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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.

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

Wiki Loves Monuments – An amazing contribution to the commons⤴

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The Wiki Loves Monuments competition came to a close last Friday and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was still uploading ancient holiday snaps at quarter to midnight.  Who knew I had so many pics of ancient ruins?!  By the time the competition closed, a staggering 14,359 new images of UK scheduled monuments and listed buildings had been uploaded to Wikimedia Commons, over 2000 of which came from Scotland.  And what’s even more impressive is that 1,351 of those image were uploaded by colleagues from the University of Edinburgh 💕 That’s an amazing contribution to the global commons and a wonderful collection of open educational resources that are free for all to use.  Our most prolific contributor was our very own Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew, who we have to thank for spurring us all on, closely followed by Anne-Marie Scott, who contributed some glorious images of Pheobe Traquair’s murals at the Mansfield Traquair Centre.  And the diversity of the images uploaded is just incredible.  Everything from castles, cathedrals, country houses, churches, cemeteries, chambered cairns, terraces, fountains,  bars, bridges, brochs, botanic gardens, and even a lap dancing club (thank you Ewan…) I managed to upload a modest 184; my oldest monument was the Callanish Stones on my home island of Lewis and most modern was a picture of Luma Tower in Glasgow that I took out the window of a passing bus!  You can see all my pics here, and not one of them was taken with an actual camera :}

Getting the band back together – the ALTC Social Media Super Group⤴

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Live tweeting ALTC

Last year’s sell out gig – me & Rich Goodman by www.chrisbullphotographer.com

It’s that time of year again.  If I can navigate the train strikes I’ll be heading down to Liverpool on Monday for the annual ALT Conference where we’ll be reforming the ALTC Social Media Super Group with Martin Hawksey on filming and live feeds, Rich Goodman on media tweets, Chris Bull on photography, and me on keynote livetweets.   We also have a new member joining the group this year; Scott Farrow from Edgehill University will be joining us on drums camera.  

Livetweeting the conference keynotes from the official ALT twitter account is always a bit nerve wracking, especially with keynotes of the calibre of Siân Bayne, Peter Goodyear and Bonnie Stewart. And just to up the ante, this year I’ll be tweeting from ALT’s verified twitter account.  I’ve never tweeted from a blue tick before :}  Livetweeting the keynotes may be challenging but it’s a challenge I always enjoy.  So much so that I included a reflection on this in my CMALT portfolio.

“Live tweeting in an official capacity  for events such as the ALT Conference requires a slightly different approach to live tweeting from my own personal account.  When I live tweet on behalf of an event organiser I try to keep my tweets as factual, neutral and representative as possible.  It’s important not to misrepresent the speaker or inadvertently tweet anything that might bring the organisation into disrepute.  If I’m tweeting personally, I tend to tweet the points that interest or irritate me, adding my own thoughts and comments along the way. It feels like quite a different way to use the technology.”

matchy matchy

I’m rather proud to say that after attending the ALT conference since 2000, this is the first time I will be there as a fully fledged Certified Member of ALT.  Which means I have a fabulous new accessory to wear with my conference shoes :}

I’m not actually giving a paper of my own this year, and for once I’ve actually read the programme in advance of the conference and planned out the sessions I’m hoping to attend. I was really pleased to see so many papers focused on different aspects of lecture recording as we’re currently rolling out a new and hugely ambitious lecture recording programme at the University of Edinburgh.  I’m hoping to catch as many of these papers as possible so I can feed other institutions’ experiences back to my colleagues at the university who will be in the final stages of preparing our new Media Hopper Replay service to go live while I’m at the conference.

And of course as always, one of the highlights of the conference will be the Learning Technologist of the Year Awards. I was honoured to be on the selection panel this year and the entries were truly inspiring. If you haven’t already voted there’s still time to cast your vote for the Community Choice award. Voting closes at noon (BST) on 6 September, so make sure you get your vote in before the deadline!

Student Engagement with OER at University of Edinburgh⤴

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Earlier this week Christina Hendricks at UBC put out a call for examples of student engagement with open education and OER.  I was going to reply in comments but as we have lots of great examples of students getting involved with OER at the University of Edinburgh I thought I’d write a short post here.

Together with LTW Director Melissa Highton and Stuart Nicol of Education Design and Engagement, Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) provided the initial impetus for the development of an OER policy at the university.  A short paper presented at OER15 by Melissa, Stuart and Dash Sekhar of EUSA, reported that in 2014

“the EUSA Vice President for Academic Affairs challenged University senior managers to explore how learning materials could be made open, not only for students within the University, but across Scotland and to the wider world.”

