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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.

FLOSSUK Keynote: Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape⤴

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Hot on the heels of OER 18, I’m now preparing for a second keynote which I’ll be presenting at the FLOSSUK Spring Conference in Edinburgh this Friday.  The title of the keynote is Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape and here’s an overview.

Through a culture of collaboration and sharing, Open Knowledge has the potential to expand inclusive and equitable access to education and lifelong learning, promoting technology transfer and innovation, enhancing quality and sustainability, while supporting social inclusion and preparing the public to become fully engaged digital citizens.

This talk will give a broad overview of the different domains, communities and cultures that make up the “Open Knowledge Landscape”, including open education, OER, open courseware, open textbooks, MOOCs, open data, open science, open access scholarly works, maker spaces, open GLAM, open government, etc, and how they relate to free and libre open source systems.

We have seen significant progress in many of these areas in recent years, yet there has been a tendency for many of these domains to progress in parallel, in bounded spaces, with little sign of convergence. So while Open Access mandates have had a positive impact on opening access to scholarly works and research data, open government initiatives have successfully started to open up civic data and information, and open science networks and infrastructure are flourishing, too often these initiatives fail to connect with other open communities and as a result we are in danger of creating “open silos”. There may be no one simple solution to breaking down the barriers between these “open silos” but exploring the converging and competing cultures and communities of the Open Knowledge landscape is a positive step forward to achieving a more open, inclusive and equitable society.

Free, libre and open source software communities are a particularly male dominated corner of the Open Knowledge landscape, a recent survey by Github of 5,500 random contributors revealed that 95% were men, just 3% were women and 1% were non-binary.  As might be expected, the conference programme reflects the make up of its community, with only 3 female speakers among 19 men.  This has given me much pause for thought, as normally I would politely decline to participate in an all male panel, never mind an all male conference.  However the organisers of the event are sensitive to this lack of diversity and it was for this reason that they contacted me and invited me to keynote. It’s not always easy to take positive action to address diversity and inclusion, so I think it’s important to acknowledge and support those who make the effort.   I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being a little apprehensive about the keynote, particularly as I’ll be touching on the issue of systemic bias and structural inequality in open communities, but at the same time I’m looking forward to talking to a new group of open practitioners.  Wish me luck!

The Long View: Changing Perspectives on OER⤴

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Transcript and slides from my keynote at the OER18 Open For All Conference in Bristol.

Being invited to keynote is always a privilege, and I’m particularly honoured to have been invited to present the opening keynote at this year’s OER18 Conference here in Bristol. Not least because I’m following in the footsteps of the three inspirational women who presented last year’s keynotes; Diana Arce, Maha Bali and Lucy Compton-Reid, but also because it’s a real privilege to be here talking, and more importantly, listening to you. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s the people at this conference, people like you, who have shaped my thinking on OER and my career as an open education practitioner more than any other. You see, OER is my conference, I’ve attended every single one since the conference launched at the University of Cambridge in 2010, and in 2016 I had the huge pleasure of chairing the OER Open Culture conference at the University of Edinburgh with my inspiring colleague Melissa Highton.

Over the years I’ve seen this conference grow in scale and scope, I’ve seen themes and trends around open education change and evolve, and I’ve watched with real pleasure as the conference has become more diverse, inclusive, and international. The OER conference really is increasingly open for all.

One of the things that I’ve always loved about open education, and indeed about learning technology more generally, is that we have all arrived here by very different, often circuitous, and sometimes surprising routes. We all came from somewhere else and we all bring something different to the domain of open education in terms of experience, practice and perspective.

I started out not in education or technology, but in archaeology.  I studied Archaeology at the University of Glasgow and after graduating, I worked as a professional archaeologist for five years before deciding it was time for a career change. After a brief foray into the commercial sector, where I worked for the first commercial multimedia company in Scotland,  I came back into Higher Education in 1997 to work on one of the early learning technology projects funded by the Scottish Funding Council’s innovative Use of the MANs Initiative. I’ve worked in the education technology ever since, but I still have an active interest in historical research, particularly naval history, the history of gender and sexuality, and sometimes all three together!

