Tag Archives: altc

2023 End of Year Reflection⤴

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Posting an end of year round up at the end of January might seem a bit daft, but I’m already one step ahead of last year, when I posted my end of year reflection in February! 

The beginning of the year was a succession of real highs and lows.  UCU entered a long phase of industrial action which came at a particularly challenging time for me as January and February is usually when I’m preparing for Open Education Week and the OER Conference.  However I also took some time out for a trip to New York with friends, which turned out to be one of the high points of my year. 

Open Education Week

For Open Education Week we ran a webinar that celebrated 10 years of open course development at the University of Edinburgh and shared the open course creation workflow that we’ve developed and refined over the years. 

 

OER23 Conference

It was great to see the OER Conference returning to Scotland in March when it was hosted by UHI in Inverness.  Inverness is a place that is very close to my heart as it’s the main city in the Highlands and it’s also were we used to go on holiday when I was a kid.  Inverness is still a stopping off point on the journey home when I go to visit family in Stornoway so I had a slightly weird feeling of nostalgia and home-sickness while I was there, it was odd being in Inverness and not traveling on further north and west. 

One of the themes of this years conference was Open Scotland +10 and Joe Wilson and I ran a number of sessions including a pre-conference workshop and closing plenary to reflect on how the open education landscape in Scotland has evolved over the last decade, and to discuss potential ways to advance open education across all sectors of Scottish education. 

Photograph of Open Scotland Plenary Panel at the OER23 Conference.

Open Scotland Plenary Panel by Tim Winterburn.
Here, the closing Panel Plenary session

Generative AI

Like many working in technical, educational and creative sectors I found it impossible to ignore the discourse around generative AI, though I hope I managed to avoid getting swept up in the hype and catastrophising.  In July I wrote an off-the-cuff summary of some of the many ethical issues related to generative AI and LLMs that are becoming increasingly hard to ignore: Generative AI – Ethics all the way down.  I appreciated having an opportunity to revisit these issues again at the end of the year when I joined the ALT Winter Summit on Ethics and Artificial Intelligence which provided much food for thought. Helen Beetham’s keynote Whose Ethics? Whose AI? A relational approach to the challenge of ethical AI was particularly thoughtful and thought provoking. 

Student Interns

Much of the summer was taken up with recruiting and managing our Open Content Curator student interns.  It’s always a joy working with our interns, their energy and enthusiasm is endlessly inspiring, and this year’s interns, August and Mayu, were no exception. I suggested it might be fun for them to interview each other about their experience of working with the OER Service and, with the help of our fabulous Media Team, they produced this lovely video. 

 

I was delighted when August and Mayu were shortlisted for the Student Employee of the Year Award in Information Services Group’s Staff Recognition Awards, in acknowledgement of their outstanding work with the OER Service and their wider contribution to ISG and the University. 

Their Finest Hour

The OER Service welcomed another student intern in the summer, Eden Swimer, who joined us to help run a digital collection day as part of the University of Oxford’s Their Finest Hour, a National Lottery Heritage funded project at the University of Oxford, which is collecting and preserving the everyday stories and objects of the Second World War. Organising and running the digital collection day proved to be a huge undertaking and we couldn’t have done it without the help of 26 volunteers from across ISG and beyond who committed so much time and energy to the project.  

 

The digital collection day took place in Rainy Hall, New College at the end of November and it was a huge success. Over 100 visitors attended and volunteers recorded over 50 interviews and took thousands of photographs, all of which will be uploaded to an open licensed archive that will be launched by the University of Oxford in June this year.  It was a deeply moving event, many of the stories recorded were truly remarkable and the visitors clearly appreciated having the opportunity to share their families stories.  In some cases these stories were being told by the last surviving relatives of those who had witnessed the historic events of WW2 and there was a real sense of preserving their experiences for posterity. 

Their Finest Hour digital collection day by Fiona Hendrie

The collection day was covered by STV and you can see a short clip of their news item here: Second World War memories to be preserved at university collection day

Publications

It was a privilege to work with co-authors Frances Bell, Lou Mycroft, Guilia Forsythe and Anne-Marie Scot to contribute a chapter on the “FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education” to Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz’s timely and necessary Higher Education for Good: Teaching and Learning Futures. 

“Quilting has always been a communal activity and, most often, women’s activity. It provides a space where women are in control of their own labour: a space where they can come together to share their skill, pass on their craft, tell their stories, and find support. These spaces stand outside the neoliberal institutions that seek to appropriate and exploit our labour, our skill, and our care. The FemEdTech-quilt assemblage has provided a space for women and male allies from all over the world to collaborate, to share their skills, their stories, their inspiration, and their creativity. We, the writers of this chapter, are five humans who each has engaged with the FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education in different ways, and who all have been active in the FemEdTech network.” 

I was also invited to submit a paper to a special open education practice edition of Edutec Journal.  Ewan McAndrew, Melissa Highton and I co-authored a paper on “Supporting open education practice: Reflective case studies from the University of Edinburgh.”

“This paper outlines the University of Edinburgh’s long-running strategic commitment to supporting sustainable open education practice (OEP) across the institution. It highlights how the University provides underpinning support and digital capability for OEP through central services working with policy makers, partners, students, and academics to support co-creation and active creation and use of open educational resources to develop digital literacy skills, transferable attributes, and learning enhancement. We present a range of case studies and exemplars of authentic OEP evidenced by reflective practice and semi-structured ethnographic interviews, including Wikimedia in the Curriculum initiatives, open textbook production, and co-creation of interdisciplinary STEM engagement resources for schools. The paper includes recommendations and considerations, providing a blueprint that other institutions can adopt to encourage sustainable OEP. Our experience shows that mainstreaming strategic support for OEP is key to ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

Writing this paper was an interesting experience as Edutec is a research journal that expects evidence to be presented in a very particular way.  As a service division, we support practice rather than undertaking academic research, so the case studies we present are based on authentic reflective practice rather than empirical research, however it was useful to think about this practice from a different perspective. 

Wikimedia UK

In July I was awarded Honorary Membership of Wikimedia UK in recognition of my contribution to the work of the charity during my six years as a Trustee. When my term as a trustee came to an end, I was hoping that I’d have more time to contribute to the Wikimedia projects.  That hasn’t quite happened, I didn’t manage to do any Wikipedia editing in 2023, but I did enjoy taking part in Wiki Loves Monuments again.  I also digitised some pictures I took of the Glasgow Garden festival way back in 1988 and uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons to share them with the fabulous After the Garden Festival project, which is attempting to locate and archive the legacy of the festival. 

