitment to openness in education, and I firmly believe that we have a moral and ethical responsibility to open access to the outputs of publicly funded education, research and science.

We’ve already heard a lot about the benefits of OER over the last two days so I’m not going to labour the point, however I just want to highlight this quote from the Scottish Open Education Declaration as it neatly encapsulates the affordances of OER:

Open education can expand access to education, widen participation, create new opportunities for the next generation of teachers and learners and prepare them to become fully engaged digital citizens. In addition, open education can promote knowledge transfer while at the same time enhancing quality and sustainability, supporting social inclusion, and creating a culture of inter-institutional collaboration and sharing.

Scottish Open Education Declaration

Institutions are already being encouraged to adopt open research policies and to publish publicly funded research outputs under open licences; similar policies and initiatives are required for open educational resources. Although open access, open education and open data have all made significant progress in recent years, there has been a tendency for these domains to progress in parallel with little sign of convergence. In the UK, Research Council mandates may have had a positive impact on open access and open research data, however the connection has yet to be made to open education and as a result there is a tendency to end up with “open silos”.  Indeed open access mandates may even have a negative impact on open education, as institutions focus their efforts and resources on meeting these requirements, rather than on ensuring their teaching and learning materials are appropriately licensed and shared online as OER.  So while it’s great that institutions are now thinking about how they can link their open research data with open access scholarly works, we also need to focus attention on linking open data to open education.

While the benefits of open data are widely recognised in relation to scientific and scholarly research, open data also has considerable value in the context of teaching and learning.  Many governments, non-governmental organisations and research centres are already producing large volumes of open data sets that have the potential to be used as open educational resources. Scenario based learning involving messy, real world data sets can help students to develop critical data literacy and analytical skills. Using open data introduces an invaluable element of realism and complexity as the data is flawed and inconsistent.  Students come up against challenges that it would be difficult to reproduce artificially and, as a result, they learn to deal with the kind of problems they will encounter in the real world.  And perhaps more importantly, working with real world open data from real governments and communities doesn’t just help students to develop data literacy skills, it also helps to develop citizenship, social responsibility and community engagement.

In an influential report by the Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group, Javiera Atenas and Leo Havemann noted that

Educators who make use of Open Data in teaching and learning encourage students to think as researchers, as journalists, as scientists, and as policy makers and activists. They also provide a meaningful context for gaining experience in research workflows and processes, as well as learning good practices in data management, analysis and reporting.

Open Data as Open Educational Resources: Case studies of emerging practice, Javiera Atenas & Leo Havemann (Eds)

Despite these acknowledged benefits, there is still a tendency to conceptualise OER as what Atenas and Havemann describe as “educator-produced learning materials” – resources created by teachers for use by students.  However if we simply replicate existing academic modes of production through open education, then we’re missing a trick.  One of the most important aspects of openness is the ability to break down boundaries and cut across fields.  So I want to present a case study from the School of GeoSciences at the University of Edinbrugh that does just that.

Open knowledge, open access and open education are central to the University of Edinburgh’s Strategic Vision. In support of this vision, the University host a range of open initiatives and services including an Open Knowledge Network, an Open Research Repository, an Open Data Repository, a Wikimedian in Residence, a Citizen Science and Crowdsourced Data and Evidence Network, open archives and collections, a wide range of MOOCs, and Open.Ed a one stop shop providing access to the University’s open educational resources.

The University’s vision for open educational resources builds on three strands:

  • The history of the Edinburgh Settlement.
  • Excellent education and research collections.
  • Traditions of the Enlightenment and the University’s civic mission.

The University has established an OER Service that provides support frameworks to enable staff to share OER created as a routine part of their work, and to find and use high quality teaching materials developed within and beyond the University.

The service showcases Edinburgh at it’s best, highlighting the highest quality learning and teaching; identifying collections of learning materials to be published online for flexible use, and enabling the discovery of these materials to enhance the University’s reputation.

