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A Culture of Sharing: Strategic Support for OER at the University of Edinburgh⤴

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Many thanks to P-8 Digital Skills Project “Strengthening Digital Skills in Teaching”, ETH Zürich and ZHAW for inviting me to speak at their OER Conference 21. Slides and transcript of my talk, which highlights the work of Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, GeoScience Outreach students and Open Content Curation Interns, are available here.

Before we get started I just want to quickly recap what we mean when we talk about open education and OER.

The principles of 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 that was updated 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 are numerous definitions and interpretations of Open Education, some of which you can explore here.

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.”

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.”

And you’ll see that this definition encompasses a very wide class of resources, pretty much anything that can be used in the context of teaching and learning, as long as it is in the public domain or has been released under an open licence.

This definition is taken from the UNESCO Recommendation on OER, which aims to facilitate international cooperation to support the creation, use and adaptation of inclusive and quality OER.  The Recommendation states 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.”

Central to the Recommendation, is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and particularly Sustainable Development Goal 4: to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. 

OER at the University of Edinburgh

Here at the University of Edinburgh, we believe that open education and the creation of open knowledge and open educational resources, are fully in keeping with our institutional vision, purpose and values, to discover knowledge and make the world a better place, while ensuring that our teaching and research is diverse, inclusive, accessible to all and relevant to society.  The University’s vision for OER is very much the brain child of Dr Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal Online Learning and Director of Learning and Teaching Web Services. Our student union were also instrumental in encouraging the University to support OER, and we continue to see student engagement and co-creation as being fundamental aspects of open education. This commitment to OER is more important now than ever, at a time of crisis and social change, when we are emerging from a global pandemic that has disrupted education for millions, and we’re embracing new models and approaches to teaching and learning.  

OER Policy

In order to support open education and the creation and use of OER, the University has an Open Educational Resources Policy, which was first approved by our Education Committee in 2016 and reviewed and updated earlier this year.  Our new policy has adopted the UNESCO definition of OER, and the update also brings the policy in line with our Lecture Recording and Virtual Classroom Policies. The policy itself has been shared under open licence and is available to download along with several of our other teaching and learning policies.

As one of the few universities in the UK with a formal OER policy, this new policy strengthens Edinburgh’s position as a leader in open education and reiterates our commitment to openness and achieving the aims of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which the University is committed to through the SDG Accord. 

It’s important to be aware that our OER Policy is informative and permissive. It doesn’t tell colleagues what they must do, instead its aim is to encourage staff and students to engage with open education and to make informed decisions about using, creating and publishing OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, expand provision of learning opportunities, and enrich our shared knowledge commons. Investing in OER and open licensing also helps to improve the sustainability and longevity of our educational resources, while encouraging colleagues to reuse and repurpose existing open materials expands the pool of teaching and learning resources and helps to diversify the curriculum. 

OER Service

In order to support our OER Policy we have a central OER Service, based in Information Services Group, that provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER and engaging with open education. The service runs a programme of digital skills workshops and events focused on copyright literacy, open licencing, OER and playful engagement.  We offer support directly to Schools and Colleges, work closely with the University’s Wikimedian in Residence, and employ student interns in a range of different roles, including Open Content Curation interns.  The OER Service also places openness at the centre of the university’s strategic learning technology initiatives including lecture recording, academic blogging, VLE foundations, MOOCs and distance learning at scale, in order to build sustainability and minimise the risk of copyright debt.

And we also manage Open.Ed a one stop shop that provides access to open educational resources produced by staff and students across the university. We don’t have is a single central OER Repository as we know from experience that they are often unsustainable, and it can be difficult to encourage engagement.  Instead, our policy recommends that OERs are shared in an appropriate repository or public-access website in order to maximise their discovery and use by others. The OER Service provides access to many channels for this purpose on both University and commercial services, and we aggregate a show case of Edinburgh’s OERs on the Open.Ed website.

