Tag Archives: Wikimedia UK

Making Hybrid Meetings Work⤴


Last weekend I joined Wikimedia UK colleagues for our first in-person Board meeting and away day since 2019. I say joined, but I actually dialled in remotely, while the rest of the Board met in person in London.  Much as I would have loved to see everyone, the Board away day is always a really stimulating and inspiring event, I didn’t feel comfortable risking the 7 hour train journey from Glasgow to London. Thankfully Wikimedia UK CEO Lucy Crompton-Reid was more than happy to accommodate remote participation and to run both the Board meeting and the away day as hybrid events.  This wasn’t entirely straight forward because as interim Chair of Board, I was chairing the Board meeting on Friday evening, and we had lots of group working and breakout sessions planned for the away day on Saturday.  With a little patience and consideration from everyone involved we managed to make it work though.  

Since we’re all currently trying to get to grips with hybrid working, I thought it might be useful to share some thoughts and observations on how to make sure everyone can participate in hybrid meetings.   

Good Practice is Good Practice

We’ve all got used to online meetings but hybrid meetings require a little additional planning.  The good news is that, in keeping with the principles of universal design, a lot of the things that really make a difference in running successful hybrid meetings are good practice for any kind of meeting.  Specifically:

Remind everyone to speak slowly and clearly.  This is helpful not just for remote participants, but also for anyone whose hearing is impaired.

Don’t let people speak over each other.  It’s very hard to follow the conversation if multiple people are speaking at once, and this can also discourage people from participating.

Make sure everyone has a chance to speak. If you’re chairing the meeting, make sure you give all participants an opportunity to contribute.  Don’t forget remote participants!


You don’t need a room with built in conferencing technology to run a hybrid meeting, though it can help. We made it work perfectly adequately with a laptop and Zoom. 

If you’re going down the laptop route, make sure you have a backup machine or two, as audio and connection quality might vary.

Allow extra time to get set up.  It will always take longer than you think!

If remote participants are joining via a dedicated laptop, make sure someone is watching it to catch chat messages or in case the connection drops out.

Audio and Video

Audio quality is much more important than video, if you’ve got low bandwidth or the connection is spotty, turn off cameras.  You might want to turn cameras on for introductions and then turn them off again afterwards.  You can also turn cameras on at periodic points, perhaps during breaks, so people can see each other without disrupting the meeting.

Use an external microphone where possible.  Laptop mics tend to be directional so only pick up those sitting directly in front of the mic.

If you have a screen you can project remote participants onto it, but again, it’s not necessary to run a successful hybrid meeting. 

Background noise has a big impact on audio quality and can make it very hard for remote participants to hear in room discussions. Minimising background noise is particularly challenging as a result of the ongoing COVID pandemic which requires rooms to be well ventilated. Opening windows or turning on air conditioning can introduce so much background noise that remote participants may struggle to participate.  However, the safety of the people in the room has to be paramount, so if possible, try to find a room that you can ventilate safely, without having too much impact on audio quality.  

Facilitating Hybrid Meetings

It’s useful for the meeting facilitator or chair to use a separate laptop from the one remote participants are dialling in to, so they can project minutes, documents, etc., if necessary.  This also means that someone other than the facilitator can reinstate the connection if it drops out.

If you want to capture group discussions, use a shared document projected on to a screen, rather than a flipchart. This enables remote participants to contribute and to read points captured from others.

Photographing card sort activities, flip charts and notes, and sharing the pictures with remote participants works perfectly well if you don’t have shared docs, Padlets etc set up.

Don’t forget to include remote participants!

And if you’re participating remotely…

Test your set up before hand if necessary.

Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues to speak up or to speak more clearly if you can’t hear them.

You may have to interrupt people in order to contribute to group discussions, as participants in the room won’t have the visual cues that you want to speak.

It’s much easier to participate remotely if you’re not the only one dialling in.  If you have multiple people participating remotely you can work together in breakout groups and use shared documents to capture discussions.

Hybrid meetings can really tiring if you’re joining remotely, as you may have to listen really closely to follow discussions in the room.

It might sound like a lot to think about, but with a little preparation, care and consideration it’s not difficult to run successful hybrid meetings were everyone has a chance to participate.

Knowledge Activism: Representing the History of HIV and AIDS activism on Wikipedia⤴


This is a transcript of a talk I gave for the University of Liverpool School of the Arts “Making a difference in the real world” series. 

My name is Lorna Campbell, I’m a learning technology service manager at the University of Edinburgh and I’m also a Trustee of Wikimedia UK, and today I’m going to be talking about Wikipedia as a site of knowledge activism, the representation of queer and marginalised histories on the encyclopedia, and particularly the history of HIV and AIDS activism.  And I’ll also be introducing some of the people who have inspired me on my own journey to becoming a knowledge activist.Slides are available here: Knowledge Activism

First of all I’d like to start with a few acknowledgements.  I know acknowledgements usually come at the end, but as I’m going to be talking about the work of colleagues whose knowledge activism has been deeply inspirational to me, I want to speak their names up front.  So I’d like to thank

  • Áine Kavanagh, Reproductive BioMedicine graduate, University of Edinburgh.
  • Prof Allison Littlejohn, Director, UCL Knowledge Lab & Dr Nina Hood, University of Aukland.
  • Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence, University of Edinburgh.
  • Tara Robertson, Tara Robertson Consulting.
  • Tomas Sanders, History graduate, University of Edinburgh.
  • Sara Thomas, Scotland Projects Coordinator, Wikimedia UK.

