Communities & Networks

Wikimedia UK Education Summit #WMUKED17

Cross-posted from Wikimedia UK.

If you would like to attend, please sign up on the Eventbrite page.

The Wikimedia UK Education Summit takes place on February 20th at Middlesex University, London, in partnership with the University’s Department of Media.

It follows on from the successful 2016 Wikimedia UK Education Meetup. Wikimedians and educators working in schools, colleges, higher education and adult education met in Leicester to help inform the work of Wikimedia UK in relation to education, and connect to others using (or wanting to use) Wikimedia projects. The day showcased educators supporting learning and actively engaging learners using a range of projects, including Wikipedia, Wikisource and Wikidata.

This event will continue to build connections and share expertise in relation to Wikimedia UK’s work in formal education. Everyone is welcome – whether you are just getting started and want to find out more about how Wikimedia projects can support education, or you are an established open education champion!

Why should educators attend?

The day will open with two talks. Melissa Highton (Director of the Learning, Teaching and Web Services, University of Edinburgh) will talk about the benefits of appointing a Wikimedian in Residence. If your institution is looking for an effective, affordable and innovative way of actively engaging students and supporting staff development through real world knowledge projects, this is a not-to-be-missed talk!

Stefan Lutschinger (Associate Lecturer in Digital Publishing, Middlesex University) will talk about incorporating Wikipedia editing into the university curriculum. Stefan will cover the practical experience of using Wikimedia projects with formal learning communities.

There will be a range of workshops throughout the day – ideal for those looking for an introduction to specific projects, or to brush up on their skills. Workshops include Wikidata, Wikipedia in the Classroom (and using the Education Dashboard), and how to maximise the potential of a Wikimedian in Residence in a university setting. There will also be a session looking at identifying and curating Wikimedia project resources for educators, helping to support others across the UK. Alongside all of this will be a facilitated unconference space for attendees to discuss subjects not covered by the planned programme.

Please consider signing up here for a lightening talk (of up to five minutes) to share projects and ideas, or email karla.marte@wikimedia.org.uk.

What can Wikimedia UK offer educators?

Wikimedia UK is the national charity for the global Wikimedia movement and enables people and organisations to contribute to a shared understanding of the world through the creation of open knowledge. We recognise the powerful and important role formal education can and does play in relation to this, but also the challenges sometimes faced by educators in relation to institutional adoption and use of Wikimedia projects, including Wikipedia.

This summit offers educators and Wikimedians in the UK the opportunity to work together to help learners and organisations connect and contribute to real world projects and to the global Wikimedia community.

Wikimedia UK can support educators in a wide range of ways: providing events, training, support, connecting communities to volunteers, and helping identify potential project funding.

Can’t make the summit, but want to be involved?

Become a Wikimedia UK member – membership is only £5 per year and provides a range of practical benefits – directly supporting the work of the organisation to make knowledge open and available to all, and being kept in touch about Wikimedia UK events, activities and opportunities. You can join online here.

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Alt-C 2016 Keynote: In the Valley of the Trolls

 

Meh2

 

In the Valley of the Trolls

Tay, for 16 hours only

Tay, Microsoft’s Artificial Intelligence bot, was launched on Twitter on 23 March 2016. Text on Tay’s official website stated:

Tay“Tay is an artificial intelligent chat bot developed…to experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding. Tay is designed to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation. The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you”.

Within 16 hours Tay had become known a racist, conspiracy theorist, sex bot, and Microsoft took it offline.

So how did this happen? Firstly, the Microsoft account was targeted by Twitter users who fed Tay with hate speech, discrimination, conspiracy theories, and lewd text, which it then mimicked and reproduced. While Microsoft seemed to have anticipated that some specific topics would be controversial, and programmed Tay with responses to these, they didn’t seem to have considered the possibility of Tay being targeted by a wide range of inappropriate interactions – of being trolled. Microsoft had released a (mostly) filter free curator and amplifier of the language of the users who interacted with the bot, and many users were lightening quick to understand and make use of this to turn Tay into a mouthpiece for hate and obscenity.

