Reflections on “Universities and post pandemic digital praxis: critically reframing education and the curriculum” webinar

NB This is a co-authored post by Keith Smyth, Bill Johnston and myself.

Last September, we contributed a blog post to the Special Collection organised by Post-Pandemic University to celebrate the centenary of Paulo Freire’s birth (Johnston, MacNeill and Smyth, 2021). Our post set out to contemplate how Freire’s ideas, including his critical perspectives on technology, marginalisation and empowerment, resonated with the state of education during the pandemic responses of 2020 and the on-going disturbances of 2021/22. 

Our post, and the ideas explored within it, were an extension of our ongoing research, scholarship, and reflexive dialogue concerning the purpose of higher education, and the place of critical digital education practice and praxis, as captured in our book ‘Conceptualising the Digital University’ (Johnston, MacNeill and Smyth, 2019). While our book was written prior to the pandemic, we were interested in using our post for the Post-Pandemic University collection to consider how a Frierian lens could be applied to reading the pandemic, and to consider the extent to which key aspects of our own thinking about ‘the digital university’ were applicable in the context of education within the pandemic.

We were encouraged that there was also a resonation with the thinking of others, when after the publication of our blog post we were invited to present at the Warwick International Higher Education Academy to lead an online seminar to share more of our thoughts on Freire, dimension of digitally enabled education, and universities within and beyond the pandemic. 

Our seminar was titled ‘Universities and post pandemic digital praxis: critically reframing education and the curriculum’, and we were pleased to be joined for it by educational practitioners and researchers from a range of roles and institutions across the sector. 

We framed our seminar, as we framed much of our own work, against Freire’s ideas as put forth in ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ (1970) and particularly ‘Education for Critical Consciousness’ (1974). Against this backdrop, and within the overall themes we set to explore in the seminar, the seminar provided us with an opportunity to revisit the models we had created for our book exploring the concept of the digital university. This included our ‘Conceptual Matrix’ for the digital university, and our model of the Digitally Distributed Curriculum’, both of which we developed as a response to critically reframing higher education and digital education praxis against neoliberalist practices and structures.

Given the rapid shift to fully online delivery of learning and teaching, and the challenges and inequities in the organisation of and access to education revealed through the pandemic, we sought to question whether our models remained relevant. We believe they do.

Conceptual Matrix for the Digital University (original form)

Of course the context has changed, but we think our original ‘Conceptual Matrix for the Digital University’ (developed in 2012) does still work in articulating the various dimensions of practice and permeations of space within which digital educational practice and digital spaces for engagement can be framed. Over the past 2 years, the ‘Digital Participation Quadrant’ of the original matrix has come sharply into focus. While we are still grappling with the question posed by Collini (2017) around what universities are for, in order for us all to work out what we actually need to do, our ‘Revised Conceptual Matrix for the Digital University’ (produced for our book) offers a further refinement of our thinking, and of where academic development and organisational development need to intersect.

Revised Conceptual Matrix for the Digital University (Johnston, MacNeill, Smyth, 2019)

During the seminar, after exploring the above, we undertook two activities to support participant dialogue around the changes to the delivery and support of learning and teaching they had undertaken and experienced in their own responses to the pandemic. The first activity was more of a reflection on what they had done (or had been done to them!), what worked, what didn’t and more importantly what they now want to develop moving forward.

Using a padlet wall we used five categories (‘the shredder’, ‘the shop window’, ‘the greenhouse’, ‘the pantry’, and ‘the museum’) to capture participants’ experiences. In summarising what was sharded back, there were some key themes that emerged. One was the recognition that in the beginning of the pandemic, there was a proliferation of responses and interventions that while well intended, perhaps resulted in “throwing everything at [our] students”, leading to confusion and cognitive overload for students around where, when and how to use different online spaces and tools. Variations on what are broadly being referred to as ‘hyflex’ approaches were also highlighted, with a preference from students for engaging in either one mode or the other. Conversely hyflex was also highlighted as an area that was “in the greenhouse” developing, but with related issues of staff workload, student expectations, cognitive overload all being highlighted as areas to explore.

Developing communities of practice, the use of collaborative tools such as padlet, and more purposeful approaches to technology were also highlighted as now being core elements of practice. So too was the continued development of online staff development opportunities. It was felt vital that our institutions and the wider sector develop ways for staff to appreciate the online experience from a student/participant perspective. And, if hyflex approaches are going to be developed, that meaningful opportunities are given to staff to allow them to experience a hyflex approach to then develop their approaches to it within their own disciplinary context, and so that there is an experiential evidence base to how staff are engaging and supporting their own students..

