Tag Archives: freebassel

Nudging the Door Open⤴

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Last week I presented one of the keynotes at the FLOSS UK Spring Conference in Edinburgh.  I had been invited to present as the organising committee were keen to diversify both the scope and the gender balance of their event, after a first call for papers brought in only male speakers.  Persuaded by the enthusiasm and commitment of the organisers, and after discussing the invitation with colleagues at the University, I accepted their invitation.  However after a second round of blind peer review again brought in only male speakers (thus illustrating the problem of blind submission in any domain that already lacks diversity) I began to get a bit apprehensive.  Normally I would politely decline an invitation to participate in an all-male panel and now here I was keynoting at an all-male conference.

I discussed my concerns with the organisers who once again were sensitive to the issue, keen to talk and open to suggestions.  And I was more than a little relieved when my inspirational senior colleague Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at University of Edinburgh was invited to open the conference, and Christel Dahlskjaer, VP of Open Source and Digital Advocacy at Private Internet Access, was also added to the programme.

My talk was scheduled to take place on the second day, but I went along on the first day to hear Melissa’s opening address and Debian Project Leader Chris Lamb’s keynote.  I had expected female delegates to be in the minority, but I was a little startled to discover there were only three women in the room out of an audience in the region of around eighty people.  Melissa raised this issue diplomatically in her opening address which included a call for more diversity and inclusion in technology industries.

Although I get a little keyed up when I’m speaking in public I don’t generally get too nervous, however I was extremely apprehensive about presenting a non-technical keynote to an all-male audience of technical developers.  Particularly given that my talk, an over view of the Open Knowledge Landscape, highlighted the problem of systemic bias and structural inequality in a wide range of “open” communities.  In an effort to work up a little courage I did something I don’t often do; I called for back-up.  The evening before my keynote I tweeted…

To say that I was overwhelmed by the response would be an understatement, so I’d like to thank each and every one of you who replied to my tweet, I can’t tell you how much I appreciated your support.

I also tweeted a thread of all the inspiring projects and initiatives that I had included in my talk, because if you’re speaking about diversity and representation I think it’s really important to give credit where credit is due.  The twitter thread proved to be really popular so I might do this again next time I’m giving a talk.

On the morning of my keynote I was encouraged to see a couple more women in the audience, maybe five in total?  But it was still pretty daunting to get up onto that stage.  The audience however were faultlessly polite and engaged, particularly when I spoke about structural inequality and lack of representation in technology domains and open communities.

I ended by highlighting the story of Bassel Khartabil and the Memorial Fund that Creative Commons established to commemorate his legacy, because I believe it demonstrates why it’s so important for all those of us who work in the broad domain of Open Knowledge to come together to break down the barriers that divide us.  I always find it difficult to talk about Bassel and this time was no exception. I choked when I tried to read a passage he wrote from Adra Prison in Damascus and I was almost in tears by the end.  However I make no apology for getting emotional over such an important story.

There was only time for a couple of questions after my talk, one about business models for openness and another about how the conference could become more diverse and inclusive without compromising the integrity of their peer review process. During the break afterwards, I was really touched by a young delegate from the University of York who said he had benefitted so much from working in open source software projects and using Wikipedia, and wanted to know how he could give something back to the community.  I suggested becoming a Wikipedia editor and gave him some pointers on how to get started.  And I also really enjoyed chatting with some Edinburgh Informatics students who were hugely enthusiastic about the University’s commitment to Open Knowledge. Although there wasn’t a great deal of activity around the conference hashtag, I was touched to get one or two really supportive comments from delegates.

All in all the conference was a pretty daunting event for me, but it’s one that I learned a lot from, not least how supportive my own Open Knowledge community is and how willing other communities can be to listen to new stories and alternative points of view.  So I’d like the take this opportunity to thank the organisers once again for inviting me to keynote.

Last word has to go to the fabulous Kelsey Merkley.

Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape⤴

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Transcript and slides from my keynote at the FLOSS UK Spring Conference in Edinburgh.

I’m not a programmer.  I’m not a developer.  And I don’t contribute directly to the creation of free and open source software.  I originally started out as an Archaeologist but I now work in the domain of Open Knowledge and more specifically open education.  I currently work for the Open Education Resources Service within the Information Services Group 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. All these organisations are part of the Open Knowledge landscape and what I want to do today is provide a broad overview of some of the different domains, communities and cultures that make up this landscape including open education, open data, open textbooks and Open Access Scholarly works.  And I also want to explore the boundaries that crisscross this landscape and demarcate these open spaces, and ask who is included, who is excluded, and what we can do to make our communities more diverse and inclusive.

In the words of the late, great Maryam Mirzakhani, former professor of mathematics at Stanford University and the first female winner of the Fields Medal, who sadly passed away last year.

“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.”

So that’s what I want to do today, to look at how we can cross the imaginary boundaries of the Open Knowledge landscape and connect our different open communities.

Of course the open landscape will look very different to each and every one of us and the view we see will depend very much on our personal perspective and the privilege of our vantage point.  These are some of the domains and communities that populate the Open Knowledge landscape as I see it.

  • Open licenses
  • Open educational resources
  • Open education policy and 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 some of the areas that I’m most familiar with and look at how we can all benefit from crossing the boundaries and building connections between these domains.

Open Education and OER

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

The principles of open education were first 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.”

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, and I’ll go on and say why shortly, while in the UK we tend to have a much broader understanding of OER that encompasses a wide range of teaching, learning and cultural heritage resources.

The reason I chose this particular definition is that UNESCO is one of a number of organisations that actively supports the global adoption of OER.  In 2012, five years after the Cape Town Declaration, UNESCO released the Paris OER Declaration which encourages governments and authorities to open license educational materials produced with public funds in order to realize substantial benefits for their citizens and maximize the impact of investment.  And last year UNESCO brought together 111 member states for the 2nd OER World Congress in Slovenia, the main output of which was the UNESCO Ljubljana OER Action Plan.  Central to the OER Action plan is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4   and support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory.

