The end of Open Educational Practices in Scotland

On Monday I was at Our Dynamic Earth, by the Holyrood Parliament in Edinburgh, for a day meeting on the Promise of Open Education. This was the final event of the Open Educational Practices in Scotland project (OEPS), which (according to the evaluation report):

involved five universities in leading a project based in the Open University in Scotland. Its aims were to facilitate best practice in open education in Scotland, and to enhance capacity for developing publicly available online materials across the tertiary education sector in Scotland. The project particularly focused on fostering the use of open educational practices to build capacity and promote widening participation.


There have always been questions about this project, notably the funnelling of money to the OU without any sign of an open bidding process, but at least it was there. With the OEPS finishing, two things caught my attention: how do we get political support for open education, and what open educational practice is current in Scotland. To paraphrase Orwell: if there is hope, it lies in the grass roots [hmm, that didn’t end well for Winston].

Open Education in Policy

Good places to start looking for current practice at both policy and operational levels are the ALT-Scotland SIG and Scottish Open Education Declaration. There are strong links between the two: key members of ALT-Scotland (notably Lorna M Campbell and Joe Wilson) are involved in developing and promoting Scottish Open Education Declaration; and OEPS also supported some of this work. The Scottish Open Education Declaration and ALT-Scotland have been successful in supporting policy in Scottish HE around open education, and beyond, but it would be nice if this success were recognised and supported from outside of the Open Education community.

It seems you only get recognised at a political level if you claim to be able solve big problems: local and global inequalities, widening educational participation. Anyone who says Open Education will solve these inequalities is a charlatan, anyone who believes them is gullible. As Pete Cannell of OEPS said, open as in licensing content is not the whole answer (to widening participation) but it is important part of answer.

Open Education in Practice

More hopefully, there is a lot happening at grass roots level that is easy to overlook. Edinburgh University are leading the way,  with central support and a vision. As I saw, they are producing some fine OERs created by student interns.

A similar model for production is being used in my old workplace of Computer Science at Heriot-Watt University, but with less by way of strategic support. A small team of content interns, working under Lisa Scott, have been using open tools (WordPress, H5P, Lumen5) to create learning resources for the new Graduate Level Apprenticeship programme in Software Development. The actual course is closed, delivered in BlackBoard, but the resources are openly licensed and available to all (this not only allows the team to use CC:SA resources in their creation but saves the hassle of setting up access management to the collection).

Like Edinburgh, Glasgow Caledonian University has a policy for OER and a repository replete with resources, but the examples I found seemed locked for local use only. That’s not a criticism (and I may just have been unlucky in what I tried to view) because the important thing is that here is an example of open supporting the work of one of our Universities.

In Dundee, Natalie Lafferty runs a student selected component of the medical course on The Doctor as Digital Teacher for which students create a learning resource. Here’s an example of an iBook created by one student using original and openly licensed resources, and an account of its creation.

There are probably other examples from Scottish F&HE that I don’t know or have forgotten (sorry about that–but do use the comment box below to remedy this), but one of the key messages from the Promise of Open Education meeting was that Open Educational Practice is not just about Universities giving access to resources they create, valuable as that is.  There were great examples presented at the conference of OEPS working with Dyslexia Uk and Education Scotland, and working with Parkinson’s UK. And in the final discussion Lorna Campbell did a great job of highlighting the variety of open educational practice in Scotland, from Scotland’s three Wikimedians in residence and networks such as Girl Geek Scotland. And that really is just the tip of the iceberg.

The end?

So, in conclusion, this was not the end of open educational practices in Scotland. The future lies not just in continuing the legacy of one project, but in the ongoing efforts of a great diversity of effort. But you know what, it would be really nice if those efforts got the recognition and support from national policy makers.

[Acknowledgement: the feature image for this post, which you may see in Tweets etc,  is the conference pack for OEPS Promise of Open Education. Courtesy of OEPS project.]

Wikidata driven timeline

I have been to a couple of wikidata workshops recently, both involving Ewan McAndrew; between which I read Christine de Pizan‘s Book of the City of Ladies(*). Christine de Pizan is described as one of the first women in Europe to earn her living as a writer, which made me wonder what other female writers were around at that time (e.g. Julian of Norwich and, err…). So, at the second of these workshops, I took advantage of Ewan’s expertise, and the additional bonus of Navino Evans cofounder of Histropedia  also being there, to create a timeline of medieval European female writers.  (By the way, it’s interesting to compare this to Asian female writers–I was interested in Christina de Pizan and wanted to see how she fitted in with others who might have influenced her or attitudes to her, and so didn’t think that Chinese and Japanese writers fitted into the same timeline.)

Histropedia timeline of medieval female authors (click on image to go to interactive version)

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BTL Surpass for online assessment in Computer Science

Over the last couple of years I have been leading the introduction of BTL’s Surpass online assessment platform for  exams in Computer Science. I posted the requirements for an online exam system we agreed on a few months ago. I have now written up an evaluation case study: Use of BTL Surpass for online exams in Computer Science, an LTDI report (local copy). TL;DR: nothing is perfect, but Surpass did what we hoped, and it is planned to continue & expand its use.

My colleagues Hans-Wofgang has also presented on our experiences of “Enhancing the Learning Experience on Programming-focused Courses via Electronic Assessment Tools” at the Trends in Functional Programming in Education Conference, Canterbury, 19-21. This paper includes work by Sanusi Usman on using Surpass for formative assessment.

