Farewell to this temporary resting place

This blog was subtitled “a temporary resting place”. If you want to know why you can check out my introductory post at my new home and subscribe to the new blog if you wish (look right when you get there). Those of you who are subscribed to this blog might want to unsubscribe by clicking the blue Following Frances Bell’s blog button. It’s in the left sidebar.

This site will remain in place but this will be the final post. So all that remains is for me to say

Thankyou by Jenosaur CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Thankyou by Jenosaur CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

and hope to see you at the new place!

#OER16 Can we imagine tech Infrastructure as an Open Educational Resource? Or, Clouds, Containers, and APIs, Oh My!


Jim Groom kicked off his keynote by saying that he intended not to talk about DS106 but then acknowledged it was his life. His next confession was that he didn’t do any OER and felt alienated from American model of using Open to lower costs  of textbooks, meanwhile diverting funding away from public education.

Jim riffed on the idea that the money and energy used in implementing and supporting VLE/LMS could be used for different approaches to sharing and practicing openly.

He gave examples of how Wikipedia was used in education in ways that enable students to become producers as well as consumers, supported by their teachers. His next example was femtechnet which worked openly on Wikipedia and across the web, informed by feminist values.

Then he got on to his work at University Mary Washington, enabling students to publish in their own space without the hassle of the earlier tilde spaces. And now, he got onto DS106, a phenomenon that sprang from work with students on courses but became a distributed phenomenon where the digital stories were located in personal spaces but linked from the central DS101 web site.

His next example was a great example of student-generated content, a crowdsourced assignment site where assignments were shared in ‘drive by mode’. The DS106 assignment bank  was the idea of <get her name – anyone know please put in comments> and took off with support from all including Alan Levine who developed supporting features.

Next was DS106 radio, a phenomenon that sprang from the need to have synchronous conferencing at DS106 and evolved into the web radio site that flourishes still.  Another firm favourite sprang from an idea called the Daily Shoot where photographers shared images daily. On DS106 this became the Daily Create.

DS106 thrived not only via Open Source software but also across Social Networking Services like Twitter. DS1016 also uses live video via Amazon Web Services. Jim gave a heads up to Radio #edutalk at #OER16.


Jim recommended listening to a Jon Udell talk at Educause that predicted that digital infrastructures would change become a network of personal repositories each of which contained all of the stuff that related to an individual. This inspired Domain of One’s Own at University Mary Washington.

Now Jim moved to Project Reclaim and Personal APIs. The personal project is to log all of the places that you are on the web and aggregate links back to your own personal space. He described use of a single tool to do this without worrying too much about which tool or how.

Next he spoke about Opensource Apps for educators and Tony Hirst’s work on Containers in the cloud.

And then, a dramatic and abrupt conclusion of personal spaces linked across the web that, for me, brings us back to we all started.

#OER16 Open Education Special Interest Group OESIG

ALT host the OESIG #OESIG (but you don’t have to be a member of ALT to join). Viv Rolfe @vivienrolfe opened up the discussion. It was suggested that OESIG join forces with #OERHub and collate and curate existing resources; and promote http://wikieducator.org/GoOPEN for use and development.

Archivist advised use of open software that allowed for portability of resources when repositories disappear. Another participant suggested looking at practice in non-English-speaking  communities. There was also a suggestion to support ease of use and finding, and finding ways of sustaining resources that aren’t just located in single HE institutions raising issues of branding.

Web Today, Gone Tomorrow: How can we ensure continuing access to OERs? #OER16

This panel from Vivien Rolfe, David Kernohan, Lorna Campbell, Pat Lockley, Simon Thompson and Leo Havemann explored in different ways  how OERs can be sustained.

The panel kicked off with a video from Pat Lockley @patlockley,  in character as Alex from Clockwork Orange moving on to the decline of OER production, access and use as funding declined, and institutions.


The Plight of OER from Pgogy on Vimeo.

Vivien Rolfe @vivienrolfe spoke from a more personal perspective of OERs she had been involved with that were being sustained by the work of individuals rather than institutional buy-in.  #oer16sustain

Questions surfaced issues of sustainability and how it might happen and be supported.

Simon Thompson discussed alternatives to official but ephemeral repositories. First he talked about Merlot.org that appears to be sustainable if not fully open and then suggested that Amazon Education could become an attractive alternative for under-funded institutions. This provoked lively discussion.

Leo Havemann shared research he did with Javiera Atenas comparing 80 different repositories across 10 quality indicators to see how repositories work?  Results were disappointing in terms of scoring on indicators (9 indicators under 50%). Discussion ranged around why this might be, and surprise at low use of licensing.


Lorna Campbell explained how the spike in OER shown in Pat’s video related to England, from UKOER funding that wasn’t active in Scotland but that practices and (people) expertise did migrate between England and Scotland that can be seen as a form of sustainability. Lorna speculated that repository activity might increase as it declines across the rest of the UK.

Discussion ranged around funding models and their relationship to sustainability.