In his summing up at the end of the congress UNESCO Assistant Director for Education Qian Tang said

“to meet the education challenges, we can’t use the traditional way. In remote and developing areas, particularly for girls and women, OER are a crucial, crucial means to reach SDGs. OER are the key.”

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 only resources that are licensed for adaptation and reuse can really be considered as OER.   At the recent OER World Congress, Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley emphasized that free is not the most important thing about OER, it’s the permission to modify and adapt resources that is most important, because that is what allows us to adapt educational resources to allow us to meet the specific and diverse needs of our learners.

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that open educational resources are 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.

We have a vision for OER that builds on our world-class education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission. And this vision is backed up by an OER Policy, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience.

Open.Ed is our OER portal where you can access open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university, including teaching materials, video lectures, film content, games, 3 models and much more. Rather than investing in a proprietary repository, Open.Ed is supported by WordPress and we’re currently in the process of implementing search and aggregation functionality based on the Solvonauts open source OER search engine developed by pgogy.

Open Textbooks

I mentioned earlier that the prevalent form of OER in North America is open textbooks.  The reason being that North American education systems tend to be centred heavily around single use textbooks.  According to SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition,  the price of textbooks has increased at more than three times the rate of inflation for decades, resulting in college students face steep price tags of up $200 per book.  These costs can be a considerable barrier in terms of access to education and also result in schools and colleges using books that are years out of date because they are too expensive to replace.  SPARC is one of a number of organisations that campaigns for the adoption of open texbooks in the US, and they have recently been instrumental in persuading U.S. Congress to fund a $5 million open textbook grant program.

Although we don’t rely quite so heavily on single course textbooks here in the UK, textbook costs can still be significant.  The UK OpenTextbooks project is a partnership between the OER Hub at the Open University, OpenStax and The Open Textbook Network which aims to explore the viability of introducing open textbooks in UK higher education.

While open textbooks offer many benefits when used as is, including cost savings and access to affordable high quality learning materials, the benefits of open textbooks increase significantly when you combine them with open source software.   One initiative that is doing just that is BC Campus in Canada. In 2012 BC Campus received a $1m grant from the British Columbia government to  provide free and open textbooks for the top 40 course subject areas in post secondary education.  The project collected existing open textbooks from OpenStax and the Open Textbooks Network, and adopted PressBooks, the open source book content management system, as a faculty friendly authoring platform for new open books.  Because of the open extensible nature of the software, BC Campus have been able to add new features to PressBooks, such as annotation and new import and export routines and these are contributed back to the community as open source code.  In the words of BC Campus’ Clint Lalonde:

“PressBooks is easy for most faculty to use because many are familiar with WordPress. Faculty feel empowered and have the skills needed to adapt open textbooks to fit their specific learning needs. Faculty make their textbook reflect their pedagogy instead of the reverse.”

MOOCs

Moving on now to MOOCs….

MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, occupy a somewhat contested space in the Open Knowledge landscape. The term was originally coined in 2008 to describe a number of online courses, characterised by social connectivist and constructivist pedagogies, being run by the Universities of Athabasca and Prince Edward Island in Canada.  These innovative courses focused on knowledge creation and generation and encourage 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 promises to disrupt education.  The launch of these companies was accompanied by a huge amount of hype with Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity predicting that in 50 years time there would be only ten higher education institutions in the world, and of course, Udacity had a good chance of being one of them.  Udacity now focuses primarily on vocational courses rather than the Higher Education sector.

Although MOOCs did not disrupt Higher Education, they did fill an interesting niche in the education market, and I use that term advisedly in this instance, and commercial MOOC providers are still thriving.  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 open 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 off these commercial platforms and available under open licence, and that’s the road we have gone down at Edinburgh.  The University runs MOOCs on FutureLearn, Coursera and EdX platforms and has made a considerable investment in producing high quality content for use in these courses.  In order to ensure this content is accessible and reusable for both our own students and colleagues 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.

The original social constructionist MOOCs haven’t gone away though, and there are a wide range of creative and innovative online courses running all over the world now which truly embody openness and which are often supported by free and open source software.  One nice example is 23 Things for Digital Knowledge, an award winning, open online course run by my colleague Charlie Farley at the University of Edinburgh. 23 Things is designed to encourage digital literacy by exposing learners to a wide range of digital tools for personal and professional development.  The course runs on WordPress, all the content and materials are Creative Commons licensed and the University actively encourages others to take and adapt the course.   Another amazing example is DS106 an anarchic digital storytelling course from the University of Mary Washington which has been running since 2010.  The instigator of ds106, Jim Groom, is also the founder of Reclaim Hosting,   a company that builds on the principles of the open web, and which provides teachers, learners and institutions with an easy way to own and control their own web domains and host open source applications.  And I think we’ve all seen plenty of evidence recently as to why it’s so important to have the ability to control our own web domains and the data that our presence on the web generates.

Open Access Scholarly Works  

Open Access Scholarly Works clearly occupy an important place in the Open Knowledge landscape.  Since the publication of the 2012 Finch report on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, and Research Councils UK’s, policy on Open Access, universities have been required to make the outputs of their publicly funded research freely and openly available through open access journals, repositories and other channels.

Free and open access to the outputs of publicly funded research provides important social and economic benefits as well as being in line with the Government’s commitment to transparency and open data, and contributing to the global open movement.  In addition to making research outputs freely accessible to all, Open Access 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 business, government, charities and 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.  And within academia there is something of a divide between Open Access scholarly works and Open Educational Resources with the former tending to be managed by the Library within dedicated Open Access repositories, while the later, if they are managed at all, tend to be dealt with on an ad hoc basis by learning technology services. As a result of the Research Council mandates, a whole repository infrastructure has been developed to facilitate the management and dissemination of Open Access scholarly works, while OER have often been somewhat neglected in comparison.  A few initiatives have sought to accommodate scholarly works and teaching and learning resources in the same repository, but these have not been particularly successful as the resources themselves and the work flows they are part of are very different.   This is unfortunate as Open Access scholarly works can clearly be of huge benefit to teaching and learning, and at the same time, OER can be harnessed to promote the outputs of open research.