Teddy Bears Picnic, sponsored by Moray District Council. CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell on Wikimedia Commons.

ALT

I made short-lived trip to the ALT Conference in Warwick in September.  Unfortunately I  had to leave early as I came down with a stinking cold. I was really disappointed to have to miss most of the conference as it was outgoing CEO Maren Deepwell’s last event and I was also due to receive an Honorary Life Membership of ALT award. It was a huge honour to receive this award as ALT has been a significant part of my professional life for over two decades now.  You can read my short reflection on the award here: Honorary Life Membership of ALT. 

For almost three decades Lorna has been a champion of equitable higher education and an open education activist. Lorna ‘s lifelong commitment to and passion for equality and diversity clearly is evident in her work, yet Lorna tends not to push herself forward and celebrate – or even self-acknowledge – her many achievements. 
ALT press release.

Kenneth White, 1936 – 2023

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of Kenneth White in August.  Despite being an avid reader of Scottish poetry, and having studied Scottish Literature at Glasgow University for a couple of years, I hadn’t come across White until my partner introduced me to him in 2002.  His absence from Glasgow’s curriculum, and indeed his relative obscurity in his homeland, is striking given that he was a graduate of Glasgow University who went on to become the chair of 20th century poetics at Paris-Sorbonne. White, however, has always been a writer who divides the critics, particularly in Scotland. A poet, writer, philosopher, traveller, and self-identified transcendental Scot, White founded the International Institute of GeoPoetics and was a regular visitor to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, where I was fortunate to see him read.  To say that White’s writing, particularly his meditations on openness and the Atlantic edge, had a profound effect on me, is something of an understatement. This blog is named after the title of White’s collected poetic works and his lines frequently find their way into more unguarded pieces I’ve written.  I’ll leave you with a few words from the man himself. 

Image of the coast with the words of Scotia Deserta by Kenneth White.

ALT Winter Summit on Ethics and Artificial Intelligence⤴

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Last week I joined the ALT Winter Summit on Ethics and an Artificial Intelligence. Earlier in the year I was following developments at the interface between ethics, AI and the commons, which resulted in this blog post: Generative AI: Ethics all the way down.  Since then, I’ve been tied up with other things, so I appreciated the opportunity to turn my attention back to these thorny issues.  Chaired by Natalie Lafferty, University of Dundee, and Sharon Flynn, Technological Higher Education Association, both of whom have been instrumental in developing ALT’s influential Framework for Ethical Learning Technology, the online summit presented a wide range of perspectives on ethics and AI, both practical and philosophical, from scholars, learning technologists and students.  

Whose Ethics? Whose AI? A relational approach to the challenge of ethical AI – Helen Beetham

Helen Beetham opened the summit with an inspiring and thought-provoking keynote that presented the case for relational ethics. Positionality is important in relational ethics; ethics must come from a position, from somewhere. We need to understand how our ethics are interwoven with relationships and technologies. The ethics of AI companies come from nowhere. Questions of positionality and power engender the question “whose artificial intelligence”?  There is no definition of AI that does not define what intelligence is. Every definition is an abstraction made from an engineering perspective, while neglecting other aspects of human intelligence.  Some kinds of intelligence are rendered as important, as mattering, others are not. AI has always been about global power and categorising people in certain ways.  What are the implications of AI for those that fall into the wrong categories?

Helen pointed out that DARPA have funded AI intensively since the 1960’s, reminding me of many learning technology standards that have their roots in defence and aeronautical industries.

A huge amount of human refinement is required to produce training data models; this is the black box of human labour, mostly involving labourers in the global south.  Many students are also working inside the data engine in the data labelling industry. We don’t want to think about these people because it affects the magic of AI.

At the same time, tools are being offered to students to enable them to bypass AI detection, to ‘humanise” the output of AI tools.  The “sell” is productivity, that this will save students’ time, but who benefits from this productivity?

Helen noted that the terms “generative”, “intelligence”, and “artificial” are all very problematic and said she preferred the term “synthetic media”.  She argued that it’s unhelpful to talk about the skills humans need to work alongside AI, as these tools have no agency, they are not co-workers. These approaches create new divisions of labour among people, and new divisions about whose intelligence matters. We need a better critique of AI literacy and to think about how we can ask questions alongside our students. 

Helen called for universities to share their research and experience of AI openly, rather than building their own walled gardens, as this is just another source of inequity.  As educators we hold a key ethical space.  We have the ingenuity to build better relationships with this new technology, to create ecosystems of agency and care, and empower and support each other as colleagues.

Helen ended by calling for spaces of principled refusal within education. In the learning of any discipline there may need to be spaces of principled refusal, this is a privilege that education institutions can offer. 

Developing resilience in an ever-changing AI landscape ~ Mary Jacob, Aberystwyth University

Mary explored the idea of resilience and why we need it. In the age of AI we need to be flexible and adaptable, we need an agile response to emerging situations, critical thinking, emotional regulation, and we need to support and care for ourselves and others. AI is already embedded everywhere, we have little control over it, so it’s crucial we keep the human element to the forefront.  Mary urged us to notice our emotions and think critically, bring kindness and compassion into play, and be our real, authentic selves.  We must acknowledge we are all different, but can find common ground for kindness and compassion.  We need tolerance for uncertainty and imperfection and a place of resilience and strength.

Mary introduced Aberystwyth’s AI Guidance for staff and students and also provided a useful summary of what constitutes AI literacy at this point in time.

Mary Jacob's AI Literacy

Achieving Inclusive education using AI – Olatunde Duruwoju, Liverpool Business School

Tunde asked us how we address gaps in inequity and inclusion?  Time and workload are often cited as barriers that prevent these issues from being addresses, however AI can help reduce these burdens by improving workflows and capacity, which in turn should help enable us to achieve inclusion.

When developing AI strategy, it’s important to understand and respond to your context. That means gathering intersectional demographic data that goes beyond protected characteristics.  The key is to identify and address individual students issues, rather than just treating everyone the same. Try to understand the experience of students with different characteristics.  Know where your students are coming from and understand their challenges and risks, this is fundamental to addressing inclusion.

