Tag Archives: MOOCs

Fundamentals of Music Theory – Adventures in open textbooks⤴

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Fundamentals of Music Theory open textbook coverLast week I was delighted to see a project that I’ve been working on since the beginning of the year come to fruition with the publication of the Fundamentals of Music Theory open textbook on the University of Edinburgh Library’s new ebook platform Edinburgh Diamond.  The open textbook was created by the the Open e-Textbooks for Access to Music Education project, which was funded by a University of Edinburgh Student Experience Grant. Led by Dr Nikki Moran and I, the project was a collaboration between the University’s OER Service, and staff and student interns, Kari Ding, Ifeanyichukwu Ezinmadu and Ana Reina Garcia, from the Reid School of Music.

The aim of the project was to explore the creation of an open etextbook using existing content from the Reid School of Music’s Fundamentals of Music Theory course. This course covers the fundamentals of Western music theory, from absolute basics to more advanced concepts, and provides learners with the skills needed to read and write Western music notation, and to understand, analyse, and listen informedly. The course uses content originally created for a successful Coursera MOOC, in addition to new materials developed more recently for an on campus blended learning course, addressing global decolonisation issues around music theory and music education. These high-quality resources were ideally suited to further repurposing to create an open textbook, increasing the use of this tried-and-tested content, and making it available to teachers and learners in an accessible format ideally suited to hybrid and online learning.   

The project provided us with an opportunity to evaluate a range of open textbook platforms and to gain valuable hands-on experience of the process and practicalities of creating an open textbook.  This experience is particularly valuable at a time when universities are increasingly moving from print to digital textbooks and are facing rapidly rising textbook licensing costs. Open textbooks have the potential to benefit the University by reducing textbook costs, benefit staff by providing access to easily customisable open textbooks, and benefit students by providing free, high quality digital learning materials. 

The project also enabled our student interns to develop valuable digital and copyright literacy skills including an understanding of open educational resources, open licenses and open etextbooks, familiarity with current etextbook applications, and experience of working with existing digital content and educational resources across a range of platforms. 

One of the first tasks undertaken by the project was to evaluate a range of different hosting options for our ebook; Manifold, PressBooks, GitHub and the University Library’s new ebook platform, Edinburgh Diamond, based on Open Monograph Press.  Balancing the pros and cons of each platform and considering the constraints of time and funding, we decided to publish our open textbook on Edinburgh Diamond. Open Access Publishing Officer Rebecca Wojturska, provided us with invaluable support in getting our textbook onto the platform and providing ISBN and DOIs. 

The project wasn’t without it’s challenges; the whole project had to be undertaken online due to COVID-19 restrictions, some of our student interns were working in different time zones, and I had no prior experience of producing the ePub formats required by the ebook platform, so it was a steep learning curve on my part!  I also had to dust off my rusty html and css skills which I haven’t used for years.  Despite the challenges, the project successfully demonstrated that it is possible to take existing MOOC and on-campus course content and repurpose it into an open textbook.

All in all, this was a hugely rewarding project, not least because of the enthusiasm and dedication of the team at the Reid School of Music.  It was a real joy to work with Nikki, Ana, Ifeanyichukwu and Kari.  One of the high points of the project was listening to our student interns presenting about their work at the OERxDomains Conference –  The Scale of Open: Re-purposing open resources for music education.  Our talk was really well received, with lots of delegates commenting on how important it was to hear students’ voices.  We learned a great deal from this small project and I hope that Fundamentals of Music Theory will be the first of many open textbooks published by staff and students across the University. 

Fundamentals of Music Theory is shared under a Creative Commons Non-Commercial ShareAlike (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) licence and can be downloaded from Edinburgh Diamond in the following formats: Word, PDF, EPub (reflowable), ePub (fixed layout).  An HTML version will be available shortly. In order to make the open textbook as accessible and reusable as possible, users can download the book in its entirety, or topic by topic.

ISBN: 978-1-912669-22-6
DOI: https://doi.org/10.2218/ED.9781912669226

Header and cover image adapted from a free to use image by Geralt on Pixabay.

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.”

A quick thought on an icebreaker⤴

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Okay - I've been taking a short for-credit course from the UK Open University, and since it has a reflection task at the end of every week, I had some grand lofty plan that I'd cross post that here and perhaps expand on it a … Continue reading A quick thought on an icebreaker

Rhizo Reminiscences⤴

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rhizo network made with gephi

Were were you six years ago? When I asked myself that question earlier this week I realised that I was participating in the first week of rhizo14

So much has happened since then – so much that I don’t know where to start. I tried to remember who I met for the first time then and put tagged some people in a tweet:

Kevin suggested that we all write something to mark the occasion:

So here’s an open invitation – to anyone who wants – let’s have a rhizo reunion. Let us know what you’ve done since rhizo14, or 15, or whenever it was that you first encountered this networked learning that we do. Tag it #rhizo, if you like, and share it with us.

Image is a Gephi graph of #rhizo14

Into the Open: Exploring the Benefits of Open Education and OER⤴

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Transcript and slides from my keynote at the Open all Ours event at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

This talk covers a broad overview of the domain of open education before going on to provide examples of how we support engagement with open education and OER at the University of Edinburgh. Hopefully this will provide inspiration by highlighting the many different ways you can integrate different aspects of open education and OER into your teaching practice.

So what is open education?

Open education is many things to many people.

• A practice?
• A philosophy?
• A movement?
• A human right?
• A licensing issue?
• A buzz word?
• A way to save money?

Cape Town Declaration

The principles of the open education were outlined in the 2008 Cape Town Declaration, one of the first initiatives to lay the foundations of the “emerging open education movement”. The Declaration advocates that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, and redistribute educational resources without constraint, in order to nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need. The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated last year on its 10th anniversary as Capetown +10, and I can highly recommend having a look at this if you want a broad overview of the principles of open education.

Aspects of Open Education

Although there’s no one hard and fast definition of open education, one description of the open education movement that I particularly like is from the not for profit organization OER Commons…

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation.”

Open education is highly contextual and encompasses many different things. These are just some of the aspects of open education

• Open online courses
• Open pedagogy
• Open practice
• Open assessment practices
• Open textbooks
• Open licensing
• Open data
• MOOCs
• Open Access scholarly works
• Open educational resources (OER)

OER

Though Open Education can encompass many different things, open educational resources, or OER, are central to any understanding of this domain.

UNESCO define open educational resources as

“teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”

UNESCO Policy Instruments

And the reason I’ve chosen this definition is that UNESCO is one of a number of international agencies that actively supports the global adoption of open educational resources. In 2012 UNESCO released the Paris OER Declaration which encourages governments and authorities to open license educational materials produced with public funds, in order to realize substantial benefits for their citizens and maximize the impact of investment. And in 2017 UNESCO brought together 111 member states for the 2nd OER World Congress in Slovenia, the main output of which was the UNESCO Ljubljana OER Action Plan. Central to the OER Action plan is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 and support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory.

In his summing up at the end of the congress UNESCO Assistant Director for Education Qian Tang said

“to meet the education challenges, we can’t use the traditional way. In remote and developing areas, particularly for girls and women, OER are a crucial, crucial means to reach SDGs. OER are the key.”

The Action Plan acknowledges that open education and OER provide a strategic opportunity to improve knowledge sharing, capacity building and universal access to quality learning and teaching resources. And, when coupled with collaborative learning, and supported by sound pedagogical practice, OER has the transformative potential to increase access to education, opening up opportunities to create and share an array of educational resources to accommodate greater diversity of educator and learner needs.

Open Education at the University of Edinburgh

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that open education and OER are strongly in line with our institutional mission to deliver impact for society, discover, develop and share knowledge, and make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to the Scotland, the UK and the world.

OER Vision

The University has a vision for OER which has three strands, building on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission. These are:

• For the common good – encompassing every day teaching and learning materials.
• Edinburgh at its best – high quality resources produced by a range of projects and initiatives.
• Edinburgh’s Treasures – content from our world class cultural heritage collections.

OER Policy

This vision is backed up by an OER Policy, approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience. This OER Policy is itself CC licensed and is adapted from an OER Policy that has already been adopted by a number of other institutions in the UK. The fact that this policy was approved by the Learning and Teaching Committee, rather than by the Knowledge Strategy Committee is significant because it places open education and OER squarely in the domain of teaching and learning. The University’s vision for OER is very much the brain child of Melissa Highton, Assisstant Principal Online Learning and Director of Learning and Teaching Web Services. EUSA, the student union were also instrumental in encouraging the University to adopt an OER policy, and we continue to see student engagement and co-creation as being fundamental aspects of open education.

OER Service

But of course policy is nothing without support, so 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 centre of the university’s strategic initiatives by embedding digital skills training and support in the institution’s strategic initiatives including lecture recording, academic blogging, VLE foundations, MOOCs and distance learning at scale, in order to build sustainability and minimise the risk of technical debt.

And we also provide a one stop shop that provides access to open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university. We don’t have a single centralized OER repository at the university, instead we encourage colleagues to share resources where they can be easily managed and found. 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.

In addition to working closely with our students, the OER Service also hosts Open Content Creation student interns every summer, and I’ll say a little more about our interns later.

Okay so that’s the big picture vision, but what I want to do now is highlight some of the benefits of engaging with OER and Open Education, highlighted by examples of innovative open education initiatives that are going on across our university.

Access to Resources

Creating and using open educational resources is an important way to ensure longevity of access to course materials, and this can benefit staff, students, and the university itself. It’s very common to think of OER as primarily being of benefit to those outwith the institution, however open licenses also help to ensure that we can continue to use and reuse the resources that we ourselves have created. I’m sure you’ll all have come across projects that created great content only for those resources to become inaccessible once the project ends, or great teaching and learning materials belonging to a colleague who has subsequently retired or moved on, and nobody quite knows if they can still be used or not. Unless teaching and learning resources carry a clear and unambiguous licence statement, it is difficult to know whether and in what context they can be reused. This is a phenomenon that my colleague Melissa Highton has referred to as copyright debt. If you don’t get the licensing right first time round it will cost you to fix it further down the line, and the cost and reputational risk to the university could be significant if copyright is breached. And this is one of the best strategic reasons for investing in open educational resources at the institutional level. We need to ensure that we have the right use, adapt, and reuse, the educational resources we have invested in.

In the context of online distance learning, using open licensed resources means that students can continue to access and use these resources after they have graduated. And this is an issue that is becoming increasingly pressing as there have been a number of critical press reports recently about postgraduate students who have lost access to resources after the taught component of their courses has finished but before they have submitted all their course work.

MOOCs and Open Online Courses

Continued access to educational resources can be particularly problematic when it comes to MOOCs. Educational content often gets locked into commercial MOOC platforms, regardless of whether or not it is openly licensed, and some platforms are now time limiting access to content. Clearly this is not helpful for students and, given how costly high-quality online teaching and learning resources are to produce, it also represents a poor return on investment for the University. So one of the ways that we’re addressing this at the University of Edinburgh is by ensuring that all the content we have produced for our MOOCs is also freely available to download under open licence from the Open Media Bank channel on our media asset management platform Media Hopper Create. We now have over 500 MOOC videos which are available to re-use under Creative Commons licence, covering topics as diverse as music theory, mental health, clinical psychology, programing, the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, astrobiology and the Scottish independence referendum. And some of these resources are now being re-used for campus based teaching.