So, in keeping with my historical interests, I want to look back and re-examine how the OER Conference has explored and renegotiate what “OER” means,  and how the changing themes and fluctuating interpretations of OER have influenced and reflected my own development and perspective as an open education practitioner over the last decade. And by meaning, I’m not talking about defining the specific attributes and semantics of what does or does not constitutes an Open Educational Resource, I’m talking about critically reflecting on what openness means in relation to education at different points in time and from different perspectives, because as Catherine Cronin reminds us in her thought provoking 2017 paper Open Education, Open Questions, “openness is a constantly negotiated space”. Open education looks very different to each and every one of us, and our perspective will depend entirely on where we are standing and the privilege of our vantage point. And of course it is inevitable that our perspective will change as our roles and careers change and develop over time. I’m sure this is something you’re all familiar with and I am certainly no exception to that rule.

In my current role I have the privilege to work with an incredible team of people at the OER Service at the University of Edinburgh, an institution with a strong commitment to openness and a vision for OER. This commitment is squarely aligned to the University’s mission to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, and to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health, economic and cultural wellbeing. And later in this talk I’ll be highlighting some of the ways that the university encourages learners to engage with and co-create open education through a wide range of initiatives including internships, playful learning activities, Wikipedia in the classroom assignments, and outreach and engagement courses.

But first I’d like to turn the clock back to 2010  when the conference first launched, UK Higher Education was just starting to explore OER and I was approaching open education from a rather different perspective. In 2010 the JISC / HEA Pilot Programme, which was the precursor to the UKOER Programme, was just concluding and the first OER keynotes were presented by my former University of Strathclyde colleague Allison Littlejohn and JISC’s Executive Secretary Malcolm Read. The themes of the conference were open educational content, OER design, and open education communities and it’s notable that the focus of the first two strands was very much on technology approaches to OER. Specifically how different tools, technologies, platforms, standards and folksonomies (remember them?!) could be harnessed to manage, discover and retrieve Open Educational Resources and interoperable capital L capital D Learning Designs. The third strand, open education communities, explored the “huge opportunities” Web 2.0 social networking offered, asking if we could carry informal social networking practices into professional communities. Interestingly, this strand also asked how we could balance the conflicting demands of quality and inclusivity, (personally I don’t think there is a conflict there), and what the role of learners is in these communities, a theme that is very much in keeping with this years conference.

At this time, I was working for the JISC Innovation Support Centre CETIS, the Centre for Education Technology, Interoperability and Standards, where I led the team that provided strategic and technical support for the UKOER Programme, and it’s great to see several of my old Cetis colleagues in the audience today. Our focus then was on how we could harness lightweight web technologies and new Web 2.0 platforms to create a sustainable OER infrastructure without relying too heavily on the monolithic systems and formal education technology standards mandated by previous Jisc programmes. The technology strategy we proposed for the UKOER programme was something of a departure for Jisc, and although it was more successful in some areas than others, these approaches have been broadly vindicated. One of the cornerstones of this strategy was that projects could share their resources on any platform they chose as long as they could be shared under open licence, and they were also made available through the Jorum national repository. And it’s interesting to note that there are still many UKOER resources scattered across the web on platforms such as Flickr, Slideshare, Youtube and OER Commons.  Alas the same can not be said for the national repository which was shut down by Jisc several years ago. The lightweight tagging system recommended for resource description is also now commonplace.  It’s still possible to find resources on the web using the UKOER hashtag and for a number of years after the programme ended there was still an active community using this tag to share resources and practice. We’ve been less successful in creating tools and technologies for aggregating resources, the Solvonauts OER search engine developed by Pat Lockley is an admirable exception, and Creative Commons are doing great work here too, but I think we still have some way to go before seamless discovery of OER becomes simple and ubiquitous. However we’ve also seen our understanding of OER expand to include applications, tools, technologies and indeed the web itself. An approach exemplified by initiatives such as Jim Groom and Tim Owen’s Reclaim Hosting, which provides educators and learners with a simple way to own and control their own web domains.

In the very first OER Conference keynote, Malcolm Read highlighted one of the aims of the UKOER Programme as being to build sustainable practice and it’s one of my frustrations that because the end of the Programme coincided roughly with the Jisc transition, there has never been an evaluation of the long term impact of the programme on the sector.