Wikimedia UK is the UK chapter of the Wikimedia Foundation, the international not-for-profit organisation that supports the Wikimedia projects, of which Wikipedia is the best known.  Wikimedia’s vision is to imagine a world in which every human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.  This is not just a statement it’s a promise of inclusivity.

Wikipedia itself needs little introduction, the free encyclopaedia is the fifth most visited site on the internet, with over 6 billion monthly visitors.  English Wikipedia alone has over 6 million articles and there are an estimated 52 million articles in 309 languages supported by the site as a whole. 

Wikipedia is not just a repository of knowledge in its own right, it’s also a source of information for others services such as Google, whose 92 billion visits per month dwarfs Wikipedia’s paltry 6 billion. Amazon Alexa also draws much of its information from Wikipedia. Whenever you ask Alexa a question, there’s a good chance that the answer will come from Wikipedia.

In the global knowledge economy, knowledge is power, and Wikipedia is the largest repository of free, open and transparent information in the world.  Consequently, it’s perhaps no surprise that Wikipedia is censored to various degrees by numerous countries and regimes throughout the world, and outright banned by several including Myanmar, China, and Turkey. 

Having access to a platform where we can all access reliable, high quality information for free has never been more important in this age of disinformation, fake news, and government sanctioned culture wars.  How information is created and consumed matters like never before, and understanding how knowledge is created on Wikipedia can help people to understand how they consume and reproduce information.

This is one of the reasons why we believe that Wikipedia is such a powerful tool for developing critical digital and information literacy skills. 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 to share knowledge and make the world a better place, 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.  So the first person I want to introduce you to is Ewan McAndrew, the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedian in Residence, 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 literacy.  Creating Wikipedia entries enables students to demonstrate the relevance of their field of study and share their scholarship in a real-world contexts, while contributing to the global pool of open knowledge.  Engaging with the Wikimedia projects also encourages both staff and students to become knowledge activists; not just passive consumers of information but active creators of knowledge.

For example, this article about high-grade serous carcinoma, one of the most common and deadly forms of ovarian cancer, was created by Reproductive Biomedicine student Áine Kavanagh as part of a Wikipedia assignment in 2016.  This article, including over sixty references and open-licensed diagrams created by Áine herself, has now been viewed over 120,000 times since it was published 5 years ago. It’s hard to imagine many other undergraduate student assignments having this kind of impact. Not only has Áine contributed valuable health information to the global knowledge commons, 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. I’m not going to be talking primarily about Wikimedia in education today, but if you’re interested in finding out more, our Wikimedian in Residence and Wikimedia UK have recently published this book of case studies which you can download: Wikimedia in Education.

I want you to hold onto this concept of knowledge activism though. Just because Wikipedia is a free and open resource that anyone can contribute to, doesn’t mean that everyone does.  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 around 16%. Some language Wikipedias, such as the Welsh Wicipedia, fare better, others are much worse.

 In order to warrant a Wikipedia entry, subjects must be notable and the encyclopedia has extensive policies and guidelines that are used to assess notability, with some domains, such as academia having additional supplementary requirements.  A topic, subject or individual is presumed to be suitable for a stand-alone article only when they have received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent of the subject.  As proof of notability, articles need to be supported by reliable secondary sources.  Without sufficient citations, articles run the risk of being flagged for deletion by Wikipedia’s volunteer administrators.  The problem of course is that the bench marks for notability are invariably based on the lives and careers of cis white Western men.  This problem is compounded by the fact that it’s much harder find good quality reliable sources for marginalised groups who are frequently omitted and elided from the historical and the published record.  And this is not just a historical problem. Women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ individuals are still written about less often and cited less frequently.  And the danger here is that we end up with a feedback loop where things that are more visible on Wikipedia, become more discoverable in google, and are written about more in the press, and therefore become more visible to the public, and are written about more on Wikipedia, because you now have more secondary sources.  The danger is that the visible become more visible and the invisible risk disappearing altogether.

So the next person I want to introduce you to is Professor Elizabeth Slater, and I hope some of you have heard of her as she was the first female professor to be appointed to the Garstang Chair of Archaeology here at the University of Liverpool, and you have a research laboratory named after her that was opened in 2015.  Professor Slater didn’t have a Wikipedia entry until I wrote one for her in 2017 as part of Ada Lovelace Day, the annual event celebrating Women in STEM.  And the reason I chose to write about Liz is that I studied with Liz as an under graduate Archaeology student at the University of Glasgow.  I thought Liz deserved an entry because she was one of the few women working in a very male dominated field and I’m pretty sure she was the only female professor of Archaeology in the UK in the early 1990s.  

Although the entry I wrote about Professor Slater was approved by an Admin, a process all new pages go through, I was a bit miffed that a paragraph I had included listing various committees Liz had sat on was removed by the Admin because “we don’t usually include routine academic service (committee memberships etc.) in biographies”.  Of course the point is that participation on high level committees is not necessarily “routine academic service” for many female academics, whose contributions to their field of study are frequently overlooked.  For example, Liz was the only female academic on the 2001 RAE panel for Archaeology. 

