Use & Abuse

Critical open educational practice in a time of walls and borders

As well as having the privilege of co-chairing OER17, I was also fortunate enough to share a panel on day one of the conference with an amazing group of women. Sheila MacNeill, Frances Bell, Vivien Rolfe, and Kate Bowles, are all familiar names within the education technology and open education worlds. As I also mentioned in the introduction, the panel was also supported by Catherine Cronin, who was with us in spirit, and delivering a parallel open praxis workshop with Caroline Kuhn.

Staying open: sustaining critical open educational practice in a time of walls and borders ran under the conference participation & social equality strand.

The session looked at keeping open practice open, in a time of rapid electoral shift away from the ideals of transnational cooperation, and the widespread manipulation of anxiety in relation to migration as well as of austerity budgeting, and the expanding precarity of labour. The panel invited attendees to join us in developing tactics that will sustain ethical open practice, supported and framed by five x five minute provocations.

Between us, we covered a lot of ground, taking a range of approaches. Kate Bowles wasn’t able to be with us physically, but was well represented by Frances Bell who read her provocation on desire lines and path making beautifully.

Vivien Rolfe (who will be co-chairing OER18) looked at how open relates to the focus on excellence, impact, metrics, performance indicators, market development and brand management in institutions, and asked ‘what can the Five Rs learn from the 3Rs?’

Sheila McNeil looked at the comfort and discomfort of open practitioners and practice within open and closed digital spaces, following up her reflections of the session and conference in this powerful post.

Frances Bell used a video story to ask how open are our research and education practices, looking at whether open access journals, blogs and web pages address or dissolve power relations. 

I looked at the issue of structural inequality and violence against women in online environments, delivering a five minute version of the notes I’m sharing here. My aim was to convey how violence against women and girls exists on an ordinary, everyday spectrum, that implicitly curtails engagement and speech in online spaces.

Open Educational Practice: recognising structural violence against women & girls (VAWG) online

Conversation and connections are critical to online communities and engagement in open practice and activities. What can we learn from present-day political attacks online, and new forms of censorship? What is acceptable and non-acceptable, and how might this translate to an effective way forward for the open movement?

Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) is a form of structural violence which reproduces and perpetuates structural inequality.  It intersects with, and exacerbates, other forms of discrimination, including racism, agism, disabalism, classism, and heteronormativity.

The continuum of VAWG includes includes sexual harassment, sexual violence, coercive control, intimidation, humiliation and threats. It directly and indirectly limits and regulates the lives of women and girls. VAWG is detrimental to feelings of safety, physical and psychological health and well-being, and has negative social and financial impacts.

“Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is already a problem of pandemic proportion; research shows that one in three women will experience some form of violence in her lifetime. The new problem of ‘cyber VAWG’ could significantly increase this staggering number .”

UN Broadband Commission (2015)

Violence Against Women and Girls Online

Online violence also reinforces and perpetuates systemic gender inequality, as forms of abuse are enacted and extended into digital spaces, and as new variants of abusive behaviour are developed in relation to the affordances of digital environments, applications, and systems.

The United Nations 2015 “wake up” report estimates that 73% of females worldwide have endured online abuse. Online VAGW limits speech, social participation, and digital inclusion. It “can have adverse impact on the exercise of and advocacy for free speech and other human rights.”

“Failure to address and solve cyber VAWG could significantly impede the digital inclusion of women everywhere, putting women at increasing disadvantage for being excluded from enjoying the benefits of ICTs and the Internet.“

“With the proliferation of the Internet, online violence against women has taken on a global dimension. Online crimes are not a ‘first world’ problem; they seamlessly follow the spread of the Internet.”

UN Broadband Commission (2015)

Violence Against Women and Girls – a normative cultural backdrop?