AI can be used in the curriculum to achieve inclusion.  E.g. Using AI can be helpful for international students who may not be familiar with specific forms of assessment. Exams trigger anxiety, so how do we use AI to move away from exams?

Olatunde Duruwoju - Think intersectionality

AI Integration & Ethical Reflection in Teaching – Tarsem Singh Cooner

Tarsem presented a fascinating case study on developing a classroom exercise for social work students on using AI in practice.  The exercise drew on the Ethics Guidelines on Reliable AI from the European Group on Ethics, Science and New Technologies and mapped this against the Global Social Work Ethical Principles.

Tarsem Singh Cooner - comparison of Principles on Reliable AI  and Global Social Work Ethical Principles

The assignment was prompted by the fact that practitioners are using AI to uncritically write social work assessments and reports. Should algorithms be used to predict risk and harm, given they encode race and class bias? The data going into the machine is not benign and students need to be aware of this.

GenAI and the student experience – Sue Beckingham, Louise Drum, Peter Hartley & students

Louise highlighted the lack to student participation in discussions around AI. Napier University set up an anonymous padlet to allow students to tell them what they thought. Most students are enthusiastic about AI. They use it as a dialogue partner to get rapid feedback. It’s also helpful for disabled and neurodivergent students, and those who speak English as a second language, who use AI as an assistive technology.  However students also said that using AI is unfair and feels like cheating.  Some added that they like the process of writing and don’t want to loose that, which prompted Louise to ask if we’re outsourcing the process of critical thinking?  Louise encouraged us to share our practice through networks, adding that collaboration and cooperation is key and can lead to all kinds of serendipity.

The students provided a range of different perspectives:

Some reported conflicting feelings and messages from staff about whether and how AI can be used, or whether it’s cheating.  Students said they felt they are not being taught how to use AI effectively.

GCSEs and the school system just doesn’t work for many students, not just neurotypical ones, it’s all about memorising things.  We need more skills based learning rather than outcome based learning.

Use of AI tools echoes previous concerns about the use of the internet in education. There was a time when there was considerable debate about whether the internet should be used for teaching & learning.

AI can be used to support new learning. It provides on hand personal assistance that’s there 24/7.  Students create fictional classmates and partners who they can debate with.  A lot of it is garbage but some of it is useful. Even when it doesn’t make sense, it makes you think about other things that do make sense.

A few thoughts…

As is often the case with any new technology, many of the problematic issues that AI has thrown up relate less to the technology itself, and more to the nature of our educational institutions and systems.  This is particularly true in the cases of issues relating to equity, diversity and inclusion; whose knowledge and experiences are valued, and whose are marginalised?   

It’s notable that several speakers mentioned the use of AI in recruitment. Sue Beckingham noted that AI can be helpful for interview practice, though Helen highlighted research that suggested applicants who used chatGPT’s paid functionality perform much better in recruitment than those who don’t.  This suggests that we need to be thinking about authentic recruitment practices in much the same way we think about authentic assessment.  Can we create recruitment process that mitigate or bypass the impact of these systems?

I particularly liked Helen’s characterisation of AI as synthetic media, which helps to defuse some of the hype and sensationalism around these technologies.

The key to addressing many of the issues relating to the use of AI in education is to share our practice and experience openly and to engage our colleagues and students in conversations that are underpinned by contextual ethical frameworks such as ALT’s Framework for Ethical Learning Technology.  Peter Hartley noted that universities that have already invested in student engagement and co-creation are at an advantage when it comes to engaging with AI tools.

I’m strongly in favour of Helen’s call for spaces of principled refusal, however at the same time we need to be aware that the genie is out of the bottle.  These tools are out in the world now, they are in our education institutions, and they are being used by students in increasingly diverse and creative ways, often to mitigate the impact of systemic inequities. While it’s important to acknowledge the exploitative nature and very real harms perpetrated by the AI industry, the issues and potential raised by these tools also give us an opportunity to question and address systemic inequities within the academy. AI tools provide a valuable starting point to open conversations about difficult ethical questions about knowledge, understanding and what it means to learn and be human.  

Honorary Life Membership of ALT⤴

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Many thanks to Martin Hawksey for sharing this picture of Helen O’Sullivan announcing the award.

I’m hugely honoured to have been awarded Honorary Life Membership of the Association for Learning Technology at ALT’s 30th Annual Conference Gala at the University of Warwick.  Unfortunately I wasn’t there to receive the award in person because, in a stroke of spectacularly bad timing, I’ve come down with a really horrible cold. Though as Maren pointed out, the great thing about Honorary Life Membership is that you can celebrate it any time! 

For almost three decades Lorna has been a champion of equitable higher education and an open education activist. Lorna ‘s lifelong commitment to and passion for equality and diversity clearly is evident in her work, yet Lorna tends not to push herself forward and celebrate – or even self-acknowledge – her many achievements. 
~ ALT press release.

ALT has been a significant part of my professional life for over 20 years.  I attended my first ALT Conference in the late 1990s, joined the Board of Trustees in 2016, and was awarded Senior CMALT in 2022.  Serving on the ALT Board, and various committees, including the ALT Scotland SIG and the COOL SIG, has been immensely rewarding to me on both a personal and professional level.  I learned a huge amount from my fellow trustees and ALT colleagues and benefited enormously from working with a diverse group of people from a wide range of backgrounds, who I might not have had the opportunity to work with otherwise. I really appreciated having the opportunity to engage with the wider learning technology community at a senior level and to contribute to sector level strategic initiatives. But perhaps most importantly, working with ALT gave me an opportunity to give something back to the Association in return for their dedicated commitment to openness and ethics in learning technology. I’m really humbled that this award acknowledges my open practice and open education advocacy. Open education is a cause that I have a deep personal commitment to, and though at times it has felt like a bit of a quiet up-hill struggle, it has also been immensely rewarding. 

I’m also really touched to be following in the footsteps of other Honorary Life Members who have been a real inspiration to me throughout my career, including Josie Fraser, Linda Creanor, Frances Bell and Teresa MacKinnon.  However I can’t reflect on this award without acknowledging the exemplary leadership of ALT’s outgoing CEO Maren Deepwell, who successfully steered the Association through many changes and challenges. Throughout her tenure as chief executive, Maren has really embodied ALT’s core values.  It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to work with Maren over the years. I’ve learned a great deal from her and been continually inspired by her professionalism, commitment, and compassion.  I have no doubt that ALT will continue to go from strength to strength under the leadership of CEO Billy Smith and I look forward to seeing new directions ALT will take with him at the helm.