MicroMasters

We’re extending our commitment to providing open access to high quality online learning opportunities by launching a new programme of MicroMasters in partnership with EdX. These micro credentials are flexible, open to all, and provide a stepping stone from open to formal accreditation. Openness has informed our approach to this initiative at every step of that way: edX was chosen as a not for profit organisation built on an open source platform; the technology and policies that drive our new pedagogical approaches at scale, are open and shared; and inline our OER policy, we’re building openness into the creation of all teaching materials. Our first MicroMasters in Predictive Analytics for Business Applications was launched in September, and course materials will be released under open licence following the first run of the course.

Diversifying the Curriculum

OER can also make a significant contribution to diversifying the curriculum.

This collaborative project worked with undergraduate students, to develop a suite of resources covering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual health. Although knowledge of LGBT health and of the sensitivities needed to treat LGBT patients are valuable skills for qualifying doctors, these issues are not well-covered in the Medical curricula. Using materials from the commons, this project sought to address the lack of teaching on LGBT health through OER. The project remixed and repurposed resources originally created by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio, and then contributed these resources back to the commons as Creative Commons licensed OER. New open resources including digital stories recorded from patient interviews and resources for Secondary School children of all ages were also created and released as OER.

Digital Skills

OER can also help to improve digital skills for both staff and students.

23 Things for Digital Knowledge is an award winning, open online course run by my colleague Stephanie Farley. 23 Things, was adapted from an open course developed by the University of Oxford and based a project from Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, and it is designed to encourage digital literacy by exposing learners to a wide range of digital tools for personal and professional development. Learners spend a little time each week, building up and expanding their digital skills and are encouraged to share their experiences with others. All course content and materials are licensed under a CC BY licence and the University actively encourages others to take and adapt the course. The course has already been used by many individuals and organisations outwith Edinburgh and it has recently been adapted for use by the Scottish Social Services Council as 23 digital capabilities to support practice and learning in social services.

Co-Creation

OER can engage students in the co-creation of their own learning experiences, and to my mind, this is one of the most powerful affordances of open education.

One initiative that does this is the School of Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course. Over two semesters, students undertake an outreach project that communicates an element of GeoSciences outside the university community. Students have the opportunity to work with schools, museums, outdoor centres and community groups to create a wide range of resources for science engagement including classroom teaching materials, leaflets, websites, and smartphone/tablet applications. Students gain experience of science outreach, public engagement, teaching and learning, and knowledge transfer while working in new and challenging environments and developing a range of transferable skills that enhance their employability.

A key element of the Geosciences Outreach and Engagement Course is to develop resources with a legacy that can be reused and disseminated by other communities and organisations. Each summer the OER Service employs Open Content Creation student interns, who take the materials created by the Geoscience students, make sure everything in those resources can be released under open license and then share them on TES Resources along with Curriculum for Excellence learning objectives and outcomes, so they could be found and reused by other teachers and learners.

For example this resource on sea level variation is designed for students learning Geography at third and fourth level of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence and it can be downloaded under a CC BY Share alike license from Open.Ed and TES.

Wikipedia in the Classroom

Another way we can create open knowledge and embed open education in the curriculum is by engaging with the world’s biggest open educational resource, Wikipedia. At Edinburgh we have our very own Wikipedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, who works to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, through skills training sessions, editathons, Wikipedia in the classroom initiatives and Wikidata projects, in order to increase the quantity and quality of open knowledge and enhance digital and information literacy skills for both staff and students. And one of the ways that Ewan does this is by working with academic colleagues to develop Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments. Creating Wikipedia entries enables students to demonstrate the relevance of their field of study and share their scholarship in a real-world context and at the same time, contribute to the global pool of open knowledge.

To date, 11 course programmes across the University have developed Wikipedia assignments, some of which are now in their second or third iteration, these include Translation Studies MSc, World Christianity, and the MScs in Global and Public Health.

Reproductive Biomedicine have been successfully running Wikipedia assignments as part of their honours course since 2015. As part of her assignment in 2016, honours student Aine Kavanagh created a new Wikipedia article on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most common forms of ovarian cancer. This article, including over sixty references and open-licensed diagrams created by Áine herself, has now been viewed over 80,000 times since it was published in September 2016, it’s hard to imagine many other student assignments having this kind of impact. Not only has Aine contributed valuable health information to the global Open Knowledge community, she has also created a resource that other students and global health experts can add to and improve over time. Creating resources that will live on on the open web, and that make a real contribution to global open knowledge, has proved to be a powerful motivator for the students taking part in these assignments.

You can find out more about our Wikimdia projects here and if you’re interested in exploring how you can engage with Wikimedia in the Classroom you can contact Wikimedia UK, the UK’s national Wikimedia chapter, who employ a dedicated Scotland projects coordinator, Sara Thomas.

OER Creation Assignments

In addition to the Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments, there are also other examples of open assessment practices from around the University, including assessed blogging assignments and OER creation assignments. So for example, these resources on patient centered care and classical Japanese orthography were created by students for an assignment as part of the Digital Education module for the Postgraduate Certificate (PgCert) in Academic Practice. And OER creation assignments also form an integral part of the Digital Futures for Learning course which is part of the MSc in Digital Education. Commenting on this OER creation assignment in a recent blog post, Jen Ross who runs this course said

“Experiencing first-hand what it means to engage in open educational practice gives student an appetite to learn and think more. The creation of OERs provides a platform for students to share their learning. In this way, these assignments can have ongoing, tangible value for students and for the people who encounter their work.”

And the University has recently acknowledged the importance of open educational resources not only for excellence in student education but also for academic career progression. After undertaking a review of processes and incentives for recognition and reward in academic careers paths, a set of revised Principles and Exemplars of Excellence has been created. The Exemplars highlight the level and extent of achievement in teaching-related activities that might be used by staff seeking promotion at different grade levels. As an example of “Dissemination of excellence in student education” the Exemplars include the creation and maintenance of online materials for student education that are used beyond the University “including Open Educational Resources.”

Open Access Research

OER can also help to promote engagement with the outputs of open research.

Open access makes research outputs freely accessible to all. It allows research to be disseminated quickly and widely, the research process to operate more efficiently, and has the potential to increase use and understanding of research by business, government, charities and the wider public3. However it is not always easy for those outwith academia to know how to access these outputs, even though they are freely and openly available.

In order to address this issue and to foster technology transfer and innovation, we’ve created a series of open educational resources in the form of video interviews, case studies and learning materials called Innovating with Open Knowledge. These resources are aimed at creative individuals, private researchers, entrepreneurs and small to medium enterprises to provide guidance on how to find and access the open outputs of Higher Education. The resources focus on developing digital and data literacy skills and search strategies and feature case study interviews with creative individuals and entrepreneurs engaging with the University’s research outputs. All these resources are released under open licence and the videos can be downloaded for reuse from this url.

Building Community

Engaging with open education is a really effective way to build community and collegiality among your peers and students and one great way to do that is through academic blogging. Last year we set up a new centrally supported academic blogging service, which provides staff and students with a range of different blogging platforms, including a centrally supported WordPress service, to support professional development and learning, teaching and research activities. To complement the service, we provide digital skills resources and workshops, including this open licensed workshop on Blogging to Build Your Professional Profile. We have lots of examples of collaborative groups blogs across the University including The Nursing Blog where staff and students from across Nursing Studies can share their achievements, research, and work. And another nice example of community blogging is Stories from Vet School which features blogs posts written by current undergraduate veterinary medicine students. One thing both these blogs have in common is that they both carry a Creative Commons open licence, which means that the posts themselves are open educational resources that can be reused by other teachers and learners.

Engaging with content and collections

OER can also enhance engagement with content and collections.

This rather obscure 17th century map of Iceland was digitized by the University’s Centre for Research Collections and because it was released under open licence, one of our colleagues was able to add it to the Wikipedia page about Iceland. Now Iceland’s Wikipedia page normally gets about 15,000 hits a day, however in June 2016 Iceland’s page got over 300,000 hits in a single day. That was the day that Iceland put England out of the Euro 2016 championship qualifiers, so 300,000 people saw our obscure 17th century map because of a game of football. This story was subsequently picked up by Creative Commons who included a little feature on the map in their 2016 State of the Commons report, resulting in further engagement with this historical gem.

And some of you may have seen recent news reports about a project that mapped the place of residence of 3,141 accused Scottish witches. Place names recorded in the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database, were uploaded into Wikidata, as linked open data and further enriched with the location of detentions, trials, place of death, etc. Student intern, Emma Carroll, worked with Wikimedian in Residence Ewan McAndrew, to Geolocate these place names and produce maps and timelines. This open data project really caught the public imagination and was reported everywhere from the Press and Journal to the New York Times, though I don’t think they’ve made it into the Stornoway gazette yet. In a Scotsman interview Ewan explained

“The tragedy is that Scotland had five times the number of executions of women. The idea of being able to plot these on a map really brings it home. These places are near everyone. There does seem to be a growing movement that we need to be remembering these women, remembering what happened and understanding what happened.”

Conclusion

These are just some of the ways that open education and OER is being embedded and supported across the University of Edinburgh and some of the benefits that can bring. I hope this will give you some ideas as to how open education and OER can benefit your teaching practice here at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

I want to finish with a quote from one of our Open Content Curation Student interns. This is former undergraduate Physics student Martin Tasker talking about the value of open education

“Open education has played such an integral part of my life so far, and has given me access to knowledge that would otherwise have been totally inaccessible to me. It has genuinely changed my life, and likely the lives of many others. This freedom of knowledge can allow us to tear down the barriers that hold people back from getting a world class education – be those barriers class, gender or race. Open education is the future, and I am both proud of my university for embracing it, and glad that I can contribute even in a small way. Because every resource we release could be a life changed. And that makes it all worth it.”

Opening Online Learning with OER⤴

from

This is the transcript of a talk I gave last week at the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine’s Post Graduate Tutors Away Day at the University of Edinburgh.  Slides are available here: Opening Online Learning with OER

Before I go on to talk about open education and OER, I want you to think about Ra’ana Hussein’s inspiring video where she articulates so clearly why participating in the MSc in Paediatric Emergency Medicine has been so empowering for her. 

Ra’ana said that the course helps her to be better at her work, and that she gains knowledge and learning that she can implement practically. It’s enabled her to meet people from diverse backgrounds, and connect with a global community of peers that she can share her practice with.  She finds online learning convenient, and tailored to her needs and she benefits from having immediate access to support, which helps her to balance her work and study commitments.

I’d like you to try and hold Ra’ana’s words in your mind while we go on and take a look at open education, OER and what it’s got to do with why we’re here today.

What is open education?

Open education is many things to many people.

  • A practice?
  • A philosophy?
  • A movement?
  • A human right?
  • A licensing issue?
  • A buzz word?
  • A way to save money?

Capetown Declaration

The principles of the open education were outlined in the 2008 Cape Town Declaration, one of the first initiatives to lay the foundations of the “emerging open education movement”.  The Declaration advocates that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, and redistribute educational resources without constraint, in order to nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need.  The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated last year on its 10th anniversary as Capetown +10, and I can highly recommend having a look at this if you want a broad overview of the principles of open education.

