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OERxDomains21 – All Change⤴

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OER21 BadgeThe OER Conference is always one of the highlights of the year for me. I’ve been privileged to attend every single one since conference launched in 2010 and it’s been interesting to see how the event has changed as open education has evolved over the last 11 years. My keynote at the 2018 conference focused on this evolution and explored how themes and trends around open education had developed, and the OER conferences had responded by become more diverse, inclusive, and international. This year the OER conference entered a new phase of its evolution with a new partnership and a new technology platform. OER21 was run in conjunction with the Domains Conference as OERxDomains21 and, instead of Blackboard Collaborate, the event used Streamyard, YouTube and Discord. The event was brilliantly co-chaired by Joe Wilson, Louise Drumm, Lou Mycroft, Jim Goom and Lauren Hanks.

I have to confess I didn’t know quite what to expect as the conference approached, for the first time in years, I wasn’t able to join the conference committee owing to other work commitments. Streamyard was completely new to me, and although I’m very familiar with Discord I was a bit conflicted about using it for work purposes, as it’s one of my main non-work channels; basically, it’s where I hang out with my friends on group chat.  In the event, the technology worked brilliantly, with unflappable support from ALT and the Reclaim Hosting team.   Proving the adage that a change is as good as a rest, the new platform encouraged all kinds of opportunities for discussion and interaction and lots of participants commented that the event had much more of a social feel than other online conferences. Discord really did have the feel of a physical conference space, where everyone came together to chat, share and hang out, and the live Youtube comment facility that accompanied the presentations and keynotes really helped to encourage discussion.  My only small regret is that with so much of the engagement happening across multiple conference platforms, there was less activity on the hashtags on twitter, which makes it a little harder to look back over all the discussions that took place.

It’s not the technology that makes the OER Conference such a special experience though, it’s the community, and this year was no exception.  I was really delighted to be attending with three student interns, Ana Reina Garcia, Ifeanyichukwu Ezinmadu and Kari Ding, to present a paper on our Open Textbooks for Access to Music Education project.  Our presentation got a really positive response and it was great to see how enthusiastically everyone responded to the students’ involvement in both the project and the conference.  You can find a transcript and slides, as well as more information about the project, on our blog here The Scale of Open: Re-purposing open resources for music education.

I also helped to facilitate an Open Space session with Jane Secker, Chris Morrison, Greg Walters and Sarah Barkala exploring the relationship between open practices, copyright literacy and the shift to online teaching. The Open Space sessions ran in dedicated Discord channels, and although the platform is ideal for group chat, participants were a little shy about taking the mic, and without an in-channel chat facility, it meant that there was less discussion than we’d hoped.  However we did collate some useful resources on a padlet around four key questions related to copyright law, literacy and open practice.

I had to dip in and out of the conference owing to a bit of a crazy workload and a lot of meetings, sadly that’s not something that even the best conference organisation can solve, however the new platform did make it very easy for me to catch up with sessions that I’d missed, which I really appreciated.  I made a point of catching as many of the keynotes as possible, and came away truly inspired. Three themes that emerged strongly across the conference were playfulness and creativity, equity and care, and acknowledging the labour of openness.

OER21 bingo cardCreativity and playfulness was very much to the fore in Laura Gibbs keynote #BeyondLMS: Open Creativity, Randomized which focused on the transformative power of encouraging creative writing on the open web.  Not only did Laura randomise her keynote slides she also let participants create randomised bingo cards so we could play along during her keynote.  Believe it or not, I was the first to get bingo! Though of course it’s the taking part that counts, not the winning 😉

Another of the creative highlights of the conference was Eamon Costello and Prajakta Grime’s mind expanding University V is alive! Now open to the closed, the cruel and the dead.  More of an incantation than a presentation, this incredible multimedia experience left participants challenged and bewildered. I missed the live performance but there was such a buzz about it on Discord that I dropped everything to jump over to youtube to watch the recording. 