Photograph of L. Campbell presenting at ALTC 2019.

Picture by Chris Bull for Association for Learning Technology, CC BY-NC 2.0, 2019.

 

ALTC 2022 – Reconnecting⤴

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Earlier this month the annual ALT Conference returned as an in-person event for the first time since the pandemic.  Around 400 participants joined the hybrid conference at the University of Manchester, for both an in-person and online programme.  For many delegates it was their first in-person conference since the Before Times and I think it’s fair to say that everyone appreciated the opportunity to reconnect with friends and colleagues from across the sector. 

I had the pleasure of being one of the co-chairs of the conference, as to mark its in-person return, the event was was chaired collaboratively by the Trustees of ALT.  My term on the ALT Board came to an end at the AGM, so I’m proud to say that opening ALTC 2022 with a short reflection, alongside Natalie Lafferty and Puiyin Wong, was one of my last actions as an ALT Trustee. 

Natalie emphasised the need for learning technologists to become a collective voice that shapes the narrative and the future of learning and teaching.  Asking how we can consolidate the relationships we’ve developed with academics during the pandemic, Natalie urged us to be confident in our own role working at the intersection of academic and professional services.

Puiyin reflected on her own journey as a learning technologist over the last few years.  As a result of the pandemic, colleagues finally know who learning technologists are and what we do. We’re not just the people who fix Moodle, we understand pedagogy, we understand learning, we understand how to use technology in education, and how to make  learning engaging, accessible and fun.  Puiyin also urged us to welcome more TEL researchers into the community to share our knowledge and expertise.     

I touched on the ebook crisis and the increase in institutions establishing open textbook presses in response.  I hope that our libraries and open presses will draw on the OER expertise that already exists in the learning technology community to build on our knowledge of openness in education. I also emphasised the necessity of ethically informed approaches to how we implement and interact with learning technology and the importance of pedagogies of care, which are increasingly necessary during these uncertain times.  

Although openness wasn’t one of the specific themes of the conference, it remains one of ALT’s core values, and openness underpinned many of the sessions.  The Global OER Graduate Network presented an overview of their community values and research activities, and I also really appreciated Fereshte Goshtasbpour and Beck Pitt sharing their experience of re-purposing an existing open course for reuse in a different global context. Reuse and repurposing of existing OERs is something that we’re really interested in at Edinburgh, so it was useful to hear this case study. 

Ethics and care were two themes that also ran throughout the conference. Rob Farrow’s keynote presented a short overview of ethics in Western philosophy and highlighted the need for ethical frameworks for technology, such as the ALT Ethical Framework, and the space they offer for reflective collaborative thinking  Rob also picked up on the theme of ethics of care, which was explored by Chris Rowell in his talk on critical digital pedagogy.  Chris outlined six principles for critical digital pedagogy, all of which really spoke to me:

  1. Knowledge should be co-created between teachers and students.
  2. Digital education should challenge oppression.
  3. Digital education is a human process.
  4. Education and technology is inherently political.
  5. Knowledge should relate to and develop from the lived experience of teachers and students.
  6. Digital education is built on trust and belonging and should cultivate hope and optimism.

One beautiful manifestation of all these principles is the Femedtech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education, a craft activism project led by Frances Bell in collaboration with members of the FemEdTech network in 2019/2020.  You can read the story of the quilt on femedtech.net and also engage with the digital quilt at quilt.femedtech.net  The quilt was originally intended to be displayed at the OER20 conference, but as a result of the pandemic this is the first opportunity we have had to showcase the quilt in all its material glory

I spent most of the second day of the conference quilt sitting along with Frances Bell, Catherine Cronin and Sheila MacNeill. It was a really moving experience seeing people interacting with the quilt.  It was especially lovely to see people finding and reconnecting with squares they had created, pointing out this or that square – “That’s my daughter’s dress!” “That’s my mother’s earing!”  So many women, mothers, daughters, grandmothers, so many personal connections are sewn into the quilt. There was also an opportunity for people to contribute to the quilt by sewing on a button or a few stitches of embroidery and it was wonderful seeing people taking a quiet moment out of the busy conference schedule and becoming absorbed in the shared task of making. 

Sheila has already written a lovely reflection on the quilt here: Transcending the digital and physical at #altc22 – the #femedtechquilt. I particularly love this observation:

In quite a magical way, the presence of the quilt provided a way to bind many of us together by providing a safe, open, space to have long overdue catch ups, to share experiences and allow time for reflection and just “being”.

At the end of the day, those of us who had contributed to the quilt came together to suspend it over the balcony outside the main auditorium so it could be viewed by delegates.  It was an emotional (and slightly nerve wracking!) experience holding all that shared hope and creativity in our hands. 

We’re still living in desperately uncertain and insecure times, and our new normal is a world away from our old normal, however reconnecting with the learning technology community at ALTC 2022 gives me hope that if we can work together, to share our experiences and share the load, we can support and care for both our community and our learners.

Adventures in Hybrid Conferencing⤴

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I’ve been to three hybrid conferences over the course of the last few months so I thought it might be interesting to write a bit of a reflection on my experience of being both a delegate and a speaker at these events, what worked, what didn’t, and what I learned in the process. 

OER22 Conference

The first event was the OER22 Conference run by ALT at the end of April. This conference marked a return to in-person events for ALT for the first time since the pandemic started, and I know that there was some understandable anxiety about bringing people together for a face-to-face event. The conference ran for three days; kicking off with a day of in-person talks and parallel sessions in London, followed by a day of recorded online talks, and finally a day of live online parallel sessions. About 80 people attended the in-person day of the conference, with around twice that number taking part online.  ALT have a wealth of experience when it comes to running both in-person and online conferences and, despite having a very small staff team, their events invariably run like clockwork.  As expected, ALT handled the logistics of bringing people back together with real sensitivity and empathy, with plenty of space at the venue so that people never felt crowded, and plenty of time in the programme for people to network and socialise.