We don’t have is a formal peer review system for open educational resources.  The review process that different materials will undergo will depend on the nature of the resources themselves. So for example we trust our academic staff to maintain the quality of their own teaching materials. Resources created for MOOCs in collaboration with our Online Course Production Service, will be reviewed by teams of academic experts. OERs created by students in the course of curriculum assignments will be formally assessed by their tutors and peers.  And if these resources are shared in public repositories such as our GeoScience Outreach OERs, which I’ll come on to say more about later, they may also undergo a second review process by our Open Content Curation Interns to ensure all third-party content is copyright cleared and no rights are being breached.  While open content shared on Wikipedia is open to review by hundreds Wiki admins, thousands of fellow editors, and millions of Wikipedia users.

OER in the Curriculum

As a result of this strategic commitment to OER, we have a wide range of open education practices going on across the University, but what I want to focus on today are some examples of integrating open education into the curriculum, through co-creation and OER assignments.

 Engaging with OER creation through curriculum assignments can help to develop a wide range of core disciplinary competencies and transferable attributes including digital and information literacy skills, writing as public outreach, collaborative working, information synthesis, copyright literacy, critical thinking, source evaluation and data science.

Wikimedia in the Curriculum

One way that colleagues and students have been engaging with open education is by contributing to Wikipedia, the world’s biggest open educational resource and the gateway through which millions of people seek access to knowledge.  The information on Wikipedia reaches far beyond the encyclopaedia itself, by populating other media and influencing Google search returns. Information that is right or wrong or missing on Wikipedia affects the whole internet and the information we consume. Sharing knowledge openly, globally and transparently has never been more important in building understanding, whether about the Covid pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, or other critical issues. And the need for a neutral platform where you can gain access to knowledge online for free has never been more vital in this era of hybrid teaching, remote working, and home schooling.

Working together with the University’s Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, a number of colleagues from schools and colleges across the University have integrated Wikipedia and Wikidata editing assignments into their courses.  Editing Wikipedia provides valuable opportunities for students to develop their digital research and communication skills, and enables them to contribute to the creation and dissemination of open knowledge. Writing articles that will be publicly accessible and live on after the end of their assignment has proved to be highly motivating for students, and provides an incentive for them to think more deeply about their research. It encourages them to ensure they are synthesising all the reliable information available, and to think about how they can communicate their scholarship to a general audience. Students can see that their contribution will benefit the huge audience that consults Wikipedia, plugging gaps in coverage, and bringing to light hidden histories, significant figures, and important concepts and ideas. This makes for a valuable and inspiring teaching and learning experience, that enhances the digital literacy, research and communication skills of both staff and students.

Here’s Dr Glaire Andersen, from Edinburgh College of Art, talking about a Wikipedia assignment that focused on improving articles on Islamic art, science and the occult.

“In a year that brought pervasive systemic injustices into stark relief, our experiment in applying our knowledge outside the classroom gave us a sense that we were creating something positive, something that mattered.

As one student commented, “Really love the Wikipedia project. It feels like my knowledge is actually making a difference in the wider world, if in a small way.”  

Other examples include Global Health Challenges Postgraduate students who collaborate to evaluate short stub Wikipedia articles related to natural or manmade disasters, such as the 2020 Assam floods, and research the topic to improve each article’s coverage.

History students came together to re-examine the legacy of Scotland’s involvement in the TransAtlantic Slave Trade and look at the sources being used in evaluating the contributions of key figures like Henry Dundas but also balancing this against and presenting a more positive view of Black History by creating new pages such as Jesse Ewing Glasgow.

And Reproductive Biology Honours students work in groups to publish new articles on reproductive biomedical terms. Being able to write with a lay audience in mind has been shown to be incredibly useful in science communication and other subjects like the study of law.

And I want to pause for a moment here to let one of our former Reproductive Biology students to speak for herself. This is Senior Honours student Aine Kavanagh talking to our Wikimedian Ewan about her experience of writing a Wikipeda article as part of a classroom assignment in Reproductive Biology in 2016.

And the article that Aine wrote on high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most common and deadly forms of ovarian cancer, which includes 60 references, and diagrams created by Aine herself, has now been viewed over 130,000 times. It’s hard to imagine another piece of undergraduate coursework having this kind of global impact.

