Teaching Matters Newsletter August 2021: Five things that inspired us from the Teaching Matters' series on Open Education Resources


This year, The University of Edinburgh celebrates five years of developing, supporting, and promoting Open Education Resources (OER) through the OER policy and service. Teaching Matters was delighted to showcase a series of nine blog posts in the recent 'Hot Topic': Open for Good: Five Years of Open Education Resources at The University of Edinburgh. Co-edited by Stephanie (Charlie) Farley, Open Education Resources Advisor, and Lorna M. Campbell, Service Manager – Learning Technology Service Manager at the OER Service, based in Education Design and Engagement, this series covered a wide range of OER uses in teaching, including the creation of materials for sharing and the re-use, and adaptation of materials created elsewhere.

In this newsletter, you'll find our five inspirations from this series, followed by our regular features: Collegiate Commentary, What's making Teaching Matters smile, In case you missed it (ICYMI), and Coming soon at Teaching Matters! If you'd like to keep up with Teaching Matters, sign up to our Monthly Newsletter Mailing List.

Five things that inspired us about Open Education Resources (OERs)

Inspiration One

OER practices generate a generous and collegial workplace ethos

Original artwork by Kelly Zou, MA Illustration student at Edinburgh College of Art

Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal Online Learning and Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services, introduces this Teaching Matters series by recognising that the success of using OERs in teaching across the University is based upon creating a supportive infrastructure, which includes policy, training, collaboration, and adaptive learning technology systems that support open licences, such as Creative Commons. However, people and relationships are as much a part of this infrastructure as policies and systems, and Melissa notes their contribution to Edinburgh's impressive global impact:

The generous position colleagues take to openly licencing their materials is one of the classiest things about this institution. Thank you to all who do. - Melissa Highton

It is this reciprocal relationship between staff and students' creativity and willingness to share their learning materials across courses, and the infrastructure put in place by the OER service, that creates a generous and collegial workplace ethos. This Teaching Matters series presents examples of this generosity through many OER formats: Dr Sarah Ivory shares her ‘Guidance on studying at university’ slides not only with her class, but opens them to students everywhere through MediaHopper in an act of 'collective humanity'; Dr Jill MacKay highlights the transparency and invitational nature of the Open Science framework, and the Reid School of Music is working with student partners to create a free, digital textbook on the Fundamentals of Music Theory, that others can reuse and repurpose.

Read Melissa's full post: Open for Good: Five years of Open Education Resources at The University of Edinburgh

Inspiration Two

OERs can be used to tackle wicked problems

OERs can help us tackle wicked problems - messy real-world challenges, like climate change, which benefit from interdisciplinary teaching. Lizzie Garner-Foy (Instructional Designer in the Online Course Production team) worked with Fiona Borthwick to launch the Sustainable Global Food Systems MOOC. Lizzie used open licensed content to make a promotional trailer for the course and a series of podcasts and trailers, which would engage and attract the widest audience possible. Read more about their work on her blog post.

"Short online courses like MOOCs can be time and cost-intensive, so we support academic teams and subject matter experts to produce standalone OER resources that can be viewed and reused in any context. This maximises their use and re-use, and enables sharing of valuable information on important issues to a global audience." Lizzie Garner-Foy

Inspiration Three

Working with open licensed resources encourages tinkering

Original artwork by Kelly Zou, MA Illustration student at Edinburgh College of Art

The beauty of working with open licences is that they better represent our relationship with 'knowledge'. In the classic Freirean adage, students are not simply empty vessels that we tip knowledge in to - knowledge is constantly recreated; it's slippery, messy and mutable. Open licences allow us to tinker with this knowledge - adjusting it, reshaping it, and passing it on to the next person to play with. Dr Jill McKay exemplifies this beautifully in her blog post From Open Science to OER and Open Textbooks where she used GitHub to create an open textbook on R, a programming language, for her veterinary students. In making it open, she invites others to:

...see and review my work, and with OER someone can take it, fix it, and make it better. Because that’s actually fundamentally what I want. I want everything I do to be better.

We also encounter the joy of tinkering in PhD student, Eleanor Capaldi's blog post: Interacting with artwork creating OER gifs. As part of her research, Eleanor ran a GIF-making workshop using out-of-copyright images from the Scottish Collections of the National Galleries of Scotland. Through using the museum's open licenced content and GIF-making software, new ways of knowing about art emerged for the participants:

The workshops allowed participants to gain a variety of skills in GIF making, from adding stickers and objects, to making parts of the paintings move. Participants commented on how much they enjoyed getting to spend time with the artworks, looking much more closely at them than they would otherwise... As participants played with the artworks this put the art and their narratives in new lights, often creating entirely new stories around them.

Inspiration Four

OERs provide co-creation opportunities for students

In the GeoSciences Outreach (GO) course, undergraduate students create bespoke resources for external clients including charities, teachers and school pupils, which are then licensed as OERs. In their blog post, Dr Andy Cross and Kay Douglas explain that this is made possible with the help of undergraduates who are employed as Open Content Curation summer interns with the OER Service. These interns co-create OERs from the resources produced by GO students, upskill the teaching team in OER practices, and have an opportunity to co-teach other students.