Aspects of Open Education

Although there’s no one hard and fast definition of open education, one description of the open education movement that I particularly like is from the not for profit organization OER Commons…

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation.”

Open education is highly contextual and encompasses many different things. These are just some of the aspects of open education

  • Open online courses
  • Open pedagogy
  • Open practice
  • Open assessment practices
  • Open textbooks
  • Open licensing
  • Open data
  • MOOCs
  • Open Access scholarly works
  • Open educational resources (OER)

OER

Though Open Education can encompass many different things, open educational resources, or OER, are central to any understanding of this domain.

UNESCO define open educational resources as

“teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”

UNESCO Policy Instruments

And the reason I’ve chosen this definition is that UNESCO is one of a number of international agencies that actively supports the global adoption of open educational resources.  In 2012 UNESCO released the Paris OER Declaration which encourages governments and authorities to open license educational materials produced with public funds, in order to realize substantial benefits for their citizens and maximize the impact of investment.   And in 2017 UNESCO brought together 111 member states for the 2nd OER World Congress in Slovenia, the main output of which was the UNESCO Ljubljana OER Action Plan.  Central to the OER Action plan is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 and support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory.

In his summing up at the end of the congress UNESCO Assistant Director for Education Qian Tang said

“to meet the education challenges, we can’t use the traditional way. In remote and developing areas, particularly for girls and women, OER are a crucial, crucial means to reach SDGs. OER are the key.”

The Action Plan acknowledges that open education and OER provide a strategic opportunity to improve knowledge sharing, capacity building and universal access to quality learning and teaching resources. And, when coupled with collaborative learning, and supported by sound pedagogical practice, OER has the transformative potential to increase access to education, opening up opportunities to create and share an array of educational resources to accommodate greater diversity of educator and learner needs.

Open Education at the University of Edinburgh

Now all this may sound very aspirational and possibly a touch idealistic, but here at the University of Edinburgh we believe that open education and OER are strongly in line with our institutional mission to deliver impact for society, discover, develop and share knowledge, and make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to the Scotland, the UK and the world.

Support for Sustainable Development Goals

It’s also worth noting that the University already has a commitment to Sustainable development goals through the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability and the university and college sectors’ Sustainable Development Accord.  And the new principal has recently re-stated the University’s commitment to meeting this goals.

OER Vision

The University has a vision for OER which has three strands, building on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission.  These are:

  • For the common good – encompassing every day teaching and learning materials.
  • Edinburgh at its best – high quality resources produced by a range of projects and initiatives.
  • Edinburgh’s Treasures – content from our world class cultural heritage collections.

OER Policy

This vision is backed up by an OER Policy, approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience.  This OER Policy is itself CC licensed and is adapted from an OER Policy that has already been adopted by a number of other institutions in the UK.  The fact that this policy was approved by the Learning and Teaching Committee, rather than by the Knowledge Strategy Committee is significant because it places open education and OER squarely in the domain of teaching and learning, which of course is the domain we’re focusing on here today.  The University’s vision for OER is very much the brain child of Melissa Highton, Assisstant Principal Online Learning and Director of Learning and Teaching Web Services.  However it’s also notable that EUSA the student union were instrumental in encouraging the University to adopt an OER policy, and we continue to see student engagement and co-creation as being fundamental aspects of open education.  

OER Service

But of course policy is nothing without support, so 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, open licencing, OER and playful engagement.  And we provide a one stop shop where you can access open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university, including some from this college.   As well as working closely with our students, the OER Service also hosts Open Content Creation student interns every summer.  And if you’d like to talk to me about the advice and guidance the OER Service provides…

Near Future Teaching

Openness is also at the heart of the Near Future Teaching project undertaken over the last two years by a team from the Centre for Research in Digital Education, led by Sian Bayne (Assistant Principal Digital Education).  This project co-created a values based vision for the future of digital education at the University with input from more than 400 staff and students. The project report, published last month, sets out a vision and aims for a near future teaching that is community focused, post digital, data fluent, assessment oriented, playful and experimental, and boundary challenging.  And one of the ways these goals can be achieved is  through increasing openness.  So for example the report calls for boundary challenging digital education that is lifelong, open and transdisciplinary, and the actions required to achieve these objectives are all centered on committing to openness.

So that’s the big picture vision, but what I want to do now is just take a few minutes to look at what’s actually happening in practice, and to highlight some of the innovative open education initiatives that are already going on across the university.

Building Community

Open education is a great way to build community and if you cast your mind back to Ra’ana you’ll remember that she appreciated being part of a connected global community of peers. 

One great way to build community is through academic blogging, and just last year the University set up a new centrally supported Academic Blogging Service. The service provides staff and students with a range of different blogging platforms to support professional development and learning, teaching and research activities.  The service includes existing platforms such as Learn, Moodle, and Pebblepad and a new centrally supported WordPress service, blogs.ed.ac.uk.  To complement the service, we provide digital skills resources and workshops, including one on Blogging to Build Your Professional Profile, we’ve recently launched a seminar series featuring talks from academic blog users around the University, and we’ve been running a mini-series on the Teaching Matters blog.  And I’d like to draw your attention to the most recent blog post in that series from Bethany Easton from the School of Health in Social Science, about The Nursing Blog which was set up in 2014 as a community blog where staff and students from across the Nursing Studies Subject area can share their achievements, research, and work.   And another great example of community blogging is Stories from Vet School which features blogs posts written by current undergraduate veterinary medicine students.  And if you look carefully you’ll see that one thing both these blogs have in common is that they both carry a Creative Commons open licence, which means that the posts themselves are open educational resources that can be reused by other teachers and learners. It’s easy to see how this format could be adopted for use with online postgraduate students as a great way to connect them with their peers and build that all important sense of community so critical for distance learners.

Diversifying the Curriculum

OER can also make a significant contribution to diversifying and decolonizing the curriculum. 

LGBT+ Healthcare 101 was a collaborative project run by EDE and the Usher Institute worked with undergraduate students, to develop a suite of resources covering lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual health. Although knowledge of LGBT health and of the sensitivities needed to treat LGBT patients are valuable skills for qualifying doctors, these issues are not well-covered in the Medical curricula.  Using materials from the commons, this project sought to address the lack of teaching on LGBT health through OER.  The project remixed and repurposed resources originally created by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio, and then contributed these resources back to the commons as Creative Commons licensed OER.  New open resources including digital stories recorded from patient interviews and resources for Secondary School children of all ages were also created and released as OER.

More recently the OER Service has released a series of resources on Openness, Equality and Inclusion which includes materials from a workshop we ran with EUSA VP of Education, Diva Mukherji, on Decolonising and Diversifing the curriculum with Open Educational Resources.  And again it’s not difficult to see how important diversifying the curriculum is when you’re creating educational resources and learning experiences for global students from a wide range of different cultural contexts.

Access to Resources

Creating and using open educational resources is also an important way to ensure longevity of access to course materials, and this can benefit staff, students, and the university itself.    It’s very common to think of OER as primarily being of benefit to those outwith the institution, however open licenses also help to ensure that we can continue to use and reuse the resources that we ourselves have created.  I’m sure you’ll all have come projects that created great content only for those resources to become inaccessible once the project ends or great teaching and learning materials belonging to a colleague who has subsequently retired or moved on, and nobody quite knows if they can still be used or not. Unless teaching and learning resources carry a clear and unambiguous open licence, it is difficult to know whether and in what context they can be reused.  This is a phenomenon that my colleague Melissa Highton has referred to as copyright debt.  If you don’t get the licensing right first time round it will cost you to fix it further down the line, and the cost and reputational risk to the university could be significant if copyright is breached.   And this is one of the best strategic reasons for investing in open educational resources at the institutional level. We need to ensure that we have the right use, adapt, and reuse, the educational resources we have invested in.  We already have some really innovative open educational resources from the College highlighted on the OER Service website and if you want to learn more about how to use and create re-useable open content without fear of breaching copyright, the OER Service runs a number of digital skills workshops covering this and we have lots of materials available online too.

In the context of online distance learning, using open licensed resources means that students can continue to access and use these resources after they have graduated.  And this is an issue that is becoming increasingly pressing as there have been a number of critical press reports recently about postgraduate students who have lost access to resources after the taught component of their courses has finished but before they have submitted all their course work.

MOOCs and the Open Media Bank

Continued access to educational resources can be particularly problematic when it comes to MOOCs.  Educational content often gets locked into commercial MOOC platforms, regardless of whether or not it is openly licensed, and some platforms are now time limiting access to content. Clearly this is not helpful for students and, given how costly high quality online teaching and learning resources are to produce, it also represents a poor return on investment for the University.  So one of the ways that we’re addressing this here at the University is by ensuring that all the content we have produced for our MOOCs is also freely available to download under open licence from the Open Media Bank channel on Media Hopper Create.  We now have over 500 MOOC videos which are available to re-use under Creative Commons licence, including “Mental Health: A Global Priority” from the School of Molecular, Genetic and Population Health Sciences, and “Clinical Psychology of Children and Young People” from the School of Health in Social Science.

Wikipedia in the Classroom

Another way we can create open knowledge and embed open education in the curriculum is by engaging with the world’s biggest open educational resource, Wikipedia.  Here at the University we have our very own Wikipedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, based in Learning, Teaching and Web Services. Ewan works to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, through skills training sessions, editathons, Wikipedia in the classroom initiatives and Wikidata projects, in order to increase the quantity and quality of open knowledge and enhance digital and information literacy skills for both staff and students.   And one of the ways that Ewan does this is by working with academic colleagues to develop Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments. Creating Wikipedia entries enables students to demonstrate the relevance of their field of study and share their scholarship in a real-world context and at the same time, contribute to the global pool of open knowledge.

To date, 11 course programmes across the University have developed Wikipedia assignments, some of which are now in their second or third iteration. And I know that Ewan is working with colleagues to explore the creation of new Wikipedia assignments for the MScs in Global and Public Health. 

Reproductive Biomedicine have been successfully running Wikipedia assignments as part of their Reproductive Biology Honours course since 2015.  As part of her assignment in 2016, honours student Aine Kavanagh created a new Wikipedia article on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most common forms of ovarian cancer.   This article, including over sixty references and open-licensed diagrams created by Áine herself, has now been viewed over 64,000 times since it was published in September 2016, it’s hard to imagine many other student assignments having this kind of impact.  Not only has Aine contributed valuable health information to the global Open Knowledge community, she has also created a resource that other students and global health experts can add to and improve over time.  Creating resources that will live on on the open web, and that make a real contribution to global open knowledge, has proved to be a powerful motivator for the students taking part in these assignments.  

OER Creation Assignments

In addition to the Wikipedia in the Classroom assignments, there are also other examples of open assessment practices from around the University, including assessed blogging assignments and OER creation assignments. So for example, these resources on Inflammatory Bowel Disease in Pets were created by Silke Salavati for an assignment as part of the Digital Education module for the Postgraduate Certificate (PgCert) in Academic Practice.  And OER creation assignments also form an integral part of the Digital Futures for Learning course which is part of the MSc in Digital Education.  Commenting on this OER creation assignment in a recent blog post, Jen Ross who runs this course said

“Experiencing first-hand what it means to engage in open educational practice gives student an appetite to learn and think more.  The creation of OERs provides a platform for students to share their learning. In this way, these assignments can have ongoing, tangible value for students and for the people who encounter their work.”