Last year, in collaboration with Wikimedia UK, the UK chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, our Wikimedian co-authored the first ever booklet dedicated to UK case studies of Wikimedia in Education which you can download under open licence here.   Also many of the resources Ewan has created during his residency, including editing guides and inspiring student testimonies, are freely and openly available and you can explore them here.

Open Education and Co-creation – GeoScience Outreach

Another important benefit of open education is that it helps to facilitate the co-creation of knowledge and understanding.  Co-creation can be described as student led collaborative initiatives, often developed in partnership with teachers or other bodies outwith the institution, that lead to the development of shared outputs.  A key feature of co-creation is that is must be based on equal partnerships between teachers and students and “relationships that foster respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility.”

One successful example of open education and co-creation in the curriculum is the Geosciences Outreach Course.  This optional project-based course for final year Honours and taught Masters students, has been running for a number of years and attracts students from a range of degree programmes including Geology, Ecological and Environmental Sciences, Geophysics, Geography, Archaeology and Physics.   Over the course of two semesters, students design and undertake an outreach project that communicates some element of their field.  Students have an opportunity to work with a wide range of clients including schools, museums, outdoor centres, science centres, and community groups, to design and deliver resources for STEM engagement. These resources can include classroom teaching materials, websites, community events, presentations, and materials for museums and visitor centres. Students may work on project ideas suggested by the client, but they are also encouraged to develop their own ideas. Project work is led independently by the student and supervised and mentored by the course team and the client.

 This approach delivers significant benefits not just to students and staff, but also to the clients and the University.  Students have the opportunity to work in new and challenging environments, acquiring a range of transferable skills that enhance their employability.  Staff and postgraduate tutors benefit from disseminating and communicating their work to wider audiences, adding value to their teaching and funded research programmes, supporting knowledge exchange and wider dissemination of scientific research.  The client gains a product that can be reused and redeveloped, and knowledge and understanding of a wide range of scientific topics is disseminated to learners, schools and the general public. The University benefits by embedding community engagement in the curriculum, promoting collaboration and interdisciplinarity, and forging relationships with clients.

The Geosciences Outreach 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.

A key element of the Course is to develop resources with a legacy that can be reused by other communities and organisations. Open Content Curation student Interns employed by the University’s OER Service repurpose these materials to create open educational resources which are then shared online through Open.Ed and TES where they can be found and reused by other school teachers and learners.  These OERs, co-created by our students, have been downloaded over 69,000 times.

Here’s Physics graduate and one of this year’s Open Content Curation Interns, Amy Cook, talking about her experience of creating open education resources as part of the Geoscience Outreach course.

 

We’re hugely proud of the high-quality open education resources created and shared by our GeoScience students and Open Content Curation Interns, so we were delighted when this collection won the Open Curation Award as part of this year’s OEGlobal Awards for Excellence.

Conclusion

These are just some examples of the way that open education and OER have been integrated into the curriculum here at the University of Edinburgh, and I hope they demonstrate how valuable co-creating open knowledge and open educational resources through curriculum assignments can be to develop essential digital skills, core competencies and transferable attributes.  There are many more examples I could share including academic blogging assignments, open resource lists, student created open journals, open textbooks, and playful approaches to developing information and copyright literacy skills.  Hopefully this will provide you with some inspiration to start thinking about how you can integrate engagement with OER in your own courses, curricula and professional practice. 

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.

A new OER Policy for the University of Edinburgh⤴

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This post originally featured on the University of Edinburgh’s Teaching Matters blog. 

In September 2021, the University of Edinburgh’s Education Committee approved a new Open Education Resources (OER) Policy, which revises and updates our previous 2016 policy. Supported by the central OER Service, the policy encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, expand provision of learning opportunities, and enrich our shared knowledge commons. Investing in OER and open licensing helps to improve the sustainability and longevity of our educational resources, while encouraging colleagues to reuse and repurpose existing open materials expands the pool of teaching and learning resources and helps to diversity the curriculum. As one of the few universities in the UK to have an OER policy, the new policy strengthens the University of Edinburgh’s position as a world leader in open education and reiterates our strategic commitment to openness and achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Five years of OER at the University of Edinburgh

“Staff and students at The University of Edinburgh produce huge amounts of teaching and learning materials every year. The OER policy helps us to help you make them available for sharing with teachers and students all around the world.”

