Author Archives: Open World

ALT Winter Conference – Celebrating learning technologists⤴

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Today is my last day of work before I switch on my out of office notification and take a complete break from work for the next fortnight.  It’s been a long, hard year for many or us, and for some more so than most, so its been wonderful to see the year out on a high with the ALT Winter Conference. Over two days this week, ALT welcomed 300 delegates for their annual online conference.  This year’s theme was “Celebrating Learning Technology practice, research and policy” and it really was a celebration.  A celebration of all the hard work learning technologists have done to keep the systems running and support staff and students throughout the unprecedented challenges this year has brought.  A celebration of innovation and creativity.  A celebration that we made it this far.  I like to think it was also a celebration of how we all supported each other along the way.  The conference also brought together the community’s key thinking and experiences of some of the important themes that have emerged this year, most notably privacy, ethics, assessment, surveillance, and openness. 

Always committed to sharing our experience and practice, colleagues from Edinburgh contributed to a number of sessions over the course of the two days.  Vicki Madden spoke about the work she’s being leading to develop Digital Safety and Citizenship support and guidance for staff and students, and why adopting an intersectional approach to online safety and citizenship is so critically important for digital wellbeing.  As Vicki noted, digital safety and wellbeing really depend on everyone in the community playing their part.  It’s more important than ever that we all support each other online.

Jen Ross and Anna Wilson (University of Stirling) gave a presentation about the wonderfully creative Telling Data Stories project, which has created a tool, crafted by pgogy of PressEDConf fame, that enables users to write fiction to explore different aspects of interacting with technology, and to tell stories that cannot be told in other ways.

Colleagues from across EDE came together on Thursday for a bumper panel exploring how the University of Edinburgh moved beyond emergency provision by focusing on people, policy and practice to support reusable practices in the implementation of learning technology. Stuart Nicol opened the panel with an overview of the university’s Edinburgh Model for Teaching Online, ELDeR and Learn Foundations initiatives. With the boundaries between on campus and online increasingly fading, Stuart noted that all these initiatives share a post-digital approach, focusing on teaching regardless of whether it’s on campus or mediated by digital tools.  Martin Lewis, one of our undergraduate student interns gave a brilliant talk about his experience of working with the Learn Foundations project, reminding me yet again, how privileged we are to be able to work with such thoughtful motivated students.  And my colleague Neil wrapped up by telling the story of how we developed our new Virtual Classroom Policy, which is available under open licence along with our existing open policies for learning and teaching

I also participated in the Open COVID Pledge for Education plenary panel, another blog post coming up about that soon.  Hopefully!

I enjoyed hearing Leo Havemann and Javiera Atenas talking about the new guidelines for co-creating open education policy in a really interactive and participatory session. Practicing what they preach, Javiera and Leo adopted a co-creation approach to developing these guidelines by seeking input from a diverse group of policy experts

Catherine Cronin’s session, New Windows on Open Educational Practices, was also participatory and interactive but in a more unexpected way.  Catherine had a complete laptop failure right before she was about to present, and ended up phoning her talk in to Javiera who relayed it via her laptop!  Some of the rest of us in the session also stepped in to discuss the themes that Catherine had highlighted on her slides. It all turned out to be a brilliant example of spontaneous community engagement, open practice and co-creation in action. 

The real highlight of the conference for me though was the Learning Technologist of the Year Awards.  These awards are always inspiring and the calibre of this years winners was exemplary.  Congratulations to all. The trophies this year were also particularly appropriate; beautiful forged steel pieces made by student blacksmith Jonjoe Preston, from Hereford College of Arts.  This year’s Community Award was a little different however.  Rather than inviting ALT members to vote for the recipient, ALT presented the award to all learning technologists in recognition of their outstanding contribution and commitment to education this year.  It was a really touching gesture, and I’m not sure an award has ever been so well deserved and hard earned. I posted a tweet about the award shortly after Maren and Dave announced it, and it’s been really heartwarming seeing learning technologists all over the world retweeting it and tagging in their teams and colleagues.  That tweet has now had over 18,000 impressions and I hope its brought a smile to each and every learning technologist who’s seen it. 

It just remains for me to say a huge thank you to Maren Deepwell and the ALT team for running another brilliant conference, and for stepping up to support the learning technology community, while we were all busy supporting our students, colleagues, families and friends through the unprecedented challenges of this year. 

Ima

 

Open Education Policies: Guidelines for Co-Creation⤴

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Cover of Open Education Policies: Guidelines for Co-CreationToday saw the publication of an important and very timely resource for open educators and policy makers: Open Education Policies: Guidelines for Co-Creation by Javiera Atenas, Leo Havemann, Jan Neumann and Cristina Stefanelli.  The aim of the guidelines is to: 

“support institutions and governments in the development of open education policies promoting the adoption of open educational practices and resources, and the fostering of collaborations amongst social-educational actors which favour the democratisation of knowledge access and production.”