VAWA takes place within contexts where women and girls are disadvantaged in a host of ways:

  • Global inequality in girls access to education and literacy
  • Global internet user gap – this has increased from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. Highest in Least Developed Countries (31%) and Africa (23%), but rates remain higher for men than women in all regions. (UN, 2017)
  • Rapid adoption of technologies by abusers – the swift and continuing growth of technology-facilitated domestic violence
  • Growth in individual and orchestrated attacks on feminists and women speaking out about issues concerning women
  • Lack of acknowledgement that a lot of what we talk about online positions the subject (‘deafening androcentrism‘)

OER & VAWG – working in the open examples

There are a range of direct examples of the ways in which online violence against women impacts all of us trying to work equitably in the open:

  • Educators, researchers, students and civilians talking about gendered issues in public networks – wether they identify as feminist or not
  • Wikipedia editors & subjects. Given the critical cultural importance of Wikipedia, underrepresentation of women both as editors and women as subjects is a politically urgent issue.
  • The personal and political cost of the tidal wave of false equivalency arguments relating to gender inequality from trolls, misogynists, and the naive.
  • Openly accessible feminist research, or research which focuses on girls and women

VAWG is structural violence

“For it matters to us what is said about us, who says it, and to whom it is said: having the opportunity to talk about one’s life, to give an account of it, to interpret it, is integral to leading that life rather than being led through it…part of human life, human living, is talking about it, and we can be sure that being silenced in one’s own account of one’s life is a kind of amputation that signals oppression.”

Lugones & Spelman (1983)

Taking action – the good news

What works:

Addressing the issue of violence against women challenges, rather than reinforces, established gender roles in most places.

“Countries with the strongest feminist movements tend, other things being equal, to have more comprehensive policies on violence against women than those with weaker or non-existent movements. This plays a more important role than left-wing parties, numbers of women legislators, or even national wealth.”

“International and regional treaties were most influential in countries with strong domestic feminist movements. Feminist activists magnify the effects of treaties in local contexts by drawing attention to any gaps between ratification and compliance with goals for equality…Treaties give normative leverage to national civil society organisations…International treaties alter the expectations of domestic actors and strengthen and even spark domestic mobilisation.”

Weldon & Htun (2013) 

VAWG increasingly recognised as reinforcing and perpetuating systemic discrimination and structural violence (‘a cause and consequence of gender inequality’), and online abuse is increasingly recognised as a part of this continum of violence.

Laws are being introduced to address the specific forms VAWG takes online – for example, ‘revenge porn’ laws, helplines, training

Many kinds of online abuse and discrimination are now illegal, but hard fought for laws and rights will be eroded if abuse is normalised and accepted. Silence on issues relating to discrimination and hate supports the normalisation of abuse, which in turn effects what reasonable behaviour is.


Combatting Online Violence Against Women & Girls: A Worldwide Wake-Up Call UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development Working Group on Broadband and Gender 2015

Feminist mobilisation and progressive policy change: why governments take action to combat violence against women S. Laurel Weldon & Mala Htun Gender & Development Volume 21, Issue 2: Feminist solidarity and collective action 2013

Fighting for recognition: Online abuse of women bloggers in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States Stine Eckert, New Media & Society 2017

Have We Got a Theory for You! Feminist Theory, Cultural Imperialism and the Demand for “The Woman’s Voice” Maria Lugones & Elizabeth Spelman 1983

Misogyny on Twitter Jamie Bartlett et al, DEMOS 2014

Online Abuse of Feminists as An Emerging form of Violence Against Women and Girls Ruth Lewis, Michael Rowe and Clare Wiper 2016

Technology-facilitated abuse: the new breed of domestic violence The Conversation UK 2017

Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide Recommendations for action: bridging the gender gap in Internet and broadband access and use UN Broadband Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide 2017

Practical information & advice

Crash Override Network

Crisis support and assistance to the targets of online harassment


Real-time support for people being harassed online


Global, collaborative campaign for journalists, bloggers and publishers that are under attack

Information about violence against women online


Cyberbullying Guidance for Schools

Cyberbullying: Understand, Prevent, Respond

I’ve been privileged to work with Childnet International leading on national cyberbullying guidance under two very different governments in the UK. The original guidance blazed a trail as the first government supported work of its kind produced anywhere in the world. Cyberbullying, Safe To Learn was released in 2007, and followed by Cyberbullying: Supporting School Staff in 2009 – the first national cyberbullying guidance for school employees.

Co-funded by the European Union’s Connecting Europe Facility and the UK’s Government Equalities Office the new guidance, Cyberbullying: Understand, Prevent, Respond builds on the success and lessons learnt of the original work, and responds to changes in online abuse and young peoples experience of mobile, internet and gaming technologies.