Conclusion

These are just some of the ways that open education and OER is already being embedded and supported across the University and I hope this will give you some ideas as to how open approaches can benefit your online courses ad modules here in the College.  And if you think back to Ra’ana and all the reasons that she appreciated being a student on the MSc in Paediatric Emergency Medicine; ease of access to resources and support, the practical application of knowledge, the ability to share her practice with her peers, being part of a diverse and connected global community, these are all aspects that can be enhanced further by engaging with OER and open education.

 I want to finish with a quote from one of our Open Content Curation student interns, and I make no apology for using this quote almost every time I talk about open education and OER.  This is former undergraduate Physics student Martin Tasker talking about the value of open education

“Open education has played such an integral part of my life so far, and has given me access to knowledge that would otherwise have been totally inaccessible to me. It has genuinely changed my life, and likely the lives of many others. This freedom of knowledge can allow us to tear down the barriers that hold people back from getting a world class education – be those barriers class, gender or race. Open education is the future, and I am both proud of my university for embracing it, and glad that I can contribute even in a small way. Because every resource we release could be a life changed. And that makes it all worth it.”

The Soul of Liberty: Openness, Equality and Co-creation⤴

from

Transcript and slides from my keynote at the CELT 2018 Design for Learning Symposium, NUI Galway.

The theme of today’s conference is designing teaching and learning spaces to facilitate active learning, collaboration and student engagement however my experience lies not so much in physical spaces but in online and digital spaces and specifically open education spaces situated within the open knowledge landscape. I currently work for the Open Education Resources Service at the University of Edinburgh, I’m a Board member of both the Association for Learning Technology and Wikimedia UK, and a member of Open Knowledge International’s Open Education Working Group, and all these organisations are part of the broad Open Knowledge landscape.

What I want to look at today is what we mean when we talk about openness in relation to digital teaching and learning spaces, resources, communities and practices. I also want to highlight the boundaries that demarcate these open spaces, the hierarchies that exist within them, and look at who is included and who is excluded. And I want to explore what we can do to make our open spaces more diverse and inclusive by removing systemic barriers and structural inequalities and by engaging both staff and students in the co-creation of our own teaching and learning experience.

I don’t want to get too hung up on semantics, but I do want to start off by looking at a few definitions. What do we mean if we talk about openness in relation to digital education and open knowledge? This is a question that has been posed numerous times, in numerous contexts by independent scholar and technology journalist  Audrey Watters who, in a 2015 post titled “What Do We Mean By Open Education?” asked

“What do we mean when we use the word? Free? Open access? Open enrollment? Open data? Openly- licensed materials, as in open educational resources or open source software? Open for discussion? Open for debate? Open to competition? Open for business? Open-ended intellectual exploration? Those last two highlight how people can use the word “open” in education and mean not just utterly different things, but perhaps even completely opposite.”

Like Audrey, I don’t have a simple answer to these questions because, as Catherine Cronin reminded us in her thoughtful 2017 paper Open Education, Open Questions, “openness is a constantly negotiated space”. It’s critically important to appreciate that open means very different things to different people, and that our perspective of openness will be shaped by our personal experiences and the privilege of our vantage point.

These are some of the spaces that populate the Open Knowledge landscape as I see it. Your perspective of this open landscape might look very different.

● Open licenses
● Open educational resources
● Open education policy and
● Open pedagogy
● Open practice
● Open textbooks
● Open badges
● Open online courses
● MOOCs (a very contested open space.)
● Open data
● Open science
● Open Access scholarly works
● Open source software
● Open standards
● Open government
● Open GLAM

I’m not going to attempt to cover all these areas, as we’d be here until next week, but I do want to explore what open means, or rather how it is understood, in some of the spaces I am most familiar with.

Open Education and OER

So let’s start off with open education and OER…

The principles of open education are outlined in the 2007 Cape Town Declaration, which laid the foundations of the “emerging open education movement” and advocated for the development of open education policy to ensure that taxpayer-funded educational resources are available under open license. The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated last year on its 10th anniversary as Capetown +10 and I can highly recommend having a look at this if you want a broad overview of the principles of open education.

There is no one hard and fast definition of open education but one I like is from the not for profit organization OER Commons…

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation. Open Educational Resources (OER) offer opportunities for systemic change in teaching and learning content through engaging educators in new participatory processes and effective technologies for engaging with learning.”

And I want to come back and look at these concepts of participation and co-creation later.

Though Open Education can encompass many different things, open educational resources, or OER, are central to any understanding of this domain.

UNESCO define open educational resources as

“teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”

It’s useful to note that this definition accommodates a wide range of different resource types and it’s notable that the term OER is interpreted very differently in different communities. In the US currently, OER tends to equate to open textbooks, while in the UK we have a much broader understanding of OER that encompasses a wide range of teaching, learning and cultural heritage resources.

One of the key characteristics of open educational resources is that they are either in the public domain or they are released under an open licence, and generally that means a Creative Commons licence. However not all Creative Commons licences are equal and there is considerable debate as to whether resources licensed with No Derivatives and Non Commercial licences can be regarded as OER. Some argue from a strong ethical standpoint that while education resources produced by public funding should be freely and openly available, they should be protected from commercial exploitation by Non Commercial licences. Others take the position that open education resources should be freely and openly available to all, without exception or restriction. And there are arguments that in order for open business models to be sustainable, they must enable both free and commercial reuse. For example some cultural heritage institutions will make low resolution images of their digitised collections freely available under open license, however users must pay a premium to access high resolution images. It’s not my position to make a value judgement on these different perspectives as choice of licence will always be dictated by many factors and will always be highly contextualised.

One prominent voice in the debate about defining the open in OER is David Wiley who has defined five 5 permissions or activities that characterise open educational resources. These are referred to as the 5 Rs:

1. Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways.
2. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself.
3. Remix – the right to combine content with other material to create something new.
4. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the content with others.
5. Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content.

Wiley also argues that the requirements and restrictions some organisations place on open content, such as the use of the Share Alike licence, harm the global goals of the broader open content community.

I have no quibble with the 5Rs per se, and indeed I think it’s useful for anyone who is engaged in open education to be familiar with this conceptual framework, however I would caution against regarding this as a standard to which open education resources must conform as they arguably obscure some of the more important aspects of the open in open education. Indeed some argue that any attempt to standardise what may or may not be regarded as OER is contrary to the very spirit of openness.

During the 2017 Open Education Conference Ryan Merkley, Executive Director of Creative Commons stressed that

“Open has to be about more than the 5Rs. It is also about our values: access, equity, innovation & creativity.”

And Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education at SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition also emphasised that

“Open is not just a set of attributes, it’s a set of values and practices that make education better.”

Personally, when it comes to definitions such as these, I think there is a careful balance to be struck between speaking a common language, encouraging diverse opinions and listening with respect.

Open Education Practice

These values and practices are often encompassed by the term open education practice.

Broadly speaking, open education practice encompases teaching techniques and academic practices that draw on open technologies, pedagogical approaches and OER to facilitate collaborative and flexible learning. This may involve both teachers and learners participating in online peer communities, engaging with, reusing and creating open educational content, and sharing experiences and professional practice.

One description I like of open education practice is from the Cape Town Declaration

“Open education is not limited to just open educational resources. It also draws upon open technologies that facilitate collaborative, flexible learning and the open sharing of teaching practices that empower educators to benefit from the best ideas of their colleagues.”

And what I particularly like about this definition is that it focuses on collaboration and empowerment, which to me is what open education is all about.

Although I’m not a teaching academic, I do regard myself as an open education practitioner, and these are some of the ways that this practice manifests in terms of my work.

I own my own domain on Reclaim Hosting, an independent company that builds on the principles of the open web. I maintain a blog on this domain, Open World, which I use to reflect on my work and the open education initiatives I’m involved in. My blog also acts as an open record of my practice and it’s where I host my professional CMALT portfolio. I maintain an active twitter account which I use to communicate and collaborate with my peers. I ensure that all the resources I produce are released under open licence, and I try to reuse open licensed content whenever possible. This is what my open practice looks like, yours will likely be quite different. However to my mind, the most important aspects of open practice are reflecting openly on your experiences, sharing that reflection with your peers, and engaging in collaborative learning.

MOOCs

I now want to move on to look at a much more contested open space; MOOCs. MOOCs have their roots in a small number of connectivist courses run by institutions such as Athabasca University and The University of Mary Washington from 2008 onwards. These innovative courses, such as the anarchic DS-106 digital storytelling course, focused on knowledge creation and generation and encouraged learners to play a central role in shaping their learning experiences. From 2010 onwards however a number of primarily venture-capital funded commercial MOOC providers, including Udacity, EdX, Coursera and FutureLearn, entered the market with a huge amount of hype and promises to disrupt education. Although MOOCs did not disrupt Higher Education, they do fill an interesting space in the education market, and I use that term advisedly in this instance.

My problem with MOOCs is that they are not open in any real sense of the word. The word “open” in MOOC simply means that anyone can join a course free of charge, regardless of qualifications. The platforms themselves are proprietary, and even if course content is openly licensed it is often difficult to extricate from the platform. Most MOOCs are free as in beer rather than free as in speech and even this is increasingly debatable as many now charge for premium features such as certification and continued access to course materials.

Of course one solution to this is to ensure all MOOC content is also available in open spaces off these commercial platforms, and that’s the road we’ve gone down at Edinburgh.  In order to make sure the high quality MOOC content we produce for the courses we run on FutureLearn, Coursera and EdX is accessible and reusable, for both our own staff and students, and others outwith the University, we make sure is can be downloaded under open license from our multi media asset management system, Media Hopper Create.

Wikimedia

Of course no discussion of open online spaces would be complete without Wikpedia and its associated projects.

Here in Ireland there is an active Community User Group which promotes the creation, promotion, and dissemination of free knowledge. And in the UK we have a Wikimedia chapter, Wikimedia UK, which works in partnership with organisations from the cultural and education sectors to unlock content, remove barriers to knowledge, develop new ways of engaging with the public and enable learners to benefit from the educational potential of the Wikimedia projects. Wikimedia UK also supports a number of Wikimedians in Residence who work with a range of education and public heritage organisations throughout the country. A new Wikimedia Scotland Coordinator, has also just been appointed and in Wales there is a National Wikimedian, based at the National Library in Aberystwyth.

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that contributing to the global pool of Open Knowledge through Wikimedia is squarely in line with our institutional mission and we also believe that Wikipedia is a valuable learning tool to develop a wide range of digital and information literacy skills at all levels across the curriculum. Our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, works to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, through skills training sessions, editathons, Wikipedia in the classroom initiatives and Wikidata projects, in order to increase the quantity and quality of open knowledge and enhance digital literacy.

There is no question that Wikipedia is an invaluable source of open knowledge, however it is not without bias. The coverage of subject matter on Wikipedia is neither uniform nor balanced and many topics and areas are underrepresented, particularly those relating to women, people of colour and minority groups. For example, on English language Wikipedia only about 17% of biographical articles are about women, and the number of female editors is between 10 & 14%. Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you why this lack of diversity and inclusivity is a serious problem. However it is a problem that is being addressed by the Foundation itself, by projects such as  Wikiwomen in Red, and by editors and Wikimedians in Residence across the world.

