Tag Archives: oer20

Sharing the Labour of Care⤴

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This article was originally posted on WonkHE under the title We need to recognise where the burden of care falls in higher education.


Most of us work in higher education because we care; we care about our students, our colleagues, our subject specialisms, we care about learning, and we care about sharing knowledge.  Many of us even care about our institutions, even if that care is increasingly unreciprocated.  Our profession is distinguished by emotional commitment, compassion, and a strong ethic of care, but this burden of care is unevenly distributed across the academy.  This critical and largely invisible labour routinely falls to those who are already marginalised in the system; women, people of colour, early career researchers, those employed on precarious and part time contracts, those on lower pay grades.  Caring has always been regarded as women’s work, and as a result, the labour of caring is habitually devalued and taken for granted.  There is an assumption that caring is low skilled work, that anyone can do it, but of course that is far from true.  Despite the toll taken by the exploitation of this invisible labour, we all continue to do our best, to go the extra mile, to pick up the pieces for our students and our colleagues, which inevitably leads to stress, anxiety and burnout. In a timely twitter thread about the current round of UCU strikes, Máiréad Enright pointed out that

“There is emotional labour involved in knowing and being reminded that others will have to face the everyday crisis, because you aren’t there. It’s important that we recognise that this emotional labour is part of what’s distinctive about the neoliberal university. We govern ourselves and each other through emotion. Disunity, competition and compulsory individualism in the university ensure that.”

The reason many of us are striking, to protest universities’ failure to protect our pensions, and adequately address the gender pay gap, unrealistic workloads, and increasing casualisation, is not because we don’t care about our students and those who rely on our emotional labour, it’s because we care too much. And I am fully aware of the irony that I am writing this article while allegedly on strike. Withdrawing our emotional labour is a hard thing to do.

As with many other aspects of our employment and our practice, much of this burden of emotional labour has become mediated through and exacerbated by technology.  Whether it’s spending weekends answering e-mails from distraught students, peer reviewing journal papers and conference submissions, writing blog posts, taking part in twitter conversations, contributing to hashtags, writing Wikipedia articles, or keeping up with social media.  In a provocation recorded as part of Open Education Week, Leo Havemann argues that there is a lack of appreciation for the kind of labour and expertise involved in digital practice.  All too often digital labour is unrecognised and unrewarded invisible labour.  Of course there is a gendered aspect to digital labour in higher education too, which is largely unacknowledged and under researched. A notable exception is research undertaken by the Association for Learning Technology to analyse the results of their sector wide ALT Annual Survey through the lense of gender.  ALT’s research has provided some evidence of different priorities for men and women particularly with regard to dedicated time and recognition for career development.

While much of our invisible labour may be undervalued by our institutions, grass roots initiatives have sprung up to acknowledge, celebrate and support the contribution our digital and emotional labour makes to education.  One such initiative is femedtech, a reflexive emergent network of people learning, researching and practising in educational technology. The femedtech network is informal, unfunded, and cross sector and our resources are our passion, kindness, knowledge, enthusiasm and volunteer commitment. Our name, femedtech (feminist education technology), aligns us with a critical perspective on education and technology. We are alive to the specific ways that technology and education are gendered, and to how injustices and inequalities play out in these spaces.

Despite the burden of care that we carry, there is strength and solidarity to be gained from shared labour and a sense of community and belonging that traditionally derives from women’s work.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in the femedtech Quilt for Care and Justice in Open Education project.  Created by Frances Bell in collaboration with members of the femedtech network, this craft activism project takes its inspiration from the themes of the 2020 OER Conference; The Care in Openness.  Women and men, from all over world have contributed quilt squares representing personal reflections on care, openness and social justice. You can find out more about the femedtech quilt project here https://quilt.femedtech.net/

#femedtch quilt, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

References

Association for Learning Technology, https://www.alt.ac.uk/

Enright, M., (2020), #UCUstrikes twitter thread, https://twitter.com/maireadenright/status/1234456632681168896?s=20

Femedtech, http://femedtech.net/

Femedtech Quilt for Care and Justice in Open Education, https://quilt.femedtech.net/

Havemann, L., (2020), The need for supportive policy environments, https://flipgrid.com/f61bc14c

Hawksey, M., (2019), #ThinkUHI #BalanceforBetter look at enablers/drivers for the use of Learning Technology (#femedtech), https://mashe.hawksey.info/2019/03/balanceforbetter-look-at-enablers-drivers-for-the-use-of-learning-technology-femedtech/

OER20 Conference: The Care in Openness, https://oer20.oerconf.org/

University and College Union HE Action, https://www.ucu.org.uk/heaction

Threads that connect us⤴

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At the end of last week I sent off my contributions for the #femedtechquilt project, and I’m not going to lie, it was hard to part with them.  As soon as Frances Bell raised the idea for this amazing project I knew that I wanted to make something out of Harris Tweed, a protected, handmade fabric that is only made in the Outer Hebrides where I’m from, and which is woven into the identity of both the islands and the islanders.  I decided to try and make a representation of the header image of this blog, not only because Open World is where I share my open practice, but also because that header image is my own picture of one of my favourite places in the whole world, Traigh na Berie beach in Uig, on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis.  I’ve visited this beach almost every year of my life since I was a small child, I did my higher geography project on the flora of the beach, my Masters dissertation was on the anthropomorphic landforms of the surrounding area, I worked on archaeological excavations there, and I use another picture of the beach as my twitter header.  I’ve also returned there frequently with my own daughter.  It’s a place that I have a deep attachment to, which has always inspired me, and still does.