The story was quickly picked up by news sites, gleefully reporting on Microsoft’s bot becoming a holocaust denier within hours of going live. While the account was shut down, screenshots of Tay posting grim messages went up all over the internet.

Tay is currently back up, but now the account is private. You need to be approved by Microsoft to follow the account, or access any of the tweets.

I’m telling the story of Tay here because it’s pretty representative of a range trolling motifs – it’s practically a troll morality tale.

For the lulz

It’s not possible to say what the wider range of motivation of the people involved with the Tay trolling were. We can speculate that some of them were interested in attacking Microsoft, or suspicious of the commercial motivation for personalisation. Some may have seen this as an opportunity to get discriminatory messages up and to spread misinformation.

Lulz are what drive trolls. Lulz are the cultural currency of trolls. Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 15.03.20Whitney Philips, in her excellent book on trolling cultures (This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things, 2015) (2015) defines lulz as LOL transfigured through the “anguish of the laughed at victim”. Lulz are what knit together a disparate and anonymous group of people who may meet only in passing, or not at all.

Using extremism, obscenity and conspiracy theories, a corporate experiment in AI was taken down within hours, and the trolls got their handiwork reproduced and publicised globally.

This ‘gaming’ of reporters and social commentators, the manufacture of news –is a win for media outlets who need quick-to-read outrage to increase their traffic.  Trolls love to troll the media, and trolls love to get their stories and memes reproduced by the media, and the media loves to promote sensationalistic and outrageous stories, even if the numbers of actual people involved are tiny, or in some cases, the story is entirely made up.

Also typical was the lack of interest on all sides of what is going on here – or, ‘because Trolls’. ‘Because trolls’ is always a win for trolls because it means journalists are taking them at face value, are missing the joke, and have become a part of the joke.

Of course not all trolling involves hate speech, discrimination, threats, obscenity or conspiracy theories. The almost universally agreed on aim of trolling is to disrupt, confront, and provoke individuals and communities online, for the purpose of amusement – for the lulz.

Trolling runs from innocuous pranking (for example Rickrolling) to behaviours which challenge the general sentiments or beliefs of a group, to online harassment and bullying.

Some trolls only target other trolls.

In the vast majority of cases, trolls will make use of anonymity. They may pretend to be other actual or invented people – they might act out being sympathetic, or take entirely opposing viewpoints to their own. They might ask naive questions or swear to blatantly untrue facts in order to frustrate or make someone seem like an even bigger idiot for taking them seriously. They might provide misleading or bad advice, or purposely just talk off topic.

But understanding this also isn’t to be naive, to say or to imply that the extremism we see in a lot of  trolling is coincidental or arbitrary.

Trolls are a diverse group, whose interests, ethics and actions are not all alike. This means that while some trolls are genuinely racist, homophobic, sexist, or otherwise discriminatory, equally, there will be trolls who are using hate speech and extremist views because they know that this is what will get them an outraged, offended or upset reaction. In this view, the statements being fed to the bot were inconsequential in themselves – just the weapons closest to hand. Some might even view the use of abusive language is part of the bigger game – that only idiots would agree with the sentiment being expressed. Some will frame it in terms of a characteristically insincere idea of freedom of speech – and it wasn’t surprising that the soon after the takedown, the hashtag #FreeTay was used to protest against the ‘corporate lobotomisation’, and censorship of Tay.

The key problem with this kind of equivalence, which is in essance, ‘one form of insincere attack is as good as another’, or, ‘all groups are treated equally through hate’,  is that there is no room for acknowledgement that specific social groups are already being harmed on a daily basis by discrimination. The reproduction of hate speech – whether sincere or not – adds to what is already there, helping to normalise marginalisation, and cause new harm.