The other model we developed in our book which we explored in the seminar is that of the Digitally Distributed Curriculum. We conceived this model as a way to reconceptualise the purpose, activities and location of the curriculum in the context of higher education as a public good, and of extending engagement in how the curriculum is enacted through digitally-enabled and open practices. The model us focused around the values of praxis, public pedagogy and participation, linked to ‘enabling dimensions’ and then the pedagogic approaches, interventions and actions that enact the digitally distributed curriculum.

Digitally Distributed Curriculum (Johnston, MacNeill, Smyth, 2019)

In our piece for the Post-Pandemic University, and through our activities in the seminar, we feel that our take on the Digitally Distributed Curriculum does still have relevance, perhaps increasingly so post-pandemic. Within the seminar, we undertook an activity to explore an instantiation of the model using three of the aforementioned ‘enabling dimensions’ of the model, namely coolocation (which we reframed as ‘co/dis-location’ in recognition of the dislocation caused during lockdown), co-production, and porosity.

In terms of co-location, our discussions in the seminar concerned how everyone was dislocated from the physical campus and experienced the challenges of working and studying from home. These were particularly acute in the first lockdown, when it created pressures on space as well as access to technology and digital connectivity. On the other hand, this forced dislocation also brought about an enrichment of the digital landscape (for those who could access it). Suddenly systems that were not much used before had to be used by everyone. Other systems (hello Zoom) also came to the fore.

There was a consensus that there was a huge level of activity focused around the co-production of resources, for and with students as well as for staff development. There was a renewed and extended focus on accessibility and flexibility. Pedagogical approaches had to be adapted and people had to try, adapt, and further refine new approaches. The internal narratives around learning and teaching were also felt to have changed, and are changing still as we seek to learn from the challenges of the pandemic while retaining and building upon the increased opportunity to engage, and to engage flexibly and more fluidly, in learning and teaching that were created in the response to the pandemic.. However, as we pointed out, the dominant political narrative around “proper university learning” does still seem to be firmly entrenched in the ‘on-campus’, in the lecture theatre, on the importance of the lecture and what we might recognise as traditional ‘one-to-many’ teaching. Or what Paulo Freire himself described and would recognise as ‘the banking’ delivery method.

In terms of porosity, our explorations in the seminar led us to that there was an increased awareness and use of more open or ‘openly’ approaches. Many individuals, institutions and organisations mobilised to share guidance, examples and educational resources that would support the collective response to the pandemic (for example ALT, and OneHE). Publishers even opened up resources. But, in true beware of Greeks bearing gifts fashion, some publishers of academic material and educational development resources only allowed materials to be openly available for a relatively short period of time. How to sustain and pay for access to resources, tools and technologies that were made openly available, or that budget was found to allow greater access to, is a question that many universities are still grappling with. More positively, developing a richer range of digitally-enabled assessment was felt to have allowed more ‘open approaches’ to assessment that afforded students the opportunity to create, share and keep some of their work in digital formats, and had enabled us to move further towards aspects of the Digitally Distributed Curriculum model that relate to the curriculum supported the development of digital artefacts that can openly share knowledge of value beyond the university, and to students as digital scholars.

Moving forward, what does this all mean? How can we develop approaches to learning and teaching post-pandemic that, as one colleague asked, are “adequate for out time”? How can we create meaningful space and time for staff and students to reflect, convalesce and grow? Learning to live with Covid, and of the ongoing challenges of the pandemic is, as we are all experiencing right now, complex and challenging. Fluctuation infection rates necessitate the continued need for flexibility of access to and within education, and for continued structures of care across society for those at high risk. There is no ‘normal’ to go back to, but there may be a new way to reconfigure education post-pandemic. We feel there is, and our seminar concluded with optimism that this may just be possible.

Thank you once again to Warwick International Higher Education Academy for the invitation to offer our seminar, and to all those who took time out to participate. WIHEA have made our slides and a recording of the seminar available online.  

References

Collini, S. (2017). Speaking of Universities. London: Verso.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Freire, P. (1974). Education for Critical Consciousness. London: Continuum.

Johnston, B. MacNeill, S. and Smyth, K. (2019). Conceptualising the Digital University: intersecting policy, pedagogy and practice.  Palgrave.