Similar work is underway in the Reid School of Music, where student partners are converting existing course content into an open e-textbook, and learning valuable skills along the way, such as copyrighting, digital skills for compiling materials, and working with Creative Commons licenced content.

Another great example of co-creation is highlighted in a chat between Charlie Farley and Dr Jeni Harden (Senior Lecturer in Social Science and Health). Jeni worked with medical students and OER resources to address a gap in the curriculum, and created the LGBT+ Healthcare 101 course so students could learn about LGBT+ issues in healthcare. Read the full blog post to find out how Jeni's work has progressed over the last five years.

Medical students are amazing. I love working with them so much. Part of the reasons for the doing of the project was for the students to gain experience. - Jeni Harden

Inspiration Five

OER practices encourage continuous professional development for academics

OERs are a prime example of how we can always be learning something new, and, in doing so, strengthen our pedagogical approaches. In the blog post, Edinburgh Clinical Research Facility’s (ECRF) on rainbows and their OER strategy, Jo Merrifield (ECRF Education Manager) and Danielle Marlow (ECRF Development Coordinator) chat to Charlie Farley about their aim to spread clinical research information with their own OER strategy, whilst at the same time learning new digital skills:

Our education team, everyone has embraced it. Even our admin staff are involved in the captioning and accessibility side of the OERs... As a team we’ve learned a huge amount over the last year. There’s always that thought in the back of our mind as to what else we can do and to look at the bigger picture. - Jo Merrifield

Dr MacKay highlights how her work developing OERs has provided her with lots of content for her professional development portfolio:

I think anyone who is early career should be making a portfolio where you can show off your work. My GitHub collection was part of my promotion evidence showing the materials I make and that I am recognised in doing this.

Finally, from reading this series, it is clear that the support offered to staff and students across the University to learn about, and develop OERs, is timely, relevant, and greatly appreciated. We leave you with Danielle Marlow's words of advice:

Make use of the OER service, the website, and even the blogs. There’s been so much that your team have offered. We came on the training, decided that there’s definite value there for us, then put our own spin on it and have taken it forward.

Search 'OER' on Teaching Matters for over 20 more informative blog posts on OERs at The University of Edinburgh.

Collegiate Commentary

with Dr. Jane Secker, Senior Lecturer in Educational Development at City, University of London and Deputy Programme Manager of the Masters in Academic Practice

Dr. Jane Secker

While Teaching Matters primarily showcases University of Edinburgh teaching and learning practice, our core values of collegiality and support extend beyond our institution, inviting a wider, international community to engage in Teaching Matters. In this feature, we ask colleagues from other Universities to provide a short commentary on ‘Five things...’, and share their own learning and teaching resource or output, which we can learn from.

Dr. Jane Secker's thoughts on 'Five Things that inspired us about OERs'

OER practices generate a generous and collegial workplace ethos: Working with colleagues over the past few years in the open education team at Edinburgh, including Lorna Campbell, has been a really collegiate process. Having Lorna guest lecture as part of my module on Digital Literacies and Open Practice has been such a valuable experience. She shared the Edinburgh policies and guidance on OERs, which we found really helpful when we ran an OER workshop last summer at City. Additionally the guidance on other areas of using digital technology in teaching during the pandemic has been really helpful, such as the lecture recording policies and guidance for students when participating in online learning. These have highlighted all the good practice at Edinburgh and has allowed us to develop valuable training and resources for staff at City. As a concept, I think open education is about giving back and tackling some of the inequalities in our education system, but I also appreciate it’s something that requires a certain level of privilege.

OERs can be used to tackle wicked problems: At the heart of the open education movement is the idea of bringing together many minds to solve really tricky problems in the world whether it’s climate change, sustainable food systems or the latest advances in healthcare, science, technology. Open practice and OERs can also inspire creators such as artists, musicians and writers of the future. I’ve seen academics in disciplines as diverse as language teaching, business studies and optometry come on my course and reflect on what open practice mean to them in the subject they teach and research. In many cases, it transforms their thinking and helps them work with other researchers in the field to make new advances but also to tackle inequalities in the world.

Working with open licensed resources encourages tinkering: The nature of open licenses means you don’t just use a resource but can adapt it or repurpose it for use in a new context, or be inspired by it in your own practice. When someone asks me about a new area of teaching and learning my first thought is, ok who else might already have considered this problem, and let’s have a look at how they might have solved it. A recent example was when we were looking for some guidance on hybrid or hyflex teaching at City. It was great to be able to review the guidance a few other universities had drawn up, and you can hear me talk further about this in a recent podcast in the Teaching Here and There series. What I think is often just a bit disappointing is that we don’t add open licences by default to this type of content created in universities – protecting work through adding copyright notices is still very much the norm. So you often end up having to ask permission to re-use guidance. But I am a great fan of not starting from scratch but building a resource using the experience and knowledge of others.