A powerful ethic of care has been nurtured by the OER conferences year on year and it’s been humbling and inspiring to see seeds planted at previous conferences take root and grow.  Jasmine Robert’s keynote asked Open for Whom?: Revisiting the Global Commitments of Open Education and posed three key questions:

Jasmine reminded us that open is not always culturally appropriate in different cultural contexts and questioned the ease with which we assign authority to white men, while urging us to acknowledge and protect vulnerable scholars and people of colour who are doing the hard work of open scholarship. She closed her keynote by quoting bell hooks

“All the great social movements for freedom & justice in our society have promoted a love ethic. The testimony of love is the practice of freedom.”

And asking for “open education that is focused on a love ethic to move towards a path of global healing.”

In the Q&A session afterwards I asked Jasmine how we can work to ensure that the labour of care and social justice labour is fully acknowledged and more equally distributed?  She replied that we must begin by acknowledging how much we *all* benefit from social justice labour and care.

In the closing keynote, Rajiv Jhangiani also focused on the Curious Contradictions and Open-ended Questions of what it means to be open, who gets to decide what is open enough, and whether openness is always a good thing.  Rajiv cited an example highlighted by tara robertson of an instance where openness raised troubling ethical issues.  When the lesbian porn magazine On Our Backs was digitised and released under CC BY licence, women who had modelled for the magazine felt that work they had created for their own community had been appropriated for uses they had never intended and did not consent to. 

As someone who is passionate about knowledge activism and the representation of queer history in open culture, this really gave me pause for thought, particularly as I recently created a Wikipedia entry for another lesbian porn magazine Quim, which was co-created by a former On Our Backs photo editor.

Rajiv reminded us that:

“Openness can be leveraged for justice, but it can also do harm. Closed practices can also do harm, but there are times when closed is the empowered choice. Choice is key. We must serve justice, rather than merely being open.”

Another point Rajiv made that raised interesting questions for me was that “the OER Community is one where people are more comfortable to be vulnerable.”  This is certainly true, and I speak from experience, though of course we all have different relationships with that community and I wonder if we don’t always appreciate just how deeply uncomfortable vulnerability can make us feel, even within such a supportive community.  This had struck me during an earlier conference session where participants were asked so share, as part of a series of small groups discussions, stories of instances where care or equity had been lacking, and record them on slides to be shared with the larger group.  While sharing stories of this nature in a small group can be cathartic and empowering, it can be difficult and potentially risky for some to share examples from personal practice in public.  The exercise raised some interesting issues of power and inequity, points that the presenters acknowledged.  

For me, as is so often the case, it was Catherine Cronin who really captured the ethic of care that resonated at the heart of the conference by reminding us that

“Care without equity exacerbates inequality”.

To close I want to say a huge thank you to the teams at ALT and Reclaim hosting, the conference co-chairs and committee, and all the participants who made OER21 such a fun, engaging, thought provoking and empowering event.  And special thanks, as always, to Maren Deepwell who really embodies ALT’s commitment to community, care, equity and openness ♡

Guest post for #OERxDomains21 : Being in the OER x Domains Space⤴

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As part of the build up to the OERxDomains21 conference next week, members of the conference committee have been writing a series of guest blog posts. My post has just been published and you can read it over on the conference blog here.

In the post I share some of my thoughts about time and conferences. Why it’s hard to find time to “conference” (particularly during lock-down), why it’s important to find the time to “conference” and a little secret about some of my best times at conferences.

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

 

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.”

Open leadership: legacy and succession and a farewell to my time as #altc Chair⤴

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This is my final contribution to this series of posts where I have tried to share some of what I consider to be the key aspects of leadership in my role as Chair of ALT. You can read the other posts, here, here here and here.

My tenure of Chair comes to an end at the AGM on 24th June. This is slightly earlier that I had anticipated at the beginning of this year. Normally our AGMs occur during our annual conference in September, but of course due to the current global pandemic we have had to cancel all our face to face events for the rest of this year.  Moving the AGM online and to an early date is another in a series of rapid changes ALT has had to adopt over the past few months.