Student-led OpenEd and wiping away the open wash by Melissa Highton, Stuart Nicol & Dash Sekhar, OER15.

The result was the University’s OER Policy which was approved by the Senate Learning and Teaching Committee in 2016.

Reproductive Medicine Students, CC BY SA, Ewan McAndrew

The University’s Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew,  has also been instrumental engaging students in the creation of OER through a number of Wikimedia in the Classroom initiatives that have seen students contributing original articles in a number of languages to the world’s largest open educational resource – Wikipedia.  Subjects that have incorporated Wikipedia into their courses include Translation Studies,  World Christianity and Reproductive Medicine.

“It’s about co-operation from the get-go. You can’t post a Wikipedia article and allow no one else to edit it. You are offering something up to the world. You can always come back to it, but you can never make it completely your own again. The beauty of Wikipedia is in groupthink, in the crowd intelligence it facilitates, but this means shared ownership, which can be hard to get your head around at first.”

Reflections on a Wikipedia assignment by Áine Kavanagh

Meteorological Visibility Observations: A User’s Guide, CC BY, James Holehouse

Another course that has been instrumental in engaging students with OER is the Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course. Over the course of two semesters, students undertake an outreach project that communicates some element of the field of GeoSciences outside the university community. Students have the opportunity to work with schools, museums, outdoor centres and community groups to create resources for science engagement including classroom teaching materials, leaflets, websites, smartphone/tablet applications, and presentation materials.

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

A call for increased public engagement in geology higher education by Jane Robb in Geology Today, Vol. 29, No. 2.

For the last two years the University has also employed student interns during the summer months as Open Content Curators whose role is to repurpose materials created by staff and students around the University to ensure they can be released under open license and shared in places where they can be found and reused by other teachers and learners, such as TES.  Reflecting on his time as our first Open Content Intern, Martin Tasker wrote

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

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

These are just some of the ways in which students at the University of Edinburgh are engaging with open education and OER.  I’m sure there are many more around the University that I have yet to discover!  Further information about many of the University’s OER initiatives is available from Open.Ed.

Key Performance Indicators for OER⤴

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One of the things I’ll be looking into as part of my new role is key performance indicators for open educational resources.  At the University of Edinburgh we have a Vision and Policy for OER that encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, enrich the University and the sector, showcase the highest quality learning and teaching, and make a significant collection of unique learning materials available to Scotland and the world.

Staff and students at the university are already making open educational resources available through a range of channels including Open.Ed, Media Hopper, TES, SketchFab, Youtube, Wikimedia Commons and Wikipedia, and there are a number of initiatives ongoing that promote and support the creation of OER including 23Things, Board Game Jam, various MOOC projects, our Wikimedian in Residence programme and others.

So how do we develop meaningful key performance indicators to measure and assess the success of these initiatives?

Quantitative indicators are relatively simple to measure in terms of OER produced. It’s not difficult to gather web stats for page views and downloads from the various platforms used to host and disseminate our OERs.  For example our open educational resources on TES have been viewed over 2,000 times, and downloaded 934 times, a Wikipedia article on Mary Susan MacIntosh, created during a UoE editathon for International Women’s Day has had 9,030 page views, and UoE MOOCs have reached two and a quarter million learners.

Measuring OER reuse, even within the institution, is much less straightforward.  To get an of idea of where and how OERs are being reused you need to track the resources. This isn’t necessarily difficult to do, Cetis did some research on technical approaches for OER tracking during the UKOER Programme, but it does raise some interesting ethical issues,  We also discovered during our UKOER research that once authors create OER and release them into the wild, they tend not to be motivated to collect data on their reuse, even when actively encouraged.

There is also the issue of what actually constitutes re-use.  Often reuse isn’t as straightforward as taking an OER, adapting is and incorporating it into your course materials.  Reuse is often more subtle than that.  For example, if you are inspired by an idea, a concept or an activity you ome across in an OER, but you don’t actually download and use the resource itself, does that constitute reuse?  And if it does, how do we create KPIs to measure such reuse?  Can it even be measured in a meaningful way?