Johnston, B., MacNeill, S. and Smyth, K. (2021). Paulo Freire, University Education and Post Pandemic Digital Praxis: https://postpandemicuniversity.net/2021/11/09/paulo-freire-university-education-and-post-pandemic-digital-praxis/

#OERxDomains21: Just what does it means to be open?

In the final keynote of the #OERxDomains21 conference, Rajiv Jhangiani asked what does it mean to be open?  After 2 days of sharing, caring, questioning, laughing, at times crying, it was timely reminder that “open” is a multifaceted concept and the practice(s) of open education manifests itself in many ways, and is deeply contextual.  Open educational practice, is as Catherine Cronin so beautifully put it back in 2017a constantly negotiated process.”

As with all conferences (and all other delegates) I had to negotiate and navigate my way through the conference programme and online spaces over the 2 days. I have to confess that at the conference committee meetings when Jim Groom was explaining the broadcast concept of the conference, I didn’t quite get it. But I had faith that it would all be OK.  I just didn’t realise how OK it would actually turn out to be. 

Online conferences are different from face to face, it is harder to connect, to get that “conference buzz”.  I thought ALT did an amazing job last year in extremely rapidly pulling  together the online version of OER20. However this year, the conference platforms were at another level. The combination of Streamyard, Youtube, and Dischord worked  really well. I’m sure I missed a lot of the functionality of Dischord, but I managed! And I did get a real sense of live, hallway chats.

So congratulations to the Reclaim team and ALT for realising an almost seemless online  experience.  I have never chaired a session with an online “producer” before. Having someone dealing with countdowns, pulling in questions from the youtube chat was amazing. I have to say I kind of never want to not have one again!  The way that the “backstage” area for all presentations worked was amazing, and I’m sure some will be share in more detail elsewhere.

Of course any conference is not just about the location. What makes any conference work is its community. It’s what we,  the people,  do in the spaces (online or physical) that makes the difference. People not technology make conferences work. I think it’s fair to say that there is quite a core OER community and quite a bit of crossover between it and the Domains community.  The community aspect of the conference is one of the reasons I keep paying to go to OER conferences. It’s a vital part of my CPD – I don’t have any office buddies to talk to everyday. As we all know, open isn’t free and this is one dose of openness I am more than willing to pay to support. It’s a bit like an extended family reunion.  But we can’t let ourselves become a complacent, clique. We always need to ensure we are welcoming new people to the fold.

This year, there was a very necessary and needed focus on care. It’s been quite a year. People are tired, and need the support that a conference can provide such as sharing different approaches to open pedagogies of care, of social justice.  Brenna Clarke Gray talked about the “tricky truth about care” and the way (institutional) structures are actually indifferent. Where are the structural changes to institutional systems that are truly based on care?  Weekly wellness emails don’t really cut it and don’t deal with the moral stress that so many staff are dealing with.  Developing resilience is a sign of institutional, structural failure not personal failure. I really can’t recommend watching the recording of Brenna’s session enough.

Of course structural change is hard,  but if we can’t take the time to change things now after a global pandemic then when can we? I do have a sense that in HE  we are moving into a future that is being driven by narratives that aren’t based on the contextual realities of learning and teaching right now but more on neoliberal views ofwhat education should be and rosy tinted views of “getting back normal.”

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of phrases like Education 4.0 but I was intrigued by a session called University V is alive! Now open to the cruel and the dead, from Eamon Costello and Prajakta Girme. After finishing day 1 with the marvelous remixed and bingo infused keynote from Laura Gibbs, this was a stark contrast.  Whilst Laura shared a wonderful set of student created stories, Eamon and Prajakta  used a speculative fiction approach to present an unsettling, dystopian view of the open day for  University V,  34 years from now. Kudos to Eammon for his delivery, use of music and mix of visual artefacts and effects to create an unsettling start to day 2. We began to understand how every entrant to University V was indeed a number related to all family numbers and their behaviours that related to points, and value. There were intriguing clues as to who Professor A might be, how she(?) had changed her name to get “to the top”. As Eammon pointed out in the the Q&A the truth is really stranger than fiction, and we don’t have to go to far to discover what others might think only happens in fiction is actually happening in real life.