For the online component of the conference ALT used the same suite of technologies that they’ve used for several previous online events, which includes Streamyard, YouTube and  Discord, all of which worked well. The programme was easily accessible and simple to navigate, and it was possible to move between sessions if you wanted to catch presentations that were taking place in parallel. I did have a bit of trouble getting into my own online presentation session, due to some technical weirdness, but ALT dealt with the hitch smoothly, and it didn’t detract from my experience as a presenter.  A Discord server provided a social space where delegates could share slides and resources, and meet and chat informally throughout the conference.  There was also a dedicated channel for help and support. I confess I was not enthusiastic when ALT first started using Discord as part of their online conference platform, primarily because it’s a channel I use a lot outside work, however I have to admit that it works really well and it really adds to the online conference experience.  I’ve written a longer reflection on the OER22 here: OER22 In Person & Online.

University of Edinburgh Learning & Teaching Conference

Like OER22, the University of Edinburgh’s internal Learning & Teaching Conference ran as a hybrid event after having run online for two years during the pandemic.  The first day of the event took place in the magnificent McEwan Hall and surrounding buildings, and consisted of an exhibition space, posters, keynotes and parallel sessions. The second and third days took place online and consisted of parallel tracks of online talks.  I don’t know how many people attended the conference but I’d guess maybe 60 – 80 people were present for the in-person day of the event.  The content of the conference was excellent, all the sessions I attended online and in person were really thoughtful and thought provoking.  The exhibition space in particular provided a great opportunity for colleagues to network and socialise after so long apart, and I appreciated that the breaks were long enough not to feel rushed.  

The conference platform was based on Eventscase and Zoom and this is where some problems crept in.  The platform could be accessed via the web, but we were also asked to download an app and a QR code to join the conference.  Normally I avoid loading work apps onto my personal devices, so I wasn’t mad keen on having to do this, however as it turned out, I didn’t need to use either the app or the QR code after downloading them. Navigating the programme on Eventscase was tricky; the schedule was available as a web page and in a calendar view, which also allowed delegates to book on to specific sessions.  However because the calendar view only showed sessions that had to be booked, you had to go back to the webpage to find information about keynotes and plenaries, so there was a bit of confusion about what was happening where and when during the first day.  Also while I appreciate the reasons for encouraging delegates to book onto online sessions, it didn’t seem to be possible to change sessions, to listen to different presentations running in parallel, even when there were still places available, which was more than a little frustrating.  Presenters had to book on to their own sessions in order to be able to present, but getting into the sessions wasn’t always straightforward, and in some cases session chairs had to e-mail speakers Zoom links instead.   The session chairs were unfailingly helpful though, as were all the conference helpers who directed delegates around the campus on the first day of the event. Although I really enjoyed the conference the Eventscase platform did feel unnecessarily complicated and at times seemed to be more of a hindrance than a help. 

ALT Scotland Annual Conference

The ALT Scotland Annual Conference was a much smaller event, which provided a really interesting opportunity to experiment with a different kind of hybrid conference; one where some participants attended online and some attended in-person simultaneously.  The event, which ran for one day, was hosted by City of Glasgow College, and brought together learning technologists and policy makers from across all sectors of Scottish education.  Again, I’m not sure exactly how many people attended, but I’d estimate there were c.20 people attending in person and perhaps the same number again online. The conference took place on the day of a national rail strike which meant that quite a lot of folk who had planned to attend in person, had to join online instead. The event was facilitated using Thinglink, Zoom, and a double screen and camera set up that had been donated to the college by a vendor whose name I didn’t catch. We had one person chairing the event in the room and another coordinating Zoom online.  The screens at the front of the room showed Zoom but unfortunately it was difficult to see the online discussion from where I was sitting.  Several of the attendees in the room also joined Zoom from their laptops so they could participate in the online chat with colleagues who were attending remotely.  Unfortunately I couldn’t get on to Eduroam so I wasn’t able to join the online interaction, and it did rather feel like I was missing out.  Several of the presenters joined remotely via Zoom which worked well for participants both online and in person.  I gave a short talk in-person, which was a bit of an odd experience.  Standing at the front of the room facing the camera meant that the screens were behind me, so I couldn’t help feeling like I’d turned my back on the online participants.  This also meant that I couldn’t see the Zoom chat which meant that some of the remote participants felt as though their questions were being ignored.  When I finished speaking, the camera stayed locked on to me and followed me all the way back to my seat, which was a little disconcerting! 

As a group of learning technologists, the conference gave us an excellent opportunity to experiment with the kind of technologies that might be used to facilitate hybrid teaching and learning, and we had a really interesting discussion at the end of the day about the pros, cons and practicalities of running hybrid events like this.  I think we all agreed that it’s not easy, and we need a lot more practice to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Joe Wilson, who chaired the event in-person commented that it would have been impossible to coordinate everything, online and in-person, without the help of Louise Jones who was managing Zoom.  Sheila MacNeill has written an interesting blog post about the ALT Scotland Conference, which includes some reflection on a questionable “attention tracking” feature of the conferencing system, which I hasten to add we didn’t experiment with during the event.

Reflection

In terms of my takeaways from these three quite different hybrid events I’d say that running conferences that have in-person and online components on different days is a good way to ensure that an event is accessible to as many people as possible.  I did really appreciate being able to get together with colleagues in person, and I wouldn’t want to lose that again, however there are many advantages to having an online component too.  Online events are generally more accessible, convenient, they reduce the necessity to travel and as a result they’re better for the environment.

In terms of the technology, simple is better. It’s often more convenient to have the conference programme available on a simple web page rather than in an interactive calendar that takes multiple clicks to navigate. Also requiring delegates to download apps onto their personal devices is not a good idea for numerous reasons. 

When it comes to running events online and in-person simultaneously, we still have a lot to learn. As is so often the case, it’s not necessarily the technology that trips us up, it’s the human interactions that really make a difference, and clearly we still need a lot of practice to ensure that simultaneous events provide an equitable experience for everyone involved. 

OER22 In Person & Online⤴

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Last week I was at the OER22 Conference, and I was actually at the conference because for the first time in two years the OER Conference was in person and online.  OER22 was a hybrid conference in every sense of the word; the first day took place in London, the second day featured recorded online presentations, and the final day was live sessions online.  The event was organised seamlessly by ALT and chaired by the GO-GN Network.  The opening day of the conference in London was the first opportunity many of the OER community had to get together in person since the OER19 Conference in Galway, so it was understandably an emotional experience and a little overwhelming.  ALT handled the logistics of bringing people back together with real sensitivity and empathy, with plenty of space at the venue so that people never felt crowded, and plenty of time in the programme for people to network and socialise. 