And then there’s the issue of qualitative indicators and measuring impact.  How do we assess whether our OERs really are enhancing the quality of the student experience and enriching the University and the sector?  One way to gather qualitative information is to go out and talk to people and we already have some great testimonies from UoE students who have engaged with UoE OER internships and Wikimedia in the Classroom projects. Another way to measure impact is to look beyond the institution, so for example 23 Things lornwas awarded the LILAC Credo Digital Literacy Award 2017 and has also been adapted and adopted by the Scottish Social Services Council, and the aforementioned article on Mary Susan McIntosh featured on the front page of English Wikipedia.

I know many other institutions and organisations have grappled with the issue of how to measure the impact of open education and OER.  In the US, where OER often equates to open textbooks, the focus tends to be on cost savings for students, however this is not a particularly useful measure in UK HE where course are less reliant on astronomically priced texbooks.  So what indicators can we use to measure OER performance?  I’d be really interested to hear how other people have approached this challenge, so if you have any comments or suggestions please do let me know.  Thanks!

Standard Measures, CC BY SA 2.0, Neil Cummings, https://flic.kr/p/aH8CPV

New Role⤴

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The view from the office isn’t bad…, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

Now that I’ve cleared the inevitable post-holiday e-mail backlog I’m ready to start a new role as Senior Service Manager – Learning Technology within Education Design and Engagement (EDE) at the University of Edinburgh. I’ve actually been transitioning into this role for several months now and have been working closely with colleagues in EDE, where the OER Service is based, for some time now.  For the last year I’ve been working as OER Liaison – Open Scotland in the Learning Teaching and Web directorate within Information Services.  This role involved co-chairing the OER 16 Open Culture Conference together with Melissa Highton, promoting the Open Scotland initiative and the Scottish Open Education Declaration, disseminating the University of Edinburgh’s open education activities, working with our Wikimedian in Residence, and liaising with other international open education initiatives and organisations.  Open education will still be central to my new role but I’ll be more focused on embedding open education and OER within the university.  In addition to continuing with some of my existing activities I’ll be working more closely with the OER Service and getting more involved in supporting institutional programmes and initiatives and liaising with other departments within the University, such as the Institute of Academic Development, to ensure that openness and OER are embedded across the institution.  I’ll also be wrapping up the two IS Innovation Fund Projects that I’ve been managing recently and disseminating their outputs.  And of course I’ll still be actively involved with the Association for Learning Technology, Wikimedia UK, and the Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group.  I’ll continue to share my experiences here on my blog and on twitter, so watch this space!

 

How is it almost August?⤴

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This is another of those blog posts that starts “Where the hell have the last two months gone?!”  I’ve been sorely neglecting this blog since early May, not because I’ve got nothing to write about, quite the opposite, I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to get near it!  I’m about to go off on annual leave for a couple of weeks but I wanted to post a quick round up of the last two months before I go, so here’s wot I have been up to.

Innovation Projects

UoE OKN, CC BY Natalie Lankester-Carthy

A lot of my time has been tied up with two Information Services Innovation Fund projects.  The UoE Open Knowledge Network was a small project that aimed at drawing together the University’s activities in the area of Open Data, Open Access, Open Education, Open Research, Open Collections and Archives, to support cross-fertilisation and promote the institution’s activities in these areas. We ran three events, with the last one taking place in early July.  This event focussed on discussing priorities, ideas for the future and how we can sustain the network going forward.  You can read about the first two events on the project blog here: UoE Open Knowledge Network and I’ll be writing up the July event when I get back from leave in August.

The aim of the second project was to develop a MOOC for entrepreneurs, creative individuals, and SMEs to help them develop the knowledge and skills to find and access free and open licensed research, data and content produced by universities and higher education. I was lucky enough to recruit Morna Simpson of Geek Girl Scotland to work on the project however despite our best efforts and an incredible amount of work on Morna’s part the project faced a number of challenges which we struggled to overcome.  Rather than go ahead with a MOOC we will be releasing a series of twelve case studies on the theme of Innovating with Open Knowledge demonstrating how individuals and organisations can access and use the open outputs of University of Edinburgh research.  These case studies should be finished by early August so watch this space!

Media Hopper Replay

The University of Edinburgh is in the process of rolling out a new state of the art lecture recoding service, Media Hopper Replay, which will see 400 rooms enabled to deliver lecture recording by 2019.  As part of a training programme for staff, my colleague Charlie Farley and I have been developing training sessions on preparing for lecture recording covering accessible presentation design, copyright basics, and using open educational resources.