However, this move could actually set another precedent for the AGM as it might actually make more sense to keep it decoupled from any conference/event, and run it online. We are hoping that it might actually be easier for more of our members to join online. And of course the AGM is open to all – not just our members.

When Martin Weller ( current President) and I wrote this blog post as part of the recruitment for the new Chair, we could never have anticipated the enormous changes the world has gone through in the last few months. However, as I say in our annual report which will formally be presented at the AGM,  ALT has managed to negotiate these unprecedented times in, what I consider, a positive and agile way.  I would love to say that this was all down to me and my leadership – but of course it’s not just down to me 😉  Our CEO Maren and our CIO Martin as well as all the core ALT staff have risen to the challenge of almost completely rewriting work plans and adapting core business in response the changing times.

One, if not the, key reasons they were able to do that successfully was due to the changes the organisation has gone through over the past three years. When I took over as Chair, ALT was in the process of changing its charitable status, its governance structure ( I am the first Chair to serve a 3 year, as opposed to 1 year term), and crucially becoming an independent, virtual, distributed organisation.   ALT staff didn’t have to pivot to online – they were already there.  No zoom revolution needed.  The speed of decision making over the past three months has been rapid to say the least.  

Our governance structures have allowed us to react in a timely, yet considered manner. Ensuring that the interests of our community are continued to be served and our finances are still in a positive position.  That is no mean feat. The commitment of all our Trustees who have attended extra meetings in the midst of their own challenging and changing contexts has allowed us to ensure the stability of the Association and support our core staff. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to lead and work with all the Trustees during my time as Chair.

It has also been a pleasure and a privilege to work with all the ALT core staff – not just over the past three years but over the six years I have been on the Board.  Maren and Martin are of course the faces most members know (and love), but they are supported by Jane, Fiona, Debbie, Emma Jane and Jane (currently on maternity leave). They really are a great team.  One of the things I was really keen to during my time as Chair was to connect the Board and the staff more, so there wasn’t a such a gulf between “the Board” and “the staff”. As I see it, we are all part of the core team and I have particularly enjoyed joining team meetings.  Once again I want to thank all the ALT staff I have worked with over the past three years.

It’s hard, actually almost impossible, to pick  highlights from the past three years, there have been so many. But the 2018 Annual conference which marked the 25th anniversary of the Association was special as I was one of the co-chairs and we took the opportunity to focus in on ALT itself a bit more. However, every ALT conference is special each one holds a special place for me.  I remember going to my first ALT conference (a long, long time ago now);  it never crossed my mind that I would ever be on a stage as a co-chair of an ALT  conference or indeed be the Chair of the  Association – just shows you kids – dreams can come true!  Over the past few years, being able to present new CMALT holders with their certificates at the conference has also been a highlight. It’s great to see so many people taking the time to get professional recognition for their work and of course, become part of the CMALT community as well as the wider ALT community too. 

The ALT values are very dear to me, particularly community. ALT is, and always has, been more than the sum of its parts. If I leave any legacy I would like it to be that clear focus community. Without our community we are nothing. If it’s not clear how what we do serves our community we shouldn’t be doing it.  Of course sustaining and growing a community is a constant challenge – particularly when you have a such a diverse membership as we do in  ALT.  

However, our steadily growing membership over the past 3 years is testament to our focus on supporting the needs of our community by the work of our core ALT team, and of course all voluntary work the members who run and contribute to our range of special interest groups ALT supports.  

Over the past 3 years I believe our communication about what we do continues to  improve.  The launch of the 2017 – 2020  Impact Report earlier this year was a particularly highlight for me as I believe it so clearly illustrated the huge range of work ALT has supported over the past 3 years, and the robustness of our last strategy. I hope this is the first of many such reports.