Innovative approaches to opening up cultural heritage collections for education #OER16

The session at 11.30 – 1 p.m. on Tue, Apr 19 2016 was on the theme Innovative approaches to opening up cultural heritage collections for education

Wikimedia UK, cultural heritage and education

The first presentation was by Lucy Crompton-Reid and Josie Fraser @josiefraser who spoke about the roles of Wikimedians of Residence and models for bringing Wikipedia/Wikimedia into schools, encouraging young people to become producers as well as consumers of knowledge.

Popularization of open cultural heritage resources by content curation for trainers, teachers and OER evangelists

Kamil Liwowski @kasliwowski kamil@creativecommones.pl spoke about public domain projects in Poland and the difficulties for information seekers searching for the open versions of public domain materials that were often encountered first as paid-for content, not just by individuals but also by public institutions.

Teachers may be looking for images that aren’t photos and are free to remix – within 5 seconds. Searching within different collections tends to throw up 1000s of images, making it difficult to choose, sometimes encountering login barrier. Projects work on how to assist teachers on how to encounter and explore the massive, rich digitised cultural connections in contrast with wikimedia resources, located in context, or via bloggers and other social media publishers who act as content curators.

Campaigns are needed to promote what is available and how to use it: also open policies in cultural institution

Cultural institution AKA GLAM for more OER

Subhashish Panigrahi @subhapa , who works for Wikipedia in Bengalaru, India characterised knowledge as something that starts open and becomes increasingly restricted by copyright.  Subhashish contrasted Indian government approach to data and resources as copyright by default with other countries such as UK. This approach increases administrative workload.

He encouraged us to consider life without OER , highlighting the Galleries, Libraries Archives and Museums (GLAM) movement that aims to digitise content for cultural studies. GLAM has shared learning and methodology that is also a resource. GLAM has its own formal training that could be documented better to improve practice across countries. OER movement works by collaboration across individuals and institutions.

Opening Scotland: Museums Galleries Scotland’s Wikimedian in Residence & the diversification of engagement

Sara Thomas @lirazelf , wikimedian in residence has been working across museums and galleries


Scotland’s Museums and Galleries have a national strategy and the project has played a part in fulfilling the strategy. There have also been unforeseen outcomes, including working with educational institutions as well as cultural heritage organisations. They found that participants increased in confidence in working in open knowledge, and will be interested to do more work in future.

I looking to the future, Sara thinks we need to have courage and to keep helping people in the sector, but the future holds hope.

If ‘open’ is the answer, what is the question? #OER16

Catherine Cronin’s keynote was the first session at the OER16 conference and was live streamed with a video recording here in case you missed it, and an audio recording here, if you like to multi-task.

Catherine started a conversation around the subject of the keynote more than a month before at her blog and #OER16 on Twitter, indicative of her commitment to open scholarship.  The conversation attracted 27 comments so the engagement long preceded the actual keynote.

She started her keynote by situating her own scholarship within a network of scholars, many of whom were in the room (or on the #OER16 hash tag), and acknowledging earlier scholars like Mary Somerville and other influences such as poetry e.g. @byleaveswelive. Catherine spent a few minutes promoting networking by encouraging us to talk with someone we didn’t already know.

Catherine showed mural that evoked the popular movement around the Irish marriage referendum #marref and the role of social media in this movement, encouraging people to vote, and even come home to vote from all parts of the world.


This was an example what Henry Jenkins called the participatory culture that has its own practices


Catherine explored:

  • interpretations of Open – educational practices, educational resources, and admission to education e.g. Open University and
  • levels of Open – policy/culture, values, practices and activities

Catherine highlighted some ongoing work she instigated with @vivienrolfe  at http://wikieducator.org/GoOPEN

She acknowledged work done by Richard Edwards; and by Sava Singh, Jeremy Knox, Suzan Koseoglu and others speaking at #OER16.

In her PhD research, Catherine has  come across how important it is for people to balance privacy and openness. Openness is personal  – with decisions to be made about whether to share , with whom, as whom, and what to share.

One question probed whether or not Open Educational Practices  are moving apart from the Open Educational Resources in the title of the conference. Catherine saw her input as equalising the emphasis rather than eliminating the importance of the content/ resources.

Another question asked about the permissive nature of multiple definitions of openness and stressed the importance of freedom flowing from open.  Catherine stressed the importance of context, in exploring who may be left out.

“Move from access to equity and justice” McMillam Cottom, 2015. The last questioner homed in on the issue of Open Textbooks and their role in such a move if used to deflect funding in public education.

This keynote was a fine start to the conference.

Institutional fragility and resilience?

The impossible triangle

Individuals, networks and institutions –  in their impossible triangle of resilience

My very lovely slice of the Interwebz has thrown up lots of interesting ideas about how all of us can (and can’t) take care of ourselves and each other, and how institutions respond to the idea that there might be a problem in caring for ourselves. My ideas are all over the place (not least because I am just coming out of the common cold from hell) but I thought that I would set them down in their current state of flux and see where they take me.
Helen Beetham has written about digital wellbeing  with links to a Martha Nussbaum book that aims to give a theoretical introduction to the capabilities approach to contribute to a partial theory of justice. In a review that Helen references , the capabilities approach is shown as one that questions which genuine opportunities are open to people. Catherine Cronin builds on Helen’s ideas  in the context of real initiatives that help promote staff and student digital literacies

Positioning wellbeing and self-care at the heart of institutional initiatives to build digital capability is both radical and vitally important. 