The guidance is also critically informed by those working in schools (145 schools and organisations supporting schools took part in the research and consultation) and by the voices of young people. Five groups of young people from secondary schools in London, Manchester, and from the First Out group for young people, Leicester Lesbian Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Centre gave us their time and opinions. We learnt some very important lessons, and these were included the guidance, including a section on What Young People Have Told Us (& if you work with or know any young people, you should read this.).

Several people have asked me recently about the difference between the new guidance, and the guidance produced in 2007. There are several, not least that the new guidance is considerably shorter.

A key change, and one I am very proud of, is that discrimination, hate speech and hate crimes are addressed from the outset. The guidance opens:

Cyberbullying, or online bullying, can be defined as the use of technologies by an individual or by a group of people to deliberately and repeatedly upset someone else.

Cyberbullying is often linked to discrimination, including on the basis of gender, race, faith, sexual orientation, gender identity or special educational needs and disabilities. For example, girls report experiencing a higher incidence of cyberbullying than boys, and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are more likely to experience bullying, including cyberbullying.

The guidance is also clear in terms of the responsibility for education providers to ensure learning communities are places that welcome and support all children and young people:

Bullying may also be, or felt to be, supported institutionally and culturally. Young people may be bullying within environments where respect for others, and treating others well, is not seen as important – or where disrespect and poor treatment is tolerated or encouraged. Individuals who do not conform to social norms may face discrimination within intolerant communities.

The guidance can be downloaded from Childnet, along with a range of practical resources including lesson plans and short films.

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




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.


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.



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.


OER Schools Conference Roundup

OER schools icons

The OER Schools Conference – the first event of it’s kind in the UK – took place in Leicester on 29 January 2015, organised by Leicester City Council in partnership with De Montfort University. 92 attendees from 48 primary, secondary and specialist provision schools took part in the day, as well as representatives from five UK universities.

Delegates work through the practical OER Schools resources

The conference was designed to take forward the council’s recent work in ensuring school staff are benefiting from understanding, finding, using, creating and sharing Open Educational Resources (OER). The day focused on exploring two key recent developments:

The council is a global leader with respect to it’s work in this area, which is itself shared under open licence so that other educators, schools, local and national governments can benefit from and build upon the resources.

OER Schools Resources

OER Schools Conference reports:

More on the council’s OER work from around the web:

Miles Berry leads the OER Schools Primary computing workshopLucy Atkins at the OER Schools Conference Bjorn Hassler introduces school staff to the OER guidance









OER Schools Conference, 29th January 2015, Phoenix, Leicester

Leicester City Council, in partnership with De Montfort University, held a free day conference focusing on finding, using, creating and sharing Open Educational Resources (OER). The event builds on the council’s recently released OER guidance and resources, which can be downloaded from

The resources were produced by Dr Bjoern Hassler, Helen Neo (University of Cambridge) , and Josie Fraser (Leicester City Council), and have also benefited from the input of school staff, through review and practical trailing.

The majority of school staff use and create digital resources to support their learners and schools – including presentations, lesson plans, and study guides. However, the DigiLit Leicester project identified a gap in support and information for teachers relating to the use and creation of Open Educational Resources (OER).

An understanding of OER and open licencing will support schools and staff in sharing and accessing resources, and in developing staff and learner digital literacy skills and knowledge. OER are learning materials (including presentations, revision guides, lesson plans) that have been released under an open licence, so that anyone can use, share and build on them for free. Many openly licensed resources are available for schools to use and develop.

At a time when schools increasingly work with, and rely on, digital and web based materials, understanding how copyright works, and making the most of available resources, is essential for staff and schools. Creating OER allows schools to connect and collaborate with others through sharing work. Sharing can also help promote the great work that school staff and schools are doing.

Speakers and Workshop Leads

Professor Richard HallRichard Hall Richard Hall (@HallyMK1 on Twitter) is Professor of Education and Technology at De Montfort University (DMU), Leicester, UK. Richard chaired the OER Schools Conference opening panel and led the conference closing session with Marieke Guy. He is DMU’s Head of Enhancing Learning through Technology and leads the Centre for Pedagogic Research. Richard is a National Teaching Fellow and a co-operator at the Social Science Centre in Lincoln, UK. He writes about life in higher education at:

Bjoern HasslerBjoern Hassler (@bjoernhassler on Twitter) focuses on pedagogy, Open Educational Resources (OER) and digital technology. He produced the OER Guidance and resources for schools, along with Helen Neo and Josie Fraser. Bjoern provided the conference with an introduction to the guidance and resources on the opening panel, and led two workshops for school staff looking at practical ways to use the resources to support teaching practice. He also led the JISC-funded ORBIT project, which produced an Open Resource Bank on Interactive Teaching for teacher education, focusing on innovative digital technology use in mathematics and science education. He is co-leading the OER4Schools project, introducing interactive teaching and digital technologies in Zambian primary schools.