One initiative at the University of Edinburgh that uses OER to help disseminate Open Access research outputs beyond the Academy, and to foster technology transfer and innovation, is Innovating with Open Knowledge. This project has created a series of open licensed video interviews, case studies and learning resources aimed at creative individuals, private researchers, entrepreneurs and small to medium enterprises 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 search strategies and feature case study interviews with creative individuals, entrepreneurs and experts, engaging with the University of Edinburgh’s world class research outputs.  Among the case studies are a series of interviews about finding and using Open Source Software with Scott Wilson of the independent, non-advocacy service OSS-Watch.

Open Data

Open data can be defined as data and content that can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose.

Although there is no UK policy that mandates the release of open research data, there is a Concordat on Open Research Data, which was originally published by HEFCE, Research Council’s UK, Universities UK and Wellcome in 2016.  The Concordat recognises that research data should, wherever possible, be made openly available for use by others in a manner consistent with relevant legal, ethical, disciplinary and regulatory frameworks and norms, and with due regard to the cost involved.

In a parallel development, the UK Government has also made considerable efforts to open up its data for people to re-use through data.gov.uk, in the belief open government data can help governments be more transparent, and support business, academics and the third sector.  This commitment is supported by the Open Government Partnership, an international initiative launched in 2011 that aims to help more governments become more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive.

Open data can also make a significant contribution to social initiatives and humanitarian projects.  One such example is the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team, who undertake a wide range of mapping projects to support disaster relief, socio-economic development, and geographic information for humanitarian aid. For example in 2010 when Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, the Open Street Map Community immediately mobilized; within 48 hours, high resolution post-earthquake imagery was made available, and in the first month following the disaster 600 people contributed to Haiti’s open street maps.  Similarly, when Sri Lanka suffered from severe flooding in 2016, the governments’ Disaster Management Centre turned to the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team to urgently start tracing detailed building and housing unit information.

Although open data, open access, and open education 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 and as a result there is a tendency to end up with “open silos”.  In the UK, research mandates and concordats may have had a positive impact on open access and open research data, however the connection has yet to be made 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, communities and research projects, 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.

However in a presentation at the Open Education Global conference in Delft just yesterday, Leo also reminded us that open data alone does not promote social justice.  Quoting Johnston, Leo noted that unless people know how to access and use the data effectively, they can become mere objects of study, marginalized and excluded from participating in decisions about their own society.

Wikipedia

Of course no map of the Open Knowledge domain would be complete without Wikpedia and its associated projects including  Wiki Data, Wikimedia Commons, Wiki Source etc.

Wikipedia itself is of course built on OSS, with the encyclopedia, Wikimedia Commons and Wictionary all being supported by MediaWiki open-source wiki software.  In addition, over 1000 automated and semi-automated bots and other tools have been developed to assist with Wikimedia editing.  There are also fun tools such as Histropedia which uses the free Histropedia JS software and Wikidata to generate dynamic timelines of everything.

Here in the UK we have our own Wikimedia chapter, Wikimedia UK, which works in partnership with organisations from the cultural and education sectors and beyond in order 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.  In Scotland we have Wikimedians in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, the Scottish Library and Information Council, and a Gaelic Wikimedian at the National Library of Scotland.  A new Wikimedia Scotland Coordinator, Sara Thomas, has also just been appointed and in Wales there is a National Wikimedian, Jason Evans,  based at the National Library of Wales.

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; the creation, dissemination and curation of knowledge, and we also believe that Wikipedia is a valuable learning tool to develop a wide range of digital and information literacy skills and capabilities 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 Wikimedia Foundation’s vision may be  “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge”, however 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 Wikimedians and Wikimedians in Residence across the world.

At the University of 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, in science, art, technology, and history, and to redress the gender imbalance of contributors by encouraging more women to become Wikimedia 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 that anyone can contribute to in theory, however in reality there are many factors that prevent certain groups from contributing.   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 encyclopedia, 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 encyclopedia discriminate against marginalised groups.  Wikipedia is based on notability and 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 proving notability.  Any article that is deemed to be inadequately cited runs the risk of rapid deletion for lack of notability, thus replicating real world power imbalances, privileges and inequalities.

Wikimedia is not the only open community 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 – 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, employed, and from the developed countries of the global north.  Furthermore, the majority of MOOC students already have some kind of postgraduate qualification.  An important survey undertaken in 2013 by the University of Pennsylvania of 24 courses offered by through Coursera found that 80% of the 34,000 students questioned already had a degree and 44% had also undertaken some form of post graduate education.  The figures were even more stark outwith the US, with 80% of students from Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa coming from the wealthiest and best educated 6% of the population.  Furthermore, these students were much more likely to be male than female. Gayle Christensen, one of the authors of the report 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 reported huge gaps in representation and concluded that the gender imbalance in open source remains profound and that open source contributors don’t yet reflect the broad audience of users. 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 and power structures.   And we need to look around our own open communities 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. And if you’re interested in how such inequalities have impacted the development of the commuting industry in the UK, I can highly recommend this book by Marie Hicks Programmed Inequality How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge In Computing.

Far too often technology and technology communities replicate the structural inequalities that permeate our society.   And I think we’re all aware of the very pressing current debate about how algorithms encode both conscious and unconscious bias.

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 believe me, it is hard work, these things won’t change over night, but they do have to change. Those of us who are already inside these open spaces and communities need to take positive action to make our communities, not just open, but accessible and inclusive.  And to do that, to borrow a phrase from another group who campaigned for radical change and inclusion at the turn of the last century, the Suffragettes, we need Deeds not Words.

In the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto Aaron Shwartz said

“Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world.”

The same is equally true of Open Knowledge and open communities.  We have been given the privilege to participate, and we can not keep that privilege to ourselves.  We need to identify the barriers that prevent some people from participating, and we need to do what we can to remove these systemic obstructions.  And to me this is what openness is really about, the removal of systemic barriers and structural inequalities to enable everyone to participate equitably, and on their own terms. We have a duty to ensure that our own open communities really are just that, open to everyone, regardless of race and gender, because that’s how we ensure that we really can cross the imaginary boundaries of the Open Knowledge landscape.