Tay is a safe example. Tay isn’t a person. It doesn’t have feelings, a history, personal doubts and anxieties. It isn’t sometimes tired and short tempered. It doesn’t struggle to interpret subtly codified online behaviour, or take sexist, racist, or faith targeted abuse personally.

 

Open practice – an ethical gesture

Many of us here today appreciate and have benefited from working and learning in open contexts online – whether through blogging, online courses, or through networks on social media sites.  Talks from the conference are being streamed, so that people who aren’t able to be here in person can watch online. People in the room, people viewing at distance, and others not viewing are using the conference hashtag on Twitter to participate. The video and the tweets will provide access to people who aren’t able to join in with us right now. We are wringing as much value as we can from the effort and insight of all of the speakers and participants. We are creating new resources to be shared and developed.

This isn’t to say that there is no place for closed conversations, or that everything we do as educators and learners must be done in the open. It is a recognition of the enormous value that sharing our practice, thoughts and resources accessibly, discussing and developing these collectively, can provide for us as individuals, for our organisations, and for learners and educators online.  A commitment to open education is an ethical gesture. It’s a commitment to the importance of access to education, research, debate and ideas for all, not just those within designated educational communities. It’s a commitment to the value of co-production and the development of work across not already established networks. It’s an understanding that our work may be of benefit to those who we don’t know, in ways we can’t anticipate, and that we ourselves may benefit from the insight and input of strangers.

It’s also a commitment to putting ourselves in to contexts we don’t necessarily control, to having our views challenged and disagreed with, to being interpreted in ways we might not be happy with.

At it’s most basic, open educational practice is about creating, using and sharing work accessibly, which typically means online, across networked publics. It goes beyond just using and producing openly licensed resources, but OER remains essential to it. Open licences give permission, with some requirements, for others to interact with, take on, make use of, and develop your work.

Open educational practice is about making our work accessible to others, not just to people who agree with us. I’d extend the definition to include practice which is concerned with who gets to publicly engage, who gets to speak and be heard.

Anonymity

Trolls are typically anonymous or pseudonymous. This doesn’t mean that anonymity is a bad thing. People who are not trolling use and need anonymity online. They are anonymous so they can talk openly and frankly about issues they otherwise couldn’t. They use anonymity to keep themselves safe. They are anonymous to guard their privacy, to avoid online surveillance and commodification. They use anonymity to play, or to protest against laws or ideas or governments they don’t agree with.  They are anonymous to make comments and join in conversations that they otherwise wouldn’t.

Many of us here today had the luxury of not growing up online. It’s unsurprising that anonymous (for example, 4Chan) and ephemeral (for example, SnapChat) online platforms have grown in popularity at the same time that the importance and increasing insistence of ‘authenticity’ online has flourished. And while there are obvious professional and personal benefits to ‘being yourself’ online, some benefits may depend on whether or not the kind of person you ‘really’ are is ‘the right kind’ of person. Being ‘yourself’ online, linked to a physical identity, may be a risk, or a privilege.

So how do we protect ourselves?

There some simple, practical things we can all do now to mitigate against trolling and the fear of trolling. Keep your accounts secure. Limit the amount of public information available about you – for example, domain name registration information will include the address and phone number you registered with unless you’ve paid to keep this information secure.

Speak Up

 

There are some great resources online to help you – practical, positive advice to help people protect themselves and better respond to attacks are emerging – for example,  Feminist Frequency‘s Speak Up and Stay Safe(r) guide, produced by women who have been targeted by troll mobs.  If you are being attacked, there are some organisations and initiatives that might help you – for example,  TrollBusters, which mobilises peer support and advice for women writers who are being attacked.  The  Crash Override Network is an online abuse crisis helpline, advocacy group and resource centre.

Ignore, block, report.