Marieke GuyMarieke Guy (@mariekeguy on Twitter) is a project co-ordinator at Open Knowledge, a global not-for-profit organisation that wants to open up knowledge around the world and see it used and useful. Marieke spoke on the opening panel about the international context of open education, and also led the conference closing session with Richard Hall. Over the last two years she has been exploring open data in education and its relationship with open education as part of the LinkedUp Project. Her current projects are PASTEUR4OA , developing and/or reinforcing open access strategies and policies across Europe, and Europeana Space, creating new opportunities for employment and economic growth within the creative industries sector based on Europe’s rich digital cultural resources. Marieke has been working with online information for over 16 years and was previously employed by UKOLN, a centre of expertise in digital information management at the University of Bath. Marieke co-ordinates the Open Education Working Group.

Josie FraserJosie Fraser (@josiefraser on Twitter) is a UK-based Social and Educational Technologist. Since June 2010, she has lead on technology for Leicester City Council’s multi-million pound Building Schools for the Future (BSF) Programme, one of the most accelerated build programmes in the UK. She is also responsible for setting, promoting and delivering on a city wide agenda for educational transformation in relation to the use of technology within schools. She developed and leads on the DigiLit Leicester staff development project, run in partnership with De Montfort University and the 23 BSF schools. The project achieved recognition as one of five global winners of the Reclaim Open Learning innovation competition, organised by the MacArthur Foundation, The Digital Media and Learning Hub, and MIT Media Lab. As part of this work, she has lead on the OER Schools project. As a panellist, Josie talked about why Leicester City Council has provided permission for school employees to openly licence their work, and the benefits for educators and schools in engaging with open licencing. She also ran two workshops, focusing on school policy and practice in relation to OER.

Miles BerryMiles Berry (@mberry on Twitter) is principal lecturer and the subject leader for Computing Education at the University of Roehampton. He teaches initial teacher education courses, and his principal research focus is the role of online communities in the professional formation and development of teachers. Miles was part of the drafting groups for computing in the 2014 national curriculum. Miles spoke on the opening panel about the importance of OER and open licencing in relation to the primary and secondary computing curriculum, and ran two workshops, one for primary practitioners and one for secondary level staff. Until 2009, Miles was head of Alton Convent Prep. In his former post as deputy head of St Ives School, Haslemere, he pioneered the use of Moodle and Elgg in primary education. His work on implementing Moodle was documented as the dissertation for Leicester University’s MBA in Educational Management, and won the 2006 Becta ICT in Practice Award for primary teaching. His other professional interests include knowledge management in education, use of open source software and principles in schools, provision for the gifted and talented and independent learning.

Dave FroodDave Foord (@davefoord on Twitter) is an experienced teacher. Some of his best known work is in the area of learning technology (also known as ILT, e-learning, ICT) – using technology to enhance the learning experience. Dave has been a keen advocate on accessibility considerations within this area of work, and specialises in the creation of resources that are highly accessible, mobile optimised, and easily adaptable. Dave provided the conference with a workshop on basic accessibility considerations for producing OER, including this simple checklist he produced for the workshop:

Accessibility checklist for schools creating OER (PDF)

Accessibility checklist for schools creating OER (Word)


10am – 11.30

OER Leadership Briefing and Q&A

Chair: Richard HallPanel: Miles Berry, Josie Fraser, Marieke Guy, Bjoern Hassler

11.40am -1pm


  • Introduction to OER for school staff – Bjoern Hassler
  • School Policy – Josie Fraser
  • Computing, Primary – Miles Berry

1pm-1.40 pm

Lunch & feedback

1.40pm – 3pm


  • Introduction to OER for school staff – Bjoern Hassler
  • School Policy – Josie Fraser
  • Computing – secondary school – Miles Berry
  • Creating accessible OER – Dave Foord

3pm – 3.30

Next steps & close

Opening briefing session

City school leaders who were unable to attend the whole day were encouraged to register for the opening briefing session which provided them with information to take their schools forward in relation to copyright and open licensing. The session covered key legal and practical issues for schools – including copyright and open licensing, international approaches, and employment and policy.