Dr Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal and Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services (LTW)

In the five years since the first OER Policy was approved, the quantity and quality of open educational resources produced by staff and students across the University has increased enormously. We now have a collection of thousands of media assets, hundreds of OERs, and dozens of massive open online courses that can be used, re-used, adapted and re-shared in sustainable ways. This includes almost 5000 open licensed videos on Media Hopper Create, 243 open resources and collections shared through the Open.Ed OER Showcase, 84 free short online courses, and 67 student-created OERs for school teachers on TES Resources, which have been downloaded over 60,000 times.  The OER Service has run over 230 digital skills workshops, employed ten student interns, won three awards, and our How To Guides have been accessed 109,502 times.

Policy Review

The OER Policy review and revision was undertaken by Neil McCormick, Education Technology Policy Officer, and Lorna M. Campbell, OER Service Manager, both based in Learning Teaching and Web Services in ISG. In reviewing this policy, we considered developments at several other UK and European universities with existing OER practice.

Some institutions mandate the use of a single central OER repository to curate, quality control and monitor the impact of the resources their faculty create. Here at the University we trust colleagues to quality control their own teaching and learning resources, and we do not have a central OER repository because they are often unsustainable, and it can be difficult to encourage engagement. Instead, the Policy continues to encourage colleagues to share their open licensed teaching and learning materials in an appropriate repository or public-access website so that they can be discovered and re-used by others. The OER Service provides access to many channels for this purpose, including the OER Showcase, the Open Media Bank on Media Hopper Create, the Open.Ed Shop on TES Resources, and various channels on Flickr, YouTube, and Sketchfab.  We also have an @OpenEdEdinburgh twitter account that we use to share news, highlight OERs created by staff and students across the University, and connect with the global open education community.

Some universities mandate that any resource considered for internal teaching awards must be open licensed. While we encourage all colleagues to share their resources under open licence, and the sponsors of awards to consider OERs in their award criteria, we didn’t enshrine this in policy.

A third approach adopted by some institutions is that any resource produced in cooperation with the central learning technology service must be open by default. This is often the case in practice here at the University of Edinburgh; the majority of the teaching and learning resources created with support from the Online Course Production Service for our free short online courses are open licensed and are available on Media Hopper Create. In addition, the OER Service’s digital skills programme helps to increase understanding of the benefits of using and creating OERs, encouraging open practice, and improving copyright literacy among both staff and students.

Policy Updates

Following current global practice, the policy has adopted a new definition of OER from the UNESCO Recommendation on Open Education Resources.

“Open Educational Resources (OERs) are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.”

The update also brings the OER Policy in line with our Lecture Recording Policy and Virtual Classroom Policy. With the increase in media being recorded, knowledge of data protection has become essential when creating and sharing open content. The policy clarifies what personally identifiable information colleagues should be aware of when creating open resources, including names, images, voices and personal opinions of individuals.

Policy Licence

As with our previous policy, the new OER Policy has been released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0) to enable it to be shared, reused and repurposed by others.

Visit the University’s OER Service at Open.Ed to find out more about the new OER Policy and what it means for you.

M&M Podcast on Knowledge Equity⤴

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Earlier this week I had the very great pleasure of joining my colleagues Myles Blaney and Michael Gallagher for their fabulous M&M Podcast to talk about knowledge equity.  I’m a big fan of the M&M Podcast and knowledge equity is a topic that is very close to my heart so I really enjoyed the experience.

In a packed, half-hour conversation we covered everything from what knowledge equity means, improving knowledge equity through open education and co-creation, gatekeeping in open spaces, the impact of algorithmic bias, power, privilege and unconscious bias, learning from other cultures and knowledge structures, and what practical steps institutions can take to improve knowledge equity and inclusion. 

We also went off at a few tangents to talk about COVID vaccines, the historical repression of knowledge equity, how history is constructed and taught, acknowledging the legacy of Scotland’s colonial past, and confusing the twitter algorithm. 

You can listen to the podcast here – M&M Podcast 24: The one where we talk with Lorna Campbell, and like all good things, it’s open licensed of course! 