In order to ensure policies have public value, the authors call for a “transversal and democratic approach to policymaking” and identify co-creation as a critical factor in policy effectiveness, in that it helps to ensure that policy makers and communities develop a sense of shared ownership, responsibility and purpose. 

One of the things I particularly appreciate about this work is that the authors very much practiced what they preach as the guidelines were co created with input from a diverse group of policy experts.  My small contribution to these guidelines centred on the relationship between normative (mandatory) policy and informative (permissive) policies, both of which I believe are necessary: 

“Campbell (2020b) notes that while organisations in receipt of public funding to create resources should be mandated to make these freely and openly available to the public, institutional OE policies focusing on the educational practices of staff and students should be primarily permissive rather than mandatory, thereby empowering those engaged in learning and teaching to come to their own decisions about whether and how to engage with OEP.”

My thinking in this area is very much influenced by Catherine Cronin who also contributed to the guidelines.  One of the points that Catherine and I both fed in is that: 

“OE aims to increase educational access and effectiveness, as well as equity, through fostering participation and knowledge co-creation, including by marginalised and traditionally under-represented groups.”

Centering the experiences and requirements of marginalised and under represented groups is just one of the reasons why it’s so important that open education policies are founded on co-creation. and the guidelines clearly articulate a step by step cycle to enable this process; from agenda setting, through development, formulation, implementation, evaluation and revision. 

The authors conclude by stating that.

“Co-creation of policies to support and foster inclusive, democratic approaches in education must follow an inclusive and participatory process.

And by co-creating these guidelines, the authors have done exactly that. 

Open Education Policies: Guidelines for Co-Creation is published by the Open Education Policy Lab and the Open Education Policy Hub and can be downloaded under CC BY-NC-4.0 licence from Zenodo.

Open Practice in Practice⤴

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Last week I had the pleasure of running a workshop on open practice with Catherine Cronin as part of City University of London’s online MSc in Digital Literacies and Open Practice, run by the fabulous Jane Secker.  Both Catherine and I have run guest webinars for this course for the last two years, so this year we decided collaborate and run a session together.  Catherine has had a huge influence on shaping my own open practice so it was really great to have an opportunity to work together.  We decided from the outset that we wanted to practice what we preach so we designed a session that would give participants plenty of opportunity to interact with us and with each other, and to choose the topics the workshop focused on. 

We began with a couple of definitions open practice, emphasising that there is no one hard and fast definition and that open practice is highly contextual and continually negotiated and we then asked participants to suggest what open practice meant to them by writing on a shared slide.  We went on to highlight some examples of open responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, including the UNESCO Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through open educational resources, Creative Commons Open COVID Pledge, Helen Beetham and ALT’s Open COVID Pledge for Education and the University of Edinburgh’s COVID-19 Critical Care MOOC

We then gave participants an opportunity to choose what they wanted us to focus on from a list of four topics: 

  1. OEP to Build Community – which included the examples of Femedtech and Equity Unbound.
  2. Open Pedagogy –  including All Aboard Digital Skills in HE, the National Forum Open Licensing Toolkit, Open Pedagogy Notebook, and University of Windsor Tool Parade
  3. Open Practice for Authentic Assessment – covering Wikimedia in Education and Open Assessment Practices.
  4. Open Practice and Policy – with examples of open policies for learning and teaching from the University of Edinburgh. 

For the last quarter of the workshop we divided participants into small groups and invited them to discuss

  • What OEP are you developing and learning most about right now?
  • What OEP would you like to develop further?

Before coming back together to feedback and share their discussions. 

Finally, to draw the workshop to a close, Catherine ended with a quote from Rebecca Solnit, which means a lot to both of us, and which was particularly significant for the day we ran the workshop, 3rd November, the day of the US elections.

Rebecca Solnit quote

Slides from the workshop are available under open licence for anyone to reuse and a recording of our session is also available:  Watch recording | View slides.

Ada Lovelace Day: Dr Isabel Gal⤴

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This year for Ada Lovelace day, I wrote a new Wikipedia page about Dr Isabel Gal, a Hungarian paediatrician and Holocaust Survivor who, in 1967,  was responsible for establishing a link between use of the hormonal pregnancy test Primodos and severe congenital birth defects.  I came across Gal quite by chance via the @OnThisDayShe twitter account, which aims to “Put women back into history, one day at a time.”  