Another example of an academic who fell foul of Wikipedia’s notability criteria was Dr Donna Strickland. Dr Strickland, an optical physicist at the University of Waterloo, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2018, and there was something of an outcry when it was revealed that she did not have a Wikiepdia entry until her Nobel laureate was announced.  To make matters worse, the reason that Dr Strickland didn’t have an article wasn’t that no one had bothered to write one.  The reason she had no article was that a new editor had written a draft article but an administrator had decided that it didn’t meet the notability criteria as the references did not show sufficient coverage.  The conclusion that many people drew was that Dr Strickland had to win the Nobel Prize in order to be considered notable enough to warrant a Wikipedia entry.  That wasn’t entirely true, it’s likely that if the original editor had added more citations to the article, it would have fulfilled the notability criteria.  They didn’t though, in fact the editor only made two edits before disappearing from the encyclopaedia all together.  And this highlights another problem, new editors can easily be discouraged if their first articles are flagged with requests for deletion.

This incident caused much debate and soul searching within the Wikimedia community.  The Foundation’s CEO Catherine Maher posted a twitter thread that acknowledged Wikipedia’s systemic biases and structural inequalities, but at the same time commented:

“Curators, academics, grantmakers, prize-awarding committees, and all other gatekeepers — you too are responsible. When you do not recognize, write about, publish, or otherwise elevate women, queer folks, people of color, and others, you erase them and their contributions.”

As it stands, Wikimedia reflects the worlds biases and structural inequalities, and it needs all of us to work to redress these imbalances.

Despite Wikipedia’s gender imbalance being an acknowledged problem, that projects such as Wiki Women In Red, which aims to create and expand Wikipedia biographies about women, have sought to address, too often those who attempt to challenge these structural inequalities and rectify the systemic bias, are the subject of targeted hostility and harassment.

The Wikimedia Foundation are well aware of these issues and has been undertaking a Movement Strategy exercise to shape the strategic direction of the movement to 2030.  Enshrined in this 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.

The Movement Strategy includes ten recommendations which acknowledge that Wikimedia communities are not yet representative of the diversity of the world. They neither reflect the diversity of people working with knowledge, nor the diversity of knowledge to be shared. Among the common causes for the gender gap, and other gaps in diversity of content and contributors, is the lack of a safe and inclusive environment. This limits the work of existing communities and is a barrier for new people to join, including women, LGBTQ+ people, indigenous communities, and other underrepresented groups. In addition to the Movement Strategy Wikimedia also recently launched a new Universal Code of Conduct, which is 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.

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 domain is significant, because if knowledge is to be truly open, then it must be open to all regardless of race, gender, or ability, because openness isn’t just about strategies and services, openness is about creativity, access, equity, and social inclusion and enabling us all to become fully engaged radical digital citizens.

Radical Digital Citizenship, as defined by Akwugo Emejulu and Callum McGregor, moves beyond the concept of digital literacy as simply acquiring skills to navigate the digital world, to a re-politicised digital citizenship in which social relations with technology are made visible, and emancipatory technological practices for social justice are developed to advance the common good.

Talking of radical digital citizenship, is anyone familiar with Dr Mary McIntosh?

Mary Susan McIntosh, or Mac as she was known, was a sociologist, feminist, political activist and campaigner for lesbian and gay rights in the UK.  McIntosh’s earliest research was in the field of criminology and the sociology of homosexuality and she was a member of the Criminal Law Revision Committee that lowered the age of male homosexual consent from 21 to 18. McIntosh was also among a small group of lesbians who contributed to the founding of the London Gay Liberation Front and she co-authored their Manifesto in 1971. Along with a group of feminist colleagues, McIntosh founded the journal Feminist Review in 1979 and she was also an active member of Feminists Against Censorship, a group of sex positive feminists, who argued against censorship and radical separatist feminist critiques of pornography, and who defended sexual expression and the right to produce sexually explicit material.

Despite McIntosh’s important contribution to gay rights here in the UK, she didn’t have a Wikipedia entry until I chose her name at random from a list of articles to be created as part of an International Women’s Day editathon in 2017. I have to confess I had never heard of McIntosh before writing her Wikipedia entry and I was shocked that such an important activist and foundational thinker had been omitted from the encyclopedia. Sadly, this was hardly surprising, as queer history is not well represented on Wikipedia.   What really struck me about McIntosh though, was that her omission meant that an important contribution she made to the field of sociology was also overlooked.

In 1968 McIntosh published a paper called “The Homosexual Role”.  Based on a survey of gay men in Leicester and London, this paper argued that rather than being a psychiatric or clinical pathology, homosexuality and same sex relationships were influenced by historical and cultural factors, and that “homosexual” is a social category coercively imposed on some individuals for the purpose of social control. This paper has been described as being crucial in the shaping the theory of social constructionism, a theory later developed by, and widely attributed to, Michel Foucault.  However McIntosh’s formative contribution to this field has been widely overlooked.  Although I created the biographical article for McIntosh, I haven’t really got sufficient understanding to edit the article on social constructionism to include her contribution to the field, so I’m hoping that someone who knows more about social constructionism than I do will pick this up.  Also if you’d like to know more about Mac, the British Library has some fabulous oral history interviews with her that were recorded before her death in 2013 at the ripe old age of 76.

In order to address the omission of queer histories, lives, and experiences, Wikipedia has an LGBT+ User Group that aims to encourage LGBT+ cultural organizations to adopt the values of free culture and use Wikimedia projects as tools for strengthening queer communities, and to increase the overall quantity and quality of this LGBT+ content in all languages.  The user group supports a range of activities including Wiki Loves Pride, and Wikipedia for Peace which, among other things, runs editathons to coincide with the Europride festivals.  In 2019, I was able to attend the Wikipedia for Peace editathon at Europride Vienna as part of a group twelve editors from all over the world who created and translated 113 new articles on LBGT+ topics in a range of European languages and uploaded hundreds of photographs of the Europride parade on Wikimedia Commons, making a significant contribution to improving equality, diversity and queer representation on Wikipedia.