The best advice in relation to trolling remains to not respond, not to participate – ignore, block, report. Frustratingly, this means that you don’t get to ‘win’ against the trolls. You can lessen your sense of frustration by remembering no one gets to win against trolls. The more you express your disgust, anger or disagreement, the more the troll will win. In the event of you actually getting the better of a troll – through devastating wit for example, the troll remains anonymous. And doesn’t care. And if they do care, will never show it.

The other important advice is to report. Reporting isn’t always easy. But if you can get some hate taken down – why not? Reporting will help make abuse statistics more realistic, and will also help check service provider assumptions of what kinds of abuse their communities are being subjected to.

Not being a silent bystander is also an important way of addressing abuse and showing support to people who may be feeling isolated. Don’t respond to the troll directly – just show your support and appreciation for the person having the hard time. And if you witness someone else being attacked, why wouldn’t you report it?

There are two main reporting routes:

A lot of offensive activity and content won’t be illegal. Mainstream websites will have acceptable use policies, and a range of ways to report incidents. If you can clearly demonstrate that their terms have been broken, some action will be taken. How easy things are to report, how long it takes for it to be reviewed, what the consequences might be vary.

If the activity is illegal, report it to the police. In the UK, hate crimes and illegal content can be reported online or to your local police.

If you are being repeatedly harassed online by someone in relation to your employment, then it’s also worth alerting your employer and your union if you have one. All employers have statutory and common law duties to look after the physical and mental health of their employees.

Digital wellbeing – taking the long view

One of the important ways we can consider navigating these differences is through the idea of digital JISCwellbeing. This image will be familiar to many of you – it’s Helen Beetham’s work on JISC’s digital competencies framework. I’m particularly interested in how Helen positions and prioritises digital identity and wellbeing in relation to the other competencies. I very much like the way she picks out the consideration of wellbeing in lives that are saturated with and lived through digital environments, within and across modes of participation.

The Welsh Government is taking a similar approach to supporting children and young people through it’s new national Digital Competencies Framework – which is made up of four strands, one of which is Digital Citizenship, which includes identity, digital rights, and online behaviours.

Troll culture?

In these post-truth times, it can seem that everyone and everything is trolling. Certainly, a wide range of groups, including political and corporate groups, have adopted the aesthetic and tactics of trolling to infiltrate or directly attack communities in order to disrupt them, to sway public opinion, and to generate attention and discussion. But we need to stop labeling all behaviors we don’t like as trolling. It’s a way of minimising real harm caused and the unacceptability of some activities, without actually addressing them.

The range of troll behaviours and motivations makes pinning down trolling extremely difficult, and at the same time, makes calling all behaviours online we find offensive – bullying, harassment, threats of violence – but also political disagreement, defence of others freedoms, viewpoints that are not our own – easy to dismiss as ‘trolling’.

The ways in which the word troll is currently being used, equating trolling with someone we don’t agree with or take to take offence at, should immediately alert us to some of the dangers here.  Solutions that work by taking away anonymity and erode privacy to ‘stop trolls’ typically boil down to all of us being presented with the blunt threat of “if you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve got nothing to hide.”

When so much trolling exacerbates and adds to existing inequality, how we address that inequality needs to focus on those people who are being silenced, and not just on those people doing the silencing. Closing accounts, using only protected forums, having our identities verified, cannot be the best solutions we have to offer.

 

 

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Wikimedia UK Education Meetup

Saturday 21 May 2016 saw Wikimedia UK volunteers and educators travel from across the UK to the City of Champions (and since you have an internet connection, you’ll know that’s Leicester).

I was fortunate enough to work with Fabian Tompsett, Wikimedia UK activist, volunteer and open education advocate, to co-organised the event. Supported and hosted by the Learning and Work Institute, the half-day meetup was designed to take open education in relation to Wikimedia projects forward across the schools, further education, higher education and adult education sectors.