And as a contribution to the University’s civic mission Edinburgh is opening access to its treasures, making available collections of unique resources to promote health, economic and cultural well-being; digitizing and sharing major collections of unique archives and museum resources to encourage public engagement with learning, study and research.

In order to ensure Edinburgh’s OER Vision is sustainable and supported across the institution, the University has an accompanying OER Policy that encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience and to help colleagues make informed decisions about creating and using open educational resources in support of the University’s OER Vision.

One of the key aspects of Edinburgh’s open strategic vision is to engage with and benefit communities outwith the institution.  The university is not alone in this; there are moves towards increasing community engagement right across the higher education and research sector.  At the same time, universities are rethinking how degree programmes are structured and are moving beyond traditional knowledge based courses in order to accommodate self directed learning, enable learning for life, empowering students to co-create their own education and build student capital.

initiative that does just that is the School of Geosciences Outreach and Engagement Course developed by the Geoscience Outreach Team. (list members on slide). This optional project based course for final year Honours and taught Masters students, has been running for a number of years and attracts students from a range of degree programmes including Geology, Ecological and Environmental Sciences, Geophysics, Geography and Archaeology.  Over the course of two semesters, students design and undertake an outreach project that communicates some element of the field of GeoSciences outside the university community.  Students have the opportunity to work with a wide range of clients including schools, museums, outdoor centres, science centres, and community groups, to design and deliver resources for science engagement. These resources can include classroom teaching materials, leaflets, websites, smartphone/tablet applications, community events, presentations or materials for museums and visitor centres. Students may work on project ideas suggested by the client, but they are also encouraged to develop their own ideas. Project work is led independently by the student and supervised and mentored by the course team and the client.

This approach delivers significant benefits not just to students and staff, but also to the clients and the University.

Students have the opportunity to work in new and challenging environments, acquiring a range of transferable skills that enhance their employability. They also gain experience of science outreach, public engagement, teaching and learning, and knowledge transfer while at the same time developing communication, project and time management skills.

Staff and postgraduate tutors benefit from disseminating and communicating their work to wider audiences, adding value to their teaching and funded research programmes, supporting knowledge exchange and wider dissemination of scientific research.

The client gains a product that can be reused and redeveloped, new partnerships are formed, new education resources created, and knowledge and understanding of a wide range of scientific topics is disseminated to learners, schools and the general public.

The University benefits by mainstreaming community engagement, and embedding it within the curriculum.  The course also provides the opportunity to promote collaboration and interdisciplinarity across the University and helps to forge relationships with clients.

In the words of GeoSciences Brian Cameron, MBE:

 “the University and the students create a legacy of knowledge transfer and cooperation that benefits all.”

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 a few quotes from students who have taken the course;

“It has been good to take my learning out into the community and give something back”

“By taking this course, not only was I, as the student, able to learn about the values and excitement of public engagement with other disciplines, but I also developed a working tool for further scientific engagement for a new audience.” (Jane Robb)

“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.” (Rebecca Astbury)

Feedback from the clients was equally enthusiastic:

“The student has done a wonderful job and we now have a new resource that we can use for years to come” (Class teacher)

“We have appreciated the joint work with the School of GeoSciences and the experience has given me a new avenue in my own teaching to explore vis-à-vis practical hands-on experiments. S1 classes all did a practical demonstration of the erosion processes in rivers for example.” (Class teacher)

“She was an excellent ambassador not just for the university but for women in science and I feel she set a good example for a few of the girls in the class who are embarking upon geography and earth science studies and who may well now add geology to their subject choices. ” (Class teacher)

A key element of the Geosciences Outreach and Engagement Course is to develop resources with a legacy that can be reused by the client and developed and disseminated further for use by other communities and organisations.  The University is now taking this one step further by repurposing some of these materials to create open educational resources.   Last year we recruited an Open Content Creation intern, undergraduate Physics student Martin Tasker, whose job it was to take some of the materials created by the Geoscience students, make sure everything in those resources could be released under open license and then share them in places where they could be found and reused by other teachers and learners.