This came starkly to mind during Jasmine Robert’s powerful keynote. Jasmine’s honesty about her own trauma in the context of the reality of the the Derek Chauvin murder trial was a stark reminder of structures of oppression and who still controls the dominant media narratives. It’s not a huge jump at all to see Professor A as a person from a black, ethnic minority background who has manage to game and play the system to get to the top and protect her/him/they? (because we don’t really know Prof A’s gender) anonymity. The narrative of University V might be very different if it were written using non global north images and based on an alternative historical perspective.

Social justice was a critical theme across the conference, and both Jasmine and Rajiv highlighted it in their keynotes. Both stressed the need for us to let the under-represented voices be included, to support open pedagogies rooted in care and love. Part of that care is to recognise that not everything can or should be open. We need to create safe spaces for our students to have critical conversations, to help them develop their own voices, introduce them to a range of sources – not just “the white men”, and then give them the choice of where, how and when they want to put themselves in the open (as Laura’s keynote illustrated).

As ever it’s so hard to condense a conference experience into a blog post. From the opening plenary discussion keynote, where all the speakers rooted the conference in our current reality, OER x Domains 21 was, for me a very timely and necessary experience. Timely as it’s a year into the pandemic and teaching remotely, necessary as we all need to have space to get together, to share our stories, to learn from each other, to show our support and care for each other in a different space.

For me the overriding sense was of community, of care, of open humaneness (thank you Tutaleni Asino) of focusing on what really matters “we are teaching students not content” as Jasmine Roberts reminded us ; we are not humans “doing”, we are humans “being” said Glasgow College Student President Nicolas Garcia, in the opening plenary keynote . We might still be figuring out just how we can “be” in these still unsettling times, but open education, social justice and care are all great navigation points for this journey.

Many thanks to all the co-chairs, the organising committee, ALT and Reclaim staff , keynotes, presenters and participants alike for creating another great conference. Yes, collectively we all indeed did “do it again”. And it’s not over yet! There are workshops next week so do check them out. I’m delighted to be part of one around the potential future for BYOD4L. Wendy Taleo and Sarah Honeychurch invited everyone to contribute to an open zine in their Collective Hope short recording session. So here’s a little montage of some of my visual highlights.

Guest post for #OERxDomains21 : Being in the OER x Domains Space

As part of the build up to the OERxDomains21 conference next week, members of the conference committee have been writing a series of guest blog posts. My post has just been published and you can read it over on the conference blog here.

In the post I share some of my thoughts about time and conferences. Why it’s hard to find time to “conference” (particularly during lock-down), why it’s important to find the time to “conference” and a little secret about some of my best times at conferences.

Supporting an open covid pledge for education

One of the positive aspects of the whole covid-19, lockdown experience has been the refocus on care – care for ourselves, our families,our community, our learners, our colleagues. This manifestation of what I would describe as open educational practice is exemplified in the ALT community resources page which is an ever growing, international resource bank of practice sharing.

Today I am delighted to see the launch of a new initiative ( the brain child of Helen Beetham) to try and ensure that this open sharing of practice, research and data continues. This is what this initiative is all about, and I can’t really put it better than this from today’s ALT announcement.

we need more than shared content: we also need credible evidence on which to base day-to-day decisions in practice and policy. We need urgent research into the experiences of teachers and learners. We need shared know-how, especially from experienced online and distance educators and learning technology specialists. (This summer has seen a generous flowering of blog posts, webinars, infographics and how-to courses – but more will be needed as the ‘new normal’ takes root.) Education globally faces many challenges, not only for the people who work and learn in the sector but for whole organisations and modes of learning. Societies depend on education to improve lives, widen economic participation, and support civic life. Education will be critical to the long-term response to the pandemic crisis.”

So please, if you, your colleagues, your institution is/has/is planning to conduct any relevant research, do join the many individual and organisations who have already signed up, and sign the pledge and help everyone in the education sector and beyond focus on cooperation, not competition so we can all really build a better, research informed, future.

You can find out more and sign the pledge here.

My #OER20 bowl of soup

One of the main visual icons for the OER20 conference was a can of soup. It’s a really clever visual metaphor which encapsulates the theme of the conference – care in openness.

What could be more caring than a  lovingly made bowl of warming soup? Chicken soup for the soul etc.  However, the image of a can of soup also brings connotations of industrial scale production, commodification, mass consumption, our (global North)  throw away everyone gets their 15 minutes of fame, disposable culture.  As conference co-chair Mia Zamora highlighted, the image of the can of soup neatly encapsulates many of the challenges around open education, and in particular care in education, research and related practice.