Wikimedia Projects

Wikimedia UK is a charity that works with volunteers to support and promote active engagement with the wide range of Wikimedia projects – Wikipedia being of course the best known, since it consistently ranks as one of the most frequently visited sites globally. Like other Wikipedia projects, all of the content (text, images, multimedia, datasets) is typically in the public domain, or openly licensed (much under a Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike licence).

Wikipedia Wikipedia
Free-content encyclopedia
Wiktionary Wiktionary
Dictionary and thesaurus
Wikiquote Wikiquote
Collection of quotations
Wikinews Wikinews
Free-content news
Wikispecies Wikispecies
Directory of species
Wikibooks Wikibooks
Free textbooks and manuals
Wikisource Wikisource
Free-content library
Commons Commons
Shared media repository
Meta-Wiki Meta-Wiki
Wikimedia project coordination
MediaWiki MediaWiki
Free software development
Wikidata Wikidata
Free knowledge base
Wikivoyage Wikivoyage
Open travel guide

The event was designed to gather the Wikimedia education community – those currently involved in projects and volunteering, and to welcome newcomers. As a group we looked at the strengths of the organisation in relation to education, and to plan future initiatives.

Wikimedia UK and Education

The day started with an introduction from Wikimedia UK CEO Lucy Crompton-Reid.

This was followed by short presentations on and discussion about current and past education focused projects.

Connected Curriculum at University College London

Mira Vogal works with staff and students at University College London to plan, run and evaluate a range of digital education activities. Initiatives like UCL’s Connected Curriculum give students reasons to produce work “directed at an audience” and “out to the world”. Her talk Wikipedia includes the Talk and History pages, and corresponding articles in different languages. UCL Wikipedia work evaluations confirm that student activity depends heavily on their tutors’ lead, so sustaining Wikipedia work within a curriculum depends on how tutors understand the potential of Wikipedia and explain it to their students.

Wikimedia VLE

Charles Matthews has been a Wikimedia volunteer since 2003, working on Wikipedia, Wikisource and Wikidata projects. His talk focused on the Wikimedia UK Virtual Learning Environment project, which he leads on.

Wikipedia course work at Middlesex University

Stefan Lutschinger is a creative professional, curator, and lecturer in Media, Culture and Communications at Middlesex University. Stefan’s talk covered his experience of integrating Wikipedia into the MED3040 Publishing Cultures course at Middlesex.

Wikimedian in Wales

Jason Evans was appointed as Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Wales in January 2015. Since becoming a Wikipedian in residence Jason has organised public events and shared digital content and is now looking to take Wikipedia into schools and universities through a number of initiatives. His talk covered developing projects and building trust in order to engage schools and universities with Wikipedia.

Following the talks, we looked at some of the approaches to education Wikimedia UK staff and volunteers have established and how these could be promoted and improved. Things identified as particularly important and impactful included:

  • The Wikimedian in Residence programme – UK residencies have included the British Museum, the British Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the National Library of Wales, the Bodleian Library, and more recently, the University of Edinburgh
  • Wikimedia project training for specific events, groups, topics or interests
  • Train the trainer workshops
  • Wikipedia Editathons – for example the upcoming Protests and Suffragettes: Strong Women of the Clydeside Editathon
  • Resources – the projects and organisation have produced a wide range of resources, many of which are shared under open licence
  • Wikimedia UK run and related conferences and events, and global participation
  • The new Wikipedia in the Classroom programme which builds on successes and practice in relation to our work with education

Much of the conversation focused on how to raise the profile of activities and ensure that educational organisations and institutions were aware of the opportunities and benefits of working with the community and accessing expertise.

We then broke into smaller groups, structured around sectors, to more closely discuss current and future plans. The reports back were wide-ranging and identified a range of technical developments (including the ability for teachers to curate image and multimedia Wikimedia assets into themed sets), the importance of sector specific staff training and support, working with learners, the opportunities afforded by family learning, promoting and raising awareness of Wikimedia UK, and Wikidata and data literacy.