It was while taking part in the Europride editathon that I noticed that the history of HIV and AIDS activism in Scotland was completely absent from the encyclopaedia.  Scottish AIDS Monitor and PHACE West, two prominent AIDS awareness organisations, had no articles at all, and although an article already existed for Derek Ogg, the founder of Scottish AIDS monitor, it only touched on his legal career and made no mention of his important 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 Russell T Davis’ tv series It’s a Sin, which was broadcast earlier this year. So when the University’s Disabled Staff Network and Staff Pride Network decided to run an editathon for LGBT History Month in February this year, I suggested HIV and AIDS activism in Scotland as a topic.  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, making a significant contribution to representing the history of HIV and AIDS activism in Scotland on Wikipedia.  I finally got to create an article for Scottish AIDS Monitor, and along with one of the other participants we were able to add images of some of the SAM ephemera we had lying around. But of course there is still a huge amount of work to be done, even in the coverage of prominent AIDS / HIV topics.  For example although an article exists for Gran Fury, the New York activist and artist collective, only 3 of the original 11 members have their own articles and there are numerous other activists, organisations, films, plays and artworks that are still missing.

Shortly after the HIV Scotland editathon, I also created a Wikipedia article for Jill Nalder.  And Jill is the next person I want to introduce you to. Jill Nalder is an actress, activist, and friend of Russell T Davis, who inspired the central character of Jill Baxter in It’s A Sin, and who played the fictional Jill’s mother in the tv series. Nalder became involved in HIV/AIDS activism while living in London in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis. With other members of the West End theatre community, Nalder organised fundraising campaigns, including cabaret shows and performances, to raise money to support AIDS awareness and research.  She also supported HIV positive gay men and made numerous visits to AIDS patients in hospitals around London, something we see the fictional Jill doing in the series.

Now I know that there has been some criticism of It’s A Sin for stereotyping women as carers, and for centering the experiences of cis woman rather than gay men, and while there’s a discussion to be had there, I do think it’s important to acknowledge the many 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.   If we don’t remember the contribution of these women, and also the experiences of women who contracted AIDS at a time when they were told it was impossible, it’s easy to assume that they simply did not exist.  

I witnessed a stark example of this, just a few weeks after our HIV Scotland editathon, when the Staff Pride Network ran an event on International Women’s Day 2021 on the role of women in AIDS and LGBTQ+ Activism. The event brought together speakers, several of whom were HIV positive, to share their experiences of the earliest days of the AIDS pandemic. While listening in to the event I tweeted one of the participant’s criticism of the absence of HIV+ women in Its A Sin, which immediately prompted this response: 

In the period this is set it was clearly pointed out to Jill that it was of little or no concern to women. So while the theoretical risk was there in the case of injecting users and factor 8 recipients there simply were no HIV+ women – why rewrite history?

And yet there I was listening to two women who had contracted HIV at the very time the series was set, so I guess it depends on whose history you’re trying to write.  

This is just one of the reasons why it’s so important to include and represent the experiences of marginalised individuals, particularly women, people of colour and trans people, who are so often elided from the historical record. If we record their lives and stories, it makes it that little bit harder to deny their existence.

Although I am a lifelong advocate for open knowledge that is diverse, equitable and inclusive, it’s important to acknowledge that openness is not always in the best interests of those who are marginalised and who have experienced multiple intersecting forms of discrimination.

The next person I want to introduce you to is Tara Robertson, an intersectional feminist who uses data and research to advocate for equality and inclusion.  Tara has worked for many years in open source technology communities, including as Diversity and Inclusion lead at Mozilla, and her work on trans inclusion has been featured in Forbes.  I was introduced to Tara’s work at a conference a couple of week’s ago and I want to share it with you now, with her kind permission. In a 2016 keynote titled “Not all information wants to be free” Tara highlighted examples of when it is not appropriate or ethical for information to be open to all.   One example was the digitisation of the lesbian porn magazine On Our Backs, which had been digitised and released under Creative Commons licence by Reveal Digital, an organisation that aims to “bring together fragmented documentary material from under-represented 20th century voices of dissent.”   Although initially excited by the digitisation of On Our Backs, Tara became worried about friends who had appeared in the magazine before the internet even existed. Consenting to a porn shoot that would appear in a queer indie print magazine is a very different thing to consenting to having your image shared online under open licence. Tara undertook extensive research visiting archives, reviewing contracts and copyright legislation and interviewing women who modelled for the magazine.  She was concerned that open licence enables feminist porn to be remixed in ways that could appropriate the content and actually demean these women who had never consented to their image being used in this way.  One woman Tara interviewed commented

“When I heard all the issues of the magazine are being digitized, my heart sank. I meant this work to be for my community and now I am being objectified in a way that I have no control over. People can cut up my body and make it a collage. My professional and public life can be high jacked. These are uses I never intended and I still don’t want.”

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 had recently created a Wikipedia entry for another lesbian porn magazine Quim, which was co-created by a former On Our Backs photo editor.  And it also made me wonder about the ethics of sharing all those Europride Vienna photographs on Wikimedia Commons. Those queens and leathermen might have been happy for me to take their photograph on a euphoric summer afternoon in Vienna, but that doesn’t mean they consented to their image being shared under open licence on one of the largest repositories of open images in the world, for anyone to download and use for any purpose they see fit.