Although we have a diverse community in the sense of the range of job descriptions our members hold, we of course can do much more to support wider diversity and equality. We are making inroads, but there is a still  a way to go.  I am acutely aware of how our membership reflects the imbalance of ethnicity and gender that is prevalent across the UK eduction sector – particularly HE. I believe that ALT community is an inclusive one, and has a place for everyone involved in promoting the use and impact of learning technology. I also know that it is easy for me to say that from my position of white privilege. That said,  I do believe that the work ALT does to support open education, research and reflective professional development does provide multiple platforms for our community to critically reflect on its context and, help to promote and support increasing diversity and inclusion. If there is more we can do or a different way we can do things, then there is an open door to anyone with ideas.

So as I end my time as Chair, I am very optimistic about the future of ALT. The sense of community has shone through over the past few months, with so many resources and so much advice being shared openly. We were able to rapidly provide spaces for much needed community support in a time of confusion and crisis for all.

So whilst I’m obviously a bit sad about leaving the role which has been such a large part of my life for the past 3 years I do feel it is a good time for me to hand over to someone else.  I have no doubt that the incoming Chair, Helen O’Sullivan will be able to lead the Association and bring so much of her experience and knowledge to the role as ALT implements its new new strategy.  I know Helen is committed to our community and all of our core values, and will be supported by a very able Board.

A key part of leadership is knowing when to move on, and feeling confident about doing that – which I do. Of course I won’t be disappearing completely, I will still be an active member of the ALT community – particularly,  as part of the ALT Scotland team, and as a CMALT assessor.  

I have always felt a huge sense of privilege and gratitude to the ALT community, firstly for voting me onto the Board and then for supporting my nomination as Chair. I hope over the last three years, that trust in me and my leadership has been fulfilled. It’s been an amazing experience. To paraphrase the words of Benny and Bjorn; I’m nothing special, but leading ALT has been one of the most special and rewarding experiences of my professional life. So thank you for the music ALT, and so, so much more. 


Sharing the Labour of Care⤴

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

#femedtch quilt, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

References

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

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

Femedtech, http://femedtech.net/

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

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

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

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

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

Openness, Precarity and Equity⤴

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As part of Open Education Week, the ALT Open Education SIG and Femedtech facilitated an asynchronous event Open Policy – Who cares?  The organisers invited provocations from members of the open education community in the form of Flipgrid videos and writings on femedtech.net. This is my contribution. 


I’ve worked in the domain of open education for over ten years now and I passionately believe that publicly funded educational resources should be freely and openly available to the public.  In fact this is one of the founding principles of the Scottish Open Education Declaration.  When we talk about open policy the focus tends to be on “open” and “free”, however I think what is critical here is “funding”, because as we all know, open does not mean free. If we want to support the creation of open knowledge and publicly funded open education resources, then the education sector has to be supported by adequate funding and, perhaps more importantly, by equitable working conditions.  And this is where problems start to arise; at a time when casualisation is endemic in the UK higher education sector, too many colleagues are employed on exploitative precarious contracts.  This is why we are currently in the middle of a period of sustained industrial action that is protesting universities’ failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.  If you are a teaching assistant employed on a fixed hourly rate that doesn’t even begin to cover the preparation time for creating your teaching resources and lecturing materials, it’s hard to make the case, ethically and morally, that you should release your resources under open license, because you’re effectively giving your labour away for free, and very few marginalised workers have the privilege to be able to do that. So while I still believe that we do need more policy around open education, and that we have an ethical responsibility to make publicly funded educational resources available to all, we also need equitable working conditions that will enable us all to contribute to the shared knowledge commons.

Open leadership – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (5): Strategy Development⤴

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In this, the 5th post in my in my series reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT, I am going to focus on strategy development.  

ALTs new strategy launched last week.  It has been the culmination of nearly 9 months of work, led by our CEO Maren Deepwell, al the ALT staff, the Board and most importantly our members.  Maren has written an excellent overview of the process and the CEO perspective but I want to take a couple of minutes to reflect on it from Chair’s point of view.