At Edinburgh an important aspect of our Wikimedian in Residence’s work is to help improve the coverage and esteem of Wikipedia articles about women, and underrepresented minorities, and to redress the gender imbalance of contributors by encouraging more women to become editors. And I’m very pleased to say that over the last year 65% of participants at our editathons were women. There has also been phenomenal progress in Wales, and in 2016, Welsh Wikipedia became the biggest language Wikipedia in the world to achieve gender balance.

Inclusion, Exclusion and Structural Inequality

Wikipedia’s well known problem with gender balance is a notable example of systemic bias. Wikimedia is an open community, an open space, that anyone can contribute to in theory, however in reality there are many factors that prevent certain groups from entering this space.  In the case of women editors, former Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner identified a range of systemic factors that discourage women from contributing to the encyclopaedia, including lack of time, lack of self confidence, aversion to conflict, and the misogynistic atmosphere of the community. In addition, the very principles which underpin the encyclopaedia discriminate against marginalised groups. Wikipedia is based on citation, yet in fields where women and people of colour have been traditionally barred, or their contribution has been neglected or elided, it is much harder to find reputable citations that are critical for the creation of good quality articles. Any article that is deemed to be inadequately cited runs the risk of rapid deletion, thus replicating real world power imbalances, privileges and inequalities.

Wikimedia is not the only open space that suffers from issues of systemic bias and structural inequality.  In a paper on Open Initiatives for Decolonising the Curriculum, in the forthcoming book Decolonising the University edited by Gurminder K Bhramba, open source software developer Pat Lockley notes that universities with the highest percentages of black staff are those which spend the least, and in many cases nothing, on open access article processing charges. And he goes on to ask whether Open Access really is broadening and diversifying academia, or merely reinforcing the existing system.

When we look at MOOCs supported on commercial platforms, the situation is arguably worse. Far from democratizing higher education and reaching out to disadvantaged groups, numerous studies have shown that the majority of MOOC enrolments tend to be young, male, educated, and from the developed countries of the global north. Gayle Christensen, one of the authors of an important report on the University of Pennsylvania’s Coursera courses, noted that MOOCs are failing to reach they students they had intended to empower and instead they are giving more to those who already have a lot.

Similarly, in its 2017 survey on open source software development practices and communities, Github, another important open online space, reported huge gaps in representation and concluded that the gender imbalance in open source remains profound. From a random sample of 5,500 respondents 95% were men; just 3% were women and 1% are non-binary.

And there are many other examples of similar structural inequalities in open spaces and communities. We all need to be aware of the fact that open does not necessarily mean accessible. Open spaces and communities are not without their hierarchies, their norms, their gatekeepers and their power structures. We need to look around our own open communities and spaces and ask ourselves who is included and who is excluded, who is present and who is absent, and we need to ask ourselves why. Because nine times out of ten, if certain groups of people are absent or excluded from spaces, communities or domains, it is not a result of preference, ability, or aptitude, it is a result of structural inequality, and in many cases it is the result of multiple intersecting inequalities. Far too often our open spaces replicate the power structures and inequalities that permeate our society.

In a recent article titled “The Dangers of Being Open” Amira Dhalla, who leads Mozilla’s Women and Web Literacy programs, wrote:

“What happens when only certain people are able to contribute to open projects and what happens when only certain people are able to access open resources? This means that the movement is not actually open to everyone and only obtainable by those who can practice and access it.

Open is great. Open can be the future. If, and only when, we prioritize structuring it as a movement where anyone can participate and protecting those who do.”

So how do we change this? Well half the battle is recognising that there is a problem in the first place, taking steps to understand that problem, and then doing the hard work to effect change. And those of us who are already inside these open spaces and communities need to take positive action to make these spaces, not just open, but accessible and inclusive. And to do that, to borrow a phrase from the Suffragettes, we need Deeds not Words.

Open Education and Co-Creation at UoE

One way we can start to ensure that our open education spaces, communities and resources really are open and participatory is to engage with our students in co-creation.  So what I want to do now is briefly look at a few initiatives from the University of Edinburgh that involve students in the co-creation of learning experiences, open knowledge and open educational resources.

At Edinburgh we believe that open education is strongly in line with our institutional mission to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, and to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing. Students have always played a key role in shaping the our vision of openness, indeed it was the Edinburgh University Student Association (EUSA) that provided the initial impetus for the development of an OER policy at the university. Our vision for OER builds on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission, and right from its inception this vision has encouraged both staff and students to engage with the use and creation of OER and open knowledge, to enhance the quality of the student experience while at the same time making a significant contribution to the cultural and digital commons. This vision is backed up by our OER Policy and an OER Service which provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER, and which provides a one stop shop where you can access open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university. Because we believe its crucially important to back up our policy and vision with support.

So let’s look at some examples of how our students are engaging in the co-creation of open learning and open knowledge

LGBT+ Healthcare 101

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

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

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

Geosciences Outreach and Engagement

Another hugely successful example of co-creation is the School of Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course.  Over two semesters, students develop an outreach project that communicates an element of GeoSciences outside the university community.  Students work with schools, museums, outdoor centres and community groups to create a wide range of resources for science engagement. Students gain experience of science outreach, public engagement, teaching and learning, and knowledge transfer while working in new and challenging environments and developing a range of transferable skills that enhance their employability.

The Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course has proved to be hugely popular with both students and clients. The course has received widespread recognition and a significant number of schools and other universities are exploring how they might adopt the model.

Here’s just one quote from a student, Rebecca Astbury, who participated in the course;

“Geoscience Outreach and Engagement is one of the most interesting courses I have undertaken in my 5 years at Edinburgh. Not only do I get the opportunity to find new and exciting ways to inform people of all ages about Geosciences, I’m also learning valuable skills to enhance my future career after university. This course has taught me that everyone has a different way of learning, and instead of following one strict path, we should expand our ideas on how to effectively communicate science to the general public.”

A key element of the Course is to develop resources with a legacy that can be reused by other communities and organisations. Our Open Content Curation Interns repurpose these materials to create open educational resources which are then shared online through Open.Ed and TES where they could be found and reused by other teachers and learners.

Wikimedia in the Classroom

I’ve already mentioned the work of our Wikimedian in Residence and I’m not going to go into this  amazing project in any detail as that would be a whole other talk and I’m already running out of time. Instead I’m going to let one of our students speak for themselves. This interview with Senior Honours Biology student Aine Kavanagh was recorded by our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew. Here’s Aine is talking briefly about her experience of writing a Wikipeda article as part of a classroom assignment in Reproductive Biology.

Video by Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence, University of Edinburgh

And the article that Aine wrote on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most common forms of ovarian cancer, has now been viewed almost 34,000 times. It’s hard to imagine another piece of undergraduate work having such an impact. This is just one of a number of courses at the University that have successfully embedded Wikipedia assignments and you can listen to more of our students’ testimonies and find out about the work of our Wikimedian in residence here.

These are all examples of open education initiatives that are not just open, but open, diverse collaborative and participatory and, to my mind, this is what is really important

Conclusion

To conclude, I want to go right back to the title of this talk, The Soul of Liberty, which is taken from a quote by Frances Wright, the Scottish feminist and social reformer, who was born in Dundee in 1795, but who rose to prominence in the United States as an abolitionist, a free thinker, and an advocate of women’s equality in education. Frances wrote:

“Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.”

I think the same could also be said of openness; equality is the soul of openness. Two hundred years down the line, Frances’ conviction strikes a chord that echoes with Amira Dhalla’s affirmation that open can only be the future if we design and structure open spaces and communities so that anyone can participate.

Those of us here today already have the privilege to participate in open education spaces and open knowledge communities, and we can not keep that privilege to ourselves. We need to identify the barriers that prevent some people from participating in the spaces we enjoy, and we need to do what we can to remove these systemic obstructions. We need to be aware of our own privilege, and be sensitive to whose voices are included and whose are excluded, we need to know when to speak and when to be silent. To me this is what openness is really about, the removal of systemic barriers and structural inequalities to provide opportunities to enable everyone to participate equitably, and on their own terms. We need to ensure that when we design our learning spaces, whether physical or virtual, online or on campus, they really are open to all, regardless of race, gender, or ability, because openness is not just about attributes, definitions and licences, openness is also about creativity, access, equality, and inclusion, and ultimately, it’s about expanding access to education, supporting social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged digital citizens.

CELT Keynote⤴

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I’m absolutely delighted to be invited to present one of the keynotes at this year’s CELT Symposium at NUI Galway.  I’ve never been to this event before but I always follow it online as it often has excellent keynotes and a really lively social media presence.  I’ve also never been to Galway before and to say I’m excited to visit would be a bit of an understatement!

The theme of this year’s symposium is Design for Learning: Teaching and Learning Spaces in Higher Education.  I’ll be developing some of the themes I touched on in my OER18 and FLOSS UK keynotes to look at what we mean when we talk about openness in relation to digital teaching and learning spaces, resources, communities and practices. Focusing on open education, OER, open practice, MOOCs, and Wikimedia, I’ll be exploring different and sometimes contradictory definitions and understandings of openness in these contexts.  I’ll also touch on the structural inequalities that prevent some groups and individuals from participating in open education and asking how open and equitable our open education spaces really are and who are they open to?  Using innovative examples from the University of Edinburgh, I’ll look at how we can engage with students to co-create more equitable, inclusive and participatory open education spaces, communities and resources.

The title of my talk, The Soul of Liberty – Openness, equality and co-creation, is paraphrased from a quote by Frances Wright, the Scottish feminist and social reformer, who was born in Dundee in 1795, but who rose to prominence in the United States as an abolitionist, a free thinker, and an advocate of women’s equality in education.

Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.

I think the same could also be said of openness; equality is the soul of openness. If our open education spaces and communities are not open to all equally, then really we have to question whether they are open at all.

Fanny Wright, public domain image, Wikimedia Commons.

(I think Fanny would definitely identify with that other free thinker, Ms Janelle Monáe, who I mentioned in my previous blog post – A free thought from a free thinker)

Exploring the Open Knowledge Landscape⤴

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Transcript and slides from my keynote at the FLOSS UK Spring Conference in Edinburgh.

I’m not a programmer.  I’m not a developer.  And I don’t contribute directly to the creation of free and open source software.  I originally started out as an Archaeologist but I now work in the domain of Open Knowledge and more specifically open education.  I currently work for the Open Education Resources Service within the Information Services Group at the University of Edinburgh, I’m a Board member of both the Association for Learning Technology and Wikimedia UK, and a member of Open Knowledge International’s Open Education Working Group. All these organisations are part of the Open Knowledge landscape and what I want to do today is provide a broad overview of some of the different domains, communities and cultures that make up this landscape including open education, open data, open textbooks and Open Access Scholarly works.  And I also want to explore the boundaries that crisscross this landscape and demarcate these open spaces, and ask who is included, who is excluded, and what we can do to make our communities more diverse and inclusive.

In the words of the late, great Maryam Mirzakhani, former professor of mathematics at Stanford University and the first female winner of the Fields Medal, who sadly passed away last year.