If knowledge equity is the dismantling of structures of power and privilege that prevent people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge, it must also respect the rights of marginalised groups and individuals to choose not to share their knowledge and experiences.  As Tara has pointed out, the ethics of openness are messy; it’s important that we balance the interests of open knowledge with respect for individuals and the right to be forgotten.

To return to the theme of knowledge activism, I want to highlight some research undertaken by Professor Allison Littlejohn, Director of University College London‘s Knowledge Lab and Dr Nina Hood, of the University of Auckland.  Allison and Nina evaluated the experiences of participants at some of the University of Edinburgh’s very first editathons, which focused on the Edinburgh Seven, the first group of matriculated undergraduate female students at any British university. The Edinburgh Seven began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869 and, although they did not win the right to graduate at the time, their campaign raised a national political debate about women’s right to access university education, which eventually resulted a change to the legislation that enabled women to study medicine at university in 1876.  The Edinburgh Seven were finally awarded posthumous degrees by the University in 2019, 150 years after they matriculated and four years after the editathon that raised awareness of their campaign.  Seven current undergraduate medical students accepting the degrees on their behalf.

Allison and Nina observed that as participants grew into the editor role they began to recognise their personal responsibility for representing historical people and events that have been traditionally under-represented. The editors recognised how new media forms are continuing to perpetrate existing cultural inequities, and that by becoming knowledge producers and information activists, they were able to challenge and redress these inequities.  Inherent in this role is the exposure of structural and systematic biases and the removal of barriers to the creation and dissemination of information.

Many of Wikimedia UK and the Wikimedia community’s activities focus specifically on challenging these structural and systematic biases, by working to redress gender imbalance, centre marginalised voices, diversify and decolonise the curriculum, and uncover hidden histories. Some inspiring examples include the Wiki Women in Red editathons; Women in STEM editathons for Ada Lovelace Day and International Women’s Day; supporting minority and indigenous languages through the Celtic and Arctic Knot Conferences, the annual international Art + Feminism campaign, LGBTQ+ editathons at Senate House Library as part of their Queer Between the Covers Series, Digitising Africa in the Dancehall at the Africa Centre, Protests and Suffragettes in Glasgow, the award winning Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Wikidata project, and Wikimedia UK’s own Closing the Gender Gap campaign.

Projects such as these provide opportunities to engage with the creation of open knowledge and improve knowledge equity. And what is particularly gratifying is that, as Allison and Nina’s research highlighted, creating open knowledge, often inspires people to further knowledge activism.

So the last person I want to introduce you to tonight is Tomas. Tomas was an undergraduate History student, who spent the summer of 2017 working with us at the Open Educational Resources Service at the University of Edinburgh, as an Open Content Curation intern. While he was working with us, Tomas also took part in a Wiki Women in Red edition run by our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan, and he was so enthused that he went on to run a successful Wikipedia editathon for Black History Month with the student History Society.

As part of that editathon Tomas created a Wikipedia entry for the Mangrove Nine, a group of British black activists tried in 1970 for inciting a riot in protest against the Metropolitan police targeting The Mangrove, a Caribbean restaurant in Notting Hill, west London.  This trial was significant because it was the first judicial acknowledgement of racial hatred within the Metropolitan Police. Tomas’ article languished somewhat after he created it, with just over 5,000 pageviews in the two years from 2017 to 2019. Interest picked up last summer, most likely as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement following the murder of George Floyd. Then in November last year pageviews shot up to over 17,000 in a single day.  That was the day that Steve McQueen’s drama Mangrove aired on BBC television as part of his critically acclaimed Small Axe series.  McQueen’s drama causes a resurgence of interest in the case of the Mangrove Nine, and where did viewers turn to find more information?  Google and Wikipedia.  And they were able to find out more about this important event in British black history because an undergraduate student committed to knowledge activism created that Wikipedia entry three years previously.

Talking about his experience of engaging with Wikipedia in an interview with our Wikimedian in Residence, Tomas said

“The history that people access on Wikipedia is often very different from the history that you would access in a University department; there’s very little social history, very little women’s history, gender history, history of people of colour or queer history, and the only way that’s going to be overcome is if people from those disciplines start actively engaging in Wikipedia and trying to correct those imbalances. I feel the social potential of Wikipedia to inform people’s perspectives on the world really lies in correcting imbalances in the representation of that world. People should try to make Wikipedia accurately represent the diversity of the world around us, the diversity of history, and the diversity of historical scholarship.”

And one of the lovely things about Tomas’ knowledge activism is that it didn’t end when he left the University, three years after he graduated, Tomas turned up at the HIV Scotland editathon we organised in February this year.

All these stories I’ve highlighted are examples of knowledge activism; the commitment to representing diverse and marginalised lives and histories on the world’s largest source of free and open knowledge, and the dismantling of obstacles that prevent people from accessing and participating in knowledge creation. Ultimately, this is what knowledge activism 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.  

So how can you get involved and become a knowledge activist?  First of all you can reach out to Wikimedia UK to find out about activities and events they’re supporting.  With many editathons now taking place online, it’s easier than ever to learn how to edit.  For example the Wiki Women in Red editathons run by the University of Edinburgh’s Wikimedian in Residence every month are free and open to all.  And Ewan and one of his student interns, Hannah Rothman, have also created this comprehensive set of resources to help get people started with editing, so please do take a look.  And of course you’re also welcome to get in touch with me if you have any questions, or you’d like any further information about how to get involved with the Wikimedia projects and start your own journey to becoming an knowledge activist.

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


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⤴


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. 


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.”