Acquiring digital literacies and building identity in digital networks has to be a good thing but the institution is a context as well as an agent.

Viv Rolfe has written on institutional responses to the issue of the resilience in the work place. Viv identifies the proliferation of resilience training courses in UK Higher Education, and notes the emphasis on individual attributes rather than what institutions can do. She worries

that the upsurge in this approach as a strategy puts a ‘sticking plaster’ over some deeper seated organisational issues

In this recent article, Helen Lees contrasts the two academic lives she has led, first on a fixed term research contract, and now in a permanent position. She acknowledges that she became more resilient over time but crucially identifes the role of context in this. Precarious employment is not a good environment for learning resilience.

Kate Bowles isn’t sure that HE can be reformed but instead celebrates the kindness that we can show to each other as “we are all here now”.  That seems more attractive than sitting in a room learning how to be less of a problem.

Ronald Barnett  has identified resilience as a disposition but he does not paint a rosy picture of the prospect of conditions of flexibility being able to secure a more responsive higher education system

Forms of flexibility are leading to an enhancement in students’  experience of higher education and to an impoverishment in that experience; and it is by no means clear as to how, in general, matters might proceed from here.

One of the recommendations of this report is to

conduct a self-scrutiny of the extent to which an institution is responsive to its environment.

I retired from UK Higher Education 3 years ago, and have had plenty of time to reflect on the recent turbulent environment of HE.  For me, what Viv describes is a bit of a knee-jerk response from management to a problem that relates more to internal and external environments rather than any inherent deficits in staff or their attitudes.   In my employment, I experienced several occasions where a problem that was experienced in the classroom was not explored systemically to find out the roots and possible responses.  Centralisation of processes eg admissions can not only cause some problems but simultaneously separates the process and those who mandated  its centralisation from its outcomes.  Communication needs to travel up and down hierarchies and feedback upwards on problems can be seen as off-message to preferred institutional narrative, pushing responsibility and blame back down the hierarchy. This is consistent with the worst sort of resilience training.  Staff welfare cannot be looked at in isolation from the contexts in which they work.

Actively confronting challenges, escaping emotions so you can behave in a problem-focused way sounds like a great idea but what happens to staff who try to solve problems within their organisation but are blocked because the solution would involve change of policy within the institution?

As Viv says in her post

What do staff perceive resilience to really mean? Are staff also being encouraged to speak out and are they listened to in their organisations? What if staff perceive resilience to mean not speaking out and to generally shut up?

Viv shared compelling evidence that stress is endemic in HE workplaces. As the labour workforce changes, with fewer permanent contracts, more  short-term and part-time contracts, more redundancies and retirements, the needs of staff are placed in tension. I have to say that the staff who are placed in the most untenable situations are those on fixed and very short-term contracts doing jobs that would previously been have done by permanent staff. They can be paid, usually poorly,  for “teaching” with sundry administrative tasks associated with assessment and student support falling between the cracks.   Full-time staff, like module and programme leaders already themselves experiencing stress from increased workloads, can then be put in the invidous position of  asking colleagues on part-time contracts to increase their work (for example to attend examination boards) for no additional pay or taking on this additional work themselves. This pits staff members against each other without looking to the broader causes.

Not only staff but also students are stressed.  A recent survey found that student wellbeing is in question and students with the lowest contact hours scored lower on satisfaction and wellbeing

‘The survey also provides the best available evidence on student wellbeing. Students are less likely to regard their lives as worthwhile and are less happy than others. This suggests good support services, including counselling, should be a priority despite the impending cuts.’

So responses like JISC Building Digital Capability Project are very much to be welcomed but they should not ignore institutional and broader contexts.  The version of the Jisc ‘Six Elements of Digital Capabilities’ model that is to support Jisc’s offer in the area of Digital Leadership is still in development but it does identify one area where tensions could occur

Specialist: Lead marketing teams with an awareness of the role digital technology plays in organisational branding.


How does organisational branding sit with the need for institutional self-scrutiny that Ron Barnett recommends and a culture for not speaking out that Viv Rolfe hints at?

I don’t think that individuals, networks and institutions need be an impossible triangle of resilience but if silencing as a covert form of power exists in an organisation, the triangle can become a neat way of shifting responsibility away from the institution to the individual, thereby increasing the individual’s stress and decreasing their ‘resilience’. Resilience is a shared responsibility but one that exists in unequal power relations.

I have read a lot about fragility in the past couple of years observing and sometimes experiencing examples of male fragility and questioning my own white fragility.  I wonder if there is also some institutional fragility going on in institutions that instigate training for resilience in the absence of self-scrutiny. Is this an example of presence or absence of institutional resilience?