“I like crossing the imaginary boundaries people set up between different fields—it’s very refreshing. There are lots of tools, and you don’t know which one would work. It’s about being optimistic and trying to connect things.”

So that’s what I want to do today, to look at how we can cross the imaginary boundaries of the Open Knowledge landscape and connect our different open communities.

Of course the open landscape will look very different to each and every one of us and the view we see will depend very much on our personal perspective and the privilege of our vantage point.  These are some of the domains and communities that populate the Open Knowledge landscape as I see it.

  • Open licenses
  • Open educational resources
  • Open education policy and practice
  • Open textbooks
  • Open badges
  • Open online courses
  • MOOCs (a very contested open space.)
  • Open data
  • Open science
  • Open Access scholarly works
  • Open source software
  • Open standards
  • Open government
  • Open GLAM

I’m not going to attempt to cover all these areas, as we’d be here until next week, but I do want to explore some of the areas that I’m most familiar with and look at how we can all benefit from crossing the boundaries and building connections between these domains.

Open Education and OER

So let’s start off with open education and OER.

The principles of open education were first outlined in the 2007 Cape Town Declaration, which laid the foundations of the “emerging open education movement” and advocated for the development of open education policy to ensure that taxpayer-funded educational resources are available under open license.  The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated last year on its 10th anniversary as Capetown +10 and I can highly recommend having a look at this if you want a broad overview of the principles of open education.

There is no one hard and fast definition of open education but one I like is from the not for profit organization OER Commons…

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation.”

Though Open Education can encompass many different things, open educational resources or OER are central to any understanding of this domain.

UNESCO define open educational resources as:

“teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”

It’s useful to note that this definition accommodates a wide range of different resource types and it’s notable that the term OER is interpreted very differently in different communities.  In the US currently, OER tends to equate to open textbooks, and I’ll go on and say why shortly, while in the UK we tend to have a much broader understanding of OER that encompasses a wide range of teaching, learning and cultural heritage resources.

The reason I chose this particular definition is that UNESCO is one of a number of organisations that actively supports the global adoption of OER.  In 2012, five years after the Cape Town Declaration, UNESCO released the Paris OER Declaration which encourages governments and authorities to open license educational materials produced with public funds in order to realize substantial benefits for their citizens and maximize the impact of investment.  And last year UNESCO brought together 111 member states for the 2nd OER World Congress in Slovenia, the main output of which was the UNESCO Ljubljana OER Action Plan.  Central to the OER Action plan is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4   and support quality education that is equitable, inclusive, open and participatory.

In his summing up at the end of the congress UNESCO Assistant Director for Education Qian Tang said

“to meet the education challenges, we can’t use the traditional way. In remote and developing areas, particularly for girls and women, OER are a crucial, crucial means to reach SDGs. OER are the key.”

One of the key characteristics of open educational resources is that they are either in the public domain or they are released under an open licence and generally that means a Creative Commons licence.

However not all Creative Commons licences are equal and only resources that are licensed for adaptation and reuse can really be considered as OER.   At the recent OER World Congress, Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley emphasized that free is not the most important thing about OER, it’s the permission to modify and adapt resources that is most important, because that is what allows us to adapt educational resources to allow us to meet the specific and diverse needs of our learners.

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that open educational resources are strongly in line with our institutional mission to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, and to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world.

We have a vision for OER that builds on our world-class education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission. And this vision is backed up by an OER Policy, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience.

Open.Ed is our OER portal where you can access open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university, including teaching materials, video lectures, film content, games, 3 models and much more. Rather than investing in a proprietary repository, Open.Ed is supported by WordPress and we’re currently in the process of implementing search and aggregation functionality based on the Solvonauts open source OER search engine developed by pgogy.

Open Textbooks

I mentioned earlier that the prevalent form of OER in North America is open textbooks.  The reason being that North American education systems tend to be centred heavily around single use textbooks.  According to SPARC, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition,  the price of textbooks has increased at more than three times the rate of inflation for decades, resulting in college students face steep price tags of up $200 per book.  These costs can be a considerable barrier in terms of access to education and also result in schools and colleges using books that are years out of date because they are too expensive to replace.  SPARC is one of a number of organisations that campaigns for the adoption of open texbooks in the US, and they have recently been instrumental in persuading U.S. Congress to fund a $5 million open textbook grant program.

Although we don’t rely quite so heavily on single course textbooks here in the UK, textbook costs can still be significant.  The UK OpenTextbooks project is a partnership between the OER Hub at the Open University, OpenStax and The Open Textbook Network which aims to explore the viability of introducing open textbooks in UK higher education.

While open textbooks offer many benefits when used as is, including cost savings and access to affordable high quality learning materials, the benefits of open textbooks increase significantly when you combine them with open source software.   One initiative that is doing just that is BC Campus in Canada. In 2012 BC Campus received a $1m grant from the British Columbia government to  provide free and open textbooks for the top 40 course subject areas in post secondary education.  The project collected existing open textbooks from OpenStax and the Open Textbooks Network, and adopted PressBooks, the open source book content management system, as a faculty friendly authoring platform for new open books.  Because of the open extensible nature of the software, BC Campus have been able to add new features to PressBooks, such as annotation and new import and export routines and these are contributed back to the community as open source code.  In the words of BC Campus’ Clint Lalonde:

“PressBooks is easy for most faculty to use because many are familiar with WordPress. Faculty feel empowered and have the skills needed to adapt open textbooks to fit their specific learning needs. Faculty make their textbook reflect their pedagogy instead of the reverse.”

MOOCs

Moving on now to MOOCs….

MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, occupy a somewhat contested space in the Open Knowledge landscape. The term was originally coined in 2008 to describe a number of online courses, characterised by social connectivist and constructivist pedagogies, being run by the Universities of Athabasca and Prince Edward Island in Canada.  These innovative courses focused on knowledge creation and generation and encourage learners to play a central role in shaping their learning experiences.   From 2010 onwards however a number of primarily venture-capital funded commercial MOOC providers, including Udacity, EdX, Coursera and FutureLearn, entered the market with promises to disrupt education.  The launch of these companies was accompanied by a huge amount of hype with Sebastian Thrun, founder of Udacity predicting that in 50 years time there would be only ten higher education institutions in the world, and of course, Udacity had a good chance of being one of them.  Udacity now focuses primarily on vocational courses rather than the Higher Education sector.

Although MOOCs did not disrupt Higher Education, they did fill an interesting niche in the education market, and I use that term advisedly in this instance, and commercial MOOC providers are still thriving.  My problem with MOOCs is that they are not open in any real sense of the word.  The word “open” in MOOC simply means that anyone can join a course free of charge, regardless of qualifications.  The platforms themselves are proprietary, and even if course content is open licensed it is often difficult to extricate from the platform. Most MOOCs are free as in beer rather than free as in speech and even this is increasingly debatable as many now charge for premium features such as certification and continued access to course materials.  Of course one solution to this is to ensure all MOOC content is also available off these commercial platforms and available under open licence, and that’s the road we have gone down at Edinburgh.  The University runs MOOCs on FutureLearn, Coursera and EdX platforms and has made a considerable investment in producing high quality content for use in these courses.  In order to ensure this content is accessible and reusable for both our own students and colleagues and others outwith the University we make sure is can be downloaded under open license from our multi media asset management system, Media Hopper Create.

The original social constructionist MOOCs haven’t gone away though, and there are a wide range of creative and innovative online courses running all over the world now which truly embody openness and which are often supported by free and open source software.  One nice example is 23 Things for Digital Knowledge, an award winning, open online course run by my colleague Charlie Farley at the University of Edinburgh. 23 Things is designed to encourage digital literacy by exposing learners to a wide range of digital tools for personal and professional development.  The course runs on WordPress, all the content and materials are Creative Commons licensed and the University actively encourages others to take and adapt the course.   Another amazing example is DS106 an anarchic digital storytelling course from the University of Mary Washington which has been running since 2010.  The instigator of ds106, Jim Groom, is also the founder of Reclaim Hosting,   a company that builds on the principles of the open web, and which provides teachers, learners and institutions with an easy way to own and control their own web domains and host open source applications.  And I think we’ve all seen plenty of evidence recently as to why it’s so important to have the ability to control our own web domains and the data that our presence on the web generates.

Open Access Scholarly Works  

Open Access Scholarly Works clearly occupy an important place in the Open Knowledge landscape.  Since the publication of the 2012 Finch report on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, and Research Councils UK’s, policy on Open Access, universities have been required to make the outputs of their publicly funded research freely and openly available through open access journals, repositories and other channels.

Free and open access to the outputs of publicly funded research provides important social and economic benefits as well as being in line with the Government’s commitment to transparency and open data, and contributing to the global open movement.  In addition to making research outputs freely accessible to all, Open Access allows research to be disseminated quickly and widely, the research process to operate more efficiently, and has the potential to increase use and understanding of research by business, government, charities and the wider public.

However it is not always easy for those outwith academia to know how to access these outputs, even though they are freely and openly available.  And within academia there is something of a divide between Open Access scholarly works and Open Educational Resources with the former tending to be managed by the Library within dedicated Open Access repositories, while the later, if they are managed at all, tend to be dealt with on an ad hoc basis by learning technology services. As a result of the Research Council mandates, a whole repository infrastructure has been developed to facilitate the management and dissemination of Open Access scholarly works, while OER have often been somewhat neglected in comparison.  A few initiatives have sought to accommodate scholarly works and teaching and learning resources in the same repository, but these have not been particularly successful as the resources themselves and the work flows they are part of are very different.   This is unfortunate as Open Access scholarly works can clearly be of huge benefit to teaching and learning, and at the same time, OER can be harnessed to promote the outputs of open research.

One initiative at the University of Edinburgh that uses OER to help disseminate Open Access research outputs beyond the Academy, and to foster technology transfer and innovation, is Innovating with Open Knowledge. This project has created a series of open licensed video interviews, case studies and learning resources aimed at creative individuals, private researchers, entrepreneurs and small to medium enterprises to provide guidance on how to find and access the open outputs of Higher Education.  The resources focus on developing digital and data literacy skills and search strategies and feature case study interviews with creative individuals, entrepreneurs and experts, engaging with the University of Edinburgh’s world class research outputs.  Among the case studies are a series of interviews about finding and using Open Source Software with Scott Wilson of the independent, non-advocacy service OSS-Watch.

Open Data

Open data can be defined as data and content that can be freely used, modified, and shared by anyone for any purpose.

Although there is no UK policy that mandates the release of open research data, there is a Concordat on Open Research Data, which was originally published by HEFCE, Research Council’s UK, Universities UK and Wellcome in 2016.  The Concordat recognises that research data should, wherever possible, be made openly available for use by others in a manner consistent with relevant legal, ethical, disciplinary and regulatory frameworks and norms, and with due regard to the cost involved.

In a parallel development, the UK Government has also made considerable efforts to open up its data for people to re-use through data.gov.uk, in the belief open government data can help governments be more transparent, and support business, academics and the third sector.  This commitment is supported by the Open Government Partnership, an international initiative launched in 2011 that aims to help more governments become more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to their own citizens, with the ultimate goal of improving the quality of governance, as well as the quality of services that citizens receive.

