Openness and COVID-19

Back in October 2019 when I signed up to contribute a post to the Open Scotland blog, I chose April 2020 as ‘my month’ rather arbitrarily. Back then, I certainly did not foresee the current state of global affairs or the impact a global pandemic would be having on education and society beyond.

In just a few weeks, campus closures and remote working/learning have become the new norm for many. As a result, diverse communities of staff in universities and colleges are being forced to learn together (and no doubt painfully in some cases) how to confront serious existential challenges such as maintaining teaching and research activity during this period of upheaval.

Fundamentally, the COVID-19 pandemic is an awesome reminder of the interconnectedness of individuals, communities, social institutions and of our fragile relationship with the planet itself. It may seem trivial to look for positives in a global health crisis that is claiming thousands of lives each day. However, there is evidence that a spirit of cooperation and reciprocity is being rekindled at all levels of society. Within this context, the principles of open educational and the work of groups like Open Scotland are arguably more important, and more relevant, now than ever before. Open principles have already played key roles in assisting higher and further education institutions to respond to COVID-19.

When faced with the considerable challenge of digitalising teaching, assessment and feedback activities, for example, many turned to Open Educational Resources (OER) in the form of books, journal articles, wikis and blogs for inspiration, support and guidance. Moreover, many have drawn heavily on OER to populate these newly-digitalised modules. This is certainly the case for the module and programme design teams that my colleagues and I support at Strathclyde. Open Data and Open Hardware Projects (including, for example, the sharing of blueprints for emergency ventilators) have also formed part of the research and public health response, which many educational institutions are contributing to admirably.

Furthermore, statements such as the following words of Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Chair of the Russell Group on 27th March 2020, are being echoed by senior colleagues across the world:

“Now more than ever it is crucial that the higher education sector works together and harnesses our resources in support of the national response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

On March 20th 2020, an earlier JISC statement on access to content praised a number of providers of digital content and software for their implementation of open educational principles:

“[We] have seen publishers, aggregators and suppliers of digital content and software come forward in offering a range of solutions to help institutions maintain their teaching and research activity during this time of crisis […] providing open access to research in support of coronavirus/COVID-19 and putting in place access options that remove limitations on use and users.”

It is likely that, when the dust settles, many in higher and further education will owe a considerable debt of gratitude to those who have championed open education for many years, even if they may remain unacquainted with the wider project. Yet, despite the role played by OER in recent weeks, questions remain about the receptivity of the ‘warp and weft’ of the academic community to participate fully in open educational practices, both now and beyond the current COVID-19 crisis. Many of the concerns introduced in relation to notions of care, and the questions of privilege, justice, equity, power and sustainability that were introduced during the OER20 Conference, will demand attention long into the future.

Jean Baptiste Alphonse Karr once wrote ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ (the more things change the more they remain the same), and it will be interesting to observe how the spring of 2020 is remembered. As a decisive moment when a critical mass of educators and leaders in HE finally saw themselves as co-creators of an open society? Or as a period when many successfully leveraged others’ openness to their advantage?

As a member of this community, however, I believe that there are many reasons to be hopeful. The swift and widescale adoption of models of remote, distributed and online learning – however imperfect – mean that more and more academic staff are being forced to operate in an environment in which openness thrives naturally; the Web. Moreover, those who promote open education are also likely to be playing key roles in providing formal and informal peer support to colleagues who are at an earlier stage of their digital journey in teaching, research and knowledge exchange. In our actions and in our words, we can inculcate the idea that an open sharing of practice and resource is as much a part of online practice as, say, discussion forums and Trello boards.

If remote, distributed and online working and learning are indeed the ‘new norm’, let’s be upfront with our colleagues about the value of open educational principles in enabling FE and HEIs to perform what history is likely to record as one of the most significant and rapid transformations the education sector has ever witnessed since the turn of the year. Let’s encourage them to learn more about open education, and to participate in open practices, and to share our knowledge, experience, tools and resources for the benefit of all.

 

Dr Sean Afnán Morrissey (sean.morrissey@strath.ac.uk) is an Academic Developer at the University of Strathclyde. His current interests include technology-enhanced teaching, learning, assessment and feedback, peer-support networks, and inclusive approaches to module design. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Certified Member of the Association of Learning Technology.

Sean and his colleagues in the Organisational and Staff Development Unit have curated a bank of resources to support staff with the transition to remote and online working, including opportunities for training, resources and online support. A copy of the list can be accessed here: Curated Resource Bank.

OER16 Conference Submissions Open

oer16_logoThe OER16 Open Culture is now accepting submissions.  The conference, which is taking place in Scotland for the first time since it began in  2010, will take place at the University of Edinburgh on the 19th and 20th April 2016. The call for proposals was launched at the ALT Conference in Manchester at the beginning of September and the submissions site is now open.

Submissions are invited for presentations, lightning talks, posters, and panels and workshops on the themes of:

  • The strategic advantage of open, creating a culture of openness, and the reputational challenges of openwashing.
  • Converging and competing cultures of open knowledge, open source, open content, open practice, open data and open access.
  • Hacking, making and sharing.
  • Openness and public engagement.
  • Innovative approaches to opening up cultural heritage collections for education.

If you have any queries about the conference themes please contact conference co-chair Lorna M. Campbell at lorna.m.campbell@ed.ac.uk / lorna.m.campbell@icloud.com or on twitter @lornamcampbell. Any queries regarding the submission process should be directed to Anna Davidge at ALT, anna.davidge@alt.ac.uk.