Fast forward two years to 2012, the OER Conference was again hosted in Cambridge, though it had been to Manchester in the interim, the theme was Openly Collaborating to Enhance Education, and while technology was still there in the mix, the focus was starting to shift to open academic practice and institutional and government policies. I vividly remember sitting in the audience with my colleague Joe Wilson, then Head of New Ventures at the Scottish Qualifications Agency, and listened to Sir John Daniel, present a keynote about the UNESCO / COL initiative Fostering Governmental Support for OER Internationally, one of the outputs of which was the influential Paris OER Declaration. In a rather roundabout way, that keynote and the subsequent Declaration inspired us to launch Open Scotland,  a voluntary cross sector initiative that aims to raise awareness of open education, encourage the sharing of open educational resources, and explore the potential of open policy and practice to benefit all sectors of Scottish education. Open Scotland has been supported by a number of organisations over the years, most recently ALT Scotland and the University of Edinburgh. And it was through Open Scotland that we came together with colleagues to draft the Scottish Open Education Declaration a community drafted policy statement, based on the Paris OER Declaration . I’m not going to say too much about about Open Scotland at at the moment, though I’m very happy to talk about this later if you have questions, however it was through this initiative that I started to re-frame my perspective on OER and open education in terms of personal ethics and the wider policy landscape.

2012 was also the year that the UKOER Programme came to an end and the education technology sector in the UK was facing an unprecedented and prolonged period of change and restructuring. Many people predicted the demise of the OER Conference at that time, particularly when open education discourse was increasingly becoming dominated by  commercial MOOC providers and their promise to disrupt! education. Such was the hype around MOOCs, that for a time it appeared open educational resources would fade into obscurity. The shift in discourse from OER to MOOCs was so marked that I remember Amber Thomas, previously of Jisc and now of the University of Warwick, remarking in 2013 that it was as if MOOCs had stolen OER’s girlfriend. For what it’s worth, I still think the relationship between MOOCs and OER is deeply problematic. While instigating swingeing cuts to faculty, teaching support and pensions across the sector, Higher Education has invested astonishing sums of money in the development of MOOCs, yet the vast majority of the resources produced remain locked up on proprietary platforms. We really ought to do something about that.

However, far from being swept side by the avalanche, the OER conference continued to thrive. and to push the boundaries of open education to incorporate open pedagogy, policy, research and practice and when ALT stepped up to support the event in 2015, its future was assured.

And I want to pause for a minute here and just acknowledge the importance of the role that ALT has played in supporting the OER conferences as I believe it’s largely through their support that the conference has grown to become the diverse and inclusive international event it is today.

The Conference has continued to explore and re-assess the domain of open education and what OER means in the context of the ever changing educational landscape.  Indeed at OER14 co-chairs Simon Thomson and Megan Quentin-Baxter suggested that the conference had moved beyond “resources” and asked delegates to suggest alternatives for what the R in OER might stand for. Suggestions included Open Education Re-Imagined, Openness Education Reflection, Open Educative Relationships and, perhaps preempting the themes of OER17 The Politics of Open, Open Education Rebellion and Revolution.

While it is crucial that we continue to critically negotiate and reassess openness and OER, it is also important that we don’t lose sight of the fundamentals of open education.  And I would argue strongly that one of those fundamentals is that publicly funded educational resources should be freely and openly available to the public. And if you take away one message from this talk, this would be it. As open education discourse has shifted to focus on open policy and practice one might be forgiven for thinking that, OER, open educational resources are done and dusted, but that is very far from the case. We have a long way to go before we can claim that our publicly funded educational resources are freely and openly available to all. And while I welcome the expanding focus of open education discourse, it does sometimes frustrate me that open education practice and open pedagogy are sometimes held up in opposition to OER, while in truth they are all part of the wider open education landscape. It is true that resources alone can not transform education, only practice can do that, only we can do that, but that doesn’t mean that there is no role for OER, and it doesn’t mean that we can sidestep our responsibility to ensure that our educational resources are freely available under open licence. I see this is a personal ethical responsibility, but it is also a responsibility that institutions and government agencies must shoulder. Far too few of our publicly funded teaching and learning resources produced across all sectors of education are released under open licences. We really need to change that, we need to take action, because if we can’t change that, then who can?

This is one of the challenges that last year’s UNESCO OER World Congress in Ljubljana sought to address. The theme of the Congress was “OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education: From Commitment to Action” and there was a strong focus on how OER can help to support United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4.

“Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”

The main output of the Congress was the UNESCO Ljubljana OER Action Plan and central to this action plan is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in supporting quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory. The Action Plan outlines 41 recommended actions to mainstream OER and to help Member States to build knowledge societies and provide quality, lifelong education.

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.”

These are laudable goals and the OER Action Plan does help to articulate what my colleague Melissa Highton has referred to as  the value proposition for OER. We need to be clear about what problems OER and open education solve, what specific benefits they deliver.

It is notable that the individuals, institutions and organisations that have really committed to opening access to their resources are those for whom the value proposition for OER aligns with their personal ethics, institutional vision, organisational mission or business model.