Now, I have to say I hadn’t really thought of soup in this way before.  To be honest, I’m not that keen on soup. This is in part due to a mini act of rebellion on my part when I was a child. My parents owned a farm and there was always a pot of soup (typically vegetable broth) on the Aga. The soup, along with countless other dishes, was regularly made with care by my Mum to feed the myriad of people that were working on the farm at various times or who just happened to pop in  – we had a very open kitchen policy!

Everyone loved that soup. So, I think that mini me must have decided that at some point that  just to be different I would not.  I don’t like what I call “bit soup” – so any soup that I can see the bits of veggies or whatever, is generally a no go area for me.  Lucky me to have had the privilege of having access to enough food to be a fussy eater. 

I did however, like one kind of soup – the No. 57 variety that came out of a can. To this day It’s still my favourite soup.  The conference has made me reflect on why that is. Why did I prefer a mass prepared, out of a can experience to the craft, homemade kind? A child’s craving for artificial flavours aside,  I realise it really didn’t have anything to do with the soup, but it had everything to do with care.

 I only ever really got “my soup” when I wasn’t well, when I really couldn’t or wouldn’t eat anything. Quite often it came with with a buttered soft, white roll alongside it. It was “made” with care by my Mum. A visible yet invisible act of love for a sick child, that never failed to bring comfort and in its own way, nourishment.  I still associate a can of tomato soup with a warm hug, with safe places, healing and comfort. There were a number of times when I was really quite ill as a child and tomato soup was always a signal of recovery. 

This seems to echo some of the conversations and experiences around open education, and indeed education in general.  It’s how we show care that really matters. It’s so easy just to “throw a can of soup” at someone, rather than open it (even show people how to open it), heat it up, put in a bowl, garnish, remix, extend and share and most importantly create a safe space to help people to do the same, to share their favourite soup too and, where needed allow people create their alternative to soup.

Over the past 2 days at the OER20 conference I have experienced that same feeling of a warm hug, that soup always brings to mind, many times over.  We are all living in a vary strange time with the COVID crisis. Moving the conference online was a risky, but necessary step which has exceeded all expectations. 

Over 1,000 registered for the event. All the live sessions were packed with people. The emotional connections were palpable. Watching videos like France’s Bells story of the making of the FemEdTech quilt of care and justice reduced everyone in the session to tears. Similarly, during sava saheli singh’s keynote collectively watching Frames made everyone reflect on surveillance, the current impact of social and physical distancing in ways that extended the original premise of the script in totally unforeseen ways.

The KaraOERoke was emotional too – but possibly at the other end of the scale. A great example of having fun whilst physically distancing but really socially connecting and having fun. We so need to ensure that we have fun – that’s a huge part of caring too.

I’m still digesting all my experiences of the conference, and I’m so glad there is an even richer set of OER resources to go back to. For now tho’, I think I am going to find a tin of tomato soup and be thankful for that open hug everyone in involved in the conference from the Co-Chairs and conference committee, to the presenters, the participants, and of course the amazing ALT core staff team who managed the online transition so smoothly, have given me. 

My week in video conferencing – week 1 of the lock down diaries

Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Well we’ve not quite finished week 1 of lock down here in the UK, but it does feel like a lot longer.   Zoom is the ‘new normal’ and we are all getting into a routine of queueing to get into the supermarkets. I for one am quite liking the safe distances particularly at the checkouts. I always seemed to have people over eager to get their stuff on the conveyor belt before I had even finished packing never mind paying!

I made a bit of a mental leap last week by thinking about physical not social distancing which is really helping me keep sane about the wider situation.  As I commented in my last post, working for home is my normal status so there’s not been much change on that front, but what and how I am working is evolving. 

If I was wittier, or could sing I would perhaps create a version of the 12 days of Christmas which would go along the lines of  1 teams workshop, 2 google meets, 3 good old skypes, 4 face times, 5 zoo-oo-oooms . . .and a collaborate ultra in a pear tree. 

What has struck me this week is differences in how I am using (video) conferencing technologies, and how my preferences are developing. On Monday Helen Beetham and I ran a workshop with colleagues in Durham University through Microsoft teams. I still feel a bit of a novice with teams and there are some things, like switching been presenting and chatting that I haven’t quite mastered, and feel a bit awkward, but I’m getting there.  The level of engagement we got for participants was fantastic and we incorporated a number of shared google docs which worked well for activities.  In between Helen and I caught up a number of times via Skype which is normal for us, but our daily stories were a bit different as lock down became a reality.   I really enjoyed the ALT drop in session on Friday lunch time (using Collaborate Ultra) – it was a lovely pause from everything just to chat with others and share some experiences. I also had a couple of google meetings with Maren Deepwell about ALT business – but that really is our normal way of communicating.