So here for example is a resource on sea level variation developed by student Roseanne Smith.  The resource covers glaciation, global warming, and isostasy and it includes a lesson plan, a PowerPoint presentation, printable photographs and questions, a student workbook, and a timeline to illustrate geological timescales.  The course is designed for students learning Geography at third and fourth level of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence and it can be downloaded under a CC BY Share alike license from Open.Ed and TES. And there are other resources of this kind.

One of the things that was really inspirational about this initiative is that as part of his internship, our student was asked to reflect on his experience of the project and what he learned from it, and I think it’s worth taking a little time to listen to Martin’s thoughts.

This first quote is taken from a blog post our student wrote at the start of his internship where he talks about how he had already engaged with OER.  Before becoming an undergraduate, he had looked at MOOCs and OERs from various universities to find out more about subjects and course he was interested in.

“Open education has played such an integral part of my life so far, and has given me access to knowledge that would otherwise have been totally inaccessible to me. It has genuinely changed my life, and likely the lives of many others. This freedom of knowledge can allow us to tear down the barriers that hold people back from getting a world class education – be those barriers class, gender or race. Open education is the future, and I am both proud of my university for embracing it, and glad that I can contribute even in a small way. Because every resource we release could be a life changed. And that makes it all worth it.”

A Student’s Perspective on Open Education, Martin Tasker

So that was the place where our student intern started out form, he was obviously every much on board with open education and OER right from the start.   And this second quote is from his final blog post “Wrapping up my time as open content intern”

“Open Education is a large part of the reason I’m at Edinburgh studying physics, and I firmly believe that it is one of the keys to widening participation in education in a meaningful way. The proliferation of the internet among all classes in society means that a savvy university can reach those that would previously have had little access to education beyond their school years. And with our work in OERs, we can hopefully feed back some of the expertise of our academics into the classroom, raising the standard of teaching and taking some of the pressure off extremely overworked teachers.”

Wrapping Up: My Time as an Open Content Curator Intern, Martin Tasker

One of the things I really like about these two quotes is that, I have worked in open education for over ten years now but I don’t think I could have articulated any more clearly why open education and OER is so important. The Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course provides an excellent example not only of community engagement and knowledge exchange up also of involving students in the co-creation of their learning experience more widely.

Additional References

If the clothes fit…⤴

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This post is a slightly facetious response to Maha Bali’s post Fixing the shirt but spoiling the trousers #OER17 Open Call for Your Stories! and Sheila MacNeil’s Not so much the a case of the wrong trousers, more like a wardrobe malfunction my story for #oer17

Maha cited the rather fabulous Egyptian expression:

“when you tried to fix the shirt you spoiled the trousers”. It conjures up an image of comedy of errors or such, where trying to fix a problem creates new problems.

I think of “open” as having many such problems that arise out of its solutions, and I already have some examples in mind, but would love for the community to offer me more examples of this.

Sheila chimed in with

Over the past year I think my experience is more of having the right trousers but not the right top/jacket/shoes to go with them. What I mean is, that we have an OER policy in place in our institution which is great, but I’m not wearing “those trousers” as often as I’d like.

Sometimes feels like I have a wardrobe full for OER but nothing to wear

Yes, that is actually my wardrobe.

At the risk of stretching the metaphor until it gets threadbare, perhaps the problem is that the shirt and trousers don’t really fit?  You know you could get them altered so they fit better, but you never quite get round to doing it. Instead you just stick to wearing the clothes you’ve always worn, the ones you’re comfortable in.  So even if you have an OER repository, it’s a bit of a faff putting stuff in there, it’s easier just to shove your content into the VLE the way you’ve always done.