Chris Lamb began his keynote yesterday with three stories, and I want to end my keynote with a story too, one which I believe demonstrates why it’s so important for all those of us who work in the broad domain of Open Knowledge to come together to break down the barriers that divide us.

This is Bassel Khartabil Safadi a Syrian open source software developer, open knowledge advocate, Wikipedia editor and project lead for Creative Commons Syria.

Bassel was also a contributor to the New Palmyra Project; a digital archaeology and open data initiative that aims to create a virtual reconstruction of the ancient city of Palmyra, large parts of which have been destroyed by ISIS during the Syrian civil war.

As a result of his open knowledge activities, Bassel Khartabil was detained by the Syrian government in 2012 and held in Adra Prison in Damascus for 3 years. In October 2015 his name was removed from the prison register and, despite calls from numerous human rights organisations, his whereabouts remained unknown.

In order to raise awareness of Bassel’s disappearance a group of open practitioners came together to write the open e-book The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry which includes essays, poems, personal reflections and polemics from a wide range of international open knowledge and free culture advocates.  My contribution to the book was a short piece called The Open World which touches on the personal risks, costs and benefits of openness.

Sadly in August last year news was released that Bassel had been executed by the Syrian regime in 2015.  In order to honor his memory and to support projects in the spirit of his work, Creative Commons has established the Bassel Khartabil Memorial Fund which provides grants to advance collaboration, community building, and leadership development in the open communities of the Arab world. The fund also supports the digital preservation, sharing, and remix of creative works and historical artifacts.

Just a few weeks ago, at the Creative Commons summit in Toronto, the first Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship and Memorial Fund recipients were announced, and you can find out more about those recipients and their projects here https://creativecommons.org/2018/04/15/fellowship-memorial-fund/

Before he was executed, Bassel wrote from Adra prison

“Of my experience spending three years in jail so far for writing open source code (mainly) I can tell how much authoritarian regimes feel the danger of technology on their continuity, and they should be afraid of that. As code is much more than tools, it’s education that opens youth minds and moves the nations forward. Who can stop that? No one…. As long as you people are out doing what you are doing, my soul is free. Jail is only a temporary physical limitation.”

The fate of Bassel Khartabil is a sobering but inspiring reminder of why Open Knowledge is so powerful and so necessary and why we must all work together to achieve a more open, inclusive and equitable society.

2017 Highs, Lows and Losses⤴

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I ended up taking an unscheduled break from blogging and social media over the holidays as I was laid up with a nasty virus and its after effects.  Bleh.  So in an attempt to get back into the saddle, I’m taking a leaf out of Anne-Marie’s book with this “What I did in 2017” post.  So in no particular order here’s a ramble through some of the things that made an impression on me, for one reason or another, over the last year.

OER17

OER is my conference.  I’ve never missed a single one since the conference kicked off in 2010.  They’re always thought provoking and topical events, but OER17 The Politics of Open was particularly timely and unexpectedly emotional. I was fortunate to take part on several panels and and talks, but the one that will always stay with me is Shouting from the Heart, a very short, very personal, lightning talk about what writing, openness and politics means to me.  I’d never given such a personal talk before and, not to put too fine a point on it, I was fucking terrified. I was supposed to end with a quote from the Declaration of Arbroath but I bottled it and had to stop because I was in danger of crying in front of everyone. It was a deeply emotional experience, but the overwhelming response more than made up for for my mortification.   I was also extremely grateful to meet up with many old friends and to meet many new friends too.

International Women’s Day

I was honoured to be name checked on International Women’s Day by several colleagues who I respect and admire hugely.  I’m still deeply touched.  Thank you.

Mashrou’ Leila  مشروع ليلى

Mashrou’ Leila مشروع ليلى are a Lebanese indy rock band whose lead singer Hamed Sinno is openly gay and a vocal advocate for LGBTQ issues, women’s rights and contemporary Arab identity. Mashrou’ Leila also happen to be one of my favourite bands of the last year so I was over the moon to be in London when they played an amazing open air gig at Somerset House in July.  It was a fabulous night and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a diverse crowd at a music event.  I got quite emotional seeing the rainbow flag flying over Somerset House. Sadly, when Mashrou’ Leila played in Cairo a few months later, seven concert goers were arrested for raising that same rainbow flag and were subsequently charged with promoting sexual deviancy.

Mashrou’ Leila, Somerset House, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Wiki Loves Monuments

I’ve meant to take part in the Wiki Loves Monuments photography competition for years now.  I’ve taken hundreds of photographs of monuments over the years and they really should be in the public domain rather than languishing on various ancient laptops.  But it took my fabulous colleague and University of Edinburgh Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, to prod me into contributing.  Ewan made it his mission to get as many photographs of Scottish monuments uploaded to Wikipedia Commons as possible, and maybe try to beat the Welsh in the process.  The whole competition was hugely enjoyable and got very competitive. By the time it closed at the end of September over 2000 new images of Scottish monuments had been uploaded, and 184 of my old holiday snaps had found a new lease of life on Wikimedia Commons. Hats of to Ewan and Anne-Marie for the hundreds of amazing photographs they submitted to the competition.

A few of my pics…

Women in Red

In 2016 I was honoured to join Wikimedia UK’s Board of Trustees but it was in 2017 that I really started editing Wikipedia in earnest.  I created a number of new pages for notable women who previously didn’t have entries.  The ones I’m most proud of are:

Mary Susan MacIntosh, sociologist, feminist, lesbian, and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights.  MacIntosh was a founding member of the London Gay Liberation Front, she sat on the Criminal Law Revision Committee which lowered the age of male homosexual consent, and she played a crucial role in shaping the theory of social constructionism, a theory later developed by, and widely attributed to Michel Foucault. MacIntosh’s Wikipedia page still needs a lot more work, so please, if you can help, go ahead and edit it.