What has been slightly different for me is the more social side of conferencing. I had a lovely catch up with Allison Littlejohn, Lorna Campbell and Sarah Currier on Wednesday night. I booked a virtual table in our favourite Glasgow hangout and we had a great catch up both despairing at the situation and setting the world to rights, and just sharing what is going on in all our lives right now.

On Thursday I played virtual beetle drive with my niece and sisters. In the middle of that there was the NHS applause event. My sister and niece live in the country so it was lovely to be able to take them “outside” so they could hear and experience the claps, whistles, cheers from my part of the city.  On Friday we all met in again the “virtual foyer” of the Royal Opera House for a drink before a showing of one of the Royal Ballet schools productions on Youtube.  We even got dressed up, so that really changed how we interacted and felt. It’s funny, I don’t really go “out” that much normally, but just following that normal convention of putting on a bit more make up and a smarter top really felt quite exciting and helped to delineate Friday night from the rest of the week.

Like most people I can go for quite a period between seeing friends and family, there is always some level of communication. On reflection, perhaps a bit too much passive interaction through likes and shares on Instagram and Facebook. Now, when it so uncertain when we will actually be able see our family and friends in person the role of video in communication for “seeing” people really is taking on a more heightened significance.

Another first for me this week was doing a virtual fitness class. I normally go to an outdoor class in a local park, but obviously that’s not happening! So they have moved online – with the ubiquitous Zoom. What Facebook is making/doing of my zoom data I dread to think! and I also don’t remember seeing any notification of them about that but of course I guess it’s all in the small print. I’ve been doing 7am sessions and that half an hour has been a great way to start the day.  Again, I’m surprised how quickly I’ve adapted to the format.  Of course there has been an explosion of online “stuff” from online fitness to  music and art lessons, Again all great to see – I wonder how many of these will continue? What will we be the key lessons that we will learn, what will change, what will we forget in our rush to get back to “normal” – or as Kate Bowles in her absolutely beautiful post put it -what will our stories be? Where and how will we share them?

Next week looks like it will be another busy one online with the OER20 online edition. I’m also joining in a panel in a QAA Scotland event. The upside of virtual conferences is that you can be in two locations at once!  

Of course OER20 won’t be on the same scale as the f2f conference but I’m sure there is going to be a flurry of synchronous and asynchronous activity. There is so much learning and sharing of practice  just now – a veritable an explosion of open educational practice –  that I am sure the spaces that the conference will provide will allow for many stories to be shared and created. On a related note, I also recorded a little video message for all our ALT members this week too. Being visible, and having that human face in communication, is so important right now for everyone and every organisation.  

Space, places and time(s) for care: some thougths on COVID19 and #OER20

Photo by Jonny Clow on Unsplash

My goodness we are indeed living through strange and “interesting” times. The past week has seemed like a whirlwind of change, closures, delays, bans, and sadly deaths.  COVID19 may not be the deadliest of virus to many, but its global impact is wreaking havoc, not least to education. School and college closures, the rush to the online pivot  . . .

In my self employed status I am not as directly impacted as some of my colleagues, but I am experiencing a knock on effect on the work I have planned over the coming months. More closer to home for me has been the decision around the OER20 conference.  It became clear early last week that running the face to face conference was not a viable option and so the decision was made to refund all delegate fees and to host an online “edition” of the conference.  

Frances has written an excellent post summarising her perspective of the conference and what the move to online could (and should entail). I whole heartedly agree that this online conference should not, and cannot replicate the face to face version. That would be impossible – even for the super hero team at ALT who, like so many in my PLN,  are working flat out at the moment. What I think it can and needs to do is to provide a space for re-focused interactions, sharing of practice, support and most importantly care.  

On Friday evening I participated in the online discussion organised by Mia Zamora and Maha Bali  around Continuity with Care – more info here. What struck me as the nearly 30 or so participants introduced themselves and their current situationwas the similarity of experiences: rapid developments of disaster management strategies and their implementation, the uncertainty of what has/is going to happen, the lack of time to “move online”, and the mutual support and relief to have a safe space to share concerns – particularly concerns around care, accessibility, sustainability and humanity.

