Open Education Policy – blocked pipelines and infinite loops

Doesn’t time fly?  It’s almost a fortnight since I joined colleagues at what has now become an annual event in the Scottish education technology calendar; the ALT Scotland one day conference. One of the things I really like about this event is that it consistently brings together colleagues from all sectors of Scottish education to discuss issues relating to open education technology, policy and practice. The theme of this year’s event was Sharing Digital Practice and Policy in Scottish Education, and it was highly appropriate that it was hosted by Glasgow Caledonian University as they have just approved their new institutional OER policy.

Unfortunately I haven’t had the chance to put together a storify or write a full summary of the event, however thanks to Martin Hawksey’s fine audio visual skills you can view the entire livestream of the event on the ALT YouTube channel here: AM / PM.  I do want to pick up on one of the themes that emerged from several presentations though and that is the problem of blocked pipelines and infinite loops.

Infinite Loop II by Faruk Ateş, CC BY-NC 2.0

Infinite Loop II by Faruk Ateş, CC BY-NC 2.0

Marion Kelt, Senior Librarian: Digital Development and Information Literacy at GCU, was the first to raise this issue in her talk about the lengthy process of getting GCU’s Open Educational Resources policy approved by the university. At one stage this involved being referred to an institutional IPR policy that she eventually discovered did not actually exist! This is just one example the kind of infinite loop it’s very easy to get drawn into when trying to introduce new policy.  Often it’s unclear which management structures within the institution have the authority to ratify new policy, particularly if that policy has evolved from the ground up. The danger is that draft documents get endlessly stuck in limbo, waiting for approval that never comes. Thankfully Marion is nothing if not persistent and after going round these loops several times she was eventually successful in getting the policy approved. GCU’s Open Educational Resources Policy, which is based on the University of Leeds‘ OER policy, can be accessed here.

Joe Wilson, of the College Development Network, highlighted a similar infinite loop. When he was appointed as Chief Executive of CDN earlier this year, Joe made it his number one priority to encourage the FE sector to sign up to the principles of the Scottish Open Eduction Declaration, an initiative he has been involved with since its inception in 2013. Joe began by taking the relevant papers to the Committee of Regional Chairs, which is composed primarily of deputy principals of colleges.  They were broadly supportive but advised taking the Declaration to the Principals’ Forum. The Principals’ Forum were also very interested and keen to do something, but they in turn suggested that it was the Government’s responsibility to take a stance on open education.  Suffice to say, while there appears to be some interest in adopting open education principals and practice in the FE sector, there are still a  lot of blockages in the pipeline. As Joe said “we’re still at the stage of I’m not going to show you mine unless you show me yours”. However I’m quite sure that if anyone has the vision and determination to clear these blockages, it’s Joe.

Infinite Loop by Dave Walker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Infinite Loop by Dave Walker, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Which brings me on to my own infinite loop…Earlier this year the ALT Scotland SIG Committee brought the Scottish Open Education Declaration to the attention of Angela Constance, Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning.  We were pleased to receive the following positive and encouraging response from the Higher Education and Learner Support Division.

“The Open Education Declaration and its aim at implementing wider and more equitable access to education and to lead the way in Europe is a noble initiative with potential to enhance diversity as well as many of our key aims, including widening access to education through free access to high quality education and to redraw traditional boundaries between informal and formal learning.”

In addition to highlighting the role of the Open University’s Opening Educational Practices in Scotland Project, the response noted that

“SFC also funds Jisc which supports the development and use of Open Educational Resources through platforms, repositories, and projects.”

However Jisc’s recent announcement that it will be closing Jorum, the UK OER repository for higher and further education and the skills sector, and “refreshing” their approach to open educational resources, does rather beg question who, if anyone, is supporting open education in Scotland?

I have no immediate answers as to how we break out of these infinite loops and clear the blockages in policy pipelines.  Sometimes it’s a case of identifying exactly where the blockage lies, sometimes it’s more to do with identifying that one person who has both the vision, the authority and the determination to make a stand and take the decision to move things forwards.