A question for online exams in computer science showing few lines of JAVA code with gaps for the student to complete.
A fill the blanks style question for online exams in computer coding. (Not from a real exam!)

Quick notes: Naomi Korn on copyright and educational resources

I gate-crashed a lecture on copyright that Naomi Korn gave at Edinburgh University. I’ve had an interest in copyright for as long as I have been working with open access and open educational resources, about ten years. I think I understand the basic concepts pretty well, but even so Naomi managed to catch a couple of misconceptions I held and also crystallised some ideas with well chosen examples.

hand drawn copyright symbol and word 'copyright' in cursive script.

First, quick intro to Naomi. Naomi is a copyright consultant (but not a lawyer). I first met her through her work for UKOER, which I really liked because she gave us pragmatic advice that helped us release resources openly not just list of all the things we couldn’t do. Through that and other work Naomi & colleagues have created a set of really useful resources on copyright for OER (which are themselves openly licensed).

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An ending, and a beginning

On 30 June 2017 I will be leaving my current employment at Heriot-Watt University. I aim to continue to support the use of technology to enhance learning as an independent consultant.

I first joined Heriot-Watt’s Institute for Computer Based Learning in 1996 on a six month secondment. I was impressed that ICBL was part of a large, well-supported Learning Technology Centre–which was acknowledged at that time as one of the leading centres for the use of technology in teaching and learning. You can get a sense of the scope of the LTC by looking at the staff list from around that time. Working with, and learning from, colleagues with this common interest was hugely appealing to me; so when I had the opportunity I re-joined ICBL in 1997, and this time I stayed.

In my time at Heriot-Watt I have been fortunate beyond belief to collaborate with people in ICBL and through work such as the Engineering Subject Centre (and other subject centres of the LTSN and then HE Academy), EEVL, Cetis and many Jisc projects. But things change. The LTC was dismantled. A reduced ICBL moved to be a part of the Computer part of the School of Mathematics and Computer Sciences (MACS). Funding became difficult, and while I greatly appreciate the huge effort made by several individuals which kept me in continuous employment, like many in similar roles I frequently felt my position was precarious.  I really enjoyed teaching Computer Science and Information Systems students, and I worked with some great people in MACS, but the work became more internally focused, isolated from current developments…not what I had joined ICBL for.

What next?

When Heriot-Watt announced that it planned to offer staff voluntary severance terms, I applied and was happy to be accepted. My professional interests remain the same: supporting the selection and use appropriate learning resources; supporting the management and dissemination of learning resources; open education; sharing and learning. I do this through work on resource description, course description, OER platforms, I use specific technologies like, LRMI and wordpress. I intend to continue working in these areas, as an independent consultant and with colleagues in Cetis LLP. Contact me if you think I can help you.

Photograph of a person up a flight of stairs into the open. by flickr user Allen, licensed CC:BY.
Exit, by Allen ( Licence CC:BY. Click image for original.

CMALT – Another open portfolio

I’ve finally made a start on drafting my CMALT Portfolio (and so has Lorna,* we’re writing buddies), and in the interests of open practice I’m going to attempt to write the whole thing as an open Google doc before moving it here on my blog.  I have a shared folder on Google Drive, Phil’s CMALT, where I’ll be building up my portfolio over the coming weeks.  I’ve made a start drafting the first two Core Areas:  Operational Issues and Learning Teaching and Assessment, I’ll be adding more sections shortly, I hope. I’d love to have some feedback on  my portfolio so if you’ve got any thoughts, comments or guidance I’d be very grateful indeed.  I’d also be very interested to know if anyone else has created their portfolio as an exercise in open practice, and if so, how they found the experience.

Wish me luck!

An open door and the word Openness, in ALT branding.
CC BY @BryanMMathers for ALT

*Credit: This post is totally copied from Lorna’s post, with slight adaptation, under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License she used.

More importantly, she let me copy her idea as well. That’s open practice which can’t be formally licensed, though I know that she is cool with it.

Thoughts on Support for Technology Enhanced Learning in HE

I was asked to put forward my thoughts on how I thought the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning should be supported where I work. I work in a UK University that has campuses overseas, and which is organised into Schools (Computer Science is in a School with Maths, to form one of the smaller schools). This was my first round brain dump on the matter. It looks like something might come of it, so I’m posting it here asking for comments. Continue reading

Flying cars, digital literacy and the zone of possibility

Where’s my flying car? I was promised one in countless SF films from Metropolis through to Fifth Element. Well, they exist.  Thirty seconds on the search engine of your choice will find you a dozen of so working prototypes (here’s a YouTube video with five).

A fine and upright gentle man flying in a small helicopter like vehicle.
Jess Dixon’s flying automobile c. 1940. Public Domain, held by State Library and Archives of Florida, via Flickr.

They have existed for some time.  Come to think about it, the driving around on the road bit isn’t really the point. I mean, why would you drive when you could fly. I guess a small helicopter and somewhere to park would do.

So it’s not lack of technology that’s stopping me from flying to work. What’s more of an issue (apart from cost and environmental damage) is that flying is difficult. The slightest problem like an engine stall or bump with another vehicle tends to be fatal. So the reason I don’t fly to work is largely down to me not having learnt how to fly. Continue reading