Whether it’s  the Rijksmuseum whose vision is to link individuals with art and history.  Wellcome which exists to improve health for everyone by helping great ideas to thrive.  The National Library of Scotland which aims to make a significant and lasting contribution to global knowledge and the memory of the world.  The University of Edinburgh whose mission is the creation, dissemination and curation of knowledge. Open textbooks initiatives which are founded on the belief that textbook costs should not be a barrier to education. The Wikimedia Foundation which imagines a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. And of course, the organisation which has made this conference possible, ALT, whose core values are participation, collaboration, membership, independence and openness.

These are all institutions and organisations that have placed openness at the heart of their business and have made a commitment to opening up access to their resources because the value propositions for OER align with their strategic missions. And I believe this is where policy can play an important role; by clearly articulating the benefits and value propositions of open education and OER, and being explicit about how these align to the mission and vision of the institution.

Of course it’s important to recognise that the value proposition for OER will differ from place to place and will depend very much on organisations and institutions strategic drivers and priorities.

In the US where OER increasingly equates to open textbooks, it makes sense for states and school districts to adopt OER in this form because open textbooks offer huge cost savings to students. In the UK, the value proposition is rather different.  For example OER aligns with the University of Edinburgh’s strategic mission not only because it has the potential to offer costs benefits by ensuring that we continue to have longevity of access the the resources we invest in, but also because it is an effective way to contribute to the the University’s civic mission to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world. And I want to come back and say a little more about this in a minute.

The important thing to remember is that there is no one size fits all, there will always be multiple drivers and priorities for investing in OER and there will always be a wide range of perspectives. This is one reason why it’s important when we talk about open education and OER, that these discussion are inclusive and accommodate multiple, diverse voices and viewpoints. And I’ve been encouraged over the years to see the very real and tangible efforts that the OER Conference has made to ensure that it is welcoming, accessible, inclusive and diverse. From it’s initial UK focus, the OER Conference has become increasingly international and has gone to significant lengths to ensure that it really is open and accessible to as diverse a community as possible. ALT is to be applauded for its commitment to providing a wide range of channels and opportunities to enable colleagues to participate in the conference virtually and remotely, and the event has not shied away from asking difficult questions about who is included and excluded from open spaces and conceptualisations of openness. And this is important, because those of us who are privileged enough to participate in this wonderful open community, need to remind ourselves that while openness may be a personal ethical choice for some of us, or a sound business investment for our institutions, for those that are oppressed, excluded, or marginalised, openness may be an unattainable privilege, or even a threat. And this is a point that Chris Bourg stressed in their keynote at the Creative Commons summit in Toronto last week.

“We have to prioritize voices from marginalized communities. We have to pay attention to and address how open systems can replicate inequities.”

One perspective that has sometimes been missing from open education discourse is the voice of the learner. That is not to say that the Conference has not made an effort to ensure that the student voice is included and represented. Two officers of the National Union of Students have presented keynotes; Toni Pearce (standing in for Rachel Wenstone) at OER13 and Wendy Carr at OER14. And I’m particularly encouraged to see that this year’s conference is squarely addressing learner inclusion by focussing on how open education and open practice can support learners, foster learner diversity and inclusion, and help students develop important digital literacy skills.

At the University of Edinburgh, students have always played a key role in shaping the institution’s vision of openness. Together with senior colleagues within Information Services, it was the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) that provided the initial impetus for the development of an OER policy at the university, and in 2014 EUSA’s Vice President for Education, Dash Sekhar, attended the conference in Cardiff along with colleagues Melissa Highton and Stuart Nicol to talk about this student-led OER policy. Right from its inception, Edinburgh’s vision of openness encourages both staff and students to engage with the use and creation of OER and open knowledge, to enhance the quality of the student experience while at the same time making a significant contribution to the cultural and digital commons.

I’m delighted that EUSA’s current Vice President for Education, Bobi Archer, is attending the conference this year, along with several of my amazing colleagues from Information Services, Charlie Farley, Ewan McAndrew and Anne-Marie Scott, who will be presenting papers highlighting examples of innovative open education initiatives and creative student engagement across the university; including Wikimedia in the classroom initiatives, student and community OER creation, OER for access and activism in cultural heritage, so please do go along and check out their talks.

I don’t want to steal their thunder but I do want to highlight just a couple of examples of how we engage students in OER co-creation at the University.