Introducing OER – this hands on session was designed to get staff started with finding, using and creating open educational resources. Attendees found out how to tap in to a wealth of free openly licensed resources, and how OER can help staff and schools connect to local and global communities.

School policy workshop – This session took school leaders through the process of creating a school OER policy, to support staff development, classroom practice and resource sharing.

Computing curriculum workshop – This workshop looked at what computing staff need to know about open licensing, and what their students need to know. Two workshops were held – one for primary, and one for secondary schools, and looked at how the OER guidance and materials can be practically incorporated into lessons to support Key Stage 1,2,3 and 4.

Creating accessible resources – all staff and schools have a responsibility to consider the basic accessibility of electronic resources – whether these are only shared within the school community, or more openly available. This session introduced staff to the basic accessibility issues all schools need to be aware of when creating digital resources.

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Panel Videos and Presentations

The majority of school staff use and create digital resources to support their learners and schools – including presentations, lesson plans, and study guides. However, the DigiLit Leicester project identified a gap in support and information for teachers relating to the use and creation of open educational resources (OER). An understanding of OER and open licensing will support schools and staff in sharing and accessing resources, and in developing staff and learner digital literacy skills and knowledge.

The opening briefing session provided school leaders with the information to take their schools forward in relation to copyright and open licensing. The session covered key legal and practical issues for schools – including copyright and open licensing, international approaches, and employment and policy.

Intro – Richard Hall

OER Guidance for Schools – Bjoern Hassler

OER and Open Education around the world – Marieke Guy

Permission, Policy, Practice – Josie Fraser

Open Educational Resources and Computing – Miles Berry

Richard Hall chaired the panel and introduced the OER Schools Conference.

Richard’s introduction highlighted the global importance of the DigiLit Leicester project, a collaboration between Leicester City Council’s Building Schools for the Future Programme, De Montfort University and 23 of the city’s secondary and SEN schools. The project focuses on supporting secondary school teaching and teaching support staff in developing their digital literacy knowledge, skills and practice, and identified that school staff and communities would benefit from support in relation to copyright education, specifically with regard to open licensing and open educational resources. The council’s open educational resources (OER) schools work is designed to address this.

Bjoern Hassler introduced the recently released OER Guidance for Schools

“Practice changes and policy has to play catch up”. Bjoern introduces the OER Schools Guidance, explaining it’s designed to underpin existing practice and support schools in using, creating and sharing digital resources. OER aren’t exclusive to Leicester, or something that the project team has made up! He talks about the importance of attribution and giving credit where credit is due, and the ease of finding and using OER.


Marieke Guy talked on OER and open education around the world

Marieke Guy, from Open Knowledge, talks about the international context of open education and OER. She co-ordinates the Open Education Working Group and is involved in a range of open knowledge projects, including work around open access, education data, and work with galleries, libraries and museums. Marieke talks about the global open education community : “anyone can be an open practitioner, it involves people from all over the world, and we are really keen to involve as many people as possible”. Open education includes a wide range of areas (including policy, resources, licences, accreditation and practice) with initiatives and activities taking place worldwide.


Josie Fraser talked about the permission Leicester City Council has given to schools to openly licence their educational resources

Josie talks about how the permission provided by Leicester City Council to school staff is designed to recognise the current legal framework relating to intellectual property rights, and enhance the position of school employees in relation to this. Staff rights in relation to the work produced in the line of work are by default very limited. Josie talks about the benefits for school staff of understanding and engaging with open licensing and open educational resources (OER). Supporting knowledge about OER is a positive way to extend staff understanding of intellectual property and copyright issues in relation to professional practice and the terms of their employment. By providing the permission, the council is focusing on the promotion of OER as a constructive conduit for school communities to take a fresh look at how digital resources are used, created and shared. Josie poses key questions for schools.

Miles Berry talked about the relation of OER to the new computing curriculum

Miles was instrumental in the development of the new English national curriculum computing programmes of study. In this talk he outlines the relevance of open licencing to the new computing curriculum at Key Stage 1, 2, 3 and 4. Miles discusses how knowledge of copyright, and open licencing in particular, links to and can support learners to “use technology respectfully” (KS1); “be discerning in evaluating digital content”; “recognise acceptable/unacceptable behaviour” (KS2); “create, reuse, revise and repurpose digital artefacts”; “use technology respectfully and responsibly” (KS3); and “develop their capability, creativity and knowledge in digital media” (KS4).