It was a rich and reflective day, marking the start of a renewed focus on education as a priority area for the organisation. Wether you are already involved in Wikimedia projects and education, or would like to connect to other educators and volunteers, get involved! You can sign up to the JISC Wikipedia mailing list (which is for anyone interested in education and Wikimedia projects), and check out Wikimedia UK upcoming events.

Membership is a great (and low cost!) way to keep in touch with and contribute to Wikimedia UK.

 

 

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Open Education Week 2016

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 12.18.16I’ve been supporting a range of great open education initiatives, contributing to this years Open Education Week activities and celebrations.

The new Learning and Work Institute  – an independent policy and research organisation, which joins the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education (NIACE) and the Centre for Economic & Social Inclusion – held an OER Jam in Leicester, as part of the Institute’s work on Open Education Resources (OERs) across Europe. The face-to-face event supported adult education practitioners in using OERs for teaching and learning.  The Jam was designed as a follow-up to the OERUP! Online training  – with supports people working in adult education, and can be started at any time.

I provided the wrap up talk for the day, focusing on the work we’ve carried out with schools across Leicester.

In March, I lead a webinar for the European Commission’s ExplOERer Project, which is designed to promote sustainability through OER adoption and re-use in professional practice. My talk supported week 2 of the project’s online Learning to (Re)Use Open Educational Resources course, and focused on introducing Creative Commons licences, and thinking through some key questions in relation to beginning to use and create OER.

I was also delighted to be invited to keynote at Opening Educational Practices in Scotland‘s fourth annual forum – #OEPSforum4. Following in the footsteps of some amazing open education luminaries – including Laura Czerniewicz, Lorna Campbell, and Alison LittleJohn, my talk focused on the mainstreaming of OER in education represented by the everyday use of sites such as Wikipedia and TES Resources, and approaches to making sustainable cultural and organisational change that put open education at the heart of professional practice.

In my next post, I’ll write in greater detail about the key challenges to centring OER in education practice across the sectors I outlined in the #OEPSforum4 talk, and how we can overcome these.

 

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TEDx Leicester – Open & Connected Learning: Transforming School Practice

TedxLeicesterI was delighted to be invited to speak at the first ever TEDx Leicester. My talk explored why open and connected learning is a critical priority for the schools sector, and looked at some of the exciting work taking place in Leicester’s schools relating to digital literacy. Leicester is currently causing a stir internationally in terms of open learning – my talk explained what we’ve been doing in the schools sector, and why.

Here are my notes:

Leicester is a large and diverse city in central England. I work for Leicester City Council, where I lead on technology for one of the country’s biggest school building programmes. As well as the huge investment being made in ‘bricks and clicks’, we’ve been working with our school communities to transform educational practice through open and connected learning. We’ve also been working openly, sharing what we’ve found and the resources we have created online under Creative Commons open licenses so that teachers, schools, and councils across the UK and internationally can benefit – and ultimately, so that all our learners can benefit.

There is no doubt that in the UK and many other countries the internet is now a mainstream site of everyday activity. Currently around 40% of the global population have access to the internet. This means that many of us are working, learning, and living in digital as well as physical environments. We post pictures of our children, we build and develop our personal, professional and learning networks, we find romantic partners and fall love, we buy and sell goods, provide and access services.

In many countries in the world the local percentage of the population who go online online are in the majority – so much so that in these countries we now talk about digital divides, and digital exclusion. There are lots of reasons why the minority populations aren’t online in what we can characterise as digital societies – including poverty, disability, and literacy.  The mainstreaming of online spaces as sites of social, cultural, economic and political sites provides all kinds of new opportunities – but also risks exacerbating inequality amongst those who aren’t able to take advantage of new, digitally mediated forms of contact, communication and collaboration.

Globally, digital inclusion is not just about functional technology skills and access – it’s also about the confidence and knowledge to critically engage in online environments – or, digital literacy.