Open data can also make a significant contribution to social initiatives and humanitarian projects.  One such example is the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team, who undertake a wide range of mapping projects to support disaster relief, socio-economic development, and geographic information for humanitarian aid. For example in 2010 when Haiti was hit by a devastating earthquake, the Open Street Map Community immediately mobilized; within 48 hours, high resolution post-earthquake imagery was made available, and in the first month following the disaster 600 people contributed to Haiti’s open street maps.  Similarly, when Sri Lanka suffered from severe flooding in 2016, the governments’ Disaster Management Centre turned to the Humanitarian Open Street Map Team to urgently start tracing detailed building and housing unit information.

Although open data, open access, and open education have all made significant progress in recent years, there has been a tendency for these domains to progress in parallel with little sign of convergence and as a result there is a tendency to end up with “open silos”.  In the UK, research mandates and concordats may have had a positive impact on open access and open research data, however the connection has yet to be made to open education. While the benefits of open data are widely recognised in relation to scientific and scholarly research, open data also has considerable value in the context of teaching and learning.  Many governments, non-governmental organisations and research centres are already producing large volumes of open data sets that have the potential to be used as open educational resources. Scenario based learning involving messy, real world data sets can help students to develop critical data literacy and analytical skills. Using open data introduces an invaluable element of realism and complexity as the data is flawed and inconsistent.  Students come up against challenges that it would be difficult to reproduce artificially and, as a result, they learn to deal with the kind of problems they will encounter in the real world.  And perhaps more importantly, working with real world open data from real governments, communities and research projects, doesn’t just help students to develop data literacy skills, it also helps to develop citizenship, social responsibility and community engagement.

In an influential report by the Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group, Javiera Atenas and Leo Havemann noted that

Educators who make use of Open Data in teaching and learning encourage students to think as researchers, as journalists, as scientists, and as policy makers and activists. They also provide a meaningful context for gaining experience in research workflows and processes, as well as learning good practices in data management, analysis and reporting.

However in a presentation at the Open Education Global conference in Delft just yesterday, Leo also reminded us that open data alone does not promote social justice.  Quoting Johnston, Leo noted that unless people know how to access and use the data effectively, they can become mere objects of study, marginalized and excluded from participating in decisions about their own society.

Wikipedia

Of course no map of the Open Knowledge domain would be complete without Wikpedia and its associated projects including  Wiki Data, Wikimedia Commons, Wiki Source etc.

Wikipedia itself is of course built on OSS, with the encyclopedia, Wikimedia Commons and Wictionary all being supported by MediaWiki open-source wiki software.  In addition, over 1000 automated and semi-automated bots and other tools have been developed to assist with Wikimedia editing.  There are also fun tools such as Histropedia which uses the free Histropedia JS software and Wikidata to generate dynamic timelines of everything.

Here in the UK we have our own Wikimedia chapter, Wikimedia UK, which works in partnership with organisations from the cultural and education sectors and beyond in order to unlock content, remove barriers to knowledge, develop new ways of engaging with the public and enable learners to benefit from the educational potential of the Wikimedia projects. Wikimedia UK also supports a number of Wikimedians in Residence who work with a range of education and public heritage organisations throughout the country.  In Scotland we have Wikimedians in Residence at the University of Edinburgh, the Scottish Library and Information Council, and a Gaelic Wikimedian at the National Library of Scotland.  A new Wikimedia Scotland Coordinator, Sara Thomas, has also just been appointed and in Wales there is a National Wikimedian, Jason Evans,  based at the National Library of Wales.

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that contributing to the global pool of Open Knowledge  through Wikimedia is squarely in line with our institutional mission; the creation, dissemination and curation of knowledge, and we also believe that Wikipedia is a valuable learning tool to develop a wide range of digital and information literacy skills and capabilities at all levels across the curriculum. Our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, works to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, through skills training sessions, editathons, Wikipedia in the classroom initiatives and Wikidata projects, in order to increase the quantity and quality of open knowledge and enhance digital literacy.

There is no question that Wikipedia is an invaluable source of open knowledge, however it is not without bias.  The Wikimedia Foundation’s vision may be  “a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge”, however the coverage of subject matter on Wikipedia is neither uniform nor balanced and many topics and areas are underrepresented, particularly those relating to women, people of colour and minority groups.  For example, on English language Wikipedia only about 17% of biographical articles are about women, and the number of female editors is between 10 & 14%. Hopefully you don’t need me to tell you why this lack of diversity and inclusivity is a serious problem.  However it is a problem that is being addressed by the Foundation itself, by projects such as Wikiwomen in Red, and by Wikimedians and Wikimedians in Residence across the world.

At the University of Edinburgh an important aspect of our Wikimedian in Residence’s work is to help improve the coverage and esteem of Wikipedia articles about women, and underrepresented minorities, in science, art, technology, and history, and to redress the gender imbalance of contributors by encouraging more women to become Wikimedia editors.  And I’m very pleased to say that over the last year 65% of participants at our editathons were women.  There has also been phenomenal progress in Wales, and in 2016, Welsh Wikipedia became the biggest language Wikipedia in the world to achieve gender balance.

Inclusion, Exclusion and Structural Inequality

Wikipedia’s well known problem with gender balance is a notable example of systemic bias.  Wikimedia is an open community that anyone can contribute to in theory, however in reality there are many factors that prevent certain groups from contributing.   In the case of women editors, former Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner identified a range of systemic factors that discourage women from contributing to the encyclopedia, including lack of time, lack of self confidence, aversion to conflict, and the misogynistic atmosphere of the community.  In addition, the very principles which underpin the encyclopedia discriminate against marginalised groups.  Wikipedia is based on notability and citation, yet in fields where women and people of colour have been traditionally barred, or their contribution has been neglected or elided, it is much harder to find reputable citations that are critical for proving notability.  Any article that is deemed to be inadequately cited runs the risk of rapid deletion for lack of notability, thus replicating real world power imbalances, privileges and inequalities.

Wikimedia is not the only open community that suffers from issues of systemic bias and structural inequality.  In a paper on Open Initiatives for Decolonising the Curriculum,  in the forthcoming book Decolonising the University edited by Gurminder K Bhramba, open source software developer Pat Lockley notes that universities with the highest percentages of black staff are those which spend the least – in many cases, nothing – on open access article processing charges.  And he goes on to ask whether Open Access really is broadening and diversifying academia, or merely reinforcing the existing system.

When we look at MOOCs supported on commercial platforms, the situation is arguably worse. Far from democratizing higher education and reaching out to disadvantaged groups, numerous studies have shown that the majority of MOOC enrolments tend to be young, male, employed, and from the developed countries of the global north.  Furthermore, the majority of MOOC students already have some kind of postgraduate qualification.  An important survey undertaken in 2013 by the University of Pennsylvania of 24 courses offered by through Coursera found that 80% of the 34,000 students questioned already had a degree and 44% had also undertaken some form of post graduate education.  The figures were even more stark outwith the US, with 80% of students from Brazil, China, India, Russia, and South Africa coming from the wealthiest and best educated 6% of the population.  Furthermore, these students were much more likely to be male than female. Gayle Christensen, one of the authors of the report noted that MOOCs are failing to reach they students they had intended to empower and instead they are giving more to those who already have a lot.

Similarly, in its 2017 survey on open source software development practices and communities, Github reported huge gaps in representation and concluded that the gender imbalance in open source remains profound and that open source contributors don’t yet reflect the broad audience of users. From a random sample of 5,500 respondents 95% were men; just 3% were women and 1% are non-binary.

And there are many other examples of similar structural inequalities in open spaces and communities.  We all need to be aware of the fact that open does not necessarily mean accessible.  Open spaces and communities are not without their hierarchies, their norms and power structures.   And we need to look around our own open communities and ask ourselves who is included and who is excluded, who is present and who is absent, and we need to ask ourselves why.  Because nine times out of ten, if certain groups of people are absent or excluded from spaces, communities or domains, it is not a result of preference, ability, or aptitude, it is a result of structural inequality, and in many cases it is the result of multiple intersecting inequalities. And if you’re interested in how such inequalities have impacted the development of the commuting industry in the UK, I can highly recommend this book by Marie Hicks Programmed Inequality How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge In Computing.

Far too often technology and technology communities replicate the structural inequalities that permeate our society.   And I think we’re all aware of the very pressing current debate about how algorithms encode both conscious and unconscious bias.

So how do we change this?  Well half the battle is recognising that there is a problem in the first place, taking steps to understand that problem, and then doing the hard work to effect change.  And believe me, it is hard work, these things won’t change over night, but they do have to change. Those of us who are already inside these open spaces and communities need to take positive action to make our communities, not just open, but accessible and inclusive.  And to do that, to borrow a phrase from another group who campaigned for radical change and inclusion at the turn of the last century, the Suffragettes, we need Deeds not Words.

In the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto Aaron Shwartz said

“Those with access to these resources — students, librarians, scientists — you have been given a privilege. You get to feed at this banquet of knowledge while the rest of the world is locked out. But you need not — indeed, morally, you cannot — keep this privilege for yourselves. You have a duty to share it with the world.”

The same is equally true of Open Knowledge and open communities.  We have been given the privilege to participate, and we can not keep that privilege to ourselves.  We need to identify the barriers that prevent some people from participating, and we need to do what we can to remove these systemic obstructions.  And to me this is what openness is really about, the removal of systemic barriers and structural inequalities to enable everyone to participate equitably, and on their own terms. We have a duty to ensure that our own open communities really are just that, open to everyone, regardless of race and gender, because that’s how we ensure that we really can cross the imaginary boundaries of the Open Knowledge landscape.

Chris Lamb began his keynote yesterday with three stories, and I want to end my keynote with a story too, one which I believe demonstrates why it’s so important for all those of us who work in the broad domain of Open Knowledge to come together to break down the barriers that divide us.

This is Bassel Khartabil Safadi a Syrian open source software developer, open knowledge advocate, Wikipedia editor and project lead for Creative Commons Syria.

Bassel was also a contributor to the New Palmyra Project; a digital archaeology and open data initiative that aims to create a virtual reconstruction of the ancient city of Palmyra, large parts of which have been destroyed by ISIS during the Syrian civil war.

As a result of his open knowledge activities, Bassel Khartabil was detained by the Syrian government in 2012 and held in Adra Prison in Damascus for 3 years. In October 2015 his name was removed from the prison register and, despite calls from numerous human rights organisations, his whereabouts remained unknown.

In order to raise awareness of Bassel’s disappearance a group of open practitioners came together to write the open e-book The Cost of Freedom: A Collective Inquiry which includes essays, poems, personal reflections and polemics from a wide range of international open knowledge and free culture advocates.  My contribution to the book was a short piece called The Open World which touches on the personal risks, costs and benefits of openness.

Sadly in August last year news was released that Bassel had been executed by the Syrian regime in 2015.  In order to honor his memory and to support projects in the spirit of his work, Creative Commons has established the Bassel Khartabil Memorial Fund which provides grants to advance collaboration, community building, and leadership development in the open communities of the Arab world. The fund also supports the digital preservation, sharing, and remix of creative works and historical artifacts.