The ever wise Kate Bowles highlighted the need for focus on care and importantly care not only for our students but also for our ourselves and our colleagues. There was a sense of this move online being done to students and not with them which of course is creating huge uncertainty. Particularly for those at crucial points in their undergraduate programmes (see Catherine’s post for a great example of this and some really useful resources). 

Moving teaching online did seem to be being equated with “just moving lectures to zoom”.  Which, as many of us know is not really the answer.  Again what came out clearly through the conversation was the care and understanding of the reality of this situation for students. If they are not on campus, we cannot assume that all our students will or can be online at the same time as scheduled classes. They may now have other caring responsibilities, have to change their part time working hours, to support themselves, and may not have reliable access to the internet. The Jisc student insight survey highlighted that one of the most important services HE/FE institutions provide is free (at point of access), stable wifi access.  

Synchronous lectures are therefore not really the answer. More focus on asynchronous activities should really be the focus,  or as Alan pointed out in his recent post  “What we are really faced with is coming up with some quick alternative modes for students to complete course work without showing up on campus.”   That might allow a (re)focus on caring aspects, including self care for staff around actually time spent online. That does take time to work with staff to develop their confidence in doing just that. In terms of sustainability, a focus on broader curriculum/learning design would have longer term impact and be far more sustainable.  

In the rush to get “everything online” are we taking time to build in some evaluation of what is happening? What lessons can be learnt and built on once, hopefully some normality is restored.  Is anyone really counting the time that is actually being spent in this rush to move everything online? What is it actually costing? (Another great tip from Kate was https://clockify.me/ – for this very thing). 

So back to OER 20.  Perhaps we need to be looking at some more asynchronous opportunities there too, to allow delegates to interact at times that work better for their circumstances.  ALTs core values as highlighted in our recently launched strategy include community and participation. I really hope that the online edition of OER20 can provide space(s) and places for colleagues to come together as a community,  to participate, to share with, and about, care. What was clear from the conversation of Friday night is that people need spaces to come together.

I feel confident that building on the success of the ALTs established winter online conference, this online edition of OER20 can and will, provide an exemplar of what an online conference can be and how open-ness in all its forms can help us all during these times.   

Beyond the text book, using learning resources for open educational practice workshop

Last Friday, 6th February, I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop at DCU hosted by Dr Eamon Costello, Head of Open Education, NIDL, Dublin City University.

The webinar was one of a series of open workshop events funded by the National Forum taking place across Ireland. Around 25 delegates from a number of universities and colleges gathered at DCU for a morning of sharing the realities, challenges and opportunities of thinking not only open educational resources such as text books, but wider opportunities of developing open educational practice for staff and students.

Often when I am involved in events like this, or when I am just talking about openness in general, people are interested in finding very specific places to go to find “the good stuff” or the “best tools” or the “most inspirational example of openness”. Now, that is quite a challenge to answer as there is a lot of “good stuff” (and equally not so good stuff) out there. One thing that I have to come to realise is that the most inspirational part open educational practice is the generosity of people who share their practice openly. Maha Bali is a great example of this. Her blog is a constant source of ideas, inspiration and she always brings a constructive critique to everything she writes about. Just reading things from a different point of view has had quite a profound effect on my own thinking and practice. Similarly, being involved in running events such as BYOD4L (one day we should bring that back), and trying (I’m not as regular participant as I would like to be) to take part in tweet chats such as #LTHEchat are just some of the ways I try to be open.

The format of the workshop was quite simple, with 2 main objectives – 1) to get people talking and sharing, 2) to use a bit of technology for interaction and sharing. So this is what we did.

Introductions it’s always good to get a bit of an understanding of who people are and why they have come

Digital Pursuits : After discovering this board game developed by Shri Footing based on the original Trivial Pursuits but adapted to use the Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework, I have used it successfully at a number of workshops as an extended ice-breaker type activity. It really does get people talking, and thinking. There is also, for those that want it, an added competitive element. It’s also really interesting observing how different groups of people decide how to play the game.

Sharing realities, challenges, opportunities for OER/OEP: Using a padlet board delegates were asked to share one example of their open practice and one example of a current challenge. Storage, curation, maintenance of resources all still big challenges.