Strategy can often feel quite removed from the reality of an organisation. I believe that any strategy has to be a relevant, useful, living document. Our last strategy was developed at the point where ALT transitioned into an independent, distributed organisation.  At that time the Board were committed to ensuring that the strategy document would reflect the values of our new structure and most importantly the values of our members.   

Over the 4 years, it has been a constant touch point for not only the developing work of the organisation but also as a means to evaluate and measure the work and progress that has been made. So when it came round to thinking about the next strategy I didn’t have sleepless nights about the need to change our values or overall direction of our strategic aims.  These have proved meaningful and relevant as our Impact Report illustrates. Being able to publish an impact report alongside a new strategy document is another tangible way that ALT is now able to show value and progress to our members and wider community.

As Chair I was relieved that the strategy development was not bound up with major direction changes and the inevitable “politics” that would have involved. Rather, this time we are building and extending from the secure foundation provided by our existing values of open-ness, independence, collaboration and participation. This ensures a continuity of development and progress.

Ensuring strategic continuity and consensus is, I believe, a major part of successful leadership and a key part of my role as Chair to ensure and lead the Board to consensus. But when you have shared, realistic and meaningful values, that task is much easier. 

I am particularly pleased that there will be a focus on developing an ethical framework for professional practice in Learning Technology across all sectors. In our current context of increased datafication of education it is vital that the ALT community can take a leading role in the development of ethical practice around the use of data. We need to continue to provide spaces for rich discussion, debate, research and practice, to critique and question the role of data, increased surveillance on students (and staff), and challenge the bias that is inherent in so many systems.

Again, it was heartening to hear from the community that the many webinars and connection opportunities that ALT provide are really valued and what they want to see continue and develop.  I have already written about how pleasing it was to see how open-ness has permeated all the work of ALT.  

Building from the success of the last document, we have kept our strategy document short, and have used the services of Bryan Mather’s Visual Thinkery to provide a set of open licensed images. These images encapsulate the essence of the strategy and provide a shared visual language for all our members.

The strategy document itself I believe is the embodiment of our values, and was only made possible by a huge amount of open collaboration and participation.  Given what was achieved over the last strategic life cycle, I can’ wait to see how much progress the association is going to make over the next five years.  Of course I won’t be Chair after September but I do believe that this strategy will provide the new Chair with the continuity that they will need to take the Association to even more success and growth.

Reflections on @Femedtech Curation⤴

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Despite the overwhelming gloom of Brexit, I got the year off to a positive start by curating the @femedtech twitter account for the first two weeks of January. I’ve been involved with femedtech in one way or another since its inception, and I often tweet using the hashtag, but this was the first time I’d actually taken a curation slot and it was a real honour to be the first curator of the New Year.  An obvious theme for my curation would have been New Years Resolutions, but to be honest, I’ve never been much of a fan of those.  I know they work for some people, but all too often they tend to become an additional source of guilt and pressure, which doesn’t strike me as a very good way to start a new year.

So instead I decided to focus on a theme of Inspiration. I had intended to tweet one source of inspiration every day, but I wasn’t quite able to do that. I did manage to tweet from the femedtech account several times every day, though this was a bit of a challenge once I was back at work.  It wasn’t hard to choose my first inspiration, Audrey Watters phenomenal roundup of 100 Worst Ed -Tech Debacles of the Decade

Audrey has been described as the Cassandra of ed tech, and indeed she is, but she is also our Mnemosyne, our collective memory.  Audrey reminds us of all the failures that the ed tech industry would prefer us to forget, but if we don’t remember, how can we possibly learn from out mistakes and move forward?