Further information about the conference is available here oer16.oerconf.org and you can follow @oerconf and #oer16 on twitter. Look forward to seeing you in Edinburgh in the Spring!

 

Open Knowledge Foundation Glasgow Meetup #2

(Cross posted from Open World.)

Last night I went along to the second Open Knowledge Foundation Glasgow meetup.  The event took place in the Board Room of the CCA, which was rather more spacious than the Electron Club that kindly accommodated us last time.  We all got to sit on chairs rather than perch on tables, which made tweeting much easier!  Once again we had a wide range of fascinating lightning talks which generated a great deal of lively discussion.   I’ve posted a storify of the event here: open-knowledge-foundation-glasgow-2

Open Scotland  – Lorna M Campbell, Cetis

I had the pleasure of opening the meeting with a short talk about the Open Scotland initiative, led by Cetis, SQA, the Jisc RSC Scotland and the ALT Scotland SIG, which aims to raise awareness of open education and explore the potential of open policy and practice to benefit all sectors of Scottish education. The initiative hopes to build on existing open education developments to encourage the sharing of open educational resources and to embed open educational practice across Scottish education.  The Open Scotland blog provides a focal point to engage the community in discussion and debate, disseminate news and developments relating to all aspects of openness in education and to further the actions and deliverables discussed at the Open Scotland Summit held in Edinburgh in June.

grainneOpen Badges: What? How?  Why? – Grainne Hamilton, Jisc RSC Scotland

Grainne introduced the concept of open badges and outlined the work of the Open Badges in Scottish Education Group.   Open badges are data infused images that provide an online representation of skills earned.  Badges could provide an important link between informal and formal learning as they enable users to gain recognition for learning that happens anywhere.  The Open Badges in Scottish Education Group, which is supported by Jisc RSC Scotland, has set up three sub-groups focusing on Learner Progress, Technology and Design and Staff Development.

graemeWikimedia UK: Scottish Women on Wikimedia – Graeme Arnott

Only 15% of Wikipedia editors are women, so Wikmedia UK is taking positive steps to address the gender imbalance of editors and remove sexism and racism from posts.  Graeme spoke about a Wikimedia UK editathon run in conjunction with Glasgow Women’s Library.  The event hoped to expose the hidden history of women in Glasgow and provide a way for more women from the Library to engage wth technology.

JenniferThe Digital Commonwealth: digital storytelling and social media archiving – Jennifer Jones

Jennifer introduced the Lottery funded Digital Common Wealth project which aims to support creative community expression in response to the Commonwealth Games.  Digital Common Wealth has three strands: Community Media Clusters, Schools Programme and Creative Voices at UWS.   Developing digital literacies and creating and sharing data are key principals for Digital Common Wealth.  Stories shared by social media are rich source of data and Digital Common Wealth are working with the National Library of Scotland to archive the project’s outputs.

PippaFuture Cities Glasgow – Pippa Gardner

Pippa provided an update on the £24 million Glasgow Future Cities Demonstrator project. Last night the project’s Data Portal had 99 data sets, however this morning they tweeted that they had just added their 100th data set from the Celtic Connections Festival.  The project used the Open Data Handbook to prioritise themes, however some of their data sets are more open than others, depending on their original licences. Where possible Glasgow will make data open by default.  Engagement hubs and links to digital inclusion initiatives are part of the project’s approach and the team will also be running hackathons in the new year.

DuncanOpen Architecture – Duncan Bain

Duncan highlighted some very interesting approaches to open architecture including Wikihouse, which aims to democratise the process of construction, Terrafab which allows you to download and print 3D models of Norwegian terrain maps, and Terrainator, a similar UK based on OS open data.  Duncan’s talk provoked a fascinating debate on lack of openness in architecture education practice, and why architecture has not embraced openness in a similar way that software development has.

bobOpen Street Map  – Bob Kerr

Presented an impromptu overview of the very cool work of the Open Street Map initiative and pointed us to the LearnOSM step by step guide.  Bob highlighted some amazing examples of open street mapping at work, including the humanitarian effort to map Haiti after the earthquake and Map Kibera, a project that mapped the Kenyan shanty town of Kibera revealing the extent of the community and bringing it to life.  Bob’s talk generated a really interesting discussion on the political and social importance of maps.  Duncan pointed out that traditionally the people who have the power have the maps, however initiatives like Open Street Map is changing that.

This meeting was organised by Graham Steel, Graeme Arnott and Ewan Klein with a little input from Sheila MacNeil and I. The event was streamed by Jennifer Jones.

Open Glasgow Data Sets

Open Glasgow, part of the Future City Glasgow project funded by the UK Government’s Technology Strategy Board, has now released 82 84 open data sets covering many aspects of city data. The data sets, which cover a wide range of domains including transportation, environment, health, demographics and education, can be downloaded from a public data platform, http://data.glasgow.gov.uk, where users can search for data sets based on submitting organisation, group, tag, format or license. The individual data sets are available in a wide range of different formats, and while I’d quibble whether pdf data can really be regarded as “open” in any sense of the word, many of the data sets are available in more open formats. The vast majority of the data sets are licensed under the UK Open Government Licence, though some use other licences including the Glasgow Open Government Licence, the Open Data Commons Attribution Licence and Creative Commons licences.

At present there is only one data set relating specifically to the education domain, colleges and universities funded by the Scottish Funding Council, but with the Open Glasgow team encouraging other public, private, academic and voluntary organisations to open and share their data via the platform, I hope that we will see more open data sets relating to Scottish education in the not to distant future.

Glasgow Open Data Platform

Glasgow Open Data Platform