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

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

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

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

There are numerous definitions and interpretations of Open Education, some of which you can explore here.

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

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

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

UNESCO define open educational resources as

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

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

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

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

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

OER at the University of Edinburgh

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

OER Policy

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

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

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

OER Service

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

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

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

OER in the Curriculum

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

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

Wikimedia in the Curriculum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Open Education and Co-creation – GeoScience Outreach

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Conclusion

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

M&M Podcast on Knowledge Equity⤴

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

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

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

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

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

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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⤴

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

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

Read My Lips: New York AIDS Polemics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The principles of open education were outlined in the 2008 Cape Town Declaration, one of the first initiatives to lay the foundations of what it referred to as the “emerging open education movement”. The Declaration advocates that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, and redistribute educational resources without constraint, in order to nourish the kind of participatory culture of learning, sharing and cooperation that rapidly changing knowledge societies need.  One of the many contributors to the Cape Town Declaration was Wikimedia founder, Jimmy Wales.  Who commented in a press release to mark the launch of the Declaration:

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

The Cape Town Declaration is still an influential document and it was updated on its 10th anniversary as Capetown +10, and I can highly recommend having a look at this if you want a broad overview of the principles of open education.

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

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

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

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

Open Educational Resources (OER)

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

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

UNESCO OER Recommendation

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

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

 The Recommendation recognises that

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

And it outlines five areas of action

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

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

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

Wikimedia Movement Strategy

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

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

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

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

Structural Inequality in the Open Knowledge Landscape

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

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

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

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

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

And there are many other examples of similar structural inequalities in open spaces and communities.

In a 2018 article titled “The Dangers of Being Open” Amira Dhalla, who at the time led Mozilla’s Women and Web Literacy programs, wrote:

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

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

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

OER and the COVID-19 pandemic

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

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

OER at the University of Edinburgh

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

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

This vision is backed up by an OER Policy, approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience, expand provision of learning opportunities, and enrich our shared knowledge commons.

The University’s vision for OER is the brainchild of Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal Online Learning, and the student union were also instrumental in encouraging the University to adopt an OER policy, and we continue to see student engagement and co-creation as being fundamental aspects of open education and open knowledge.

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

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

Critical Care MOOC

With support from the Online Learning and OER Service, and from our partners at FutureLearn, the University’s MSc Critical Care team was able to rapidly launch a COVID-19 Critical Care online learning resource for frontline clinical staff supporting critical care patients.  It took a little over a fortnight of working day and night to collate the resources and get them onto the FutureLearn platform, and they went live on the 5th of April 2020, just as many European countries were first going into lockdown.  Over 5,000 learners enrolled on the first day of the course and by the end of the first 6 week run, over 40,000 learners from 189 countries had accessed the learning materials.  The University’s strategic support for OER and open knowledge, and FutureLearn’s willingness to prioritise the project, helped enable us to develop this resource at speed.  The team comprised staff from the University, FutureLearn, NHS Lothian, the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh and NHS Education Scotland, who came together to make something positive happen at a difficult and stressful time for many, motivated by the knowledge of how valuable this educational resource would be to staff on the frontline of critical care.

Free Short Online Courses

Providing open access to high quality online learning opportunities and widening access to our scholarship has always been an important cornerstone of the University’s commitment to open knowledge exchange and community outreach and we  provide a wide range of online courses including masters degrees, MOOCs and MicroMasters programmes.  Ensuring continued access to course materials for online learners, has always been a priority, and now more so than ever when many learners may find it challenging to meet fixed deadlines as a result of other personal commitments and stresses in their lives. To address this issue, we ensure that the majority of online learning content created for these courses can be released under open licence, this includes over 500 high quality MOOCs videos which can be accessed and downloaded from our Open Media Bank channel. The Open Media Bank hosts legacy content covering a wide range of topics, including some that directly address the challenges of the pandemic, such as videos from our former MOOC Critical Thinking in Global Challenges  which explores important global challenges including epidemics and the spread of serious infectious, and the challenges of human health and wellbeing in the modern world. 