A quick google showed that while there were Wikipedia entries for Primodos and for Baroness Cumberlege who led a review into the drug, there was no entry for Gal herself.  Which is all the more astonishing given the extraordinary and tenacious life she led.  Gal, a Hungarian Jew, survived the Holocaust after being interred in Auschwitz along with her mother and two sisters, all of whom survived.  Her father however died in Mauthausen concentration camp.  After the war, Gal studied to become a paediatrician at the University of Budapest and married mathematician Endre Gal.  During the Hungarian revolution of 1956, Gal and her family fled to the UK, after being smuggled out of Hungary into Austria.  What I didn’t know when I started writing the article was that Gal re-qualified as a doctor at the University of Edinburgh.  According to her daughter-in-law, who wrote her obituary for the Guardian, she found Scottish accents easier to understand than London ones.  I haven’t been able to find any information online about Gal’s time in Edinburgh, but I’ll be contacting the University’s Centre for Research Collections as soon as I get back from leave, to see what they can dig up. 

In 1967, while working at St Mary’s Children’s Hospital in Surrey, Gal published a short article in Nature magazine highlighting a link between Primodos, a hormonal pregnancy test marketed by the German drug company Shering AG, and serious congenital birth defects.  She also pointed out that the test used the same components as oral contraceptive pills.  Despite taking her findings to the Department of Health,  the Committee on Safety of Medicines, and the government’s Senior Medical Officer, Bill Inman, her warnings were ignored, partially as a result of concerns that they would discourage women from taking oral contraception.  Primodos was banned in several European countries in the early 1970s, but it wasn’t until 1975 that a warning was added to Primodos in UK, and it was only withdrawn from the market in 1978, for commercial reasons.  A long running campaign by the Association for Children Damaged by Hormone Pregnancy Tests, and the discovery of documents revealing that Shering had concealed information relating to the dangers of the drug, eventually resulted in a government review that found that there was no causal association between Primodos and birth defects.  However Theresa May, who was then prime minister, ordered a second review led by Baroness Cumberlege, which published its findings earlier this year and concluded that there was indeed a link and that the drug should have been withdrawn from use in 1967. 

Gal believed she was blacklisted as a result of her campaign and after being repeatedly turned down for senior positions, she eventually left the medical profession. She died in London in 2017 at the age of 92, two years before the Cumberlege review vindicated her findings. 

Interviewed about the review’s findings, Theresa May said she believed that sexism had been partially responsible for the authorities failure to act. 

“I almost felt it was sort of women being patted on the head and being told ‘there there dear’, don’t worry. You’re imagining it. You don’t know. We know better than you do….I think this is a very sad example of a situation where people were badly affected, not just by the physical and mental aspect of what Primodos actually did, but by the fact that nobody then listened to them…”

A Skye News investigation in 2017  revealed that Inman, who had originally stonewalled Gal’s efforts to have the drug withdrawn, and whose own research showed an increased risk of birth defects among women who had used hormone pregnancy tests, had destroyed his research data, “to prevent individual claims being based on his material”.   

Dr Gal’s story, and her omission from Wikipedia, are sadly typical of many women scientists whose contributions have been stifled, stonewalled, ignored, elided and written out of history.  It’s very telling that while Gal didn’t even have a red link, Inman has an extensive and glowing Wikipedia entry, which makes no mention of his role in the Primodos scandal or the fact that he destroyed evidence relating to the case.  However with the publication of the Cumberlege  Review and a new Sky documentary, Bitter Pill: Primodos, there has been increased interest in Gal’s role in highlighting the dangers of hormonal pregnancy tests.  I hope her new Wikipedia entry will help others to discover Dr Isabel Gal’s amazing story, and bring her the recognition she deserves. 

Open Policy for Learning and Teaching⤴

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This post also appears on the Open.Ed blog. 

Earlier in September, my colleague Neil McCormick, Education Technology Policy Officer at LTW, and I took part in Jane Secker and Chris Morrison’s regular ALT webinar Copyright, Fair Dealing and Online Teaching at a Time of Crisis on the topic of lecture recording and virtual classroom policies.  This is an area of policy that is particularly pressing for many institutions right now as they manage the transition to hybrid and online teaching.  It’s also a live issue for staff who are faced with the prospect of recording not only their lectures but also their seminars and small group teaching sessions as well, in order to ensure that different cohorts of students on campus and online, have equitable access to their classes. 

At the University of Edinburgh we already have a Lecture Recording Policy that was approved in 2018 following extensive consultation with academic colleagues, legal services and the unions.  Much of this policy has been replicated in a new Virtual Classroom Policy that was approved earlier in September.  Neil is the policy officer responsible for drafting both policies, a responsibility he has undertaken with notable patience and diligence.  The OER Service’s contribution has been to provide some input around copyright and open licensing, and this was one of the topics under discussion during the webinar.