Many thanks to Leon Cych for filming and editing.

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OER Schools: Policy and Permission

Leicester City Council has recently become the first Local Authority in the UK to give permission to its school employees to openly license the educational resources created in the course of their work. This permission was formally provided to community and voluntary controlled staff at 84 city schools in September 2014. Briefing notes and model policies for all schools were also circulated. During the OER Schools panel session, Josie Fraser looked at why the council have provided this permission, and how it benefits learners, staff, schools and the city. Josie asked school staff to consider the following key questions:

  • Do staff in your school know about open licensing?
  • Are all staff in your school aware of the OER permission Leicester City Council has given?
  • What existing or new resources should/could staff in your school be sharing?
  • How can we support school staff to share work openly?

The permission and a briefing containing further information for schools can be downloaded here:

OER School Permission (PDF) OER School Briefing (PDF)

Policy Workshops

Marieke Guy and Josie FraserJosie ran two workshops designed to support staff in thinking through the process of creating and implementing a school OER policy. She stressed that an OER policy should be linked to everyday school practice, supporting staff to share their resources openly and benefit from using OER other people have shared. The workshops went through the model policies which have been provided to schools to help frame discussion and decision making: OER School Model Policy – Community and VC (PDF) OER School Model Policy – VA, Foundation and Academy (PDF) Editable versions of these resources are also available to download from the OER Schools Resources page (under OER Permission and Policies – zip file).

Staff also worked through three scenarios, in small groups. These were:

  • A staff member applies to you to because they have accepted a commercial offer to sell materials they have developed for their class. How do you respond?
  • A staff member has created some excellent learning materials. You suggest they openly licence and share their resources more widely. The staff member refuses point blank. Why do you think they might not want to share their resources?
  • As Head of Department, you are looking to embed open sharing of educational resources in order to support professional development and collaboration. What key practices would you implement to support staff in sharing their resources?

These worksheets can be downloaded here: OER Policy Scenario A worksheet (word) OER Policy Scenario B worksheet (word) OER Policy Scenario C worksheet (word)

School leaders work through the OER Policy session


Giving permission to community and voluntary controlled school employees to openly license digital resources provides a wide range of benefits. These are worth keeping in mind when developing your own schools approach and implementing local policies:

  • Schools and school staff have a great culture of sharing, most of which is informal. A fraction of what currently gets shared by schools is openly licensed. Open Licences build on the existing legal copyright framework to provide clear permissions for flexible uses of work – an open licence provides an opportunity to clearly signal how the work can be copied, shared and developed, and who should be given credit for the resource.
  • Online and digital resources are routinely made use of and created in all our schools. This increased use and creation of digital and web-based resources means that understanding the copyright rules and permissions that relate to the use of digital and online teaching and learning materials is very important. Digital resources are protected by copyright in the same way as other resources. Looking at OER in relation to schools policies and practices can promote whole school awareness and discussion of copyright, ownership, and accreditation – all important areas for staff to be modelling good practice for learners.
  • Leicester City Council wants to support schools in promoting and sharing the great work that they are producing. Openly sharing high quality educational resources helps other educators and learners benefit from, and build upon the work staff are doing.
  • The council is committed to public value – to deriving all possible benefit from publicly funded work. We want to support schools and school staff in increasing access, fostering collaboration and ensuring value for money.
  • Without knowledge of how to find and use OER, staff are likely to spend unnecessary time creating original resources when they could be adopting or adapting existing works. By using OER, learners and educators can benefit from the care and expertise that has gone into producing resources, and energy can be put into developing work to better suit learners’ and school’s needs, rather than starting from scratch.
  • The creation and use of openly licensed resources can promote the development of connections and collaboration and the sharing of expertise across professional communities.

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What one thing feedback sheet


OER Schools Conference Feedback

We asked conference attendees to feedback on three questions: their key take away, a follow-up action, and challenges to embedding the use of open licences across their schools.

  • What is your key take away from today? We asked staff members to tell us what they considered to be the most important thing they found out about, or were prompted to think about.