OERxDomains21 – All Change⤴

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rajiv reminded us that:

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

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

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

“Care without equity exacerbates inequality”.

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

Those who fought: Representing HIV/AIDS activism on Wikipedia⤴

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LGBT History month is almost over but before the month draws to a close I want to highlight the brilliant work of the HIV Scotland Wikpedia editathon that took place at the end of January.  The event was supported by the University’s indefatigable Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, and organised by the University’s Disabled Staff Network and Staff Pride Network, who were keen to run another editathon following the success of their previous Pride editathon on LGBT+ Books in Scotland and Beyond.  (I’m proud to have created a page for the controversial lesbian magazine Quim as part of that event.)  I suggested HIV / AIDS activism in Scotland as a potential topic as I’d noticed previously that this important history was almost entirely missing from the encyclopaedia.  Scottish AIDS Monitor and PHACE West had no articles at all, and although an article already existed for Derek Ogg, it only touched on his legal career and made no mention of his prominent AIDS activism.  This omission was all the more glaring in light of the belated public conversation about the impact of the AIDS pandemic sparked by the broadcast of Russell T Davis’ series It’s a Sin.  The Network were keen to address this omission and HIV Scotland also came on board to support the event, and I’m pleased to say that six new articles were created and several others improved. You can find out more about the articles created on the event dashboard here: HIV Scotland Editathon.

As part of the event, I wrote an article about Scottish AIDS Monitor, an organisation I first came into contact with in 1992 at an event at the Tramway which coincided with their seminal exhibition Read My Lips: New York AIDS Polemics.  That event and exhibition, which featured works by Gran Fury, Keith Haring, David Wojnarowicz, Felix Gonzalez-Torress and others, left a huge impression on me.  I was aware of the AIDS pandemic, growing up in the 1980s it was impossible to ignore, even in the Outer Hebrides. Who could forget the stigmatising horror of the Don’t Die of Ignorance campaign?  But it was Read My Lips that really brought home to me the deeply personal impact of all those lost lives, the fight for justice and recognition, and the importance of organisations like SAM in raising awareness, providing support and promoting safe sex.

Read My Lips: New York AIDS Polemics

Returning to It’s a Sin, the second article I wrote this month was a biography of Jill Nalder, the actress and activist who inspired the character of Jill Baxter and who played her mother in the series. I know that there has been some criticism of the series for stereotyping women as carers, and for centering the experiences of a woman whose own sexuality and relationships are elided from the show.  While there’s a discussion to be had there, I think it’s important to acknowledge the many many “ordinary” women who played an important role in awareness raising, fund raising, befriending and yes, caring for, people living with AIDS from the earliest years of the pandemic. 

I still have a copy of the Read My Lips exhibition catalogue, which includes a transcript of Vito Russo‘s seminal speech, Why We Fight, from a 1988 ACT UP demonstration.  These lines really resonated with me. 

“AIDS is really a test of us, as a people. When future generations ask what we did in this crisis, we’re going to have to tell them that we were out here today. And we have to leave the legacy to those generations of people who will come after us.

Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes — when that day has come and gone, there’ll be people alive on this earth — gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, so that other people might live and be free.”

Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website in the world, with aspirations to provide “free access to the sum of all human knowledge”.   For this reason more than any other it’s critically important that the history of HIV and AIDS activism is represented on the encyclopaedia.  So that those generations that come after will be able understand the legacy and the courage of those who stood up and fought. 

Open for Good – Open education and knowledge equity for all⤴

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This is a transcript of a keynote I gave at the Open University H818 The Networked Practitioner conference. 

The principles of open education were outlined in the 2008 Cape Town Declaration, one of the first initiatives to lay the foundations of what it referred to as 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.  One of the many contributors to the Cape Town Declaration was Wikimedia founder, Jimmy Wales.  Who commented in a press release to mark the launch of the Declaration:

“Open education allows every person on earth to access and contribute to the vast pool of knowledge on the web. Everyone has something to teach and everyone has something to learn.”

The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated 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.

As conceived by the CapeTown Declaration, open education is a broad umbrella term, there’s is no one hard and fast definition.  In the words of open education scholar Catherine Cronin, open education is complex, personal, contextual and continually negotiated.