Neil explained that the approach taken by both the Lecture Recording and Virtual Classroom policy is that everyone involved in the recording retains their rights, while the recording is licensed for specific purposes that are clearly defined by the policies.  In the case of lecture recordings and virtual classroom recordings, the recording is shared with “students and staff on the instance of the course to which the lecture relates”. Students may use the recording only for personal study and schools may “use recordings in exceptional situations to provide continuity as specified within business continuity plans relevant to the School”.

The University also has an Open Educational Resources Policy, approved in early 2016, which encourages staff and students to use, create, and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, enhance the provision of learning opportunities for all, and improve teaching practices.   In supporting this policy, the OER Service encourages colleagues and students to share all kinds of teaching and learning resources under open licence.  You can see a showcase of some of these resources here on the Open.Ed website.  We also  have over 3,500 Creative Commons licensed videos on Media Hopper Create and a large number of open licensed blogs on Blogs.Ed.

During the webinar, Chris raised a question that has come up a number of times before, about the tension that exists between lecture and classroom recording policies and openness:

“particularly in the case of teachers who are expected to record what they do in what is typically a closed private space and the idea of openness and sharing, and things going wherever they go on the internet without being able to control them.”

In terms of the Edinburgh policies it’s important to note that none of the three policies mandate the use of open licences.  The OER Policy is informative and permissive, it encourages the use of open licences, it does not mandate them.  The Lecture Recording and Virtual Classroom Policies are normative policies, which do permit lecturers to share their recordings under open licence but only if they have the appropriate permissions from all parties to do so.

“A lecturer may publish a recording of their lecture as an open educational resource, with appropriate modifications and safeguards, including an appropriate attribution, licence and having obtained any permissions required from other participants or third parties whose intellectual property resides within the recording. Guidance on this is contained within the Open Educational Resources Policy and Website Accessibility Policy.”

The important point here is that colleagues always have a choice as to whether they share their content under open licence, and if they do choose to share that content then they are required to respect the rights of all relevant parties, whether that is other colleagues, students or third party copyright holders, and to provide appropriate attribution as necessary.  Choice and attribution are both fundamental aspects of open education and open educational resource creation.

In order to ensure that colleagues are in a position to understand the rights of all parties involved in recorded content the OER Service provides a range of resources and workshops focused on copyright literacy and understanding licences.  When lecture recording was rolled out across the University, one of the first workshops launched as part of a comprehensive digital skills programme was Lecture Recording – Licensing, Media Use and OER. Resources from these training sessions are available to reuse under open licence.

With rights come responsibilities and the University has also recently launched a comprehensive set of Digital Safety and Citizenship resources curated by Digital Safety Support Officer Dr Vicki Madden.  These resources include a Digital Citizenship Guide which is designed to be read alongside the University’s Virtual Classroom Policy.  In addition, Neil has developed a set of slides covering etiquette, identity and recording, designed for use in virtual classroom sessions.

In keeping with the University’s commitment to OER and open knowledge, all three policies, together with the Digital Citizenship Guide and slides, are available under open licence for other institutions to adapt and reuse: Open Policy for Learning and Teaching.

I’d like to thank Jane and Chris for inviting us to take part in their webinar, a recording which is available here: Copyright, Fair Dealing and Online Teaching at a Time of Crisis: Lecture recording and virtual classroom policies.

For the Common Good – Responding to the global pandemic with OER⤴

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This is a belated transcript of the talk I gave at the ALT Summer Summit 2020. Slides from this presentation are available here: For the Common Good – Responding to the global pandemic with OER.

At the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO estimated that 1.57 billion learners in 191 countries worldwide had had their education disrupted.  In response to this unprecedented crisis, the organisation issued a Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through Open Educational Resources (OER).  The call highlights the important role that OER can play in supporting the continuation of learning in both formal and informal settings, meeting the needs of individual learners, including people with disabilities and individuals from marginalized or disadvantaged groups, with a view to building more inclusive, sustainable and resilient Knowledge Societies.

This Call for Joint Action builds on UNESCO’s 2019 Recommendation on Open Educational Resources, which represents a formal commitment to actively support the global adoption of OER.   Central to the Recommendation, is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 for Quality Education.

The Recommendation recognises that

“in building inclusive Knowledge Societies, Open Educational Resources (OER) can support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory as well as enhancing academic freedom and professional autonomy of teachers by widening the scope of materials available for teaching and learning.”