Elizabeth Slater a British archaeologist specialising in archaeometallurgy. She was the first female professor of archaeology appointed by the University of Liverpool.  Liz was also the only female lecturer teaching archaeology at the University of Glasgow when I was a student there and her lectures made a huge impression on me. I was chuffed to be able to build a Wikipedia page for her.

Open Tumshies

Mah tumshie appeared in The Scotsman online! And you can read about it here 🙂

Open tumshies ftw!

Audierne Bay

In July my partner drove our aged VW camper van all the way to Brittany and we spent two weeks camping in Finistère with our daughter.  While we were there we visited Audierne Bay, where the Droits de L’Homme frigate engagement took place during a ferocious gale on the night of 13th January 1797.  This engagement was the starting point for the book Hornblower’s Historical Shipmates, which I wrote with my dear friend Heather Noel-Smith.  The day I visited Audierne Bay was bright and sunny and the beach was filled was families and holiday makers.  It was a sobering thought to stand there and look out at the reefs where hundreds of men lost their lives two hundred years before.

Audierne Bay, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

CMALT

Finally, after years of procrastinating, I wrote my portfolio and became a Certified Member of the Association for Learning Technology.  And I did it all in the open!

Me and inspirational ALT CEO, Maren Deepwell, CC BY, @ammienoot

UNESCO OER World Congress

In September I was honoured to attend the UNESCO OER World Congress in Ljubljana to represent the University of Edinburgh and Open Scotland, along with my colleague Joe Wilson. I’m so glad we were able to attend because, along with the fabulous Leo Havemann, we were the only people there from the UK.  It was a really interesting event and I hope the resulting OER Action Plan it will help to raise the profile of OER worldwide.

UNESCO OER World Congress, CC BY Slovenian Press Agency

Louvain-la-Neuve

In November I was invited to give a talk about OER and open education at UCLouvain. It was a brief but enjoyable trip and I’d like to thank Christine Jacqmot and Yves Deville for their hospitality and for showing me around their unique city and university.

Mural, Louvain-la-Neuve, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Tango

I don’t get to dance much these days, due to work, commuting, childcare etc, but I did get to have one or two tango adventures this year.

A wedding and a ridiculous frock

In October my sister got married in Stornoway and I promised to buy the most ridiculous vintage frock I could find for the wedding.  I think I succeeded.

Channelling Abigail’s Party…

These guys…

Nike & Josh, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Also these guys…

We had a family of foxes living in the garden this year.  When I was working from home through the summer months I often had two or three foxes curled up sleeping in the sun outside my window, if not even closer!

Josh & friend, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Inevitably there was some real low points and losses during the year too.

I had a horrible medical emergency while travelling to Brittany and had to get blue-lighted off the boat in an ambulance and carted off to hospital in Morlaix.  Never, ever, have I been so glad that my partner is a nurse and stubborn as hell.  Without him, I don’t know what would have happened.

Public Transpot

I don’t drive.  That’s a choice, not an accident.  But I travel continually so I spent a lot of my time on public transport. I take the bus and the train to work, which is a four hour commute twice a week.  When public transport isn’t available, I use a local taxi firm.  I never use Uber, because fuck that for a business model. I keep reading all this stuff about automated and driverless cars but tbh, I don’t want any more cars on the road, driverless or otherwise.  I want decent public transport, which is regular, reliable, clean, and safe for women travelling alone at any hour of the day or night. Oh, and I also want the people who work for these public transport systems to earn a decent living wage.  Is that too much to ask?

Maryam Mirzakhani

Maryam Mirzakhani was an Iranian mathematician, professor at Stamford University and the first woman to win the Fields Medal for mathematics.  In March I was invited to speak at the International Open Science Conference in Berlin and I took the title of my talk, Crossing the Field Boundaries, from an interview with Maryam.

“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 SurfacesQuanta Magazine, August 2014

Four months later, I was deeply saddened to hear that Maryam had died of breast cancer at the age of 40.  The loss of such a gifted woman is unfathomable.

Bassel Khartabil

In August we heard the devastating news that the detained Syrian open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil had been executed by the Syrian government in 2015.  I never met Bassel, but I was deeply moved by his story and I contributed to a number of initiatives that tried to raise awareness of his plight. I will never forget that this man lost his liberty and his life for doing a similar job that I, and many of my colleagues, do every day.  This is my memorial to him.

In Memorium Bassel Khartabil⤴

from

This is my personal reflection on the devastating news that Syrian open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil was executed by the Syrian government in 2015. 

Qasr al Hallabat, Jordan, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Some of you will already know that before I worked in open education I used to be an archaeologist.  My main interest was the North Atlantic Iron Age and I spent a lot of time working on excavations in the Outer Hebrides where I was born and brought up.  However I also spent one memorable summer working in the South Hauran Desert in Jordan near the Syrian Border.  It was a bit of a life changing experience for me, I fell quietly in love with the Middle East and when I got back to Scotland I realised that I was stuck in a rut with my job so I decided to leave archaeology while I still loved the subject and turn my hand to something else instead.

By rather circuitous routes that something else turned out to be open education, and it’s something which I have had a deep personal and ethical commitment to for over ten years now.  I never lost my love of archaeology though and I always regretted that while I was in Jordan we didn’t cross the border into Syria to visit Palmyra and Damascus. We had one week free at the end of our fieldwork project and it was a toss up between Petra or Syria.  Petra won.  Years later I watched in horror as Syria descended into civil war and Palmyra became a battleground.  Tragic as the destruction of Palmyra has been, it pales into significance beside the huge number of lives that have been destroyed in the conflict.