Open Practice in Practice⤴


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

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

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

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

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

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

Before coming back together to feedback and share their discussions. 

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

Rebecca Solnit quote

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

Ada Lovelace Day: Dr Isabel Gal⤴


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OER20: Care, hope and activism⤴


CC BY, Bryan Mather

The OER Conference is always one of the highlights of the year for me.   It’s the only open education conference I attend regularly and I’m privileged to have been present at every single one since the conference launched at the University of Cambridge back in 2010.  So needless to say, I was gutted that the f2f element of this year’s conference had to be cancelled, despite knowing that it was unquestionably the right thing to do.  I know from experience how much work and personal investment goes into planning the OER Conference and what a difficult decision it must have been for ALT and for co-chairs Mia Zamora, Daniel Villar-Onrubia and Jonathan Shaw.  That initial feeling of loss was tempered by ALTs announcement that they would be moving the event online, an ambitious plan, given that the conference was barely two weeks away.  I was always confident that ALT could pull off this #pivot as they already have a wealth of experience facilitating online conferences, through the annual winter online conference, and as an already distributed organisation they didn’t have to cope with the scramble to set up remote working that may other organisations and institutions faced.  What I didn’t expect though was for ALT and the conference co-chairs to deliver an entirely unique event.  They didn’t just move the planned face to face conference online they completely transformed it into a new, original and completely free online experience that welcomed over 1,000 registered participation from across the globe.  And please note, the OER20 conference wasn’t just free as in speech, it was also free as in beer, so if you participated in the event, either listening in to the presentations, or even just following the hashtag online, please consider making a donation to the conference fund.  Every little helps to support ALT and cover the cost.

Of course the theme of the conference, The Care in Openness, could not have been more timely or more prescient.  The whole notion of care has taken on new weight since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.  Care has literally become a matter of survival.  The only way we will get through this is if we care for each other, and if we protect and value those that care for us.  

If I was to pick two session that for me, really embodied this ethic of care it would have to be keynote sava saheli singh and Mia Zamora in conversation, and Frances Bell talking about the femedtech quilt project.  Both sessions featured films that provoked a really strong, but very different, emotional response.  Screening Surveillance’s Frames is a deeply unsettling tale of surveillance, commodification, dehumanisation and alienation.  Powerful, challenging and disturbing, watching Frames is a profoundly uncomfortable and thought provoking experience. The subsequent discussion brought to mind Jimmy Reid’s immortal address on becoming rector of the University of Glasgow in 1972; Alienation

“Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially de-humanises people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human being, self-centred and grasping.”

This quote particularly resonates with me.  So much has changed in the 50 years since Reid’s address, but so much remains the same. It is the system of capitalism that is still so often the root cause of our dehumanisation and alienation. Industrialisation may have given way to surveillance capitalism, but digital technology is simply the latest mechanism for our alienation. 

sava ended her brilliant keynote session with a much needed call for compassion and action:

“We need to approach everyone with compassion…All of us are activists now.”

It was a huge privilege to hear sava and Mia in conversation, and my only regret is that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet them in person. I hope that will happen one day.

Nowhere is that compassion and activism more visible than in the making of the femedtech quilt, a craft activism project and a material manifestation of care led by the indefatigable Frances Bell.  Frances produced this beautiful film about the making of quilt and it’s safe to say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after watching it.   Like the quilt itself, the up-swell of collective emotion was “beautifully imperfect, imperfectly beautiful.”


I find it hard to put my profound appreciation for this project into words, but Su-Ming Khoo spoke for many of us when she thanked Frances for giving us all “somewhere to put our connection and our gratitude”.

My other highlights of the conference included….

The launch of the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK’s Wikimedia in Education handbook.  Edited by Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, this free, open licensed booklet brings together 14 case studies from educators across the UK who are already integrating Wikimedia assignments in their courses and classes.   I know how much work has gone into the production of this booklet so it was great to see it being launched. I’m sure it will be an invaluable  and inspirational resource that will encourage educators to see the huge potential of integrating Wikmedia projects in education.

Staying with the Wikimedians, Wikimedia UK’s Scotland Programmes Coordinator Sara Thomas gave an impassioned talk on Wikimedia and Activism.  I love listening to Sara present, she always makes me want to storm the barricades! Sara reminded us that learning and creating open knowledge are always political acts. Creating knowledge encourages agency, but access to information alone does not result in enlightenment. Knowledge is nothing without literacy and information literacy is crucial for participatory democracy.

I also really enjoyed Bonnie Stewart and Dave White’s thoughtful and compassionate session on Designing for Systems of Care: Can Open Pedagogy Scale Caring? Dave spoke about the dangerous grey area between surveillance and care, and argued that personalised, individualised learning is actually reducing our agency, our self-direction and self-determination. We’re at a point where the tech sector appears to be telling us “we’ll care for you and personalise your experience, if you tell us everything about you.” But we can’t use technology to lock everything down, we need to create a culture of trust now more so than ever.

I made one very small contribution to the conference this year, a short alt-format talk on open practice and invisible labour, which you can read here and listen to here.  Sadly this talk became all the more relevant with news reports yesterday afternoon that hundreds of university staff on precarious contracts have been made redundant by the universities of Bristol, Newcastle and Sussex.  As my colleague Melissa Highton succinctly put it “This is why we strike.