Or perhaps the shirt and trousers do fit, perhaps they’re beautifully tailored, perfectly fitting, outrageously expensive garments, but now you’ve spent all that money on them you can’t really afford to go out and wear them.  Maybe you’ve invested in an OER strategy or policy or repository, but have you allocated funding to provide the support services, guidance and advice that colleagues will need to actually get on board with OER?

Or maybe the problem is that you didn’t actually want to wear the shirt and trousers in the first place?  Maybe you only bought them because it’s what everyone else wears and you thought you should wear it too.  But really you’d rather wear jeans and a t-shirt, or that amazing vintage dress, or a sparkly frock, of whatever clothes express your individuality. In fact maybe what you want is a whole wardrobe full of clothes to choose from depending on what mood takes you or what job you need to do.  So rather than investing in a single central OER repository because you think that’s what you ought to have, or advocating a specific approach to openness, maybe look at a range of different solutions that will meet the needs of staff and students right across the institutions depending on their differing requirements.

After all, there’s more than one way to be open and wouldn’t it be boring if we all wore the same shirt and trousers? 😉

International Open Science Conference⤴

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This week I’m looking forward to presenting an invited talk on OER at the International Open Science Conference in Berlin.

My talk, Crossing the Field Boundaries will explore the interface between open education, open data and open science. The talk will highlight the Open Knowledge Open Education Group‘s influential study of Open Data as OER by Javiera Atenas and Leo Havemann, and using examples from the University of Edinburgh’s GeoScience Outreach and Engagement Course will highlight how student created open educational resources can be used to widen participation and encourage knowledge transfer and community engagement in science education.  I’ll post my paper and slides when I get back later in the week.

Thanks to the conference organisers for making these cute twitter cards!

International Women’s Day – thanks!⤴

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I was chuffed and honoured to be name checked today as part of International Women’s Day by several colleagues who I respect and admire greatly.  Thank you so much :}

And last but not least…

Here’s to many more fearless years!

International Women’s Day 2017⤴

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Spare Rib, https://journalarchives.jisc.ac.uk/britishlibrary/sparerib

I’ve been so fortunate to work with a huge number of amazing women throughout my career in Education Technology that I’m always a bit spoilt for choice when International Women’s Way and Ada Lovelace Day come around.  In fact my first appreciation post, written for Ada Lovelace Day way back in 2009, was simply a list of the women I’d worked with in Ed Tech.

All the women I work with are amazing in their own unique ways, so it seems a bit unfair to single some out over others, but I would just like to highlight those who have been particularly supportive, influential and inspirational to me over the last year.

Javiera Atenas, OKFNEdu; Helen Beetham, helenbeetham.com; Frances Bell, francesbell.com; Lucy Crompton-Reid, Wikimedia UK CEO; Catherine Cronin, National University of Ireland, Galway; Maren Deepwell, ALT CEO ; Charlie Farley, Open Education Resources Advisor, UoE; Josie Fraser, OER17 Co-Chair & Wikimedia Board; Gill Hamilton, National Library of Scotland; Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services & Assistant Principal Online Learning, University of Edinburgh; Morna Simpson; Geek Girl Scotland; Jo Spiller, Educational Design and Engagement, UoE.

And on the Maritime History side… Joanne Begiato, Oxford Brookes University; Cathryn Pearce, University of Greenwich Maritime Centre; Heather Noel-Smith, my Indefatigable co-author.

And last but not least, an honourable mention to Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence, UoE, who has worked so hard to help redress the gender imbalance and improve the representation of women on Wikipedia.

It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to work with you all.

Open Knowledge, OER, Wikimedia, MOOCs and Maritime Masculinities⤴

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How is it March already?!  I’ve been sorely neglecting this blog for the past few months, not because I’ve got nothing to say, quite the opposite, I’ve been so tied up with different projects I’ve barely had a chance to write a single blog post! A poor excuse I know, but anyway, here’s a very brief run down of what I’ve been up to for the past three months and hopefully I’ll be able to get back to blogging on a regular schedule soon.