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

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

The University of Edinburgh has made a considerable investment in MOOCs over the last 5 years so it is important that we ensure we get a positive return on investment from the high quality resources created for these courses. This is a non trivial issue as few MOOC providers make it easy to access course materials off their platforms, regardless of whether or not they are open licensed, and some are increasingly time limiting access to resources. The Open Media Bank initiative at the University has surfaced over 500 high quality media items originally created for University of Edinburgh MOOCs and our Open Media Intern has made these available under open licensed on Media Hopper Create, the University’s media asset management platform where it can be accessed and downloaded by all. In addition to these original media items, short re-usable media snippets have been released for use in creative projects and several have been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons. These snippets have already been used by students as part of DIY film school workshops and OER game jams as part of the University’s Festival of Creative Learning.

Our students also have an opportunity to contribute to the world’s biggest open educational resource, Wikipedia, though a wide range of projects and initiatives supported by our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew. These include Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments, and editathons, many of which are designed to improve equality and diversity and enhance the representation of marginalised groups on Wikipedia.

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

This quote is from Martin Tasker, an undergraduate Physics student who worked with us two summers ago. If you’ve heard me speak recently you’ll probably have heard this quote before, but I make no apology for sharing it with you again. In a blog post titled “A Student Perspective on OER Martin wrote:

“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.”

And ultimately to me, this is what openness, open education and OER is really all about. I strongly believe that engaging learners and equipping them with the digital skills necessary to participate in open education is key to ensuring that OER and open education is collaborative, diverse, accessible and participatory. Because openness is not just about attributes, definitions and licences, openness is also about creativity, access, equality, and inclusion, and ultimately it’s about expanding access to education, supporting social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged digital citizens.

Over the years, my own journey as an open education practitioner has followed a similar trajectory to the OER Conferences; my focus has shifted from national technology strategy, to institutional policy and practice, and personal ethics and politics. One thing that has not changed however is that I still believe passionately that open education and OER are necessary to provide diverse and inclusive education and to ensure that education really is Open to All.

Using WordPress to build an onlinne academic identity⤴

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This is my presentation for the amazing PressED Conference #PressEdConf18, run by the equally amazing Pat Lockley @pgogy, and Natalie Lafferty @nlafferty.   My “talk” is about surviving precarious employment and using WordPress to build an independent academic identity and support formal CPD through CMALT.

Hello, I’m Lorna & I work at the OER Service @OpenEdEdinburgh at @EdinburghUni. I’m also an independent open education practitioner.  I’m going to talk about how you can use WordPress to support open education practice, personal academic identity & formal CPD #pressedconf18

Before joining @EdinburghUni I worked for the @Jisc Cetis service @UniStrathclyde for 15 years. Most of that time I was employed on a series of short term precarious contracts.  In 2015 my dept was shut down & I was made compulsorily redundant. It wasn’t fun. #pressedconf18

After 15 years my prof. identity was tied up with the Uni & Cetis, extricating myself hard.  1st thing I did was set up a WordPress blog to reassemble evidence of my work & my career. It’s called Open World after a Kenneth White poem http://lornamcampbell.org/ #pressedconf18

Setting up my blog allowed me to take ownership of my academic identity, #outwith the constraints of the institution.  This was an important positive step that helped me through a difficult period of transition and uncertainty. #pressedconf18

It was also reassuring and encouraging to gather evidence of my skills in one place, and my blog now hosts my cv, papers, presentations, history research. #pressedconf18

It’s also where I think out loud &, along with twitter, where I connect with my community & share my practice & personal politics with my peers.  You can listen to me Shouting From The Heart about why blogging is so important to me #pressedconf18

Having reclaimed my professional academic identity, in 2016 I took the next logical step as an open practitioner, and moved my blog to Reclaim Hosting. The process couldn’t have been simpler and I can’t recommend the service highly enough. #pressedconf18

Anyone who has worked on short term or precarious contracts know’s how difficult it is to manage career progression & CPD, esp. in a domain as diverse & rapidly changing as learning technology. I wrote a blog post about this here: Thoughts on ALT’s CPD Rebooted #CMALT #pressedconf18

I’m now fortunate to work at @EdinburghUni which supports learning technologists to undertake CPD through @A_L_T’s #CMALT programme. In 2017 I started gathering evidence for my CMALT portfolio  #pressedconf18

Because I had already gathered evidence of my professional practice on my blog, it was easy to find the information I needed.  Choosing which evidence to use for my #CMALT portfolio was much harder! #pressedconf18