Sketch of a cartoon penguin in blue pen against a white and blue backgroundBryan Mathers opened the conference with a thoughtful and humorous illustrated talk that gave us all a much needed opportunity to ease our way back into in-person conferencing.  It culminated with everyone drawing their own version of the GO-GN penguin and sharing them in the fabulous Visual Thinkery ReMixer.  Bryan set the tone for the conference perfectly and I think the little drawing exercise helped everyone overcome any residual anxiety they may have had about participating in an in person event.  Everyone said my penguin looked scary, but honestly he’s just a bit shy. 

The themes of the conference were; Pedagogy in a time of crisis – what does an ‘open’ response look like? Open textbooks: making the most of their potential; Open in Action: open teaching, educational practices and resources; and Open research around any aspect of open education. 

I took part in two panels, the first with Jane Secker, Catherine Cronin, Leo Havemann and Julie Voce focused on the approaches adopted by our various institutions and projects to support and develop open educational practices. These include teaching a module on open practices as part of a Masters in Academic Practice, creating open education and copyright literacy policies that signify institutional commitment to open practices, modelling open approaches in sharing our own teaching and learning resources, and advocacy work with organisations at a local, national and international level, to promote better understanding of open practice and copyright literacy.  I spoke about how the University of Edinburgh’s OER Policy, supported by the OER Service, enabled and encouraged open practice across the institution, and the importance of supporting digital skills development around copyright literacy.  Slides from the panel are available here: Open in Action

Image by Jane Secker on Twitter.

I was also invited to take part in a plenary panel discussion on open textbooks along with Gary Elliot-Cirigottis (Open University), Dhara Snowden (UCL Press), and Jane Secker (City University London), chaired by Beck Pitt (Open University) who was previously involved in the UK Open Textbooks project. Our institutions all had very different experiences of supporting and engaging with the use and creation of open textbooks so it made for an interesting and wide ranging discussion, covering how open resources enabled institutions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the pandemic on the cost of resources, the role of open textbooks and our vision for OER in UK HEIs.  A recording of the plenary panel will be available shortly.

Image by Josie Fraser on Twitter.

I also attended a couple of other interesting sessions on open textbooks including Catrina Hey talking about the University of Sussex’s Open Press which is based on Pressbooks and informed by NUI Galway’s Open Press and the Jisc’s New University Press Toolkit.  I also really enjoyed hearing about the Open Pedagogy Project Roadmap: A Resource for Planning and Sustaining Open Educational Practices at Penn State University from Bryan McGeary and Christina Riehman-Murphy.  Their examples of student co-created open textbooks (e.g. Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature.) were really inspiring and gave me some ideas for initiatives we could explore at the University of Edinburgh.  

Other highlights for me included Javiera Atenas talking about the importance of professional conversation as a fundamental aspect of open practice during her presentation about creative project design for open education practitioners.  Slides from this session are available here: Creative Project Design.   There was also some really lively and thought provoking discussion around what open technology platforms do with your data during Javiera and Leo’s session on Co-creating a framework for platform governance in open education – policy, data ethics and data protection.  Leo and Javiera made the point that it isn’t enough for platforms, technologies and textbooks to be free, they must also resist surveillance and other forms of intrusion. Josie Fraser raised a pertinent counter point that this has to be balanced against benefit, noting that some school children had no contact with their teachers at all during the pandemic as some schools adopted an overly cautious approach to online conferencing platforms due to fears over how they store and use data.  

On the last day of the conference, I gave an online presentation on our Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education project.  Along with our student interns, we gave a talk about the early stages of this project last year at OER21, so this year I was back to reflect on the project outputs and what we learned along the way.  Unusually, we had all kinds of technical gremlins during the session, which Maren dealt with in her own calm and professional manner.  We got there in the end and I was really touched with the positive comments on this student co-creation project. Slides and transcript of this talk are available on our project blog. 

Sadly I had to miss a lot of day 2 and 3 of the conference due to juggling meetings and other work commitments, but I did enjoy catching up with discussions and resources on the conference Discord, and I’m looking forward to dipping in to the recorded sessions.

One final reflection more generally…Given that one of themes of OER22 was open textbooks, it was perhaps understandable that over the course of the conference the term OER was often used to refer specifically to open textbooks. I still had to do a bit of mental adjustment as I tend to think of OER as being a much wider class of thing, with open textbooks being just one form of open educational resources among many.  While I’m really exited about the possibility of open textbooks taking off in the UK, particularly if they are co-created and founded on open practice, I am a little concerned that we might lose sight of the broader understanding of OER.  Over the last few months I’ve seen a few think pieces and comments about the crisis in etextbook costs, which suggest that there has been little adoption of OER in the UK.  While it’s true that there has been less adoption of open textbooks by academic libraries in the UK than in the US, (though this is changing rapidly), there has of course been considerable engagement with open education resources and practices supported by learning technologists across the sector.  With more and more institutions launching open presses and libraries exploring the affordances of open textbooks, I hope they’ll work together with learning technologists, open education practitioners, and academic colleagues who have a wealth of experience of supporting and engaging with open education resources and practices of all kinds. Otherwise we may run the risk of recreating OER repositories the wheel. 

Being among the OER community again, among good friends and colleagues, was a much needed breath of fresh air.  It really made me appreciate the hope that co-chairs Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz left us with at the end of OER19 in Galway, and how much it sustained us through the last two years. 

Reflections on 2021 #oerxdomains , #phygital , #Fujitsu , #openscot , #Bett22⤴

from @ ...........Experimental Blog


The end of another strange year - this year without the lockdown beard. 


It's all been a great team effort. This year topped and tailed by two College Development Network Awards both reflecting well on the work of the Learning and Teaching Academy

Amazing really as the team have battled the frustrations and heartbreaks  of  CoVid like everyone else.

    

Highlights 

  • Continued staff support for webinar training and development .
  • Chairing #OER21 
  • Launching College Fujitsu Hub.
  • Sourcing speakers , open badges and chairing sessions at  #Phygital conference
  • Staff and Student input to business case that led to procurement of Canvas.
  • On going cross College work on transition to Canvas. 
  • Trying to figure out what hybrid learning and teaching actually means.
  • On going sanity checks from colleagues in College  and  from ALT and many others across the sector ( you know who you are) and patience, kindness, consideration and teamwork.
On personal level - I am still frustrated by the Scottish systems ongoing disregard of Unesco's guidance on Open Educational Resources - startling really in year of COP26. I will keep doing my bit at institutional level and through Open Scotland

We once again missed our French fix on the Ile De Re and had none of our usual foreign jaunts and as CoVid restrictions are back in place in Scotland there will be no #Bett22 for me this year. 