There is one blockage I have been able to clear however.  During the meeting several colleagues asked how much longer the Scottish Open Education Declaration would be available only as a draft.  They explained that the Declaration’s draft status was preventing them from using the document to promote open education within their own institutions as the draft status meant that senior managers were unwilling to give it serious consideration.   As there have been no further comments on the Declaration since draft 0.2 was published towards the end of last year, the status of the document has now been updated from draft 0.2 to edition 1.0. Hopefully I’ll be publishing a short post on this update over at the Open Scotland blog shortly.

Retire and Refresh: Jisc, Jorum and Open Education

Jorum_logo_blueYesterday Jisc announced its intention to retire Jorum in September 2016 and “refresh its open educational resources offer”.   I’ve been involved with Jorum, in one capacity or another, since 2002 when Moira Massey and Sarah McConnell at EDINA, started drafting a proposal for a repository as part of the Jisc eXchange for Learning Programme (X4L), and I’ve also been a member of the Jorum Steering group since it was set up in 2005 to help guide Jorum through its transition to service phase.

I’ve seen Jorum develop through many iterations and technical incarnations and it’s been a long and interesting journey. There have been many stumbling blocks along the way, but we’ve seen real progress and have learned a great deal about the practicalities of education resource description, discovery and management. Both the education and technology landscapes have changed fundamentally since Jorum came into being thirteen years ago and it hasn’t always been easy for the service to adapt to those changes as quickly as the sector sometimes expected.  Despite these challenges, all members of the Jorum Team, both past and present, always remained fully committed to providing a useful service to the community and have shown huge dedication to supporting their users, so I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank every one of them for their efforts.

That said, I do have some concerns about Jisc’s continued involvement in the open education space.  As a result of the Jisc / HEA UKOER Programmes and it’s many precursors, Jisc developed an enviable international reputation for open education innovation.  The fact that there is still a lively and active community of practice around UKOER is testament to the success of the programmes in raising awareness of open education and starting to embed open education practice across higher education.  There’s sill a long way to go of  course, few institutions are actually creating open educational resources in any great volume, evidence of reuse is still slim, and we have so much more to learn about how teachers and learners find, share, and use educational resources.  There is also a danger that the open education community is singing to the choir rather than preaching to the masses.  (Obligatory religious metaphor; cf John Robertson)

University of Leeds Jorum Window

University of Leeds Jorum Window

However there does seem to be a resurgence of interest in sharing resources in both the further and higher education sectors over the last year.  HE institutions are starting to explore the potential value of developing open education policy and Glasgow Caledonian University recently became the first HEI in Scotland to approve an institutional OER policy, based incidentally on a University of Leeds policy originally created as part of the UKOER programme. GCU also plan to implement their shiny new policy through the creation of an institutional OER repository based on the University of Southampton’s EdShare platform.   Leeds are still actively supporting the sharing and discovery of open educational resources through their institutional Jorum Window, a valuable service provided by Jorum that other institutions were beginning to explore. The University of Edinburgh also has an ambitious vision for open education and intends to develop frameworks to enable staff to publish and share their teaching and learning materials as OER in order to enrich the University and the sector.  In addition, the OER Conferences, now supported by ALT, continue to go from strength to strength, despite many predicting their demise once the UKOER funding ran out.

There is also increasing interest in sharing resources in the further education sector, partly as a result of the FELTAG recommendations, the full impact of which have yet to be felt.  Following an ambitious programme of regionalisation in Scotland, colleges are starting to explore the potential of sharing resources within consortia.  This may not be the fully open sharing that many in the sector aspire to, but its a good start.  There is some way to go in the FE sector before the culture of competition transforms into a culture of cooperation and collaboration and this is where the support of organisations such as Jisc and the College Development Network is invaluable.

I’m not going to comment too much on the Jisc App and Content Store yet, as it’s clearly very early days and, as with any agile development, I expect it will go through many iterations before it sees the light of day.  However I will say that talk of customers and App Stores rather concerns me as it brings to mind commercial associations that sit rather uneasily with my conception of open education.

There is still a huge amount of open education knowledge and expertise within Jisc, not just within the Jorum team, but also across their account managers, subject specialists and senior co-design managers, and I sincerely hope that Jisc will build on the invaluable expertise of their own staff and colleagues across the sector to ensure that their new refreshed approach to open education really does meet the changing digital demands of the Further and Higher Education community.

All Change!