Being an open practitioner, I decided to practice what I preach & build my portfolio in the open on my existing WordPress blog http://lornamcampbell.org/cmalt/  I shared it with the #CMALT community on twitter and got lots of helpful advice & feedback. #pressedconf18

Developing my #CMALT portfolio in the open, & using WordPress, was a really positive experience for me & you can read my reflection on the process here: CMALT Reflection and Thanks #pressedconf18

I was delighted when my CMALT portfolio was approved on first submission with the peer assessor commenting on my commitment to open education and open practice.  None of this would have been possible without my Open World blog. #pressedconf18

CC BY, @ammienoot

I still keep my Open World blog at & my OER blog posts are now pulled through to our Open.Ed blog  enabling me to maintain my own academic identity & still share my practice with my colleagues. #pressedconf18

And last but not least….#pressedconf18

WonkHE: Openness in Education – a call to action for policy makers⤴

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As part of Open Education Week I’m delighted that Maren Deepwell, CEO of ALT, and I have an article published in WonkHE on Openness in education: a call to action for policy makers.  The article introduces the recent ALT policy guide,  highlights some of the benefits of OER, and articulates why we need policy makers to embrace open education.

Celebrating Wikipedians for International Women’s Day⤴

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Today is International Women’s Day, and as a passionate Wikipedian, I want to give a shout out to everyone who is working so hard to address the gender balance of articles on Wikipedia.  It’s no secret that Wikipedia has a gender problem, here’s the encyclopedia’s own article on the topic: Gender bias on Wikipedia.  On the English-language Wikipedia only 17.49 % of biographical articles are about women.  This figure is better for some languages, such as Welsh which achieved gender equilibrium in 2016, and worse for others. This disparity is hardly surprising given that women account for only around 10 -15% of editors on English Wikipedia.   What is perhaps less well known is that, all over the world, editors, Wikimedia chapters, and Wikipedia projects, such as Wiki Women in Red, are working really, really hard to change this.

At the University of Edinburgh we are fortunate to have an amazing Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, who works tirelessly not only to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, but also to redress the gender imbalance of contributors by encouraging more women to become editors, and to improve the representation, coverage and esteem of articles about women in science, art, literature, medicine and technology.  Ewan regularly runs WikiWomen in Red editathons and events for International Women’s Day and Ada Lovelace Day to name but a few.

In my own fledgling Wikipedia editing career I’ve created a whole The Young Women’s Movement, my daughter and her class were asked to write a couple of lines about a person who inspired them.  This is what my daughter wrote.

I choose my mum because she wants to empower women by making Wikipedia pages for them, she makes wikipedia pages for women who played a big part in history but aren’t known that well. #Gomymum

I hope by the time she is old enough to become an editor herself the gender balance of Wikipedia will have improved a good deal, but in the meantime, here’s a shout out to some of the amazing women who are helping to make that a reality:  Lucy Crompton-Reid, Daria Cybulska, Marshall Dozier, Charlie Farley, Josie Fraser, Gill Hamilton, Melissa Highton, Susan Ross, Ann-Marie Scott, Jo Spiller, Sara Thomas, Alice White, and all my Wikimedia UK colleagues and fellow Board members, past and present.

Open Education Week and USS Strike⤴

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This week is Open Education Week and it’s normally one of the busiest weeks of the year for me with lots of events, webinars, blog posts and tweets lined up. This year however my calendar is empty and I’m watching fabulous open education events all over the world going by on my twitter feed without retweeting a single one.  Why?  Because although open education is a deeply held personal principle for me, it’s also a large part of my job and I am currently on strike as part of the University and College Union’s (UCU) industrial action to defend our right to a fair pension.  I had really hoped that the strike would be over in time for Open Education Week, but unfortunately UUK are dragging their heels in an unforgivable fashion, so I’ll be maintaining my digital picket line for as long as it takes.

That doesn’t mean I’ve completely put open education on the back burner though.  I’ve been thinking a lot about my OER18 keynote and these strikes have really helped to focus my mind because at the root of this dispute is the belief that we all deserve to be treated fairly and equitably, and fairness and equity are among the founding principles of open education.

There is one event I will be participating in this week though.  The ALT Open Education SIG have helpfully re-scheduled their OER18 Conference Preview webinar for Friday 9th March (13.00 – 14.00) when the strike breaks for a day.  I’ll be joining my fellow keynote speakers to give a brief introduction to some of the themes I’ll be addressing in my talk.  I’ll be keeping things informal as I won’t be able to prepare slides in advance due to the strike action, but I certainly don’t think I’ll be short of things to talk about.  Come and join us it you can.