Free Teaching and Learning Resources for Home Schooling

Our commitment to knowledge exchange and community outreach also extends to the school sector.   Through TES Resources the OER Service shares a growing collection of interdisciplinary teaching and learning materials, aimed at primary and secondary school level, covering topics as diverse as climate change, food production, biodiversity, and LGBTQ+ issues.    These fun and creative resources are designed to be easily customisable for different learning scenarios.  When schools are closed as a result of lockdown and parents have to take on homeschooling, the OER Service uses its social media channels to disseminate this ready-made collection of free teaching resources to all who might need them.  One of the really nice things about this collection of open educational resources is that they have all been co-created by undergraduates and student interns in collaboration with colleagues from the School of GeoSciences and the OER Service. So this is a lovely example of the benefits of open education and co-creation in action.

Wikimedian in Residence

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that contributing to the global pool of Open Knowledge through Wikimedia is squarely in line with our institutional mission and that Wikipedia is a valuable learning tool to develop a wide range of digital and information literacy skills at all levels across the curriculum. Our Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, works to embed open knowledge in the curriculum, through skills training sessions, editathons, Wikipedia in the classroom initiatives and Wikidata projects, in order to increase the quantity and quality of open knowledge and enhance digital literacy.  Creating Wikipedia entries enables students to demonstrate the relevance of their field of study and share their scholarship in a real-world context, while contributing to the global pool of open knowledge.  And if you want to find out more about Wikimedia in the Curriculum we’ve recently published this book of case studies which you can download here.

Knowledge Equity

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Open Practice in Practice⤴

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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⤴

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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. 

OER20: Care, hope and activism⤴

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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.

A Common Purpose: Wikimedia, Open Education and Knowledge Equity for all Introduction⤴

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At the end of February I was honoured to be invited to present the closing keynote at the Wikimedia in Education Summit at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab at Coventry University.  This is the transcript of my talk. 


Introduction

Although I’m originally an archaeologist by background, I’ve worked in the domain of learning technology for over twenty years and for the last ten years I’ve focused primarily on supporting the uptake of open education technology, resources, policy and practice, and it’s through open education that I came to join the Wikimedia community.  I think the first Wikimedia event I ever took part in was OER De a cross-sector open education conference, hosted by Wikimedia Deutschland in Berlin in 2014. I remember being really impressed by the wide range of innovative projects and initiatives from across all sectors of education and it really opened my eyes to the potential of Wikimedia to support the development of digital literacy skills, while enhancing the student experience and enriching our shared knowledge commons. And I think we’ve seen plenty of inspiring examples today of that potential being realised in education institutions around the UK.

So what I want to do this afternoon is to explore the relationship between the open education and Wikimedia domains and the common purpose they share; to widen access to open knowledge, remove barriers to inclusive and equitable education, and work towards knowledge equity for all. I also want to turn our attention to some of the structural barriers and systemic inequalities that prevent equitable participation in and access to this open knowledge landscape. We’ll begin by taking a brief look at some of the recent global policy initiatives in this area, before coming back closer to home to explore how the University of Edinburgh’s support for both open education and Wikimedia in the curriculum forms part of the institution’s strategic commitment to creating and sharing open knowledge.

Open Education

To begin with though, I want to take a step back to look at what we mean when we talk about open education, and if you’re heard me speak before, I apologise if I’m going over old ground here.

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. It sounds a lot like the goals of the Wikimedia community doesn’t it? Which is hardly surprising given that one of the authors of the Cape Town Declaration was Jimmy Wales. In a press release to mark the launch of the Declaration, Wales was quoted as saying

“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. Unsurprisingly, engaging with Wikipedia is woven through Capetown +10, as a means to empower the next generation of learners, to encourage the adoption of open pedagogies, and to open up publicly funded resources.

As conceived by the CapeTown Declaration, open education is a broad umbrella term, there’s is no one hard and fast definition, and indeed as Catherine Cronin reminds us in her paper “Openness and Praxis” open education is complex, personal, contextual and continually negotiated.