CetisA couple of weeks ago, along with many of my colleagues, my post with Cetis at the University of Bolton came to an end following an institutional review.  I’ve been working for Cetis in one capacity or another for fourteen years (!), since Charles Duncan and I kicked off the CETIS Educational Content SIG way back in 2001.  It’s been an eventful journey to say the least, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing people along the way.

edina_logo_2So what’s next on the cards?  Well, I’m delighted to say that I’ve added a new string to my bow; at the beginning of March I took up a new part-time post as Digital Education Manager with EDINA at the University of Edinburgh.  I’m very lucky to be job-sharing with Nicola Osborne, who was formerly EDINA’s Social Media Officer and whose work I’ve admired for a long time. Digital Education Manager is a new post at EDINA and I know that Nicola and I are both looking forward to developing new opportunities with colleagues within the university and further afield.

As I’m currently working with EDINA two days a week, I’m also available for projects and consultancy work and am looking forward to working in partnership with former Cetis colleagues and others.  In particular, I’m looking out for opportunities that will allow me to remain active in the open education space, so if I can be of any assistance, please do let me know!

oer16_logoI’ll also be continuing with many of my existing commitments to Open Scotland, the Open Policy Network, the ALT Scotland SIG, the Dublin Core Education and Outreach Committee and the Society for Nautical Research. And of course I’m also looking forward to co-chairing the OER16 Conference with Melissa Highton at the University of Edinburgh next year.

I’ll be updating my blog over the next couple of weeks to reflect these changes and to provide more information about the consultancy services I’ll be providing.  Onwards and upwards!

Open Silos? Open data and OER

“Open silos” might seem like a contradiction in terms, but this was one of the themes that emerged during last week’s  Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group call which focused on Open Data as Open Educational Resources. We heard from a number of initiatives including the Creating Value from Open Data project led by Universities UK and the Open Data Institute which is exploring how open data can support the student experience and bring about tangible benefits for UK higher education institutions, and Open Data as OER, led by Javiera Atenas and Leo Havemann, which is gathering case studies on the use of real world open data in educational contexts.

While the benefits of open data are widely recognised in relation to scientific and scholarly research, open data also has considerable value in the context of teaching and learning.  Many governments, non-governmental organisations and research centres are already producing large volumes of open data sets that have the potential to be used as open educational resources. Scenario based learning involving messy, real world data sets can help students to develop critical data literacy and analytical skills. And perhaps more importantly, as Javiera pointed out, working with real world open data  from real governments and communities doesn’t just help students to develop data literacy skills, it also helps to develop citizenship.

“It’s important to collaborate with local communities to work on real problems so that students can help their communities and society to improve social and political elements of their daily lives.”
~ Javiera Atenas

ETA Javiera and Leo collecting case studies about pedagogical uses of open data across the world.  If you have a case study you would like to add, you can join the project’s idea-space here: Open Data as Open Educational Resources idea-space.

Tim Coughlan of the Open University also spoke about his experience of using open data to teach introductory programming to undergraduates. Using open data introduces an invaluable element of realism and complexity as the data is flawed and inconsistent.  Students come up against challenges that it would be difficult to introduce artificially and, as a result, they learn to deal with the kind of problems they will encounter when they get real programming jobs.

Marieke Guy, co-ordinator of the Open Education Working Group, had a similar experience of learning to work with open data

“Authenticity is critical. You get a new level of understanding when you work with data and get your hands dirty.”
~Marieke Guy

Towards the end of the meeting there was an interesting discussion on the effect of Research Council mandates on open data and open education. Although open access, open education and open data have all made significant progress in recent years, there has been a tendency for these domains to progress in parallel with little sign of convergence. Research Council mandates may have had a positive impact on open access and open research data however the connection has yet to be made to open education and as a result we have ended up with “open silos”.  Indeed open access mandates may even have a negative impact on open education, as institutions focus their efforts and resources on meeting these requirements, rather than on getting their teaching and learning materials online and sharing open educational resources.  So while it’s great that institutions are now thinking about how they can link their open research data with open access scholarly works, we also need to focus some attention on linking open data to open education. There’s no simple solution to breaking down the barriers between these “open silos” but exploring the converging and competing cultures of open knowledge, open source, open content, open practice, open data and open access is just one of the themes we’ll be focusing on at the OER16 conference at the University of Edinburgh next year so I hope you’ll be able to come and join us.