There are different ways to describe digital literacy. The definition I use most often is functional technical skills + critical thinking + social engagement = digital literacy. There are quite a few definitions of digital literacy about at the moment – mine has the advantage though of being one of the shortest ones.

Digital literacy is important because social, political and economic participation is important – the ability to contribute to, and to shape and change our communities. The House of Lord’s recently published report ‘Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future’ (2015) recommends that digital literacy should be regarded as a necessary life skill, along with literacy and numeracy. The report cautions that not doing so constitutes a significant risk to individuals and to the UK, of missing the many opportunities afforded by digital technologies.

Digital literacy is also situated in practice. When we think of other essential skills – numeracy for example – it’s easy to understand that every one of us benefits from a basic level of numeracy, and that we’d find a lot of day to day management of our lives extremely difficult without this. If we were to take up a career as an accountant, or a chemist, we would of course need additional, specialist numeracy skills.

Similarly, digital literacy is important for all citizens. Everyone benefits from a basic understanding of finding, evaluating and managing information, being able to communicate and collaborate, being able to buy goods and access services, and being able to keep themselves and their data safe online.  For some groups, for example those supporting learners and learning, specialist and specific skills & knowledge are obviously going to be an important part of their professional practice.

In the context of publically funded schools, staff confidence and knowledge of basic digital literacy is particularly important, since most will be supporting some digitally excluded young people. Schools have critical role to play in ensuring no sixteen year old leaves compulsory education without the skills, knowledge, and confidence to make use of technologies to support and enhance their ability to learn and work, and their social and political participation. For some of our learners, schools may be the only place where they see digital literacy practices being modelled, and are actively supported in the creative, safe and effective use of technologies.

For the last few years, I’ve been working with Professor Richard Hall from Leicester’s De Montfort University and Lucy Atkins on the DigiLit Leicester research project.  In partnership with the 23 secondary and specialist provision schools in the city’s Building Schools for the Future Programme, we identified the key areas of digital literacy for school staff. Based on these key areas, we created a survey which has been carried out city-wide over two consecutive years. The data collected has helped us to identify the strengths and gaps in digital literacy practice, in individual schools and across the city. These strengths and gaps can be taken as indicative of other secondary schools and specialist education provision across the country. We’ve responded to the findings by carrying out a range of projects designed to consolidate and promote our strengths and address gaps. All of the resources from the work we and the schools have done has been openly licensed.

One of the gaps identified by the data relate to finding and creating digital resources – a key, everyday activity for school staff. We’ve identified that a healthy culture and spirit of sharing and reuse does exist, and that this sharing is characteristically informal. One of the reasons for this marked informality is a lack of confidence and knowledge around Intellectual Property Issues as they relate to digital resources. In particular, we found a significant lack of awareness of copyright, and open educational practices and approaches – particularly in relation to open licences and open education resources (OER). For example, the majority of staff have not knowingly come across or used Creative Commons licensed resources.  It’s likely that this is typical of school staff working across the UK, and certainly colleagues I have compared notes with across Europe and the US have indicated that awareness of OER and the opportunities they afford schools and learners is a cause for concern.

There are many reasons why it’s important for us to address this gap in digital literacy. School staff are modelling practice for learners every day, typically in physical classrooms but also, increasingly, in online environments. Ensuring the schools workforce is confident and well informed about basic copyright issues, including the use of open educational resources, provides an opportunity to support learners by demonstrating great practice that we shouldn’t be missing out on.