Consequently, when I first came across the New Palmyra project I was really inspired.  Here was a project that used openness to capture the cultural and archaeological heritage of Syria before it’s lost forever.  What a fabulous idea.  I vaguely noted the name of Bassel Khartabil among the people involved but at the time I knew nothing more about him

“Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)” by Joi Ito – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482CC BY 2.0

About a year later Adam Hyde of Booksprints.net, who ran a booksprint for us at the end of the the UKOER programme, contacted me and asked if I would be willing to write a piece for a book to raise awareness of the disappearance of Syrian open knowledge advocate, Creative Commons representative and active Wikimedian, Bassel Khartabil.  I was horrified to learn of Bassel’s disappearance and immediately agreed.  My contribution to the open eBook The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry is called The Open World. Since then I have talked and blogged about Bassel at every opportunity, most recently at the OER17 Conference The Politics of Open and re:publica, in order to help raise awareness of his plight.

I never met Bassel, but his story touched me deeply.  Here was a man who lost his liberty, and we now know lost his life, for doing the very same job that I am doing now. This is why openness, open knowledge, open education, open advocacy matter.

I was on holiday in Brittany when I heard about Bassel’s death via Catherine Cronin on twitter and I was deeply, deeply saddened by the news.  I still am, and I’m still struggling to express this in words. At the moment, I’m not sure I can put it better than the words I used at the end of my OER17 lightning talk Shouting from the Heart.

The plight of Bassel Khartabil is a sobering reminder of the risks of openness, proof that open is always political, but it’s also shows why we need openness more than ever, because openness is inextricably bound up with freedom.  And in the words of another older declaration, the Declaration of Arbroath.

It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Resources

OER17 – It’s been emotional⤴

from

I got back from #OER17 late last night, I’m still slightly reeling, and not just from the conference cold I picked up. OER is my conference, I’ve been to every single one and they’ve all been special in their own way, but this one was…emotional.  (Sheila has already written a conference blog called My OER (open emotional response) to #oer17 so I’m obviously not the only one with feels.)

There are so many reasons why this year’s conference was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.  The theme,  The Politics of Open, couldn’t have been more timely; it provoked anger and disbelief, defiance and hope.  It was the most diverse, most international OER conference ever and it was a privilege to be part of such an inclusive group. It was really inspiring to hear about positive open education developments from countries including Canada, Germany, Morocco and Lebanon.  I got to catch up with some very dear friends who I haven’t seen for a long time (looking at you R. John Robertson), met others face to face for the first time (hey @Bali_Maha, @thatpsychprof, @fabionascimbeni), VConnected with others (*waves* at @NadinneAbo in Cairo) and met lots of new colleagues. And so many amazing women!  Never in my life have I been to a conference where all the keynotes and plenary panelists were women.  It’s hard to describe the buzz that I got from seeing this representation in such a public forum. Thank you Maha Bali, Diana Arce, Lucy Crompton-Reid, Muireann O’Keeffe, Catherine Cronin, and Laura Czerniewicz for your challenging, thought provoking, brave, funny and inspirational talks.  And thanks of course to the conference chairs Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski and the amazing ALT Team for making this happen.

I’ve made a storify of my personal highlights from the conference here: OER17 Personal Highlights, including my panels and presentations, trexit, shouting from the heart, wonderful women, wikimedians, shoetweets and…umm… goats.

There was another reason this was a bit of an emotional event for me. In addition to participating in Jim Luke’s #Trexit panel and presenting a UK open education policy update, I also presented a short personal polemic called Shouting from the Heart.  I’ve never given such a personal talk at a conference before and I confess I was nervous as hell.  I wrote most of the talk late on Tuesday evening, but I was struggling to find a quote to end the five minute piece with. It was during the #Trexit panel the following morning that someone, I can’t remember who, possibly Maha, Sheila, Helen Beetham or Audrey Watters, said something about openness and freedom which immediately brought to mind the famous quote from the Declaration of Arbroath.

It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Declaration of Arbroath is a declaration of Scottish independence, written in 1320.  Appropriate, given I was talking about writing in response to events such as the Scottish Independence referendum and Brexit, and also because I was highlighting the disappearance of detained Syrian open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil. When I came to it however, nerves and emotions got the better of me; I choked on freedom, and I couldn’t read the last words of the quote.  So please, read it now.

It might sound silly, but Shouting from the Heart is without doubt the most nerve wracking 5 minutes of public speaking I’ve experienced so I just wanted to say a huge thank you to everyone who responded so positively.

What was really astonishing though was that a few minutes after I finished speaking, Sheila retweeted this:

Yesterday, 6th April happened to be the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath. I had no idea!  Serendipity is an amazing thing….

Shouting from the Heart⤴

from

This is my blog.  It’s called Open World.  It’s powered by Reclaim Hosting and the title is inspired by Kenneth White, Scottish poet and Chair of 20th Century Poetics at Paris-Sorbonne.  Mostly I write about work, about conferences and meetings I’ve been to, presentations I’ve given, papers I’ve written.  Sometimes I write about my thoughts on other people’s writing.  Sometimes I write about the frustrations of being a woman working in technology.  Sometimes I write about events like Open Access Week,  Ada Lovelace Day, or International Women’s Day.  Mostly I write about Open Education.

Mostly I write because I want to; but sometimes I write because I have to.  Sometimes writing is a necessity, a catharthis, the only way to process experiences or events that are too overwhelming, too infuriating, too incomprehensible to mediate in any other way.  That’s when writing gets, personal and political, messy, emotional and confrontational.

I seem to be writing more and more of these personal blog posts recently; after the failed Scottish independence referendum (Hearing voices), after  Brexit (This time it’s different), after the US election (The wrong side of history).  It was Helen Beetham who called one of these posts a shout from the heart and I guess in a way they are.  There’s no denying that they’re a personal emotional response to events that seemed, that still seem, to be utterly incomprehensible to me.  There’s also quite a lot of swearing involved, but I’m not going to apologise for that.

So what has any of this got to do with open education?  I’ve always had a strong personal commitment to open education.  I believe passionately that as educators we have a responsibility to work together to improve opportunities for all, not just for a select few. I believe there is huge creative potential in openness and I believe we have a moral and ethical obligation to open access to publicly funded educational resources.

 “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.”