We did manage two great escapes to Isle of Raasay and to Isle of Lewis. We also juggled cases of household CoVid - we still are, currently spending Christmas and New Year in splendid isolation.  

I know 2022 will bring more challenges.  I think the main message in these strange and disrupted times is not to be distracted, keep your eye on the horizon and show compassion for all those around you. 

And just noticed this marks 21 years of blogging ;-). Open reflection and blogging will eventually catch on. 

Happy New Year to one and all when it comes !  Slainte ! 


ALTC 2021 – Ethics, joy and no gobackery⤴

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This year’s annual ALT Conference was a bit of a different experience for me as it’s the first time in years that I wasn’t speaking or doing social media coverage, I was “just” a delegate among over 300 others, and honestly it was a welcome experience just to be part of that community and to listen to and learn from colleagues across the UK and beyond.  This was the first ALT Annual Conference to take place entirely online, and although I was only able to dip in and out over the course of the three days, I got a real sense of the buzz around the event.  It really did feel like a broad and diverse community coming together. 

With the launch of the ALT Framework for Ethical Learning Technology, ethics was a central theme that ran throughout the conference.  The Framework is an important and timely initiative co-created by members of the community and led by ALT Trustees Bella Abrams, Sharon Flynn and Natalie Lafferty. The aim of the Framework is to provide scaffolding to help learning technologists, institutions, and industry to make decisions around technology in an informed and ethical manner. This work is very much a starting point and over the next year, ALT will be gathering case studies and example policies from across the sector.  At Edinburgh, we’ve already submitted our open licensed Lecture Recording Policy as an example.  Speaking in a panel as part of the launch, Javiera Atenas suggested that we use the Framework as a starting point and urged us to go further than the principle of Do No Harm when it comes to gathering and using data.

Sonia Livingstone’s keynote also focused on the ethics of data use and the quantification and instrumentalisation of learning.  We operate in a system where learning is rendered invisible if it cannot be quantified, and increasingly we’re moving from the quantification of learning to the datafication of everything.   Sonia asked a lot of hard questions, including what does “good” look like when it comes to children’s data rights, and how do we ensure children’s agency and participation in the collection and use of their data?

Chris Rowell and Matthew Acevedo presented an excellent session on academic integrity and critical digital pedagogy from the forthcoming book Critical Digital Pedagogy – Broadening Horizons, Bridging Theory and Practice edited by Suzan Koseoglu, George Veletsianos, Chris Rowell. Matthew’s talk explored virtual proctoring, the Panoptic gaze, and the discourse of academic integrity. It was another thought-provoking session and I’ll look forward to reading the book once it’s published. 

Mutale Nkonde’s keynote explored the intersection of ethics and technology in her revealing dissection of the racist nature of the TikTok algorithm and the impact this can have on real lived experience.  We know that algorithms and technologies reproduce racial biases that exist in society, but we lack the literacy to be able to view and talk honestly about ourselves as victims and perpetrators of white supremacy. Mutale introduced the Framework for Racial Literacy in Technology which provides us with the means to talk about racism and algorithmic bias through cognitive, emotional and active lenses.  Mutale challenged us to ask ourselves, when we are creating algorithms, how can we optimise them for fairness and justice?  How can we make the lives of marginalised peoples better rather than promoting those who are already privileged?

As the parent of a teen who is a frequent TikTok user, Mutale’s talk left me with a lot to think about and discuss with my daughter.  At 15 she is well aware that TikTok is a massively racist platform and she knows that the way the algorithm pushes content to users can be extremely harmful.  In particular she highlighted the prevalence of content relating to self-harm and trauma dumping.  On the one hand I’m glad that she has sufficient digital literacy to recognise that the content she views is being manipulated by the platform, but at the same time it’s deeply concerning that harmful content is being pushed to users at such a young age.

Lou Mycroft’s keynote was one of the highlights of the conference for me.  I’ve been familiar with Lou’s work for a long time and have often seen the #JoyFE hashtag passing on my timeline, but this is the first time I’ve heard her talking about the philosophies and ethics that underpin this amazing collective.  In an inspiring and expansive talk, Lou explored an ethics of joy as characterised by Spinoza’s concept of potentia; by practising joy, we enact our power in the form of potentia.  Lou challenged us to use our potentia to drive change, and resist the fatal pull of “gobackery”, the gravitational pull of the old.  While Lou acknowledged that the ethics of accountability and KPIs will not be changing any time soon, she argued that we can have parallel values based on an ethics of joy, and urged us to put our core values into strategic planning, asking; What might assessment look like as a process of hope? What might induction look like as a practice of compassion? Or timetabling as a practice of equity?

One of the points Lou made in her talk, which stopped me in my tracks, was that right now Higher Education carries a burden of pain.  It’s true, we all know that, we all feel that pain every day, but to hear it stated so plainly was transformative.  However there is still a place for hope and joy.  In a sector that currently appears to be exercising all its considerable power to pull us back to old entrenched ways living, working, being, learning, we need to use our own hope and joy to keep driving change forwards.  To do that we need educator lead communities with explicit shared values and affirmative ethics.  I believe ALT is one of those communities, with its shared values of openness, independence, participation and collaboration.

As is inevitable with such a packed programme, and juggling the conference around existing work commitments, I missed so many sessions that looked really interesting, including several by colleagues here at the University of Edinburgh and one on Using OER to empower communities of undergraduate scholars by Carlos Goller.   I’ll look forward to catching up with the recordings of these sessions in the coming weeks. 

Right at the beginning of the conference, co-chairs Farzana Latif, Roger Emery, and Mat Lingard asked us when we first attended an ALT Conference or whether we were new to the event.  My first ALT Conference was in Manchester in 2000, where I presented a paper with Allison Littlejohn and Charles Duncan called Share and share alike: encouraging the reuse of academic resources through the Scottish electronic Staff Development Library.  It’s amazing to see how the ALT community has grown and developed over the last 20 years.  I look forward to seeing where the next 20 will lead us.