While it’s great news that the majority of school staff in the UK have embraced a culture of sharing and reusing resources, the informality of this sharing ultimately limits and localises benefits – benefits that could be that could be more fully realised through open licensing. It means that staff and schools very often don’t get credit for their work – in turn making it harder for others to contact them and develop collaborative practices. Staff and schools may find their work being used and reused in ways that they aren’t happy with. Sharing and promoting work publically is also fundamentally limited if that work contains elements that the author doesn’t have permission to include and hasn’t accredited appropriately.  For example, if I’ve created a great, high quality and effective resource, which contains an image I’m not sure if I have the rights to use, or an activity that was informally adopted from someone else’s shared work, I am going to be less inclined to attach my name to that work and make it publically available for others to use. Schools can and have been fined for publishing images and using other resources online that they don’t have rights to. Being confident about the content of resources, including web pages, and properly attributing any content we have built on, means that they can be made publicly available and promoted – many of our staff and schools are producing amazing work, that they should rightly be proud of, that could be used and built on by other educators locally and globally to support learners.

The other key drivers with respect to this area of school and school staff digital literacy practice are the ones that get mentioned again and again – time and money.  Open education licences and practices have a long and established history. Creative Commons, the leading provider of open licences globally, was established in 2001, and there are somewhere around 900 million CC Licensed works currently online. UNESCO adopted the term ‘open education resources’ (OER) in 2002. Schools and school staff can’t take advantage of the existence of OER and openly licensed materials if they don’t know about them.

Imagine the time and money that could be saved if instead of 70 staff individually creating resources to support the same learning objective, resources were pooled and developed collaboratively, so that time could be spent instead on refining model resources to best suit the needs of learners. The reality of the situation is actually staggering in terms of the numbers of staff currently struggling in silos with very limited capacity and resources, with this situation being replicated across and multiplied by the whole of the curriculum. In this context, it becomes a practical matter of urgency that we take a fresh look at how schools and school staff globally work with, create and share digital resources, and how open and collaborative working practices can better support our learners. Open licences, which build on top of existing copyright frameworks, provide a clear indication as to how resources can be used – providing legal and practical foundations for the development resources and of collaborative approaches.

In Leicester, we’ve been taking the first steps on this journey. Working with Dr. Bjorn Hassler and Helen Neo, and with our school staff acting as critical friends to the project, we’ve produced easy to understand OER guidance for school staff on what open educational resources are, how to find them, how to develop and accredit them, and how to create and share them.

As well as ensuring the guidance is as practical as possible, we’ve produced walkthroughs for staff to demonstrate how easy it is to change and enhance current practice by using OERs. For example, we’ve created simple guides to finding and accrediting openly licensed images on the photo sharing site Flickr, to enhance resources, presentations, and web pages.

The work we’ve done is not just about supporting staff in tapping into the great range of resources out there, but to encourage and support them to contribute to open education by creating and sharing their own OER. In order to do this, we’ve had to take a look at Intellectual Property and employment laws. In the UK, as in many other countries, unless there is a specific agreement in place, your employer is likely to have ownership of the intellectual property rights and copyright of the work you produce in the line of your employment. This doesn’t just apply to school employees, but it’s worth addressing in the case of public employees, particularly those who are producing educational resources. I believe very strongly that where publicly funded educational resources can benefit others than the group of learners they have been created for, they should be shared openly. This ensures we get the best possible value from the work we are doing, and helps to put in place the working practices we need to establish to put an end to the wasted time and money we are spending on duplicating resources locally.

To facilitate this, Leicester City Council has given blanket permission for all it’s school employees to openly licence the educational resources they are producing for work. The council employs the majority of teaching staff in the city, but there are several types of school where the governing body is the legal employer – for example, academies, trusts and some faith schools. To support these schools we’ve produced model local OER policies that can be adopted and adapted to support their employees. The policies, guidance and resources can all be downloaded from our schools website and are openly licensed, so they can be used, adapted and reused for free. They have already been adapted for the university and further education sectors by Jorum, and are being translated into French and Portuguese by the African Virtual University.

I’m very proud of the start we’ve made across the city to introduce and embed open educational practices and resources, and I very much hope that other cities, regions and countries will benefit from and build on our work here –  please do enjoy, use and share our work, and help us to open and connect educational practice.

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