 And it outlines five areas of action:

  • Building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER
  • Developing supportive policy
  • Encouraging effective, inclusive and equitable access to quality OER
  • Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER
  • Promoting and reinforcing international cooperation

OER at the University of Edinburgh

At the University of Edinburgh, we believe that supporting OER and open knowledge is strongly in keeping with our institutional vision and values; to discover knowledge and make the world a better place, and to ensure our teaching and research is accessible, inclusive, and relevant to society. In line with the UNESCO OER Recommendation, we also believe that OER and open knowledge can contribute to achieving the aims of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which the University is committed to through the SDG Accord.   

 This commitment to OER is reflected in the University’s OER Policy, approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee in 2015, which encourages staff and students to use and create OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, expand provision of learning opportunities, and enrich our shared knowledge commons.

To support this policy we also have an OER Service that provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER and engaging with open education. We run a wide range of digital skills workshops for staff and students focused on copyright literacy, open licencing, OER and playful engagement. The OER Service places openness at the heart of the university’s strategic initiatives by embedding digital skills training and support into institutional initiatives including lecture recording, academic blogging, VLE foundations, MOOCs and distance learning at scale, in order to build sustainability and minimise the risk of what my senior colleague Melissa Highton has referred to as copyright debt.

And we also maintain a one stop shop that provides access to open educational resources created by staff and students across the university. We don’t have a single centralized OER repository, instead we encourage colleagues to share resources where they can be easily found by those who may benefit from re-using them. To this end, we maintain Open.Ed accounts on a number of channels including Media Hopper Create, our media asset management platform, Flickr, Sketchfab, and TES Resources. And we aggregate a show case of resources on the Open.Ed website, which is built on the WordPress open source platform.

This strategic support for OER and open knowledge enabled the University to respond rapidly to the uniquely complex challenges presented by the global COVID-19 pandemic when the UK went into lockdown in March this year and what I want to do now is highlight some of those responses.

COVID-19 Critical Care: Understanding and Application

As soon as COVID-19 hit the UK, it became evident that frontline clinical staff could be required to work in critical care environments they weren’t familiar with or hadn’t been trained in for some time. The team behind the University’s online Masters in Critical Care realised that content from their course would be extremely valuable to these healthcare professionals and wasted no time planning what they could do to share this information with those that might need it.

Even before the UK lockdown was announced, the Masters in Critical Care team, led by Dr Graham Nimmo, contacted the University’s OER Service for advice and guidance on sharing their resources as widely as possible. While the Critical Care team identified which resources would be most useful, learning technologists explored which platform would be best suited to hosting the content. The initial plan was to share the learning resources as a public course on the University’s central VLE, however there was concern that demand could overwhelm a platform that was critical to ensuring teaching continuity at a time when courses were rapidly pivoting to online delivery.  Instead the University approached FutureLearn, one of the online course providers it already had a partnership with, and they agreed to host the resources at short notice.

Under normal circumstances creating a new MOOC would take around six to nine months and would undergo a thorough learning design process. However with the UK’s pandemic peak looming, the team decided it was vital to make these resources available as quickly as possible.  Over the course of a week from Saturday 28th March, members of the University’s Online Learning service, worked tirelessly with the Critical Care team and FutureLearn to migrate content from the MSc course onto the FutureLearn platform. Meanwhile specially recruited subject matter experts created additional resources to fill any gaps and complete the overall learning package.

Nine days later, and just three weeks into lockdown, the educational resources went live at midnight on Sunday 5 April.  FutureLearn have a quality assurance process that normally takes 30 days, but given the exceptional circumstances, they accelerated this process, with the team resolving 40 essential actions in 26 hours to enable the resources to launch.

Over 5,000 learners enrolled on the first day of the course and by the end of the first 6 week run, over 40,000 learners from 189 countries had accessed the learning materials.

The course itself teaches healthcare professionals how to care for critically ill patients during the COVID-19 pandemic, covering daily practice for frontline clinical staff supporting critical care patients with and without COVID-19, applying ventilation and organ support principles, PPE requirements and staff and patient safety. The course also helps to facilitate healthcare professionals’ emotional and physical self-care and well-being in this high-stress, high-risk environment, and helped them to develop the practices to emotionally support both themselves and their colleagues.

The FutureLearn Critical Care course has now run twice and open licensed videos from the Critical Care team are also available to access and reuse under open licence from the University’s media repository Media Hopper Create.

The University’s strategic support for OER and open knowledge, and FutureLearn’s willingness to bend their own rules, helped enable us to develop this resource at speed.  The team comprised staff from the University, FutureLearn, NHS Lothian, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and NHS Education Scotland, who came together to make something positive happen at what was a difficult and stressful time for many, however knowing how valuable this educational resource would be to staff on the frontline of critical care motivated the team to make the impossible happen.   And you can find out more about this amazing achievement in this news item by my colleague Lauren Johnston-Smith.