Changing Perspectives on OER⤴

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In case you missed it, this blog post outlining my OER18 keynote appeared on the conference website last week.

Being invited to keynote is always a privilege, but I was particularly honoured to be asked to present at this year’s OER18 Conference in Bristol, not least because I’ll be following in the footsteps of the three inspirational women who presented last year’s keynotes; Diana ArceMaha Bali and Lucy Crompton-Reid. You see, OER is my conference, I’ve attended every single one since the conference launched at the University of Cambridge in 2010, and in 2016 I had the pleasure of chairing the conference at the University of Edinburgh with my inspiring colleague Melissa Highton.

To my mind, the success of the OER Conference has always been founded on its willingness to examine and renegotiate what “OER” means, and this is one of the themes I’ll be exploring in my keynote.  And by that, I don’t mean defining the specific attributes of what constitutes an Open Educational Resource, I mean critically reflecting on what openness means in relation to education at different points in time and from different perspectives, because as Catherine Cronin reminds us in Open Education, Open Questions, “openness is a constantly negotiated space”.   Open education looks very different to each and every one of us, and our perspective will depend entirely on where we are standing and the privilege of our vantage point.  And of course it is inevitable that our perspective will change as our roles and careers develop over time.

Gabi Whitthaus has already written a thoughtful personal reflection on her journey through the OER conferences and, like Gabi, the changing themes and fluctuating interpretations of “OER” have influenced and reflected my own development and perspective as an open education practitioner over the last decade.

In my current role I have the privilege to work with a great team of people at the OER Service at the University of Edinburgh, an institution with a strong commitment to openness and a vision for OER.  This commitment is squarely aligned to the University’s mission to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, and to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing. During my keynote I’ll be exploring some of the ways that the university encourages learners to engage with and co-create open education through a wide range of initiatives including internships, playful learning activities, Wikipedia in the classroom assignments, and outreach and engagement courses.

I strongly believe that engaging learners and equipping them with the digital skills necessary to participate in open education is key to ensuring that OER and open education is collaborative, diverse, accessible and participatory. Because ultimately that is what openness is about.  Openness is not just about attributes, definitions and licences, openness is also about creativity, access, equality, and inclusion and ultimately it’s about expanding access to education, supporting social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged digital citizens.

When the conference first launched eight years ago, I approached open education and OER from a rather different perspective.  In 2010 the JISC / HEA UKOER Programme was well underway and the first OER keynote was presented by JISC’s Executive Secretary Malcolm Read.  At the time, I was working for the JISC Innovation Support Centre CETIS, where I led the team that provided strategic and technical support to the UKOER Programme.  My focus then was on how we could harness lightweight web technologies and new Web 2.0 platforms to create a sustainable OER infrastructure without relying too heavily on the monolithic systems and formal education technology standards mandated by previous programmes.

Two years later in 2012 I sat in the audience with my colleague Joe Wilson, then Head of New Ventures at SQA, and listened to Sir John Daniel, talking about the UNESCO / COL initiative Fostering Governmental Support for OER Internationally, one of the outputs of which was the influential Paris OER Declaration. In a rather roundabout way, that keynote and the subsequent Declaration inspired us to launch the Open Scotland initiative and, together with colleagues from across the open education community, to draft the Scottish Open Education Declaration. And it was through this initiative that I started to re-frame my perspective on OER and open education in terms of personal ethics and the wider policy landscape.

2012 was also the year that the UKOER Programme came to an end and the education technology sector in the UK faced an unprecedented and prolonged period of change and restructuring. Many predicted the demise of the OER Conference at that time, particularly when open education discourse was increasingly becoming dominated by commercial MOOC providers and their promise to disrupt! education.  However, far from being swept side by the avalanche, the OER conference continued to thrive and to push the boundaries of open education to incorporate open pedagogy, policy, research and practice, and when ALT stepped up to support the event in 2015, its future was assured.

While it is crucial that we continue to critically negotiate and reassess openness, it is also important that we don’t lose sight of some of the fundamentals of open education.  And I would argue that one of those fundamentals is that publicly funded educational resources should be freely and openly available to the public.  As open education discourse shifts to focus on open policy, open practice, open textbooks, one might be forgiven for thinking that open educational resources are done and dusted, but that is very far from the case and this is another theme that I want to expand on in my keynote.