Day of Digital Ideas 2015

Digital humanities is an area that I’ve been interested in for a long time but which I haven’t had much opportunity to engage with, so earlier this week I was really excited to be able to go along to the Digital Scholarship Day of Digital Ideas at the University of Edinburgh.  In the absence of my EDINA colleague Nicola Osborne and her fabulous live blogging skills, I live tweeted the event and archived tweets, links and references in a storify here: Digital Day of Ideas 2015.  I also created a TAGS archive of tweets using Martin Hawksey’s clever Twitter Archiving Google Spreadsheet.

The event featured three highly engaging keynotes from Ben Schmidt, Anouk Lang, and Ruth Ahnert, and six parallel workshops covering historical map applications and OpenLayers, corpus analysis with AntConc, data visualisations with D3, Drupal for beginners, JavaSCript basics and Python for humanities research.

Humanities Data Analysis

~ Ben Schmidt, Northeastern University

Ben explored the role of data analysis in humanities and explored the methodological and social challenges presented by humanities data analysis.  He began by suggesting that in many quarters data analysis for humanities is regarded as being on a par with “poetry for physics”.  Humanities data analysis can rase deep objections from some scholars, and seem inimical to the meaning of research.  However there are many humanistic ways of thinking about data that are intrinsic to the tradition of humanities. Serendipity is important to humanities research and there is a fear that digital research negates this, however it’s not difficult to engineer serendipity into cultural data analysis.

But what if borrowing techniques from other disciplines isn’t enough? Digital humanities needs its own approaches; it needs to use data natively and humanistically, as a source of criticism rather than to “prove” things. Humanities data analysis starts with the evidence, not with the hypothesis.  The data needs to tell stories about structures, rather than individual people.   Johanan Drucker argues that what we call “data” should really be called “capta”:

Capta is “taken” actively while data is assumed to be a “given” able to be recorded and observed. From this distinction, a world of differences arises. Humanistic inquiry acknowledges the situated, partial, and constitutive character of knowledge production, the recognition that knowledge is constructed, taken, not simply given as a natural representation of pre-existing fact.

Johanna Drucker on data vs. capta

Ben went on to illustrate these assertions with a number of examples of exploratory humanities data analyses including using ngrams to trace Google books collections, building visualisations of ship movements from digitised whaling logbooks, the Hathi Trust bookworm, and exposing gendered language in teachers reviews on Rate my Teacher.  (I’ve worked with ships musters and log books for a number of years as part of our Indefatigable 1797 project, I’ve long been a fan of Ben’s whaling log visualisations which are as beautiful as they are fascinating.)

Ships tracks in black, show the outlines of the continents and the predominant tracks on the trade winds. © Ben Schmidt

Ben concluded by introducing the analogy of Borges The Garden of Forking Paths and urged us to create data gardens and labyrinths for exploration and contemplation, and to provide tools that help us to interpret the world rather than to change it

Gaps, Cracks, Keys: Digital Methods for Modernist Studies

~ Anouk Lang, University of Edinburgh

Manifesto of Modernist Digital Humanities

Manifesto of Modernist Digital Humanities

Anouk explored the difficulties and opportunities facing scholars of twentieth-century literature and culture that result from the impact of copyright restrictions on the digitisation of texts and artefacts. Due to these restrictions many modern and contemporary texts are out of digital reach.  The LitLong project highlights gaps in modernist sources caused by copyright law.  However there are cracks  in the record where digital humanities can open up chinks in the data to let in light, and we can use this data as the key to open up interesting analytic possibilities.

During her presentation Anouk referenced the Manifesto of Modernist Digital Humanities, situating it in reference to the Blast Manifesto, Nathan Hensley’s Big Data is Coming for Your Books, and Underwood, Long and So’s Cents and Sensibility.

By way of example, Anouk demonstrated how network analysis can be used to explore biographical texts. Biographies are curated accounts of people’s lives constructed by human and social forces and aesthetic categories. There is no such thing as raw data in digital text analysis: all the choices about data are subjective. Redrawing network maps multiple times can highlight what is durable. For example network analysis of biographical texts can reveal the gendered marginality of writers’ wives.