PPE Production

Elsewhere in the University colleagues were working tirelessly to address the lack of personal protective equipment faced by healthcare staff in the early stages of the pandemic.  Labs, workshops and maker spaces around the University began producing visors and face shields based on existing open licensed models.  Colleagues at uCreateStudio the University’s make space, developed a 3D printing model for stackable protective visors based on the open licensed 3D Verkstan model, and refined for single filament printing.   A different version of the same open licensed model was created by technicians at the School of Informatics who set up a face shield printing factory and worked 7 days a week to produce hundreds of face shields a day for NHS and care home staff.   Meanwhile technicians at the School of Engineering developed a process to laser cut full-face visors with adjustable headbands using automated laser-cutting machines. 

In addition to producing PPE to help protect healthcare workers, the models developed by uCreate Studio, Informatics, and the School of Engineering were released under Creative Commons licence and shared on the OER Service’s Sketchfab account where they can be downloaded and re-used by all.

Free Short Online Courses

Providing open access to high quality online learning opportunities and widening access to our scholarship has always been an important cornerstone of the University’s commitment to open knowledge exchange and community outreach.   We provide a wide range of online courses including masters degrees, MOOCs and MicroMasters programmes.

Ensuring continued access to course materials for our many online learners, has always been a priority, and now more so than ever. Whether these learners are among the 4,000 matriculated students enrolled on our online masters courses,  or the 2.7 million learners who have signed up for the many MOOCs that we offer. Continued access to MOOC content can be problematic as educational content often gets locked into commercial MOOC platforms, regardless of whether or not it is openly licensed, and some platforms also time limit access to resources. Clearly this is not helpful for learners, particularly at a time when they may find it challenging to meet fixed deadlines as a result of other personal commitments and stresses in their lives. In order to address this issue, the OER Service works closely with our Online Learning service and course production teams to ensure that the majority of online learning content can be released under open licence on our media asset management platform. 

As a result of our longstanding commitment to OER and open knowledge, we now have over 3000 Creative Commons licensed videos on Media Hopper Create, including 527 high quality audio and video resources created for our MOOCs which can be accessed and downloaded from our Open Media Bank channel. The Open Media Bank hosts legacy content covering a wide range of topics, including some that directly address the challenges of the pandemic, such as videos from our former MOOC Critical Thinking in Global Challenges  from the School of Biomedical Sciences.  These videos explore important global challenges to which we have no clear “correct” solutions: including the spread of serious infectious diseases in epidemics in modern societies, and the challenges of human health and wellbeing in the modern world. 

Free Teaching and Learning Resources for Home Schooling

Our commitment to knowledge exchange and community outreach also extends to the school sector.   Through TES Resources the OER Service shares a growing collection of interdisciplinary teaching and learning materials, aimed at primary and secondary school level, covering topics as diverse as climate change, environmental science, food production, sustainable fashion, biodiversity, LGBTQ+ issues, sustainability, and outdoor learning.    These fun and creative resources are free and open licensed and designed to be easily customisable for different learning scenarios.  All are accompanied by SCQF levels and Scottish Curriculum for Excellence learning objectives and outcomes.  

With schools closing as a result of lockdown and parents suddenly faced with the reality of homeschooling, the OER Service used its social media channels to disseminate this ready-made collection of free teaching resources to all who might need them.   And you can see here how downloads of these free resources peaked in the first three months of lockdown.

 One of the really nice things about this collection of open educational resources is that they have all been co-created by undergraduates and student interns in collaboration with colleagues from the School of GeoSciences,  supported by the OER Service. So this is a lovely example of the benefits of open education and co-creation in action.

Digital Skills for Remote and Hybrid Teaching

And of course we’ve also been supporting our own colleagues at the University as they adapted first to the rapid online pivot at the start of lockdown and now as they prepare to move to a model of hybrid teaching at the start of semester one.

The OER Service was already running a digital skills programme, which focuses on copyright literacy, open licensing and OER.  This helps to equip staff with the knowledge and confidence they need to successfully move their teaching materials online, while minimising the risk to the University of breaching copyright.  In response to increased demand and to meet the unique needs of moving to our new hybrid model of teaching and learning, the OER Service moved its entire digital skills programme online and rolled out a number of new courses including Copyright, Licensing and Open Materials for Hybrid Teaching, Building Blocks of UK Copyright and Exceptions, and Creative Commons Quickstart – A short introduction to using CC licences in our core tool set.   Although our digital skills sessions are only open to staff and postgraduate students at the University, all our workshop materials, including slide decks and videos are freely available under open licence, including videos of our popular digital skills workshop Will it bite me? Media, Licensing, and online teaching environments.