Most of my time has been taken up with two new IS Innovation Fund projects I’m running at the University of Edinburgh.

UoE Open Knowledge Network

The UoE Open Knowledge Network is an informal forum to draw together the University’s strategic policies and activities in the area of Open Data, Open Access, Open Education, Open Research, Open Collections and Archives, in order to support cross-fertilisation and promote the institution’s activities in these areas. This Network aims to embed open knowledge within the institution and to establish a self-sustaining network supported by the departments and divisions that have oversight of the University’s strategic Open Access, Open Education and Open Data policies.

The Network held its first event in January which featured a keynote from Gill Hamilton of the National Library of Scotland plus lightning talks from colleagues across the institution.  You can read more about the event on the Open Knowledge network blog here: http://okn.ed.ac.uk/

UoE Open Knowledge Network, CC BY Stephanie Farley

Accessing Open Research Outputs MOOC

Since the publication of the Finch report and the Research Councils’ policy on open access, universities have increasingly made the outputs of their publicly funded research freely and openly available through open access journals and repositories. However it’s not always easy for people outwith academia to know how to access these outputs even though they are available under open licence.

This project is developing a short self paced learning MOOC aimed at the general public, private researchers, entrepreneurs and SMEs to provide advice on how to access open research outputs including Open Access scholarly works and open research data sets, in order to foster technology transfer and innovation. The course will focus on developing digital and data literacy skills and search strategies to find and access open research outputs and will also feature a series of case studies based on individuals and SMEs that have made successful use of the University of Edinburgh’s world class research outputs.

This is the first time I’ve worked on a MOOC project and I’m delighted to be working with Morna Simpson, of Geek Girl Scotland who has just been named one of Scotland’s most influential women in tech.

Wikimedia UK

I’ve been involved in a whole host of Wikimedia events including the Wikimedia UK Education Summit at Middlesex University, where Melissa Highton gave an inspiring keynote and I chaired a panel of lightning talks, #1Lib1Ref which encouraged Librarians and wikimedia editors to add one reference to Wikipedia to mark the 15th anniversary of the foundation of Wikipedia, and the History of Medicine editathon, part of the University of Edinburgh’s Festival of Creative Learning.  This event was a personal highlight not only because it took place in the stunning Surgeon’s Hall Museum and featured an utterly fascinating series of talks on subjects as diverse as Lothian Health Services Archive and William Burke, Scotland’s most prolific serial killer, but also because I got to create a new Wikipedia page for Ethel Moir, a nurse from Inverness who served on the Eastern Front in WW1.  I’m planning to do some more work on Ethel’s Wikipedia page tomorrow as during the University of Edinburgh’s Bragging Writes editathon as part of International Women’s Day.

History of Medicine Editathon, Surgeon’s Hall, CC BY Ewan McAndrew

UNESCO European Consultation on OER

2017 marks the 5th anniversary of the Paris OER Declaration and UNESCO and the Commonwealth for Learning are undertaking an international consultation focused on OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education. Since the end of last year I’ve been liaising with COL to ensure that Scotland was represented at this consultation which is being undertaken in advance of the 2nd World OER Congress which will be held in Ljubljana later this year.  Joe Wilson went along to the consultation in Malta represent Open Scotland and you can read his report on the event here.

Maritime Masculinities Conference

Way back in December I took a week off from Ed Tech to co-chair the Maritime Masculinities Conference at the University of Oxford. The two day conference featured keynotes from Prof. Joanne Begiato, Dr Isaac Land and  Dr Mary Conley and a wide range of international papers.  I chaired a panel of papers on the theme of Sexualities and my co-author Heather Noel-Smith and I also presented a paper on Smoking Chimneys and Fallen Women: the several reinventions of Sir Henry Hart.  We were pleasantly surprised by the success of the conference and the lovely feedback we got from delegates.

I’ve also got a lot of conferences and events coming up over the next couple of months, but I think that deserves a separate blog post!