Enormous thanks once again to everyone who made this year’s ALT Conference such an inspiring and joy-full event, particularly the co-chairs, the keynotes, and of course Maren Deepwell and all the ALT team. 

ALT Annual Conference by Gloria Corra, winner of the #altc student competition at London College of Communication

 

 

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 ♡

#OERxDomains21: Just what does it means to be open?⤴

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In the final keynote of the #OERxDomains21 conference, Rajiv Jhangiani asked what does it mean to be open?  After 2 days of sharing, caring, questioning, laughing, at times crying, it was timely reminder that “open” is a multifaceted concept and the practice(s) of open education manifests itself in many ways, and is deeply contextual.  Open educational practice, is as Catherine Cronin so beautifully put it back in 2017a constantly negotiated process.”

As with all conferences (and all other delegates) I had to negotiate and navigate my way through the conference programme and online spaces over the 2 days. I have to confess that at the conference committee meetings when Jim Groom was explaining the broadcast concept of the conference, I didn’t quite get it. But I had faith that it would all be OK.  I just didn’t realise how OK it would actually turn out to be. 

Online conferences are different from face to face, it is harder to connect, to get that “conference buzz”.  I thought ALT did an amazing job last year in extremely rapidly pulling  together the online version of OER20. However this year, the conference platforms were at another level. The combination of Streamyard, Youtube, and Dischord worked  really well. I’m sure I missed a lot of the functionality of Dischord, but I managed! And I did get a real sense of live, hallway chats.

So congratulations to the Reclaim team and ALT for realising an almost seemless online  experience.  I have never chaired a session with an online “producer” before. Having someone dealing with countdowns, pulling in questions from the youtube chat was amazing. I have to say I kind of never want to not have one again!  The way that the “backstage” area for all presentations worked was amazing, and I’m sure some will be share in more detail elsewhere.

Of course any conference is not just about the location. What makes any conference work is its community. It’s what we,  the people,  do in the spaces (online or physical) that makes the difference. People not technology make conferences work. I think it’s fair to say that there is quite a core OER community and quite a bit of crossover between it and the Domains community.  The community aspect of the conference is one of the reasons I keep paying to go to OER conferences. It’s a vital part of my CPD – I don’t have any office buddies to talk to everyday. As we all know, open isn’t free and this is one dose of openness I am more than willing to pay to support. It’s a bit like an extended family reunion.  But we can’t let ourselves become a complacent, clique. We always need to ensure we are welcoming new people to the fold.

This year, there was a very necessary and needed focus on care. It’s been quite a year. People are tired, and need the support that a conference can provide such as sharing different approaches to open pedagogies of care, of social justice.  Brenna Clarke Gray talked about the “tricky truth about care” and the way (institutional) structures are actually indifferent. Where are the structural changes to institutional systems that are truly based on care?  Weekly wellness emails don’t really cut it and don’t deal with the moral stress that so many staff are dealing with.  Developing resilience is a sign of institutional, structural failure not personal failure. I really can’t recommend watching the recording of Brenna’s session enough.

Of course structural change is hard,  but if we can’t take the time to change things now after a global pandemic then when can we? I do have a sense that in HE  we are moving into a future that is being driven by narratives that aren’t based on the contextual realities of learning and teaching right now but more on neoliberal views ofwhat education should be and rosy tinted views of “getting back normal.”

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of phrases like Education 4.0 but I was intrigued by a session called University V is alive! Now open to the cruel and the dead, from Eamon Costello and Prajakta Girme. After finishing day 1 with the marvelous remixed and bingo infused keynote from Laura Gibbs, this was a stark contrast.  Whilst Laura shared a wonderful set of student created stories, Eamon and Prajakta  used a speculative fiction approach to present an unsettling, dystopian view of the open day for  University V,  34 years from now. Kudos to Eammon for his delivery, use of music and mix of visual artefacts and effects to create an unsettling start to day 2. We began to understand how every entrant to University V was indeed a number related to all family numbers and their behaviours that related to points, and value. There were intriguing clues as to who Professor A might be, how she(?) had changed her name to get “to the top”. As Eammon pointed out in the the Q&A the truth is really stranger than fiction, and we don’t have to go to far to discover what others might think only happens in fiction is actually happening in real life.

This came starkly to mind during Jasmine Robert’s powerful keynote. Jasmine’s honesty about her own trauma in the context of the reality of the the Derek Chauvin murder trial was a stark reminder of structures of oppression and who still controls the dominant media narratives. It’s not a huge jump at all to see Professor A as a person from a black, ethnic minority background who has manage to game and play the system to get to the top and protect her/him/they? (because we don’t really know Prof A’s gender) anonymity. The narrative of University V might be very different if it were written using non global north images and based on an alternative historical perspective.

Social justice was a critical theme across the conference, and both Jasmine and Rajiv highlighted it in their keynotes. Both stressed the need for us to let the under-represented voices be included, to support open pedagogies rooted in care and love. Part of that care is to recognise that not everything can or should be open. We need to create safe spaces for our students to have critical conversations, to help them develop their own voices, introduce them to a range of sources – not just “the white men”, and then give them the choice of where, how and when they want to put themselves in the open (as Laura’s keynote illustrated).

As ever it’s so hard to condense a conference experience into a blog post. From the opening plenary discussion keynote, where all the speakers rooted the conference in our current reality, OER x Domains 21 was, for me a very timely and necessary experience. Timely as it’s a year into the pandemic and teaching remotely, necessary as we all need to have space to get together, to share our stories, to learn from each other, to show our support and care for each other in a different space.

For me the overriding sense was of community, of care, of open humaneness (thank you Tutaleni Asino) of focusing on what really matters “we are teaching students not content” as Jasmine Roberts reminded us ; we are not humans “doing”, we are humans “being” said Glasgow College Student President Nicolas Garcia, in the opening plenary keynote . We might still be figuring out just how we can “be” in these still unsettling times, but open education, social justice and care are all great navigation points for this journey.

Many thanks to all the co-chairs, the organising committee, ALT and Reclaim staff , keynotes, presenters and participants alike for creating another great conference. Yes, collectively we all indeed did “do it again”. And it’s not over yet! There are workshops next week so do check them out. I’m delighted to be part of one around the potential future for BYOD4L. Wendy Taleo and Sarah Honeychurch invited everyone to contribute to an open zine in their Collective Hope short recording session. So here’s a little montage of some of my visual highlights.