Developing open approaches to curriculum development: The final activity took a step back from resources to thinking more broadly about curriculum development. Using the digitally distributed curriculum model developed by Keith, Bill and myself – we discussed ways in which the values we propose in the diagram are/could be integrated into practice. Again we used padlet to share ideas.

Overall I felt that this worked well, allowing both a bit of focus and flexibility for delegates to talk and reflect on what their own context. It does seems to be harder and harder to find space and time to just think about what we do and how we do it. The funding model from the National Forum, where small pockets of money are given to institutions to run workshops like this, is I think, a really practical and effective way to make some space for thinking. I wish there was an equivalent here in the UK.

Open Scotland Shared Curation #OpenScot

Open Scotland logo

During this December I will be curating the Open Scotland hashtag on twitter. This new model of open curation got off to a great start last month with Phil Barker being the first of a series of community volunteers. Phil also wrote a very useful post about the idea and ethos behind Open Scotland and this shared curation methodology. In the flurry of activity up to Christmas and the New Year I hope to at least be able to share one post on the Open Scotland blog and also have a bit more of an open education focus and filter in twitter. So, if there is anything around open education in Scotland, or beyond – please let me know – or even better just use the hashtag #OpenScot and share your work and practice.

Open leadership – reflecting on my role as Chair of ALT (4) – The strategic role of open #altc

In this, my 5th in the my reflections on my role as Chair of ALT , I wanted to share some of my reflections as we develop our new strategy.

This week I chaired another quarterly meeting of the ALT Board. The meeting took a slightly different format as the main focus of it was the development of our new strategy.

screen shot of strategy development timeline


The development of the new strategy started in September at our annual conference (add links) and we have had lots of community feedback through the Assembly meetings and our online suggestion box ( feel free to add your suggestions).

In preparing for the meeting, Maren Deepwell (CEO of ALT) and the staff team have been collating and mapping what has been achieved in the last three years.  As I have been reviewing the progress that has been made, it really struck me how openness has impacted on our core values from open licensing to open governance to open participation.

This openness has in turn proved to be a very successful way for us to grow as an an association and also to measure progress. Now, perhaps because the board were very “open” to the idea of open and open practice there wasn’t a huge debate about including open as one of our core values. ALT had already been openly licencing many of its outputs and had just incorporated the OER conference into our conference portfolio. So, we didn’t have to spend a large part of the last three years developing any new open procedures, or policies. Instead the last three years have focused on ALT becoming a fully independent charitable organisation. That is no mean feat in and of itself which I’m sure I will reflect more on too as part of this series.

Rather, taking an open approach first allowed our work from our governance structures and reporting to our openly available conference recordings, to be open and accessible in the most relevant way. 

Maha Bali recently wrote a really powerful post about openness and permissions. It’s really rich post but the notion of permissions really resonated, particularly technical permissions such as copyright versus the human aspect of open educational practice.


Open Educational Practices as a human endeavor is so much more than a technical permission. And I wish we would push this aspect of it to the background of details and instead foreground the other aspects relating to social justice, connection, and co-construction of knowledge in potentially equitable ways, for the interests of diverse people, and on their terms.”


I see the human endeavour, the connections and co-construction of knowledge as something ALT is really getting to grips with and succeeding with. Fundamentally we are all about supporting people, and developing our community. Whilst we endeavour to be as equitable as possible, there is still a lot work to be done. Part of that work is to recognise the cultural context of any UK based organisation, our colonial history, and our current realities in relation to discrimination, lack of diversity, that is part of our educational landscape.  That said, over the past three years I think the diversity of our conference keynote speakers speaks for itself.   

screen shot of ALT  conference keynote speakers


Our members are at the heart of what we do. That may seem like “stating the bleedin’ obvious”, but in many membership organisations there can be a gulf between members and management.  One of my key drivers as Chair is to make sure we keep that value at the forefront of all our work, so that everything we do shows value and supports the work of our (paying) members.   

Having open-ness as one of our core values has allowed us to operate and report really  effectively over the past three years.  We are sharing an ever growing set of resources with our members and beyond. At the same time the human aspect of our community continues to thrive through the work of our member groups, now working so well together through the ALT Assembly, and of course our conferences/events, blog, journal and mailing list. 

What is particular satisfying for me is that our open business model is something that has evolved and grown without us ever having to debate the value or risk of openness.  Through our working openly our staff benefit, our community benefits and it is providing us with a really secure foundation layer for our next strategy, the next 3 years and beyond.