FullSizeRenderaA staff member told us “I know basically now what OER is!” This was great to hear. The guidance and the conference are starting points on our journey, as individual schools and as a city, to having a schools workforce that are confident and conscientious about copyright and open educational resources and able to model great practice through their work. Embedding OER into everyday practice represents a big cultural change, but one that’s essential for educational professionals who daily use and create electronic resources. One of the key aims of the conference was to introduce open licensing and OER to schools – since they can’t take advantage of the wealth of opportunities they represent without knowing about them! The conference let us talk to staff directly about the OER schools guidance resources.

The majority of staff feedback on key issues related to copyright knowledge, copyright awareness, how to create OER, and the importance of attribution. Attendees flagged the importance of “increasing staff awareness of copyright and licensing”, “staff awareness of OER”, “copyright attribution” as key takeaways. Some attendees key take away was a recognition of the importance of having conversations with staff about where and how they are currently sharing material . The idea of unregulated sharing of resources prompted mild panic in some. It’s important to remember that sharing resources is really important to encourage, and that the permission is provided in order to promote resource sharing and support staff in adopting best practice in resource sharing.

One staff member commented “Resources created by teachers belong to Leicester City Council and not the teacher”. Many staff are not aware of the terms of their employment in relation to copyright. The legal position is that unless a specific agreement is in place, the employer is the legal and beneficial owner of copyright of materials produced by these employees in the course of their employment. This is not specific to school employees or to Local Authorities as employers– it applies to all employees working under a contract of service, unless a specific agreement is in place. Leicester City Council has become the first Local Authority in the UK to give permission to school staff to openly license the educational resources created by their school employees in the course of their work. This permission has been given to support staff in their use and sharing of work. It’s important to be clear that the permission does not represent a change in the position of staff in relation to copyright ownership, but an enhancement of the rights of school staff to be named as the authors of their materials (if they want to be) and to share their work under open license with the support of their employer. “Sharing is a good thing” was also highlighted by participants as a key message, as was the “need to ensure staff understand the importance of copyright and the benefits of open licensing and OER”

Other areas flagged by participants included practical information – particularly in terms of basic accessibility checks for creating materials, how to search for openly licenced materials in different mainstream sites and search engines, and information about the computing curriculum. We planned the day around workshops which provided practically focused activities with concrete outputs – so it was great to see staff validating the benefit this approach in their identified key takeaways.

One participant identified Leicester’s position at the forefront of school open educational resources awareness and activity as the most important message of the day :”Being a trendsetter is the best position to be in!”

  • What do you see as your biggest challenge in embedding open licensing? We asked attendees to name the issue that they felt might hold their school back.

Awareness and understanding was cited as the key issues faced by schools, and in particular, current levels of staff familiarity with copyright and licensing. Current practice which included the use of unlicensed and/or unattributed materials was felt to be indicative of this.

Time and competing priorities was cited by one delegate as the key challenge. Typically, for staff in the schools workforce, this is the most common challenge listed by participants in relation to any new initiative. It was heartening that only one delegate listed this as an issue, and hopefully indicative that the general message of the conference – that work in this area builds on everyday, existing activities and supports staff in relation to baseline professional practice. Creating and using OER isn’t ‘one more thing’ that staff have to do, but a way of developing and enhancing their existing practice and sharing their excellent work. OER can actually save schools time in the longer term – staff can reuse or build on existing OER legally, giving them time to focus on the needs of their learners in the class or in personalising materials for learners. Incorporating OER into practice also supports staff in modelling and communicating good copyright practice to their learners.

Attendees also asked for more support in relation to how schools many use of learner created resources – given that the student is the owner of these. with The copyright belong to the student, so schools are interested in how they can manage consent around the use and open licensing of learner created resources.

  • What one thing will you be doing when you get back? We asked delegates to let us know if the day had prompted any actions.

The majority of delegates replied to this question in terms of staff development. Ensuring staff were aware of what they could and couldn’t do with their current licences (particularly the CLA and ERA schools licences), understanding copyright, becoming better informed about open licensing, looking at whole school training for staff in relation to open licensing and OER, and raising awareness about the permission provided by Leicester City Council. Staff also planned to sign-posting and sharing the OER schools guidance across their school.

Discussing and agreeing an approach with head teachers, the Senior Leadership Team and governors was also high on the list of ‘what’s next?’

Jo Badge tweet

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