In addition to expanding its focus, the OER Conference has also made real and tangible efforts to expand its community, and to ensure that the event is diverse, inclusive, accessible and welcoming.  The conference has become increasingly international and has gone to significant lengths to ensure that it really is open and accessible to as diverse a community as possible.  ALT is to be applauded for its commitment to providing a wide range of channels and opportunities to enable colleagues to participate in the conference virtually and remotely, and the event has not shied away from asking difficult questions about who is included and excluded from open spaces and conceptualisations of openness.

One perspective that has sometimes been missing from open education discourse is the voice of the learner.  That is not to say that the OER Conference has not made an effort to ensure that the student voice is included and represented.  Two officers of the National Union of Students have presented keynotes; Toni Pearce at OER13 (standing in for Rachel Wenstone) and Wendy Carr at OER14.  However I’m particularly encouraged to see that this year’s conference is squarely addressing learner inclusion by focussing on how open education and open practice can support learners, foster learner diversity and inclusion, and help students develop important digital literacy skills.

At the University of Edinburgh, students have always played a key role in shaping the institution’s vision of openness.  Together with senior colleagues within Information Services, it was the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) that provided the initial impetus for the development of an OER policy at the university, and in 2014 EUSA’s Vice President for Education, Dash Sekhar, attended the conference in Cardiff along with colleagues Melissa Highton and Stuart Nicol to talk about this student-led OER policy.  I’m delighted that EUSA’s current  Vice President for Education, Bobi Archer, will be attending the conference this year, and several of my Information Services colleagues will be coming along to present papers highlighting innovative and creative examples of student engagement across the university. Edinburgh’s vision of openness encourages both staff and students to engage with the use and creation of OER and open knowledge, to enhance the quality of the student experience while at the same time making a significant, contribution to the cultural and digital commons.

Over the years, my own journey as an open education practitioner has followed a similar trajectory to the OER Conferences; my focus has shifted from national technology strategy, to institutional policy and practice, and personal ethics and politics.  One thing that has not changed however is that I still believe passionately that open education and OER are necessary to provide diverse and inclusive education and to ensure that education really is Open to All.

CC BY City of Glasgow College

From Scotland to Morocco⤴

from

One of the great things about openness is that when you release something under open licence, you never quite know who’s going to pick it up and what’s going to happen to it. I know this is one of the things that can make some colleagues apprehensive about using open licences but to my mind this serendipitous aspect of openness is one of it’s unique benefits.

One lovely example of this is that following the Morocco Open Education Day hosted by Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech as part of the OpenMed project, a forum of Moroccan scholars came together to draft the OER Morocco Declaration, which is based partially on the Scottish Open Education Declaration which I had a hand in writing in 2014.

Colleagues in Morocco have made significant progress since then, so I was delighted to be invited by Dr Khalid Berrada to attend the 2nd Morocco Open Education Day, which is taking place in Marrakech today, to give a talk about the Scottish Declaration.  Unfortunately due to work and family commitments I’m not able to attend in person, but thanks to the University of Edinburgh’s fabulous Media Hopper Create service I was able to record this video contribution to the event.

The Scottish Open Education Declaration is an output of the Open Scotland initiative which is supported by the University of Edinburgh and ALT Scotland.

Open Education and OER – A guide and call to action for policy makers⤴

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Towards the end of last year I had the pleasure of working with ALT to develop a policy briefing on Open Education and OER.  Open Education and OER – A guide and call to action for policy makers was co-authored by Maren Deepwell, Martin Weller, Joe Wilson and I and it can be downloaded from the ALT Open Access Repository here https://repository.alt.ac.uk/2425/

Executive Summary

ALT has produced this call to action to highlight to education policy makers and professionals how Open Education and OER can expand inclusive and equitable access to education and lifelong learning, widen participation, and create new opportunities for the next generation of teachers and learners, preparing them to become fully engaged digital citizens.

Open Education can also promote knowledge transfer while enhancing quality and sustainability, supporting social inclusion and creating a culture of inter-institutional collaboration and sharing.

One of ALT’s three strategic aims is to increase the impact of Learning Technology for the wider community and we are issuing this call to action for policy makers to mandate that publicly funded educational resources are released under open licence to ensure that they reside in the public domain and are freely and openly available to all.

This will be of wide benefit, but in particular will enable education providers and learning technology professionals to:

  • Keep up to date with the rapid pace of technological innovation
  • Develop critical, informed approaches to the implementation of Learning Technology and the impact on learners
  • Scale up knowledge sharing and its benefits across sectors.

CC BY @BryanMMathers for ALT