OER18 Call for Co-Chairs⤴

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Ever dreamed of chairing an OER conference?  Well now’s your chance! Last week ALT announced a call for co-chairs of the OER18 Conference. ALT are seeking two people with

  • National/international standing in the Open Education field.
  • The commitment and vision to make the conference a success.
  • The capacity to chair a major international conference and its programme committee.
  • Enthusiasm and experience of working with the Open Education community and ALT.

Planning and organising the conference will be undertaken by the Conference Committee supported by ALT staff. You can find out more about this exciting opportunity and how to apply here and if you’re wondering what it’s actually like to co-chair an OER Conference, here’s a few words about my own personal experience…

Since its inception in 2010 the OER Conference has always been one of the most important and enjoyable events in my calendar.  I’ve always thought of OER as being “my” conference, it’s where my community, my colleagues, all the people I admire hang out.  And more than that, it’s where we all come together to share our practice, our experience, our love and criticism of openness.

Last year I was immensely privileged to co-chair the OER16 Open Culture Conference at the University of Edinburgh with my inspirational colleague Melissa Highton.  Hosting the conference reinforced Edinburgh’s strategic commitment to open education and we were delight to welcome delegates from the Wikimedia community and museums, libraries and archives domains.

On a personal level it was a wonderful opportunity to shape the direction of this increasingly international conference, to develop my own open practice and extend my network of peers.  It was an immensely rewarding experience to work so closely with ALT and a wide network of willing volunteers, and I can’t speak highly enough of the support they provided in planning and running the event.  And last but not least, it was also an enormous amount of fun! From start to finish, from planning the bid with Melissa, to handing over to the OER17 chairs after our closing keynote, it was all a hugely enjoyable experience.

OER17: The Politics of Open  is now just a few months away and with Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski at the helm, it can’t fail to be a fabulous and ground breaking event.  Just think…you could be next.

Never underestimate the amount of fun you can have co-chairing an OER conference!
Image by OER16 keynote Catherine Cronin. CC BY SA.

 

23 Things: Thing 13 Video⤴

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So here’s a thing…. (thing…get it?) …. although I consume as much online video as the next person I don’t actually produce a great deal, though there are plenty of embarrassing videos of me on YouTube from various conferences and events. Recently however I did have to produce a couple of videos.  The first was this video for the ALT Learning Technologist of the Year Community Choice Awards earlier this autumn.  Although our media production colleagues here at the University did an excellent job of producing the video and stitching the content together, recording the film was a bit of a faff to say the least. Due to tight deadlines and people disappearing for summer vacations, Stuart Nicol and I ended up filming the clip ourselves using a camera balanced precariously on a stool on top of a table. We may have forgotten to turn the microphone on during the first take and we lost another take due to hopeless laughter.  Anyway, it was a bit of a hassle, so it’s no wonder we look a bit rabbit-in-the-headlights in the film :}

Fast forward a couple of months and I was asked to present a guest lecture for the University’s Introduction to Online Distance Learning course.  Because I was on leave in the Outer Hebrides the week I was scheduled to talk I offered to record my lecture instead.  This time I used MediaHopper, the University’s Kaltura based media management platform, to record my talk and I have to say I was very impressed.  Once I’d created my slides I was able to record my lecture on my own laptop which was incredibly convenient for me as I have to work from home two days a week owing to childcare responsibilities.  Everything worked perfectly and although it took over half-an-hour to upload the video file from my cranky home network, I was able to get the whole recording done and dusted in a few hours.  Sorted!  Unfortunately the MediaHopper embed code isn’t quite as effective and my slides don’t render properly when I embed the video in WordPress, however you can see the lecture complete with slides here: Open Education and Co-Creation.  And because it’s CC BY licensed you’re welcome to download and reuse it too ?

Open Archaeology and the Digital Cultural Commons⤴

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When I joined the Board of Wikimedia UK earlier this year I was asked if I’d like to write a blog post for the Wikimedia UK Blog, this is the result….