I already had some beautiful left-over tweed from a length I bought to make curtains for our VW camper van, and I bought a bundle of off-cuts when I was home in Stornoway in the summer.  It wasn’t difficult to make a rough representation of the beach, as the colours of the tweed naturally echo the colours of the Hebridean landscape.  Sewing it was more of a challenge.  My mother taught me to sew when I was a kid, but it’s not something I do regularly, other than altering clothes.  In order to sew my square, I had to get my mother’s sewing machine, which I inherited when she passed away a few years ago, repaired and reconditioned.  Using it seemed fitting, as she was a talented seamstress who used that machine to make beautiful tweed coats and jackets for my sister and I when we were young.  I was really pleased with the way the square turned out, it looked much better than I could have hoped.  One thing that really surprised me when I was making the square was just how evocative the smell of pressed tweed is. It immediately took me right back to the islands and my childhood. For me, this square represents hope, inspiration, and the unbreakable threads that connect us to the people and places we hold dear.

[See image gallery at lornamcampbell.org] My other square was much more low effort, but it still has meaning to me. It’s a tracing of the Open Scotland logo drawn in fabric pen on cotton cut from one of my daughter’s old school shirts, and it represents the hope that one day all publicly funded educational resources in Scotland will be freely and openly available to all.   Open Scotland was an initiative that I founded, along with Joe Wilson, Sheila MacNeil, Phil Barker and others, back in 2013 and I’ve poured a lot of time energy and commitment into it, so I wanted to commemorate it in the quilt.  I also love the idea that my daughter has made a small contribution to the quilt too.

[See image gallery at lornamcampbell.org]

Open Ed: Reflecting on context, centrality and diversity⤴

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This week, like many colleagues in the open education community I’ve been following the Open Education Conference. I’m not actually at the conference, in fact in all my years working in open education I’ve never been to Open Ed, but I’ve been following it on twitter, and as always, it’s been a thought provoking experience. This year more so than most. There are a number of reasons why I’ve never attended Open Ed, primarily related to cost and childcare, also I’ve always thought of Open Ed as primarily a North American conference and I’m aware that the North American open education community is focused on quite different aspects of open education than the ones I primarily identify with. That’s to be expected of course, different countries with different education systems, economic conditions, political contexts and social issues will necessarily have very different concerns and priorities when it comes to open education

This tweet from Marisa Petrisch served to highlight just how radically different the US context is to my experience of working as an open education practitioner in Scotland. 

There is so much going on in this one tweet that I can barely get my head around; not least of which is why do people have to pay astronomical costs for life saving medication in the first place?? Though as my colleague Phil Barker commented, this may be an American thing but it’s a reality we may all be waking up to in the UK soon. (And that’s another thing I can’t get my head around.)

Of course to say that I don’t identify with any of the issues that are being aired at Open Ed is a sweeping generalization and one that does a terrible disservice to the broad range of diverse sessions that have featured at the conference this year. Highlighting Women of Color Experiences in Leading OER Projects by Regina Gong, Cynthia Orozco and Ariana Santiago, and Leveraging OER for LGBTQ-Inclusive Teacher Professional Learning by Sabia Prescott immediately spring to mind for example.

This important diversity has been somewhat overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the pulled keynote panel, (I’m not going to go into this, as I’m not sure there’s anything I could add that hasn’t already been said) and David Wiley’s announcement that he would be adjourning and stepping back from the conference so that the community can take ownership of the space and reimagine what kind of event they want going forward. Judging by the reaction on the conference hashtag, this announcement appears to have been met with surprise and respect, and though it’s hard to judge from a distance, my impression is that most people seem to regard this as a positive move.   However I caught one conversation on twitter last night between George Siemens and Tannis Morgan that stopped me in my tracks.

It does seem a little presumptuous to regard one community of people in the US as “the central node globally”.  By its nature, open education is necessarily diverse and fragmentary, because as Catherine Cronin and others have repeatedly reminded us, open education is highly contextual. Indeed Maha Bali wrote a much discussed blog post earlier this week about the necessity of contextualising openness. This discussion about the global context and centrality of different open education communities is all the more interesting as it was pre-empted by this year’s OER19 Conference, chaired by Catherine and Laura Czerniewicz. The theme of OER19 was Recentering Open: Critical and Global Perspectives and one of the aims of the conference was to move beyond hero narratives to including marginalised voices.

With the Open Ed conference reaching a turning point, it’s interesting to reflect on how the OER conference has evolved over on the other side of the pond. When it launched in 2010, the conference was closely associated with the UKOER programme, and as a result it primarily focused on open education projects in Higher Education institutions in England. When that programme came to an end in 2012, many people predicted the demise of the conference, however it continued to grow and thrive along with a growing and increasingly diverse open education community. OER has never positioned itself as a “global” conference, however since it was adopted by ALT in 2015 it has made a conscious effort to be as diverse, inclusive and accessible as possible. This is reflected not just in the diversity of the chairs, themes, and keynotes, but also in the wide range of channels that the conference supports to enable open and remote participation. While the OER conference would not exist in its current form without the generous support of ALT, ALT doesn’t own the OER conference, it facilitates it on behalf of the open community. Anyone can apply to chair the conference and the conference committee is open to all. The role of the chairs is to set the conference theme and select the keynotes, but the shape of the conference and the selection of the papers and sessions is a task undertaken by the whole committee. Like any event, the OER Conference has not been without its own controversies over the years, but the conference’s openness and diversity is, I believe, its strength.

I don’t know what, if anything the Open Ed community can learn from the experiences of the OER Conference, and other open education conferences and communities around the world, but I hope they are able to use this opportunity to re-envision their space in such a way that it meets the unique needs of their own social, political and educational contexts, while at the same time being  inclusive, collaborative and accessible, and cognisant of the diversity of the broader global open education community.