ALT

City of Glasgow College, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

I was honoured to be invited by ALT to join the selection panel for the prestigious Learning Technologist of the Year Awards.  The quality and diversity of the entries was really inspiring and while I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the entries it wasn’t easy to pick the best from such a strong field.  The winners of the awards will be announced at the ALT Annual Conference which this year takes place at the University of Liverpool.  I’ll be there rejoining my old partner in crime Richard Goodman to provide social media coverage of the conference for the third year running.

In June I also helped to organise ALT Scotland’s annual conference which focused on sharing strategy, practice and policy in learning technology.  We had really interesting talks on lecture recording policy and practice from the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow and Joe Wilson reported back from two European open education policy events he recently attended on behalf of Open Scotland.  The real star of the show however was City of Glasgow College’s new state of the art campus where the event took place.

Celtic Knot Conference

In early July I was busy helping UoE’s Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, plan the University of Edinburgh / Wikimedia UK Celtic Knot Conference.  The conference showcased innovative approaches to open education, open knowledge and open data to support and grow Celtic and Indigenous language communities, and explore how our cultural heritage can be preserved as living languages.  The conference was attended by delegates from all over Europe and was an enormous success.  It was a real privilege to be involved in this event and as a Gael, I found the conference to be both moving and inspiring.  I may have got a little starry eyed listening to delegates talking animatedly in Gaelic, Welsh, Breton, Basque and too many other languages to mention.  And as an indication of the collaborative and supportive nature of the event, it was great to see all 50+ delegates come together to provide input and advice to Wikimedia Norge on how to support Sami language Wikipedia.

 

Wikimedia UK

Last weekend I was at the Wikimedia UK AGM and Board Meeting in London where it was a real pleasure to see Josie Fraser voted in as new chair of the Wikimedia Board and our very own UoE Wikimedia in Residence Ewan McAndrew awarded a very well deserved joint Wikimedian of the Year award together with Kelly Foster.  It was also great to hear that Sara Thomas has been appointed as the new Wikimedian in Residence at the Scottish Libraries and Information Council.

CMALT

And on top of all that I somehow managed to submit my CMALT portfolio at the end of May! Although it was a lot of hard work, and although I went right to wire (of course), I actually enjoyed the process of putting my portfolio together and I found it really useful to step back and reflect on my experience of working as a learning technologist in the broadest sense of the word. I would still like to write a proper post reflecting on my experience of developing my portfolio in the open but that will have to wait until the autumn.

That’s just a few of the things that have been taking up most of my time over the last couple of months.  I’m now off for a fortnight’s holiday during which we are going to attempt to coax our aged VW van to take us all the way to Brittany.  If we make it to the Borders we’ll be lucky!   I’ll be back in early August with a new role at the University of Edinburgh as Learning Technology Team Leader in the Department of Education Development and Engagement.

Mary Susan McIntosh and the Women in Red⤴

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I was chuffed to discover today that English Wikipedia’s main page features a link to sociologist, feminist, and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights Mary Susan McIntosh.  It’s always great to see women featured on Wikipedia’s main page, which is viewed by around 4 million people, but I confess to being doubly pleased because I created the article on Mary at a recent editathon to mark International Women’s Day here at the University of Edinburgh.  This editathon was facilitated by Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence here at the University, and Ewan was also instrumental in nominating Mary to appear on the main page.

Wikipedia 11 May 2017

Only last week I had been complaining on twitter about the lack of gender balance on English Wikipedia’s main page which happened to feature 18 named men but only 4 named women that particular day. The main page changes on a daily basis but you can see the edition from 4th May on archive.org here.

WikiProject Women in Read

Of course this is not particularly surprising; Wikipedia has a well known problem with gender imbalance, only 16% of biographical entries on the English Wikipedia are of women, and the main page is a pretty accurate reflection of this imbalance.  The Wikimedia Foundation and the various Wikimedia chapters around the world, including Wikimedia UK, are well aware of this problem and are attempting to address it through a range of projects and initiatives.  WikiProject Women in Red raises awareness of this issue and aims to turn red links blue, by creating new biographical articles about women who are referenced on Wikipedia but who do not have their own pages. And here at the University of Edinburgh, one of the objectives of our Wikimedian in Residence is to encourage more women to get involved with editing Wikimedia.  Ewan regularly runs editathons focused on addressing the coverage of articles about women in general and Scottish women in particular.