In conclusion, Anouk argued that digital deconstruction can be regarded as a form of close reading, and questioned how we read graphical forms such as maps and network illustrations. How do network maps challenge established forms of knowledge? They force us to stand back and question what our data is and can help us to avoid the linearity of narrative.

Closing the Net: Letter Collections & Quantitative Network Analysis

~ Ruth Ahnert, Queen Mary University of London

Ruth’s closing keynote explored the nature of complex networks and the use of mathematical models to explore their underlying characteristics.  She also provided two fascinating examples of how social network analysis techniques can be used to analyse collections of early modern letters, a set of Protestant letters (1553 – 1558) and Tudor correspondence in State Papers Online,  to reconstruct the movement of people, objects, and ideas.   She also rather chillingly compared the Tudor court’s monitoring of conspiracies and interception of letters with the contemporary surveillance activities of the NSA.

Ruth Ahnart.  Picture by Kathy Simpson, @kilmunbooks

Ruth Ahnart. Picture by Kathy Simpson, @kilmunbooks.

Ruth introduced the concept of betweenness* – the connectors that are central to sustaining a network.  Networks are temporal, they change and evolve over time as they are put under pressure.  Mary I took out identifiable hubs in the Protestant network by executing imprisoned leaders, however despite removing these hubs, the networks survived because the sustainers survived, these are the people with high betweenness.  In order to fragment a network it is necessary to remove, not the hubs or edges, but the nodes with high betweenness.

Ruth went on to introduce Eigenvector centrality which can be used to measure the quality of people’s connections in a network, and she explored the curious betweenness centrality of Edward Courteney, 1st Earl of Devon (1527 – 1556). Courteney’s social capital is quantifiable; he was typical of a character with high Eigenvector centrality, who cuts across social groups and aligned himself with powerful nodes.

In conclusion, Ruth suggested that network analysis can be used to open archives, it doesn’t presume what you’re looking for, rather it can inspire close reading by revealing patterns previously unseen by traditional humanity research.

I was certainly hugely inspired by Ruth’s presentation.  I have some passing familiarity with the concepts of network analysis and betweenness centrality from the work of Martin Hawksey and Tony Hirst however this it the first time I have seen these techniques applied to historical data and the possibilities are endlessly inspiring.  One of the man aims of our Indefatigable 1797 research project is to reveal the social networks that bound together a small group of men who served on the frigate HMS Indefatigable during the French Revolutionary War.  Using traditional techniques we have pieced together these connections through an analysis of ships musters, Admiralty archives, contemporary press reports, personal letters and birth, marriage and death certificates.  We have already built up a picture of a complex and long-lived social network, but I now can’t help wondering whether a more nuanced picture of of that network might emerge through the application of social network analysis techniques.  Definitely something to think more about in the future!

Many thanks to Anouk Lang and the Digital Scholarship team for organising such a thought provoking, fun and engaging event.

* For an excellent explanation of the concept of betweeness, I can highly recommend reading Betweenness centrality – explained via twitter, featuring Tony Hirst and my former Cetis colleagues Sheila MacNeill, Wilbert Kraan, and Martin Hawksey.  It’s all about the genetically modified zombies you see…

OER16: Open Culture

Less than a month after the fabulous OER15 conference in Cardiff and we’re already thinking ahead to next year’s OER16 event which will be taking place in Scotland for the first time in the conference’s history.  The event will be held at the University of Edinburgh, an institution with along tradition of education innovation and  openness.  I’m delighted to have the opportunity to co-chair the conference along with Melissa Highton, Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services at the university.

We’re still in the process of working with ALT to finalise the date for the conference so please keep an eye on the conference holding page and hashtag #OER16 for announcements.

We’re also looking for open practitioners and like minded sorts from all sectors of education to join the conference committee and to help us shape the event. If you’d like to get involved you can sign up here: Join the OER16 Conference Committee.

The theme of OER16 is Open Culture in all its forms and the vision for the conference is to focus on the value proposition of embedding open culture in the context of institutional strategies for learning, teaching and research. Themes will include:

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

I’m also particularly keen to encourage colleagues from libraries, archives, museums, and the cultural heritage sector more widely, to get involved so we can learn from each others’ experiences of openness and start to break down barriers across these sectors.

I’ll be posting updates about OER16 here as planning progresses, so watch this space and please do sign up and get involved.

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