Caring for Mental Health and Wellbeing

Caring for mental health at a time of unprecedented stress and uncertainty is a priority for us all, and over the last six months the OER Service has shared a wealth of resources to support mental health and wellbeing created by colleagues around the University.  These include  Mental Health: A Global Priority podcasts and videos,  a mental health and wellbeing booklet for children aged 12+,  the lovely we have great stuff colouring-book, which my colleague Stewart Cromar shared at last year’s ALT Conference in Edinburgh,  and treasures from the University’s collections  which we’ve shared through our social media channels.

These are just some of the ways that the University of Edinburgh’s strategic commitment to OER and open knowledge has enabled us to respond to the many and varied challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and contribute to the common good.

And I want to end now by returning to the UNESCO  Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through OER, and this quote from Moez Chakchouk, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information and  Stefania Giannini, Assistant Director-General for Education.

“Today we are at a pivotal moment in history. The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a paradigm shift on how learners of all ages, worldwide, can access learning. It is therefore more than ever essential that the global community comes together now to foster universal access to information and knowledge through OER.”

Policy, Practice and Permission⤴

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I’ve been thinking quite a lot about open policy this year, and I want to take a moment to try and put some of these thoughts into writing.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the global pandemic, there have been some significant policy developments in the broad domain of open knowledge this year. In April, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNESCO issued a Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through Open Educational Resources (OER).  This call builds on UNESCO’s Recommendation on Open Educational Resources, which was approved towards the end of 2019.  Elsewhere in the open knowledge domain the Wikimedia Foundation has been undertaking its own Movement Strategy exercise to shape the strategic direction of the movement, and outline the processes required to enable Wikimedia to achieve its goal of becoming the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge by 2030. 

Closer to home, this year also marks five years of the OER Policy and Service at the University of Edinburgh.  The OER Service was launched in 2015 in order to support the University’s new OER Policy which was approved by Senate Learning and Teaching Committee in January 2016.   The architect of the University’s Vision for OER is Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal and Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services, and development of the policy was led by Stuart Nicol, Head of Educational Design and Engagement.

The aim of the University of Edinburgh’s OER Policy is to

“…encourage staff and students to use, create, and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, enhance the provision of learning opportunities for all, and improve teaching practices. It also recognises that use, creation, and publication of OERs are consistent with the University’s reputation, values, and mission to “make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing”.

One of the significant aspects of this policy is that it is informative and permissive.   It encourages staff to use and create OER, it does not mandate that they must.  In addition to positively encouraging colleagues to engage with OER, the policy also provides them with the reassurance that they have permission to share their teaching and learning resources under open licence.  Indeed the policy goes on to state that:

“Unless stated to the contrary, it is assumed that use, creation and publication of single units or small collections will be allowed.”

The role of the OER Service is to support the policy and enable colleagues to make informed decisions about using open licences and creating and engaging with OER.  As such, the service focuses on supporting the development of digital skills around copyright and information literacy, while highlighting examples of innovative open education practice from around the University.

Although it’s difficult to definitively measure the impact of this permissive policy at the University, there is ample evidence of increased engagement with OER.  Colleagues have created over 3000 open licensed videos which are hosted on Media Hopper Create, the University’s media asset management platform.  This collection includes over 500 high quality audio and video resources created for our MOOCs, and all content now created for MOOCs and free short online courses is designed to be shared under open licence. On TES Resources we’ve shared 50 free interdisciplinary teaching and learning resources, aimed at primary and secondary school level, co-created by undergraduates and student interns in collaboration with colleagues from the School of GeoSciences, and supported by the OER Service. Ten undergraduate and masters level courses incorporate Wikimedia in the curriculum assignments, supported by the University’s Wikimedian in Residence, and several more include OER creation assignments, including the Digital Futures for Learning course which is part of the MSc in Digital Education. 

The University has recently acknowledged the importance of open educational resources not only for excellence in student education but also for academic career progression.  New Principles and Exemplars of Excellence for recognition and reward in academic careers paths, include creating open educational resources as an example of “Dissemination of excellence in student education”.

This permissive approach to policy is quite different from the Open Access mandates adopted by research councils which require institutions to make the scholarly outputs of their research available through open access repositories.  Although both approaches have a similar objective; sharing knowledge openly, approaches that are designed with scholarly works in mind are rarely effective for educational resources.  Scholarly works are relatively static resources that are one of the endpoints of the research process. Learning materials, by comparison, are more fluid and dynamic, and rarely benefit from being treated as static resources.  In particular, open access repositories that are designed for hosting scholarly works, are rarely well suited to accommodating open educational resources.  At the University of Edinburgh there is no single central OER repository, instead the policy states that:

“Digital teaching resources should be published in an appropriate repository or public-access website in order to maximise discovery and use by others.”