Before I went along to the International Women’s Day editathon, I confess knew nothing about Mary Susan McIntosh, I picked her name at random from a list of “Women in Red” because she sounded interesting.  It didn’t take me long to realise what a hugely significant and influential woman Mary was.  In addition to being one of the early members of the UK Gay Liberation Front, and sitting on the committee that lowered the homosexual age of consent in the UK from 21 to 18, Mary published important research arguing that homosexuality should be regarded as a social construct, rather than a psychiatric or clinical pathology.  Mary’s paper The Homosexual Role helped to shape the concept of social constructionism, later developed by Michel Foucault.  Mary’s contribution to shaping this important philosophical construct has of course been largely overlooked.  My Wikipedia article barely scrapes the surface of Mary’s life and academic career and her important contribution to social theory and political activism.  I hope to do a bit more work on Mary’s Wikipedia page sometime in the future but it would be great if there are any philosophers, sociologists or critical theorists out there that could help with editing to ensure that Mary gets the recognition she deserves.

“What do you do?” – Starting out on CMALT⤴

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“So what do you do?” can be a bit of a difficult question to answer when you work in the domain of learning technology.  And depending on which area of learning technology you work in it can be a harder question to answer for some than others.  My default answer tends to be “I work at a University” followed by “I work in education technology”, often with the added explanation “It’s about the use of new technology in education.”  “Open education” tends to get you blank looks outwith academia (now there’s a topic for discussion), and thank god I don’t work in “education technology interoperability standards” these days.

My family have defaulted to telling people that I’m a spy on the basis that they don’t actually know what I do, other than travel a lot and disappear for days at a time. It’s hard to argue with them tbh.

Lorna Campbell – Spy

Sometimes I think it’s easier to explain what I don’t do; I don’t teach, I don’t do formal academic research, I’m not a programmer, I don’t develop or implement systems, I don’t provide help desk services, I don’t run the VLE.   I do manage projects and provide advice to colleagues. I provide input to policies. I support networks and disseminate practice.  I write a lot, talk a lot and present a lot.  I facilitate events and chair conferences.  I sit on boards, steering groups and executive committees. Maybe it is easier to tell people I’m a spy.

The reason I’ve been thinking about this is that after months of procrastination, I’m finally making a start on my CMALT application.  I had hoped to do this towards the end of last year but two new projects took precedence, so CMALT went on the back burner.

I had mixed feelings about CMALT for a number of years, primarily because for a long time I didn’t really seem to fit any recognisable definition of what a learning technologist is.  I tried to explain this anxiety in a blog post I wrote in 2014 Thoughts on ALT’s CPD Rebooted.  That post also refers to a brilliant piece written by Amber Thomas Perhaps I’m not one,  which I identified with strongly at the time, and still do.  The main point I was trying to make in CPD Rebooted was that formal certification can be difficult for people whose roles don’t neatly fit into the kind of boxes that make up accreditation frameworks.   This is doubly true for those on short term contracts, who have to jump from project to project and rarely have much time for formal CPD.  I ended that blog post with a question I asked on twitter:

Things have changed a lot for me since 2014, both professionally and personally.  Our understanding of what it means to be a learning technologist has matured and become more inclusive, and although contracts in higher education have become increasingly precarious, I’m very lucky that my own employment situation is more secure than it was three years ago.  In fact I’m incredibly fortunate to work for an institution that not only allows dedicated time for CPD but that also actively promotes and supports CMALT membership. Information Services at the University of Edinburgh offer bursaries to enable learning technologists to become Certified Members of ALT and my colleague Susan Grieg supports colleagues to help them prepare their portfolios.

Having spent the day pouring over the CMALT guidelines I can see that ALT have worked hard to create an accreditation framework that is as broad as it is inclusive.  However I’m still sitting here sifting through projects, webinars, presentations, papers, twitter conversations and reflective blog posts wondering how the hell I’m going to fit all this into that. How on earth can I demonstrate an “understanding of my target learners” when I don’t actually teach?  Of course the answer is that I’m going to have to think creatively.  I may not have a teaching role, but hopefully all those webinars and talks and blog posts do help my peers and colleagues to learn and to develop their professional practice.  I’m still at the stage where I’m struggling to fit my experience into the CMALT framework, but hopefully if I keep thinking about it and reflecting on what I actually do, it will all start to fall into place.  Having access to the CMALT Portfolio Open Register is already proving to be enormously helpful but I’d be very interested to hear how others have approached this.

Organising my CMALT portfolio like

(Belatedly realising I have no idea how to licence memes….)