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.
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.
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.
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.