There is always a strong social element to OER conferences and there was a risk that this would be lost with the move online.  However the conference team excelled themselves and, if anything, this was one of the most social and inclusive conferences I’ve participated in, ether on or off-line.  The social bingo was hugely popular and a great use of Alan Levine’s fabulous TRU Collector SPLOT. (If you enjoyed playing OER social bingo, you might like to support Alan’s work by contributing to his Patreon.)  The KarOERke was also priceless.  Anyone who knows me will know that karaoke is my idea of HELL. I can barely even bring myself to watch it, never mind participate!  However, I had great fun dipping in and out of the online KarOERke on ds106.tv.  My only regret is that I missed Lucy Crompton-Reid singing Kate Bush.  The final rousing chorus from Les Mis was something to behold though.  Y’all are daft as brushes.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the OER20 though was that none of the emotion and connection that is so characteristic of the OER conferences was lost. If anything, this was heightened by the #unprecedented global situation we find ourselves living through.  Suddenly these tenuous temporal connections we made with colleagues from all over the world during the two days of the conference, felt more important than ever before.  A valuable lifeline, and a network of care, hope and activism that connected us all at a time of uncertainty and isolation. Ultimately these are the things that matter and these are the things that will see us through.

2019: Inspiration and Hope⤴


2019 was a difficult year by any standards, what with Brexit looming, the disastrous general election, the strike, and other issues rather closer to home. However I don’t want to dwell on the negatives, instead I want to focus on the people and events that inspired me and gave me hope over the course of the year.


The OER conferences are always inspirational but this year that inspiration was particularly necessary and timely. The theme of OER19 was Recentering Open: Critical and Global Perspectives and the conference gave a much-needed platform to many of the diverse voices that are often marginalized in the open knowledge domain. More than anything else though, the conference was about hope. From Kate Bowles uplifting opening keynote, to co-chairs Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz quoting Rebecca Solnit in their closing address, OER19 provided a much needed beacon of hope.

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark.

OER19, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

ALT and Wikimedia UK

I was honoured to be re-elected to the boards of both ALT and Wikimedia UK for a second term in 2019. I can’t speak highly enough of my fellow board members, board chairs and the CEOs of both organisations. Their commitment to supporting their members and communities for the greater good of all is endlessly inspiring. It’s a privilege to be able to make a small contribution to both organisations.

Wikimedia UK Board 2019. By Josie Fraser.

Society for Nautical Research

I stepped down as a board member of the Society for Nautical Research, after five years as chair of the SNR’s Publications and Membership Committee. It was an experience that was equal parts rewarding and frustrating, particularly when I was often the only female voice in the room. However I’m very grateful to my colleagues on Pubs Comm who supported me throughout, and I was pleased and surprised to be made a Fellow of the Society when I stepped down in July.


I’ve been peripherally involved in Femedtech since it’s inception but last year was the first time I sat down and really made a contribution with the femedtech Open Space, femedtech.net, which Frances Bell and I built for OER19, with the generous support of Alan Levine and Reclaim Hosting. I was overjoyed by the response to the Open Space and I’m delighted to see it living on to host subsequent femedtech projects and initiatives.

Frances Bell, Life Member of ALT

Although I’ve known Frances and admired her work for many years, so it was a joy to work with her to build the femedtech Open Space. It was a real privilege to be able to learn from her experience, commitment and empathy. So I was over the moon to see Frances’ contribution to the ed tech community and beyond acknowledged by ALT when she was awarded Life Membership of ALT at the ALT Conference in September. Being invited by ALT CEO Maren Deepwell to present the award to Frances was, without doubt, one of my personal highlights of the year.

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

Wikimedia for Peace in Vienna

In June I took time out from work to go to the Wikipedia for Peace editathon, which took place in Vienna to coincide with Europride 2019. It was amazing to be able to meet and work with a group of inspiring editors, all of whom are deeply committed to upholding the rights of marginalized individuals and communities through knowledge equity. I’m very grateful to Wikimedia UK and Josie Fraser for supporting my participation in this event.

Wikipedia for Peace editathon, CC BY SA 4.0, Mardetanha, on Wikimedia Commons.

Dunfermline College on Wikipedia

I didn’t manage to do as much Wikipedia editing this year as I would have liked, but one thing I was able to do was to edit the rather sparse page for Dunfermline College of Physical Education. I was inspired to do this by the University of Edinburgh’s Body Language exhibition and the fact that my mother had been a student of the college in the 1950’s. I inherited my mother’s college photograph album when she passed away several years ago and many of her photographs are now illustrating the college’s shiny new Wikipedia page. Many thanks to Michael Maggs for guiding me through the OTRS process.


The ICEPOPS Conference came to Edinburgh in July and I was delighted to be able to go along, not just because I’m a big admirer of Jane Secker and Chris Morrison’s work, but also because my OER Service colleague Charlie Farley was presenting one of the keynotes. Charlie is a joy and an inspiration to work with it was wonderful to hear her presenting her first keynote.

Stephanie (Charlie) Farley and Jane Secker, CC BY Lorna M. Campbell

Once Upon An Open

I first heard Sara Thomas’ moving story Once Upon An Open when she uploaded it to the femedtech Open Space during OER19 and it moved me to tears.  I missed Sara telling the story live at the conference, but I heard her perform this piece again at the Wikimedia AGM in Bristol.  Since then, I’ve listened to it countless times and urged everyone I know to listen to it too, it’s worth five minutes of anyone’s time. 

Open For a Cause

In early December ALT and Wikimedia DE invited me to Berlin, where I had the privilege of participating in Open For a Cause: Fostering participation in society and education. It was a humbling experience to sit alongside a group inspirational thinkers, including Laura Czerniewicz, Audrey Watters, Martin Hawksey,  Maren Deepwell and Christian Friedrich, all of whom have had a huge impact on my own understanding of the open knowledge domain. It was also lovely to spend time in Berlin, a city I’m very fond off, with such good friends.