These words are from the Scottish Open Education Declaration.  I wrote them and you know what?  These aren’t hollow words, I actually believe them.  I actually have a genuine commitment to these words, and that’s why I find it increasingly difficult to disentangle my open education work from the personal and political.  And to be honest, I don’t really care because never has the feminist rallying call “The personal is political” rung more true than now.

I know I’m extremely fortunate to be in the position where I can write these personal political blog posts and express my opinions without fear of reprisal and I am aware that this is an incredibly privileged position to be in.   It’s very easy for some of us to take openness for granted but it’s important to remember that for many there’s is also a risk associated with openness, because openness, education, knowledge all seek to challenge structures of power and control. And in talking about risk, I don’t mean risk in the abstract sense.

“Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)” by Joi Ito – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482CC BY 2.0

Do any of you know who this man is? This is Bassel Khartabil a Syrian open source software developer, open knowledge advocate, Wikipedia editor and project lead for Creative Commons Syria.  Bassel is also a contributor to the New Palmyra project; a digital archaeology and open data project that aims to create a virtual reconstruction of the ancient city of Palmyra, much of which has been destroyed by ISIL during the Syrian civil war. Bassel was detained by the Syrian government in 2012 and held in Adra Prison in Damacus for 3 years. In October 2015 his name was removed from the Adra prison register and despite calls from numerous human rights organisations, his whereabouts are unknown.  In order to raise awareness of Bassel’s disappearance a group of open practitioners came together to write the open e-book The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry.  My contribution to the book was a short piece called The Open World which touches on the personal risks, costs and benefits of openness, much like this talk today.   The plight of Bassel Khartabil is a sobering reminder of the risks of openness, proof that open is always political, but it’s also shows why we need openness more than ever, because openness is inextricably bound up with freedom.  And in the words of another older declaration, the Declaration of Arbroath.

It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Why does open matter?⤴

from @ Open World

Defining ‘open’ in the context of education.

This piece was originally posted as a feature on the University of Edinburgh’s Teaching Matters site.

Open education has been my passion for a number of years now so when I was invited to write a short piece on why open matters for Teaching Matters I was happy to oblige.

Before trying to explore this question, let me explain what I mean by open education.  Open education is a broad catch-all term that includes open education resources (OERs), massive open online courses (MOOCs), open education practice, open assessment practices (e.g. Open Badges), and other approaches.

In the context of education it can be difficult to pin a single definition on the word “open”.  The open in open educational resources, is different to the open in massive open online courses.

Open educational resources are digital resources used for teaching and learning (e.g. course material, images, multimedia resources) that have been released under an open licence (e.g. Creative Commons) so they can be reused and repurposed by others.  The ability to change and adapt resources is an important aspect of the openness in OER.

MOOCs on the other hand may be free for anyone to join, but frequently the content cannot be accessed or reused outside the course. This sometimes leads to accusations of so-called “open washing”; claiming something is open when really it isn’t.

But why does “open” actually matter in education?  This question is addressed by the Scottish Open Education Declaration produced by Open Scotland, a voluntary cross sector initiative supported by the University of Edinburgh as part of their wider commitment to open education and OER.  Open education in general and OER in particular are part of a worldwide movement to promote and support sustainable educational development. Open education can expand access to education, widen participation, create new opportunities for the next generation and prepare them to become fully engaged digital citizens.

There is also a sound economic case for open education. Releasing publicly funded educational resources under open licences represents a return on investment on public spending. Institutions are already being mandated to publish publicly funded research outputs under open access agreements; surely there is a strong moral argument that publicly funded educational resources should be published under open licences?

I recently had an opportunity to write a more personal reflection on why I believe open matters in a contribution to the open book Cost of Freedom which aims to raise awareness of the disappearance of detained Syrian internet volunteer and open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil.

I believe there is huge creative potential in openness and I believe we have a moral and ethical responsibility to open access to publicly funded educational resources. Yes, there are costs, but they are far outweighed by the benefits of open.

Open education practice and open educational resources have the potential to expand access to education while at the same time supporting social inclusion and creating a culture of collaboration and sharing. There are other more intangible, though no less important, benefits of open. Focusing on simple cost-benefit analysis models neglects the creative, fun and serendipitous aspects of openness and, ultimately, this is what keeps us learning.

teaching matters


Why does open matter?⤴

from

Defining ‘open’ in the context of education.

This piece was originally posted as a feature on the University of Edinburgh’s Teaching Matters site.

Open education has been my passion for a number of years now so when I was invited to write a short piece on why open matters for Teaching Matters I was happy to oblige.

Before trying to explore this question, let me explain what I mean by open education.  Open education is a broad catch-all term that includes open education resources (OERs), massive open online courses (MOOCs), open education practice, open assessment practices (e.g. Open Badges), and other approaches.

In the context of education it can be difficult to pin a single definition on the word “open”.  The open in open educational resources, is different to the open in massive open online courses.

Open educational resources are digital resources used for teaching and learning (e.g. course material, images, multimedia resources) that have been released under an open licence (e.g. Creative Commons) so they can be reused and repurposed by others.  The ability to change and adapt resources is an important aspect of the openness in OER.

MOOCs on the other hand may be free for anyone to join, but frequently the content cannot be accessed or reused outside the course. This sometimes leads to accusations of so-called “open washing”; claiming something is open when really it isn’t.

But why does “open” actually matter in education?  This question is addressed by the Scottish Open Education Declaration produced by Open Scotland, a voluntary cross sector initiative supported by the University of Edinburgh as part of their wider commitment to open education and OER.  Open education in general and OER in particular are part of a worldwide movement to promote and support sustainable educational development. Open education can expand access to education, widen participation, create new opportunities for the next generation and prepare them to become fully engaged digital citizens.

There is also a sound economic case for open education. Releasing publicly funded educational resources under open licences represents a return on investment on public spending. Institutions are already being mandated to publish publicly funded research outputs under open access agreements; surely there is a strong moral argument that publicly funded educational resources should be published under open licences?

I recently had an opportunity to write a more personal reflection on why I believe open matters in a contribution to the open book Cost of Freedom which aims to raise awareness of the disappearance of detained Syrian internet volunteer and open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil.