One conceptualisation of open education that I like is from the not-for-profit organization OER Commons which states that

“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.”

And what I particularly like about this interpretation is the focus on empowerment, equity and co-creation, which to my mind are the most important aspects of open education and open knowledge.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Owing to its contextual nature, open education encompasses many different aspects however open educational resources, or OER, are of course central to any understanding of this domain. Although there are multiple definitions of the term OER, the one I tend to default to is the UNESCO definition.

“OER are learning, teaching and research materials in any format and medium that reside in the public domain or are under copyright that have been released under an open license, that permit no-cost access, re-use, re-purpose, adaptation and redistribution by others.”

UNESCO OER Recommendation

The reason this definition is significant is that in November 2019 UNESCO made a formal commitment to actively support the global adoption of OER, when it approved its Recommendation on Open Educational Resources.

Central to the new Recommendation, is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4: to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

 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

Equality and diversity is centred throughout the Recommendation with the acknowledgement that

“In all instances, gender equality should be ensured, and particular attention paid to equity and inclusion for learners who are especially disadvantaged due to multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination.”

Wikimedia Movement Strategy

Elsewhere in the open knowledge domain, and running in parallel with the development of the UNESCO Recommendation, the Wikimedia Foundation has been undertaking its own Movement Strategy exercise to shape the strategic direction of the movement. The movement strategy, comprises 10 recommendations for change, and 10 guiding principles, many of which echo of principals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation. 

Enshrined in the Wikimedia Movement Strategy, are the key concepts of Knowledge as a Service and Knowledge Equity.

Knowledge as a service, is the idea that, Wikimedia will become a platform that serves open knowledge to the world across interfaces and communities.

And knowledge equity, is the commitment to focus on knowledge and communities that have been left out by structures of power and privilege, and to break down the social, political, and technical barriers preventing people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge.

Structural Inequality in the Open Knowledge Landscape

And to my mind it is this commitment to knowledge equity that is key to the open education and open knowledge movements, because as I’m sure we are all aware, the open knowledge landscape is not without its hierarchies, its norms, its gatekeepers and its power structures. We all need to be aware of the fact that open does not necessarily mean accessible. Far too often our open spaces replicate the power structures and inequalities that permeate our society.

For example Wikimedia’s problems with gender imbalance,  structural inequalities and systemic bias are well known and much discussed. On English language Wikipedia just over 18% of biographical articles are about women, and the number of female editors is somewhere between 15 and 20%. Some language Wikipedias, such as the Welsh Wicipedia, fare better, others are much worse. Despite Wikipedia’s gender imbalance being an acknowledged problem, that projects such as Wiki Women In Red have sought to address, too often those who attempt to challenge these structural inequalities and rectify the systemic bias, have been subject of targeted hostility and harassment.   

In an attempt to tackle these problems Wikipedia recently launched a new Universal Code of Conduct intended to make Wikimedia projects more welcoming to new users, especially underrepresented groups who have too often faced harassment and discrimination.   It’s too early yet to know how much impact this Code of Conduct will have but it’s certainly a much-needed step in the right direction.

Wikimedia is not the only open space that suffers from issues of systemic bias and structural inequality.  In a chapter on Open Initiatives for Decolonising the Curriculum, in Decolonising the University edited by Gurminder K Bhrambra, open source software developer Pat Lockley notes that UK universities with the highest percentages of black, Asian and minority ethnic 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.

Similarly, in a 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.

In a 2018 article titled “The Dangers of Being Open” Amira Dhalla, who at the time led 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.”

This lack of equity in the open knowledge landscape is significant, because if knowledge and education are to be truly open, then they must be open to all regardless of race, gender, or ability, because openness is not just about definitions, recommendations and strategies, openness is about creativity, access, equity, and social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged digital citizens.

OER and the COVID-19 pandemic

With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic the role of OER in helping to provide access to inclusive and equitable education for all has become ever more critical.

In April last year, at the first peak 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. 

OER at the University of Edinburgh

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that both open education and open knowledge are 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. 

The University’s 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.

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, expand provision of learning opportunities, and enrich our shared knowledge commons.