Other inspirations I shared over the course of the fortnight were…

Annual reflection posts shared by friends and colleagues

ALT

Wiki Loves Monuments Winners

Hong Kong Protest Artists

The #femedtechquilt project

My final inspiration was a twitter thread about Archive Of Our Own, which provides a salutary contrast to Audrey’s 100 Ed Tech Debacles, and which I’m posting in its entirety below. 

It’s an Open Source repository initiative, launched in 2009, which has over 2 million registered users, and over 5 million items. In had 281 million page views in the first week of January this year alone, and 1.12 billion in the month of December. It’s *huge*.  The repository is not for profit, has no foundation funding, no sponsorship, no advertising revenue. It supports anonymity and pseudonimity and it doesn’t collect or sell user data. It also has a hybrid tagging system maintained entirely by volunteers, which is a thing of wonder.  It’s based on inclusive feminist design principals and built and maintained almost entirely by women, many of whom are young, queer and nonbinary. Last year it won a prestigious international award in recognition of its achievements.  Some of you will already know what I’m talking about, others might be wondering why they’ve never heard of this astonishing initiative before.  It is of course Archive of our Own, the archive of fanfiction managed by the Organization for Transformative Works. It’s an incredible achievement that’s been almost completely ignored by the majority of the tech sector for the last decade. I’ll leave you to decide why. I started my curation with @audreywatters sobering “100 Worst Ed Tech Debacles of the Decade”, and I can’t help reflecting on what AO3s has achieved in the same period.  At a time when concerns are growing about identity, surveillance, data ownership, & ethics, AO3 shows us that there is another way to be, that another kind of internet is possible. If ed tech opened its eyes, it could learn a lot from AO3 *and* the women who built & maintain it.  To learn more about this incredible collaborative achievement I can highly recommend this 2018 Open Repositories Conference keynote by Casey Fiesler, @cfiesler,  And you can follow @ao3org and @OTWnews here.  I’ve also written a blog post AO3 – The mad woman in the open source attic?

That thread got quite a response when it was retweeted by AO3, and I was very grateful when Frances also drew attention to it at the start of her own curation, however I’m still not sure that many ed tech people sat up and took notice. 

Although I use the #femedtech hashtag frequently I felt a much greater sense of responsibility when tweeting from the account. I was very careful about what I shared, reading every blog post, paper or news article from start to finish before tweeting it from the account. In the process I discovered several voices I would not have come across otherwise, including Marianne Thamm, whose powerful article In Defence of South African Hope, was brought to my attention by Laura Czerniewicz.

At the same time that I was curating @femedtech, I was also tweeting from my own personal account and curating the University of Edinburgh’s OER Service account, @openededinburgh.  All three accounts require different approaches and voices and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the boundaries sometimes got a little blurred on occasion. I didn’t consciously try to mute my own voice while curating @femedtech, but I was always very conscious of the accountability of my words.  So it was really interesting after the end of my curation when Maha opened a conversation about the diversity of curators voices on femedtech.

All in all I found curating @femedtech to be a really positive and empowering experience and a great way to start the New Year.  I’m already wondering when I can sign up for my next slot! 

ALTC Personal Highlights⤴

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I’ve already written an overview and some thoughts on the ALTC keynotes, this post is an additional reflection on some of my personal highlights of the conference. 

I was involved in three sessions this year; Wikipedia belongs in education with Wikimedia UK CEO Lucy Crompton-Reid and UoE Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew, Influential voices – developing a blogging service based on trust and openness with DLAM’s Karen Howie, and Supporting Creative Engagement and Open Education at the University of Edinburgh with LTW colleagues Charlie Farley and Stewart Cromar.  All three sessions went really well, with lots of questions and engagement from the audience.  

It’s always great to see that lightbulb moment when people start to understand the potential of using Wikipedia in the classroom to develop critical digital and information literacy skills.    There was a lot of interest in (and a little envy of) UoE’s Academic Blogging Service and centrally supported WordPress platform, blogs.ed.ac.uk, so it was great to be able to share some of the open resources we’ve created along the way including policies, digital skills resources, podcasts, blog posts, open source code and the blogs themselves.  And of course there was a lot of love for our creative engagement approaches and open resources including Board Game Jam and the lovely We have great stuff colouring book.  