One conceptualisation of open education that I like is from the European Union’s JRC Science for Policy Report. Opening Up Education. A Support Framework for higher education institutions, which describes the aim of open education as being

“to widen access and participation to everyone by removing barriers and making learning accessible, abundant, and customisable for all. It offers multiple ways of teaching and learning, building and sharing knowledge. It also provides a variety of access routes to formal and non-formal education, and connects the two.”

Another interpretation of open education that I often return to 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.”

One of the things I like about both these interpretations is the focus co-creation and removing barriers to knowledge, which to my mind are the most important aspects of open education and which, of course, are also cornerstones of the Wikimedia movement.

Open Educational Resources (OER)

Owing to its contextual nature, open education encompasses many different things including open pedagogy, open textbooks, open assessment practices, open online courses, and open data, however open educational resources, or OER, are central to any understanding of this domain. And of course Wikipedia is frequently described as the world’s biggest open educational resource.

UNESCO define open educational resources as:

“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

Now there is actually some controversy regarding this wording of this definition, but I’m not going to go into that right now. The reason this definition is significant is that in November last year UNESCO made a formal commitment to actively support the global adoption of OER, when it approved its Recommendation on Open Educational Resources. This Recommendation builds on a series of earlier policy instruments including the 2012 Paris OER Declaration, and the 2017 Ljubljana OER Action Plan. To distinguish between these policy instruments, Declarations outline principles that UNESCO states wish to afford the broadest possible support to, while Recommendations have significantly greater authority and are intended to influence the development of national laws and practices. So the fact that we now have a new UNESCO Recommendation on OER is an important step forward.

Central to the new Recommendation, is the acknowledgement of the role that OER can play in achieving United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4. 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

  1. Building capacity of stakeholders to create, access, re-use, adapt and redistribute OER
  2. Developing supportive policy
  3. Encouraging effective, inclusive and equitable access to quality OER
  4. Nurturing the creation of sustainability models for OER
  5. 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.”

This echoes UNESCO Assistant Director for Education Qian Tang’s summing up at the end of the 2nd World OER Congress in Ljubljana in 2017 when he said that

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

How member states choose to action the UNESCO OER Recommendation, and what impact it will have globally, remains to be seen. However a coalition of organizations committed to promoting open education worldwide, including the Commonwealth of Learning, Creative Commons, SPARC and Open Education Global has been established to provide resources and services to support the implementation of the Recommendations.

Wikimedia Movement Strategy

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, and outline the processes required to enable Wikimedia to achieve its goal of becoming the essential infrastructure of the ecosystem of free knowledge by 2030. Over the past three years volunteers, staff, partners and other stakeholders from across the global Wikimedia community have been involved in an ambitious process to identify what the future of the movement should look like, and how we should get there. And although the process and mechanism for scoping the Movement Strategy could hardly be more different from the development and ratification of the formal UNESCO Recommendation, both are underpinned by common principles and seek to achieve broadly similar goals.  The movement strategy is still under development but it outlines 13 Recommendations to build a shared future and bring the Wikimedia movement’s vision to life.

I’m not going to go into all these Recommendations, you can find out more about them and how to contribute to the Movements Strategy process here, but it’s clear that they echo many of principals of the UNESCO OER Recommendation. Indeed Recommendation 10 Prioritize Topics for Impact, specifically acknowledges the need to address global challenges, such as those outlined in the Sustainable Development Goals, and there are many other areas of commonality with the global open education movement among the other Recommendations.

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.
Knowledge Equity and Structural Inequality – giving up space.

Structural Inequality in the Open Knowledge Landscape

And to my mind it is this commitment to knowledge equity that is key to both the open education and Wikimedia movements, because as we are all aware, the open knowledge landscape is not without its hierarchies, norms, gatekeepers and power structures.

Indeed the 2019 Progress update for Sustainable Development Goal 4 notes that while rapid technological changes present both opportunities and challenges, refocused efforts are needed to improve learning outcomes particularly for women, girls and marginalized people in vulnerable settings.