The University’s OER Service hosts a showcase of Edinburgh’s OERs on the Open.Ed website and also maintains dedicated channels on a number of online platforms to share open educational resources created by staff and students under the Open.Ed banner. 

Another significant aspect of the Edinburgh OER Policy is that it applies to both staff and students and indeed students have played an important role in shaping the University’s vision for OER since the outset.  EUSA, the student union, were instrumental in encouraging the University to adopt an OER policy, and we continue to see student engagement and co-creation as being fundamental aspects of open education and open knowledge.

While permissive policies are effective in encouraging practice at the individual level and across the institution, there is also a role for mandatory policy in open education, particularly with regard to publicly funded educational resources.  I still believe strongly that publicly funded educational content, should be freely available to the public under open licence.  This is one of the founding principles of the Scottish Open Education Declaration, an open community policy based on the UNESCO OER Declaration, which calls on the Scottish Government to foster awareness of open education practice across all sectors of Scottish education, and support the use of open licences for all educational materials produced with public funds.  Although the Declaration has not gained traction with the Scottish Government, it has been influential in shaping open policy developments in other nations and has been an important advocacy tool for promoting OER and open education practice within institutions.

I believe there’s something to be said about the relationship between policy and practice in open education.   OER policies have sometimes been criticised for focusing on resources rather than practice, with critics pointing out that resources alone cannot bring about the transformative affordances of open education, that can only happen with the development of open education practices.  However it’s extremely difficult to legislate for open educational practice when it is by its very nature highly diverse and contextual (Cronin, 2017).  However, in order to create and use OER, you do need to engage with open practice, so I would argue that OER policies are important enablers of open practice, even if the focus of the policy itself is on resources rather than practices.  

At the University of Edinburgh we’ve seen how an informative, permissive policy, supported by a central service focused on developing digital and information literacy skills and supporting student engagement, has enabled a wide range of open education practices to emerge across the institution.

If it’s September, it must be Wiki Loves Monuments!⤴

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How is it September already?!  Time always seems to fly at the end of summer but this year has been particularly weird as we’ve started to ease out of lockdown. July seemed to run on for ages, and then August disappeared in the blink of an eye! 

The best thing about September is that it means Wiki Loves Monuments is back!  For those that haven’t come across it before, Wiki Loves Monuments is Wikimedia’s annual photography competition, which runs throughout the month of September. The rules are simple, all you need to do is register a Wikimedia Commons account, take an original picture of a scheduled monument or listed building, and upload it to Wikimedia Commons using this interactive map. In addition to the overall prizes for the best UK entries, there are also prizes for the best images from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.  

One of the things I love about Wiki Loves Monuments, is that anyone can enter. You don’t need to be a professional photographer, you don’t need a fancy camera, any camera phone will do.  Last year, one of the winning images, a gorgeous picture of the interior of Arnol Blackhouse, was taken with a smartphone.  

91 Buccleuch Street, Garnethill High School For Girls, by Lorna M. Campbell, CC BY SA, on Wikimedia Commons.

Normally I’d encourage folk to use Wiki Loves Monuments as a great excuse to get out and about to explore sites and monuments across Scotland, but this year is a little different of course.  Many of our historic monuments are closed to the public and most of us are restricting travel unless it’s absolutely necessary.  However! There are still lots of ways you can join the competition.  Why not load up the interactive map, take a wander round your local area and photograph some of the listed buildings in the vicinity?  You might be surprised how many historic buildings there are right under our nose!  If you’re in Edinburgh, you might like to download the Curious Edinburgh app and explore some of the walking routes they have mapped out across the city.  And in Glasgow,  the Women’s Library have a series of Women’s Heritage Walks you can follow.  Although the guided walks aren’t running at the moment, you can download maps and audio guides of the routes to follow yourself. I did the Garnethill Women’s Heritage Walk a couple of years ago.  It was absolutely fascinating and I uploaded several of the pictures I took along the way to Wiki Loves Monuments later in the year, including this picture of the former Garnethill High School for Girls. 

You can even take part without leaving the comfort of your own home.  Why not dig out your old holiday snaps to see if you’ve got any pictures of sites and monuments you can upload?  It’s also a lovely way to relive holidays past, for those of us who haven’t been able to get away this year.  I’m a bit sad that I’ve already raided my (horribly disorganised) photo archive for previous years competitions, but I might have another look just in case there’s any I’ve missed. 

But perhaps the best thing about Wiki Loves Monuments is that not only is it great fun to take part, you can also enjoy the fact that you’re making a positive contribution to our shared knowledge commons, and that’s a lovely thought to brighten up a dreich September!