The University’s vision for OER is the brainchild of Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal Online Learning, and 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 and open knowledge.

To support this policy we also have an OER Service that provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER, engaging with open education and developing information and copyright literacy skills. The OER Service places openness at the heart of the university’s strategic initiatives in order to build sustainability and minimise the risk of what my senior colleague Melissa Highton has referred to as copyright debt. The service also maintains a one stop shop that provides access to open educational resources created by staff and students across the university.

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 and what I want to do now is highlight some of those responses.

Critical Care MOOC

With support from the Online Learning and OER Service, and from our partners at FutureLearn, the University’s MSc Critical Care team was able to rapidly launch a COVID-19 Critical Care online learning resource for frontline clinical staff supporting critical care patients.  It took a little over a fortnight of working day and night to collate the resources and get them onto the FutureLearn platform, and they went live on the 5th of April 2020, just as many European countries were first going into lockdown.  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 University’s strategic support for OER and open knowledge, and FutureLearn’s willingness to prioritise the project, 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 a difficult and stressful time for many, motivated by the knowledge of how valuable this educational resource would be to staff on the frontline of critical care.

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 and we  provide a wide range of online courses including masters degrees, MOOCs and MicroMasters programmes.  Ensuring continued access to course materials for online learners, has always been a priority, and now more so than ever when many learners may find it challenging to meet fixed deadlines as a result of other personal commitments and stresses in their lives. To address this issue, we ensure that the majority of online learning content created for these courses can be released under open licence, this includes over 500 high quality MOOCs videos 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  which explores important global challenges including epidemics and the spread of serious infectious, 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, food production, biodiversity, and LGBTQ+ issues.    These fun and creative resources are designed to be easily customisable for different learning scenarios.  When schools are closed as a result of lockdown and parents have to take on homeschooling, the OER Service uses its social media channels to disseminate this ready-made collection of free teaching resources to all who might need them.  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 and the OER Service. So this is a lovely example of the benefits of open education and co-creation in action.

Wikimedian in Residence

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 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.  Creating Wikipedia entries enables students to demonstrate the relevance of their field of study and share their scholarship in a real-world context, while contributing to the global pool of open knowledge.  And if you want to find out more about Wikimedia in the Curriculum we’ve recently published this book of case studies which you can download here.

Knowledge Equity

Finally I want to return to the theme of knowledge equity; many of our open education and Wikimedia activities have a strong focus on redressing gender imbalance, centering marginalised voices, diversifying and decolonising the curriculum, and uncovering hidden histories. Some inspiring examples include our regular Wiki Women in Red editathons; Women in STEM editathons for Ada Lovelace Day and International Women’s Day; LGBT+ resources for medical education; open educational resources on LGBT+ Issues for Secondary Schools; UncoverED, a student led collaborative decolonial project uncovering the global history of the university; Diverse Collections, showcasing stories of equality and diversity within our archives; and the award winning Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Wikidata project.

Projects such as these provide our staff and students with opportunities to engage with the creation of open knowledge and to improve knowledge equity, and we often find that this inspires our staff and students to further knowledge activism. 

Conclusion

All these projects are examples of knowledge equity in action; the dismantling of obstacles that prevent people from accessing and participating in education and knowledge creation. Ultimately, this is what knowledge equity is about; counteracting structural inequalities and systemic barriers to ensure just representation of knowledge and equitable participation in the creation of a shared public commons.

Before I finish, I want to return to the UNESCO Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through OER, and this quote which reminds us why engaging with open education and OER is of critical importance to us all.

“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.”

ALT Winter Conference – Celebrating learning technologists⤴

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ima

 

Open Policy for Learning and Teaching⤴

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This post also appears on the Open.Ed blog. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Recommendation recognises that

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

 And it outlines five areas of action:

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

OER at the University of Edinburgh

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

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

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

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

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

COVID-19 Critical Care: Understanding and Application

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PPE Production

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

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

Free Short Online Courses

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

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

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

Free Teaching and Learning Resources for Home Schooling

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

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

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

Digital Skills for Remote and Hybrid Teaching

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

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

Caring for Mental Health and Wellbeing

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

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

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

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