I believe there is huge creative potential in openness and I believe we have a moral and ethical responsibility to open access to publicly funded educational resources. Yes, there are costs, but they are far outweighed by the benefits of open.

Open education practice and open educational resources have the potential to expand access to education while at the same time supporting social inclusion and creating a culture of collaboration and sharing. There are other more intangible, though no less important, benefits of open. Focusing on simple cost-benefit analysis models neglects the creative, fun and serendipitous aspects of openness and, ultimately, this is what keeps us learning.

teaching matters

The Cost of Freedom – The Open World⤴

from @ Open World

Based on an original painting by Omar Ibrahim, designed by Julien Taquet.

Based on an original painting by Omar Ibrahim, designed by Julien Taquet.

Towards the end of last year, following an invitation from Adam Hyde of booksprints.net, I wrote a contribution for a free and open online book called The Cost of Freedom.  The book is dedicated to Syrian internet volunteer and open knowledge advocate Bassel Khartabil, باسل خرطبيل, who has been detained in Syria since March 2012. On the 3rd October 2015 Bassel’s name was deleted from the Adra Prison’s register where he was detained and no further information has been obtained about his whereabouts.

The Cost of Freedom is not a statement about freedom and culture — it is a primal scream — the sum of our questions and desires. It is the raw expression of our lives. It talks about what is ultimately made through the dream of free culture: us.

~ The Cost of Freedom

The book was written in Pourrières in France during a five day book sprint in early November 2015, with additional contributions being submitted by writers from all over the world. Here’s my contribution, a personal reflection on what openness means to me.

"Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)" by Joi Ito - http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482CC BY 2.0

“Bassel Khartabil (Safadi)” by Joi Ito – http://www.flickr.com/photos/joi/4670781482 CC BY 2.0

The Open World

In Open is not a License Adam Hyde has described openness as

‘a set of values by which you live…a way of life, or perhaps a way of growing, an often painful path where we challenge our own value system against itself.’

To my mind, openness is also contradictory. I don’t mean contradictory in terms of the polar dichotomy of open vs. closed, or the endless debates that seek to define the semantics of open. I mean contradictory on a more personal level; openness raises contradictions within ourselves. Openness can lead us to question our position in the world; our position in relation to real and perceived boundaries imposed from without and carefully constructed from within.

In one way or another I have worked in the open education space for a decade now. I have contributed to open standards, created open educational resources, developed open policy, written open books, participated in open knowledge initiatives, facilitated open events, I endeavour to be an ‘open practitioner’, I run a blog called Open World. However, I am not by nature a very open person; my inclination is always to remain closed. I have had to learn openness and I’m not sure I’m very good at it yet. It’s a continual learning experience. Openness is a process that requires practice and perseverance. (Though sometimes circumstances leave us with little choice, sometimes it’s open or nothing.)

And of course, there is a cost; openness requires a little courage. When we step, or are pushed, outside our boundaries and institutions, it’s easy to feel disoriented and insecure. The open world can be a challenging and unsettling place and it’s easy to understand the impulse to withdraw, to seek the security of the familiar.

When large scale open education funding programmes first started to appear, (what an impossible luxury that seems like now), they were met with more than a little scepticism. When a major OER funding initiative was launched in the UK in 2009 (UKOER), the initial response was incredulity (OER Programme Myths). Surely projects weren’t expected to share their resource with everyone? Surely UK Higher Education resources should only be shared with other UK Higher Education institutions? It took patience and persistence to convince colleagues that yes, open really did mean open, open for everyone everywhere, not just open for a select few. One perceptive colleague at the time described this attitude as ‘the agoraphobia of openness’(1).

Although open licences and open educational resources are more familiar concepts now, there is still a degree of reticence. An undercurrent of anxiety persists that discourages us from sharing our educational resources, and reusing resources shared by others. There is a fear that by opening up our resources and our practice, we will also open ourselves up to criticism, that we will be judged and found wanting. Imposter syndrome is a real thing; even experienced teachers may fail to recognise their own work as being genuinely innovative and creative. At the same time, openness can invoke a fear of loss; loss of control, loss of agency, and in some cases even loss of livelihood. Viewed through this lens, the distinction between openness and exposure blurs.

But despite these costs and contradictions, I do believe there is inherently personal and public value in openness. I believe there is huge creative potential in openness and I believe we have a moral and ethical responsibility to open access to publicly funded educational resources. Yes, there are costs, but they are far outweighed by the benefits of open. Open education practice and open educational resources have the potential to expand access to education, widen participation, and create new opportunities while at the same time supporting social inclusion, and creating a culture of collaboration and sharing. There are other more intangible, though no less important, benefits of open. Focusing on simple cost-benefit analysis models neglects the creative, fun and serendipitous aspects of openness and, ultimately, this is what keeps us learning.

In the domain of knowledge representation, the Open World Assumption ‘codifies the informal notion that in general no single agent or observer has complete knowledge’. It’s a useful assumption to bear in mind; our knowledge will never be complete, what better motivation to keep learning? But the Open World of my blog title doesn’t come from the domain of knowledge representation; it comes from the Scottish poet Kenneth White (2), Chair of 20th Century Poetics at Paris-Sorbonne, 1983-1996, and a writer for whom openness is an enduring and inspiring theme. White is also the founder of the International Institute of Geopoetics, which is ‘concerned, fundamentally, with a relationship to the earth and with the opening of a world’ (3). In the words of White:

no art can touch it; the mind can only

try to become attuned to it

to become quiet, and space itself out, to

become open and still, unworlded (4)

disquiet ambient/electronica have recorded a number of the contributions to the book, including mine, which you can listen to here.

References

  1. I cannot remember who said this, but the comment has always stayed with me.
  2. White, K., (2003), Open World. The Collected Poems, 1960 – 2000, Polygon.
  3. White, K., (2004), Geopoetics: place, culture, world, Alba.
  4. White, K., (2004), ‘A High Blue Day on Scalpay’ in Open World. The Collected Poems, 1960 – 2000, Polygon.

Links