Stewart Cromar also did a gasta talk and poster on the colouring book and at one point I passed a delegate standing alone in the hallway quietly colouring in the poster.  As I passed, I mentioned that she could take one of the colouring books and home with her.  She nodded and smiled and carried on colouring.  A lovely quite moment in a busy conference.

It was great to hear Charlie talking about the enduringly popular and infinitely adaptable 23 Things course, and what made it doubly special was that she was co-presenting with my old Cetis colleague R. John Robertson, who is now using the course with his students at Seattle Pacific University.   I’ve been very lucky to work with both Charlie and John, and it’s lovely to see them collaborating like this.

Our Witchfinder General intern Emma Carroll presented a brilliant gasta talk on using Wikidata to geographically locate and visualise the different locations recorded within the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database.  It’s an incredible piece of work and several delegates commented on how confidently Emma presented her project.  You can see the outputs of Emma’s internship here https://witches.is.ed.ac.uk/about

Emma Carroll, CC BY NC 2.0, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

I really loved Kate Lindsay’s thoughtful presentation on KARE, a kind, accessible, respectful, ethical scaffolding system to support online education at University College of Estate Management.  And I loved her Rosa Parks shirt. 

Kate Lindsay, CC BY NC, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

I also really enjoyed Claudia Cox’s engaging and entertaining talk Here be Dragons: Dispelling Myths around BYOD Digital Examinations.  Claudia surely wins the prize for best closing comment…

Sheila MacNeill and Keith Smyth gave a great talk on their conceptual framework for reimagining the digital university which aims to challenge neoliberalism through discursive, reflective digital pedagogy.  We need this now more than ever.

Keith Smyth, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

Sadly I missed Helen Beetham’s session Learning technology: a feminist space? but I heard it was really inspiring.  I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been able to hear Helen talk, we always seem to be programmed in the same slot!  I also had to miss Laura Czerniewicz’s Online learning during university shut downs, so I’m very glad it was recorded. I’m looking forward to catching up with is as soon as I can.

The Learning Technologist of the Year Awards were truly inspiring as always. Lizzie Seymour, Learning Technology Officer, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland at Edinburgh Zoo was a very well deserved winner of the individual award, and I was really proud to see the University of Edinburgh’s Lecture Recording Team win the team award.  So many people across the University were involved in this project so it was great to see their hard work recognised.

UoE Lecture Recording Team, CC BY NC, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

Without doubt though the highlight of the conference for me was Frances Bell‘s award of Honorary Life Membership of the Association for Learning Technology.  Frances is a dear friend and an inspirational colleague who really embodies ALT’s core values of participation, openness, collaboration and independence, so it was a huge honour to be invited to present her with the award.  Frances’ nomination was led by Catherine Cronin, who wasn’t able to be at the conference, so it gave me great pleasure to read out her words.

“What a joy to see Frances Bell – who exemplifies active, engaged and generous scholarship combined with an ethic of care –being recognised with this Honorary Life Membership Award by ALT.

As evidenced in her lifetime of work, Frances has combined her disciplinary expertise in Information Systems with historical and social justice perspectives to unflinchingly consider issues of equity in both higher education and wider society.

Uniquely, Frances sustains connections with people across higher education, local communities and creative networks in ways which help to bridge differences without ignoring them, and thus to enable understanding.

Within and beyond ALT, we all have much to thank her for.” 

I confess I couldn’t look at Frances while I was reading Catherine’s words as it was such an emotional moment.   I’m immensely proud of ALT for recognising Frances’ contribution to the community and for honouring her in this way.

Frances Bell, Honorary Life Member or ALT, CC BY NC, Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology

And finally, huge thanks to Maren, Martin and the rest of the ALT team for organising another successful, warm and welcoming conference.