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, are the subject of targeted hostility and harassment. The Movement Strategy acknowledges these issues and highlights the importance of addressing them.

Recommendation 2; on Creating Cultural Change for Inclusive Communities notes that Wikimedia communities do not reflect the diversity of our global society, and that the alarming gender gap can be attributed to a number of causes, including lack of a safe environment, as evidenced by numerous cases of harassment. And Recommendation 5 on Ensuring Equity in Decision-Making notes that Wikimedia’s historical structures and processes reinforce the concentration of power around established participants and entities. Adding that inclusive growth and diversification requires a cultural change founded on more equitable processes and representative structures.

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

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

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

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 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.

And I think, to some extent, that is what the Wikimedia Movement strategy process and the UNESCO OER Recommendation are trying to achieve.

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. To this end the University supports both a Wikimedian in Residence and a central OER Service.

We’ve already heard about our successful Wikimedian in Residence programme so I want to turn our attention to our OER Service which was launched in 2015, round about the same time as our Residency, and both have worked closely together over the last five years.
OER Vision

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

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

This vision is backed up by an OER Policy, approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee, which encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience. The fact that this policy was approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee is significant as it places open education and OER squarely in the domain of teaching and learning. Both the University’s vision for OER and its support for our Wikimedian in Residence are the brainchild of Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal Online Learning and Director of Learning and Teaching Web Services, who many of you will know and who presented the keynote at the Wikimedia in Education Summit in Middlesex University two years ago. EUSA, the student union were also instrumental in encouraging the University to adopt an OER policy, and we continue to see student engagement and co-creation as being fundamental aspects of open education and open knowledge.

OER Service

Of course policy is nothing without support, and this is where the OER Service comes in. The service provides staff and students with advice and guidance on creating and using OER, and engaging with open education. We provide a one stop shop that provides access to OER produced by staff and students across the university, and we place openness at the centre of strategic technology initiatives by embedding digital skills training and support in institution wide programmes including lecture recording, academic blogging, MOOCs, and distance learning at scale.

Like our Wikimedian in Residence, the OER Service focuses on digital skills development and we run a wide range of digital skills workshops for staff and students on copyright literacy, open licencing, OER and playful engagement.

Copyright Debt

We see the development of copyright literacy skills as particularly important as it helps to mitigate a phenomenon that my colleague Melissa has referred to as copyright debt.  If you don’t get the licensing of educational content right first time round, it will cost you to fix it further down the line, and the cost and reputational risk to the university could be significant if copyright is breached. And this is one of the key value propositions for investing in strategic support for OER at the institutional level; we need to ensure that we have the right to use, adapt, and reuse the educational resources we have invested in. It’s very common to think of OER as primarily being of benefit to those outwith the institution, however open licenses help to ensure that we can continue to use and reuse the resources that we ourselves have created. Unless teaching and learning resources carry a clear and unambiguous licence statement, it is difficult to know whether and in what context they can be reused.

Online Learning: MOOCs and MicroMasters

Ensuring continued access to course materials is particularly important for our many online learners, whether they are among the 4,000 matriculated students enrolled on our online masters courses, or the 2.7 million learners who have signed up for the wide variety of MOOCs that we offer. Continued access to MOOC content can be particularly problematic as educational content often gets locked into commercial MOOC platforms, regardless of whether or not it is openly licensed, and some platforms are now time limiting access to content. Clearly this is not helpful for learners and, given how costly high-quality online resources are to produce, it also represents a poor return on investment for the University. In order to address this issue, the OER Service works closely with our MOOC production teams to ensure that all content can be released under open licence though our Open Media Bank channel on our media asset management platform Media Hopper Create. We now have over 500 MOOC videos which are available to re-use, covering topics as diverse as music theory, mental health, clinical psychology, astrobiology and the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle.