OERs provide co-creation opportunities for students: For someone who spent quite a lot of my career teaching staff and students about copyright, I found the concept of open education and open licensing a really valuable way of encouraging the co-creation of resources. For example, I worked on a student blogging project when I was at LSE and we encouraged students to share their experiences of using digital technology in blog posts and to find openly licensed images to illustrate their writing. Students in all sorts of disciplines are now creating and co-creating resources, and using openly licensed content partly solves many of the concerns about copyright issues. This was the primary reason behind openly licensing the educational resource Copyright the Card Game, that I co-created with Chris Morrison at the University of Kent.

OER practices encourage continuous professional development for academics: Absolutely. I have had a fantastic response to my module from staff from all sorts of disciplines but the key thing they reflect on is how important open has become as part of their academic practice. Some are early career researchers, but others are more established and realise that perhaps their old ways of working weren’t always best serving their aims to share knowledge. It’s been great to teach staff about open practice and to see the variety of ways they respond, and the conversations that it prompts, sometimes about big issues related to their underpinning values and why they are an academic in the first place. In other cases, learning about OER has a practical benefit: they learn to find new teaching resources; to collaborate with new colleagues; or to get to grips with the complicated world of open access publishing. However, it’s been clear to me that, over the past three years I have been teaching in this area, it is a really important aspect of professional development and a topic that resonates with staff from across the disciplines.

About Jane:

Dr Jane Secker is Senior Lecturer in Educational Development at City, University of London where she is Deputy Programme Manager of the Masters in Academic Practice. She leads the modules related to digital education and digital literacies in the programme. You can view all the previous module webinar recordings on the blog site, and read her recent article about the impact of the module, following presenting at the INTED conference in March 2020. Previously, Jane was Copyright and Digital Literacy Advisor at LSE for over 15 years where she advised staff about copyright issues and the online environment. Much of Jane's current work on copyright literacy is in collaboration with Chris Morrison and shared on their website. Finally, you can find out more about the ALT Copyright and Online Learning Special Interest Group that they chair here: https://www.alt.ac.uk/groups/special-interest-groups/copyright-and-online-learning-sig.

What's making Teaching Matters smile?

Meet the Teaching Matters team through what's been bringing us joy

What's making Eric smile?

After a long year, this summer has been filled with reasons to smile. In early July, I volunteered as a Group Leader for Supertroop, a charity running residential holidays for youth with learning disabilities. I was quite nervous - it was my first time working with kids with disabilities, or being around many people since the pandemic started. However, my experience was fun, restorative and affirming for my ability to enjoy this kind of work after a long year. Who doesn’t enjoy spending time around children doing activities like cupcake decorating, swimming, karaoke, and bouncy castles? Watching their smiles as they had water gun fights and played underneath rainbow parachutes was a truly special experience. Plus, I loved seeing how grateful their parents were after a much-needed break from childcare. The cherry on top is the people I met - young people, social workers, educators and psychologists I’d only seen on zoom became good friends. An experience to remember!

Since getting my second vaccine, I was able to travel to Lithuania to meet my partner’s family for her father and step-mother’s wedding. One aspect of the trip that made me smile was getting a personal tour of the Jewish history of Plungė - a small Lithuanian village whose Jewish population was ravaged after the holocaust. My partner’s step-great-grandfather was the ‘Last Jew of Plungė’, and his son showed me his life's work of preserving the history of the Jewish community through educational monuments and memorials. I was so happy to see this kind of work being done and honored to witness it firsthand!

The last thing that’s making me smile has been working with Teaching Matters. Over my 12-week internship, I edited, produced and hosted seven podcast episodes and created the template and mailing list for this very newsletter. Most importantly, I loved it. I’ve felt supported, my creativity has been encouraged and my ideas/opinions have felt valued. For someone hoping to start his own podcast, this experience has been invaluable, and thanks to the people I’ve worked with, it’s been a highlight of my university experience. And now, I get to keep smiling as my contract is being extended, and I’ll get to continue this work through my academic year!

In case you missed it (ICYMI)

Coming soon at Teaching Matters

Upcoming blog themes

September and October’s Learning and Teaching Enhancement theme will be ‘Innovations in Science Education’ featuring work presented at the Learning and Teaching Conference.

The accompanying Hot Topic will be ‘Revisiting Hybrid Teaching Exchange Resources’ as we aim to transfer Hybrid Exchange content to Teaching Matters.

Upcoming podcast series

Our current series is 'Insights from the Learning and Teaching Conference', including episodes on university experiences of the working class, curriculum transformation, and confrontations within the neo-liberal university.

In the pipeline...

  • Wikimedia: Celebrating Wikimedia's 20 year anniversary and recontextualising it within academia
  • Decolonising the Curriculum: investigating the university's current practices and promoting efforts to decolonise
  • Media Hopper: Showcasing the many uses of Media Hopper, The University of Edinburgh's Media Platform

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