Eilean Dhomhnaill,  Loch Olabhat by Richard Law, CC BB SA 2.0

Eilean Dhomhnaill, Loch Olabhat by Richard Law, CC BB SA 2.0

Although I’ve worked in open education technology for almost twenty years now, my original background is actually in archaeology.  I studied archaeology at the University of Glasgow in the late 1980s and later worked there as material sciences technician for a number of years. Along the way I worked on some amazing fieldwork projects including excavating Iron Age brochs in Orkney and the Outer Hebrides, Bronze Age wetland sites at Flag Fen, a rare Neolithic settlement at Loch Olabhat in North Uist, the Roman fort of Trimontium at Newstead in the Scottish Borders and prehistoric, Nabatean and Roman sites in the South Hauran desert in Jordan.  I still have a strong interest in both history and archaeology and, perhaps unsurprisingly, I’m a passionate advocate of opening access to our shared cultural heritage.

Archaeological field work and post excavation analysis generates an enormous volume of data including photographs, plans, notebooks and journals, topographic data, terrain maps, archaeometric data, artefact collections, soil samples, osteoarchaeology data, archaeobotanical data, zooarchaeological data, radio carbon data, etc, etc, etc.  The majority of this data ends up in university, museum and county archives around the country or in specialist archives such as Historic Environment Scotland’s Canmore archive and the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) at the University of York.  And while there is no question that the majority of this data is being carefully curated and archived for posterity, much of it remains largely inaccessible as it is either un-digitised, or released under restrictive or ambiguous licenses.

Cadbury Castle Post Ex c. 1992

Cadbury Castle Post Ex c. 1992

This is hardly surprising for older archives which are composed primarily of analogue data.  I worked on the reanalysis of the Cadbury Castle archive in the early 1990’s and can still remember trawling through hundreds of dusty boxes and files of plans, context sheets, finds records, correspondence, notebooks, etc. That reanalysis did result in the publication of an English Heritage monograph which is now freely available from the ADS but, as far as I’m aware, little if any, of the archive has been digitised.

Digitising the archives of historic excavations may be prohibitively expensive and of debatable value, however much of the data generated by fieldwork now is born digital. Archives such as Canmore and the ADS do an invaluable job of curating this data and making it freely available online for research and educational purposes.  Which is great, but it’s not really open.  Both archives use custom licenses rather than the more widely used Creative Commons licences.  It feels a bit uncharitable to be overly critical of these services because they are at least providing free access to curated archaeological data online.  Other services restrict access to public cultural heritage archives with subscriptions and paywalls.

Several key thinkers in the field of digital humanities have warned of the dangers of enclosing our cultural heritage commons and have stressed the need for digital archives to be open, accessible and reusable.

The Journal of Open Archaeology Data is one admirable example of an Open Access scholarly journal that makes all its papers and data sets freely and openly available under Creative Commons licenses, while endorsing the Panton Principles and using open, non-proprietary standards for all of its content. Internet Archaeology is another Open Access journal that publishes all its content under Creative Commons Attribution licences.  However it’s still just a drop in the ocean when one considers the vast quantity of archaeological data generated each year.  Archaeological data is an important component of our cultural commons and if even a small portion of this material was deposited into Wikimedia Commons, Wikidata, Wikipedia etc., it would help to significantly increase the sum of open knowledge.

Wikimedia UK is already taking positive steps to engage with the Culture sector through a wide range of projects and initiatives such as residencies, editathons, and the Wiki Loves Monuments competition, an annual event that encourages both amateur and professional photographers to capture images of the world’s historic monuments.  By engaging with archaeologists and cultural heritage agencies directly, and encouraging them to contribute to our cultural commons, Wikimedia UK can play a key role in helping to ensure that our digital cultural heritage is freely and openly available to all.

This post originally appeared on the Wikimedia UK Blog