We’re also extending our commitment to providing open access to high quality online learning opportunities and widening access to our scholarship, by launching a new programme of MicroMasters in partnership with EdX. These micro credentials are flexible, open to all, and provide a stepping stone from open to formal accreditation. And if you cast your minds back to the EU report on Opening Up Education, you’ll remember that providing access routes between non-formal and formal education is one of the specific benefits of open education that it highlights.

Openness has informed our approach to these innovative new programmes at every step of that way: edX was chosen as a not for profit organisation built on an open source platform; the technology and policies that drive our new pedagogical approaches at scale, are open and shared; and in line with our OER policy, we’re building openness into the creation of all teaching materials. Our first MicroMasters in Predictive Analytics for Business Applications was launched in September, and course materials will be released under open licence shortly.

Co-Creation

As I mentioned earlier, at Edinburgh we believe that student engagement is fundamental to our institutional mission and our vision for OER and open knowledge. And arguably the best way to engage students is through co-creation, which to my mind, is one of the most powerful affordances of open education.

Put simply, co-creation can be described as student led collaborative initiatives, often developed with teachers or other bodies, that lead to the development of shared outputs. A key feature of co-creation is that it should be based on equal partnerships, and relationships that foster respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility.

And we’ve already seen plenty of examples of the benefits of co-creation in action through the inspiring Wikimedia in the Curriculum initiatives supported by Ewan, but we also have a number of open education and OER creation assignments running throughout the University.

One particularly inspiring example is the School of Geosciences Outreach and Engagement course which gives students the opportunity to develop their own science communication projects with schools, museums, outdoor centres and community groups, creating a wide range of reusable educational resources for science engagement and community outreach.  Each summer the OER Service employs Open Content Creation student interns, who take the materials created by the GeoScience students, make sure everything in those resources can be released under open license and then share them on TES Resources, so they could be found and reused by other teachers and learners.

OER creation assignments also form an integral part of the Digital Futures for Learning course which is part of our MSc in Digital Education. Commenting on this assignment course leader Jen Ross said

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

And these sentiments echo the experiences of many of the students who have participated in our Wikipedia in the Curriculum assignments.

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 what is particularly gratifying is that we often find that this inspires our staff and students to further knowledge activism. ♦ So for example this is Tomas Sanders, an undergraduate History student and one of our former Open Content Curation student interns, and who went on to run a successful Wikipedia editathon for Black History Month with the student History Society.

Talking about his experience of running the Black History Month Editathon, in an interview with Ewan, 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.”

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. And it’s through the common purpose of knowledge equity that we can harness the transformational potential of open knowledge and open education to make real steps towards achieve the aims of Sustainable Development Goal 4; ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all, while supporting social inclusion and enabling learners to become fully engaged radical digital citizens.

References

Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Cronin, C. (2017). Openness and Praxis: Exploring the Use of Open Educational Practices in Higher Education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(5). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v18i5.3096

Cybulska, D., (2019), Funding utopia when you’re already a free knowledge utopia, https://medium.com/a-funding-utopia/funding- utopia-when-youre-already-a-free-knowledge-utopia-8da9d8f12c3c

Dhalla, A., (2018). The Dangers of Being Open, https://medium.com/@amirad/the-dangers-of-being-open-b50b654fe77e

Emejulu, A. and McGregor, C., (2019). Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education, Critical Studies in Education, 60:1, 131-147, DOI: 10.1080/17508487.2016.1234494

Inamorato Dos Santos, A., Punie, Y., and Castaño Muñoz, J. (2016). Opening up Education: A Support Framework for Higher Education Institutions, European Commission Joint Research Centre, https://10.2791/293408

Lubicz-Nawrocka, T. (2018). Students as partners in learning and teaching: The benefits of co-creation of the curriculum. International Journal for Students As Partners, 2(1), 47-63.

Schuwer, R. (2019), UNESCO Recommendation on OER, https://www.robertschuwer.nl/?p=2812

UNESCO General Conference, (2019), Draft Recommendation on Open Educational Resources, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000370936

Wikimedia Movement Strategy, 2018 – 2020, https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Strategy/Wikimedia_movement/2018-20