Maren Deepwell, Audrey Watters, and me. CC BY Martin Hawksey

UCU Strike

The UCU strike was difficult this year, I’m not going to deny it. It was long and hard and came at a difficult time of the year with Brexit and the general election looming. It had to be done though and I’m immensely proud of colleagues across the UK who joined the strike, and stood up for the rights of all those working in Higher Education today.

UCU Strike Rally, CC BY SA, Lorna M. Campbell on Wikimedia Commons

Open Scotland

In my end of year reflection last year, I noted that one of my frustrations had been that I had neglected Open Scotland due to lack of time and headspace. I’m pleased to say that at the end of 2019 Joe Wilson and I made an effort to resurrect the initiative. Open Scotland has now moved to a shared curation model inspired by femedtech and I’d like to thank all those who volunteered for enough curation spots to see us through into the New Year.

Return of the Magic Bus

Another woe from last year was the sad demise of our faithful old VW T25 camper van. After months of swithering we finally decided to bite the bullet and shell out for a new engine and by mid summer the magic bus was back on the road and heading for the Outer Hebrides where we spent a fabulous week visiting family and touring the length of the islands.

Scurrival Campsite, Barra. CC BY Lorna M. Campbell


And last, but by no means least, friends. Friends and colleagues have been an endless inspiration and support this year and I am grateful to every one of them. It was a particular pleasure to reconnect with the old Strathclyde crew, Allison, Sheila, Sarah and Karen, and to be able to revisit our favourite old haunt Café Gandolfi. Good times. Here’s hoping there will be many more of them.

Dunfermline College of Physical Education: A personal connection⤴


While I was off on strike I was able to spend some time finishing a project I’ve been working on for a couple of months; editing the Wikipedia page for Dunfermline College of Physical Education.  I was inspired to update the existing page by the recent Body Language exhibition at the University of Edinburgh Library which delved into the archives of Dunfermline College and the influential dance pioneer Margaret Morris, to explore Scotland’s significant contributions to movement and dance education. And the reason I was so keen to improve this page, which was little more than a stub when I started editing, is that my mother was a student at Dunfermline College from 1953 – 1956, and when she died in 2011 my sister and I inherited her old college photograph album.  

My mother was not a typical Dunfermline student. Unlike many of her fellow students, who were privately educated and went straight to the college on leaving school, my mother was educated at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, and after leaving school she took an office job while working her way through the Civil Service exams.  She’d been working a year or so when the college came to the island to interview prospective students, and her father suggested she apply.  Her interview was successful, and she was awarded a place and a bursary to attend the college, which at that time was in Aberdeen.  Having experienced a degree of independence before going to Dunfermline, my mother chaffed at the rigid discipline of the residential college, which expected certain standards of decorum from its “girls”.  She didn’t take too kindly to the arbitrary rules, and it’s perhaps no surprise that her motto in the college year book was “Laws were made to be broken”.  She did however make many life-long friends at college and she went on to have a long and active teaching career.

My mother worked as a PE teaching on the Isle of Lewis, first as a travelling teacher working in tiny rural schools across the island, and later in the Nicolson Institute.  She passionately believed that all children should be able to enjoy physical education, regardless of aptitude or ability, and she vehemently opposed the idea that the primary role of PE teachers was to spot and nurture “talent”.  Her real interest was movement and dance and many of the children she taught in the small rural schools where convinced she was really just a big playmate who came to play with them once a week.  Sporting facilities were pretty much non-existent in rural schools in the Western Isles the 1970s. Few schools had a gyms or playing field, so she often organised games and sports days on the machair by the beaches. The first swimming pool in the islands didn’t open until the mid 1970s and prior to that she taught children to swim in the sea, on the rare occasions it was sufficiently calm and warm.  None of the schools she taught in had AV facilities of any kind and I vividly remember the little portable tape recorded that she carried around with her for music and movement lessons.  She retired from teaching in 1987, not long after the acrimonious national teachers pay dispute.  Despite being rather scunnered with the education system by the time she retired, it’s clear that the years she spent at Dunfermline played a formative role in shaping not just in her career, but also her personal relationships and her approach to teaching. Typically, she was proud to be known as the rule breaker of her “set” and I think she’d appreciate the irony of her old pictures appearing on the college Wikipedia page. 

[See image gallery at lornamcampbell.org] In order to add these images to Commons, I’m having to go through the rather baroque OTRS procedure, and I’d like to thank Michael Maggs, former Chair of Board of Wikimedia UK, for his invaluable support in guiding me through the process.  Thanks are also due to colleagues at the Centre for Research Collections, which holds the college archive, for helping me access some of the sources I’ve cited. 

One last thing….when I was producing our OER Service Autumn newsletter I made this GIF to illustrate a short news item about the Body Language exhibition. 

Garden Dance GIF

Garden Dance, CC BY, University of Edinburgh.

The gif is part of a beautiful 1950s film featuring students from Dunfermline College called Garden Dance, which was released under open licence by the Centre of Research Collections.  The film is described as “Dance set in unidentified garden grounds, possibly in Dunfermline” however when I was looking through my mother’s college album I found this picture of the very same garden, so it appears it was filmed in Aberdeen. If you click through to the film, you can clearly see the same monkey puzzle tree in the background. It was obviously something of a landmark!  I wonder if my mother is one of the dancers?