Just a few weeks ago, at the Creative Commons summit in Toronto, the first Bassel Khartabil Free Culture Fellowship and Memorial Fund recipients were announced, and you can find out more about those recipients and their projects here https://creativecommons.org/2018/04/15/fellowship-memorial-fund/

Before he was executed, Bassel wrote from Adra prison

“Of my experience spending three years in jail so far for writing open source code (mainly) I can tell how much authoritarian regimes feel the danger of technology on their continuity, and they should be afraid of that. As code is much more than tools, it’s education that opens youth minds and moves the nations forward. Who can stop that? No one…. As long as you people are out doing what you are doing, my soul is free. Jail is only a temporary physical limitation.”

The fate of Bassel Khartabil is a sobering but inspiring reminder of why Open Knowledge is so powerful and so necessary and why we must all work together to achieve a more open, inclusive and equitable society.

The Benefits of Open Education and OER⤴

from

This is a transcript of a talk I gave as part of the Open Med Project webinar series.

What is open education?

Open education is many things to many people and there’s no one hard and fast definition.

  • A practice?
  • A philosophy?
  • A movement?
  • A licensing issue?
  • A human right?
  • A buzz word?
  • A way to save money?

This is one description of the open education movement that I particularly like from the not for profit organization OER Commons…

“The worldwide OER movement is rooted in the human right to access high-quality education. The Open Education Movement is not just about cost savings and easy access to openly licensed content; it’s about participation and co-creation.”

Open education encompasses many different things. These are just some of the aspects of open education

  • Open textbooks
  • Open licensing
  • Open assessment practices
  • Open badges
  • Open online courses
  • MOOCs (debatably)
  • Open data
  • Open Access scholarly works
  • Open source software
  • Open standards
  • Open educational resources

Open educational resources (OER)

Open educational resources are central to open education. UNESCO define open educational resources as

“teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.”

OER World Congress

And the reason I’ve chosen this definition is that UNESCO is one of a number of organisations that actively supports the global adoption of open educational resources and just a few weeks ago UNESCO and the Government of Slovenia hosted the second OER World Congress in Ljubljana  which brought together 550 participants, 30 government ministers, representing 111 member states.

The theme of the Congress was “OER for Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education: From Commitment to Action” and there was a strong focus on how OER can help to support United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4.

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

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

In his summing up at the end of the congress UNESCO Assistant Director for Education Qian Tang said

“to meet the education challenges, we can’t use the traditional way. In remote and developing areas, particularly for girls and women, OER are a crucial, crucial mean to reach SDGs. OER are the key.”

Creative Commons

One of the key characteristics of open educational resources is that they are either in the public domain or they are released under an open licence and generally that means a Creative Commons licence.

However not all Creative Commons licences are equal and only resources that are licensed for adaptation and reuse can really be considered as OER.  Resources that are licensed with the “No Derivatives” licence can not strictly be regarded as OER, and there is some debate about the status of “Non Commerical” licenced resources.

At the recent OER World Congress, Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley emphasized that free is not the most important thing about OER, it’s the permission to modify and adapt resources that is most important, because that is what allows us to adapt educational resources to allow us to meet the specific and diverse needs of our learners.

University of Edinburgh OER Vision

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that open educational resources are strongly in line with our institutional mission to provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater wellbeing of our students, and to make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural wellbeing.

Our vision for OER has three strands, building on our excellent education and research collections, traditions of the Scottish Enlightenment and the university’s civic mission.  These are:

  • For the common good – encompassing every day teaching and learning materials.
  • Edinburgh at its best – high quality resources produced by a range of projects and initiatives.
  • Edinburgh’s Treasures – content from our world class cultural heritage collections.

This vision is backed up by an OER Policy approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience.  This OER Policy is itself CC licensed and is adapted from an OER Policy that has already been adopted by a number of other institutions in the UK, so please do feel free to take a look and adopt it or adapt it as you see fit.

And we also have an OER Service which provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER, and which provides a one stop shop where you can access open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university.  Because we believe its crucially important to back up our policy and vision with support.

I want to focus now on some of the benefits of OER and I’m going to highlight these benefits with case studies from the University of Edinburgh.

OER ensures longevity of access to resources

So firstly open licences help to ensure longevity of access to educational resources.  It’s very common to think of open licensed resources as primarily being of benefit to those outwith the institution, however open licenses also help to ensure that we can continue to use and reuse the resources that we ourselves have created.  I’m sure you’ll all have come projects that created content only for those resources to be come inaccessible once the project ends or great teaching and learning materials belonging to a colleague who has subsequently retired or moved on, and nobody quite knows if they can still be used or not. Unless teaching and learning resources carry a clear and unambiguous open licence, it is difficult to know whether and in what context they can be reused.  This is a phenomenon that my colleague Melissa Highton has referred to as copyright debt.  If you don’t get the licensing right first time round it will cost you to fix it further down the line.  And this is one of the best strategic reasons for investing in open educational resources at the institutional level. We need to ensure that we have the right use, adapt, and reuse, the educational resources we have invested in.

Continued access to educational resources can be particularly problematic when it comes to MOOCs.  MOOC content often gets locked into commercial platforms, regardless of whether or not it is openly licensed, and some platforms are now time limiting access to content.  So at the University of Edinburgh we are ensuring that all the content we have produced for our MOOCs is also freely available under open licence to download from our Open Media Bank on our Media Hopper platform.

OER can diversify the curriculum

OER can also make a significant contribution to diversifying the curriculum.  So for example A number of studies have shown that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual health is not well-covered in Medical curricula, however knowledge of LGBT health and of the sensitivities needed to treat LGBT patients are valuable skills for qualifying doctors.

Using materials from the commons, a project at the University of Edinburgh sought to address the lack of teaching on LGBT health within the curriculum through OER.  The project remixed and repurposed resources originally created by Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Ohio, and then contributed these resources back to the commons as CC BY licensed OER.  New open resources including digital stories recorded from patient interviews and resources for Secondary School children of all ages were also created and released as CC BY OER.

OER improves digital skills

OER can also help to improve digital skills for both staff and students. 23 Things for Digital Knowledge is an award winning, open online course run by my colleague Stephanie Farley. 23 Things, was adapted from an open course originally developed by the University of Oxford, and it is designed to encourage digital literacy by exposing learners to a wide range of digital tools for personal and professional development. Learners spend a little time each week, building up and expanding their digital skills and are encouraged to share their experiences with others.  All course content and materials are licensed under a CC BY licence and the University actively encourages others to take and adapt the course. The course has already been used by many individuals and organisations outwith Edinburgh and it has recently been adapted for use by the Scottish Social Services Council as 23 digital capabilities to support practice and learning in social services.

OER engages students in co-creation

OER can also engage students in the co-creation of their own learning resources. One initiative that does this is the School of Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course. Over two semesters, students undertake an outreach project that communicates an element of GeoSciences outside the university community. Students have the opportunity to work with schools, museums, outdoor centres and community groups to create a wide range of resources for science engagement including  classroom teaching materials, leaflets, websites, and smartphone/tablet applications.  Students gain experience of science outreach, public engagement, teaching and learning, and knowledge transfer while working in new and challenging environments and developing a range of transferable skills that enhance their employability.

A key element of the Geosciences Outreach and Engagement Course is to develop resources with a legacy that can be reused and disseminated for use by other communities and organisations.  And the University is now taking this one step further by repurposing some of these materials to create open educational resources. For the last two years we have recruited Open Content Creation student interns, to take the materials created by the Geoscience students, make sure everything in those resources could be released under open license and then share them in places where they could be found and reused by other teachers and learners.

For example this resource on sea level variation is designed for students learning Geography at third and fourth level of the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence and it can be downloaded under a CC BY Share alike license from Open.Ed and TES.

OER promotes engagement with the outputs of open research

Open access makes research outputs freely accessible to all. It allows research to be disseminated quickly and widely, the research process to operate more efficiently, and has the potential to increase use and understanding of research by business, government, charities and the wider public.  However it is not always easy for those outwith academia to know how to access these outputs, even though they are freely and openly available.

In order to address this issue and to foster technology transfer and innovation, we’ve created a series of open educational resources in the form of video interviews, case studies and learning materials called Innovating with Open Knowledge.  These resources are aimed at creative individuals, private researchers, entrepreneurs and small to medium enterprises to provide guidance on how to find and access the open outputs of Higher Education.  The resources focus on developing digital and data literacy skills and search strategies and feature case study interviews with creative individuals and entrepreneurs engaging with the University of Edinburgh’s world class research outputs.

Innovating with Open Knowledge demonstrates how to find and use Open Access scholarly works, open research data, archival image collections, maker spaces and open source software, and features interviews about how these resources can be used to support creative writing, visual research, citizen science, community engagement, drug discovery and open architecture.  All these resources are released under open licence and the videos can be downloaded for reuse from this url.

OER contributes to the development of open knowledge

OER can contribute to the development of open knowledge and one great way to do this is to engage with the worlds biggest open educational resource, Wikipedia.  Wikipedia is a valuable learning tool that can be used to develop a wide range of digital and information literacy skills at all levels across the curriculum however it is not without bias.  The coverage of subject matter on Wikipedia is neither uniform nor balanced and many topics and areas are underrepresented, particularly those relating to women.

At the University of Edinburgh we have employed a Wikimedian in Residence whose job it is to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, through skills training sessions and editathons, to increase the quantity and quality of open knowledge and enhance digital literacy. This project is also helping to improve the coverage and esteem of Wikipedia articles about women in science, art and technology, and redress the gender imbalance of contributors by encouraging more women to become Wikimedia editors.  And I’m delighted to say that over that last year 65% of participants at our editathons were women.

 OER enhances engagement with content and collections

This rather obscure 17th century map of Iceland was digitized by the University’s Centre for Research Collections and because it was released under open licence, one of our colleagues was able to add it to the Wikipedia page about Iceland.  Now Iceland’s Wikipedia page normally gets about 15,000 hits a day, however in June 2016 Iceland’s page got over 300,000 hits in a single day.  That was the day that Iceland put England out of the Euro 2016 championship qualifiers, so 300,000 people saw our obscure 17th century map because of a game of football.  This story was subsequently picked up by Creative Commons who included a little feature on the map in their 2016 State of the Commons report, resulting in further engagement with this historical gem.

Open Scotland

We believe that there are many benefits to using and sharing open educational resources within Higher Education and beyond, and this is one of the reasons that the University of Edinburgh support Open Scotland, a cross sector initiative that aims to raise awareness of open education, encourage the sharing of open educational resources, and explore the potential of open policy and practice to benefit all sectors of Scottish education.

Open Scotland has developed the Scottish Open Education Declaration which, in line with the UNESCO OER Action Plan, calls for all publicly funded educational resources to be made available under open licence.  I know colleagues in Morocco are already in the process of adopting a version of this Declaration and I would strongly urge you to follow their example.

Conclusion

I just want to finish up with a quote from one of our Open Content Interns that eloquently sums up the real value of OER. This is from Martin Tasker, an undergraduate Physics student who worked with us last summer and in a blog post titled “A Student Perspective on OER” he wrote:

“Open education has played such an integral part of my life so far, and has given me access to knowledge that would otherwise have been totally inaccessible to me. It has genuinely changed my life, and likely the lives of many others. This freedom of knowledge can allow us to tear down the barriers that hold people back from getting a world class education – be those barriers class, gender or race. Open education is the future, and I am both proud of my university for embracing it, and glad that I can contribute even in a small way. Because every resource we release could be a life changed. And that makes it all worth it.”