Blog Archives

#101 Open stories – Sheila’s story

Guest blog by Sheila MacNeill, Senior Lecturer (Digital Learning), Glasgow Caledonian University. Originally published on 29th March on her blog HowSheilaseesIT.

‘I’ve been thinking about my OER story or stories. Where to begin? I wish I had the time and the ability to weave a tale worthy of Scheherazade. One full of poetry, wishes, fantastic voyages and the odd djinn.  One that would keep Vice Chancellors awake till just after the midnight hour (aka TEF/REF/NSS results publications).  One that would entice them to fully embrace open education. However,  if I want to get something done this week  all I can do is share my experiences and some reflections my open journey so far.

My involvement in the open education world has been quite long and varied.  It started during my time at Cetis. We were supporting open standards and open source, had been part of the whole learning object thang,  so OERs and wider open educational practice were a natural addition to our remit. I was involved in our first OER briefing paper, was one of the first OLNet fellows back in 2009 when I went to Mexico to the OCWC conference to find out more about that community.  I probably should do a time line of open stuff I’ve been involved in . . .

I think my open story is very much an evolving, personal one.  Open practice has become an increasingly important part of my working life. I’ve never been “hard core” open, in the sense that it’s never taken up 100% of my time. Even back when I worked with Cetis I wasn’t involved directly in the support of the Jisc/HE OER programmes, I was of course influenced by them and did try to filter the open element to other Jisc programmes I was involved in at the time.

Sharing has always been at the heart of my professional practice. When we were made to blog at Cetis it actually opened a whole new level of professional interaction and personal reflection for me.  At the time I didn’t really consider this as open practice, but now I really do.  Openly sharing and reflecting has connected me to so many colleagues across the globe.  That has been equally rewarding and enriching. It has lead to conversations and sharing of practice and ideas.  This open story of mine probably hasn’t  changed that much in the last two years.

I think that my experiences of open learning has been, to use a phrase I don’t really like, “game changing” for me. Back in 2011/12 in the heady days of MOOCs I probably signed up for a few too many of them but I really wanted to understand this aspect of open from a learners point of view. I still am a recovering Mooc-aholic. I still slip off the wagon now and again, but it’s not the same as it was back in the old days . . .

My experience as an open learner really helped me to focus and reflect on my own approaches to learning, my own practice in terms of my approaches to learning design, to learner engagement, to peer support, to assessment. In fact all the things I do now as part of my job.  It also introduced me to another set of fantastically diverse, open learners and educators. People like Penny who is one of the organisers of the 101 stories project.

Open-ness is now a habit for me. It’s part of my practice, but it has natural (and at time imposed) peaks and troughs. Not everything can or should be open. I often find it a struggle to keep open on my agenda. I’m still working out my own praxis with open-ness.  I’m doing this through the work of many open education researchers, people like Catherine Cronin whose work provokes and inspires me, and leads me to many others who are working in this field.

Open education isn’t a fairy tale, but it does confront some vary salient, moral and ethical issues around education.  Including but not limited to: who can access education and publicly funded resources/data/research findings.  What rights do staff have over materials they produce whilst working for institutions?  Open-ness doesn’t automatically lead to a happy ending.  It has many twists and turns, just like the stories of the Arabian Nights. It might be a bit like The Force in Star Wars, surrounding us and binding us. . . but that’s a story for another day.

Today as the UK takes a leap into the unknown and to closing of borders and creation of barriers, we need open stories more than ever. We need these stories to permeate, to keep open on the wider political agenda. To keep people talking about open, in the open.’


This guest post is published as the first of many celebrating Open Education in the run up to the OEPS final event, The Promise of Open Education at Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh on Monday 11th September. Sign up for the event or join the conversation before, during and after the event with the hashtag#BeOpen’.


This post was originally published as part of the #101 open stories series. It was published on HowSheilaseesIT under Creative Commons License . It is republished under the same CC BY NC SA licence.

Impressions and Thoughts Post #OEPSForum3

By Ronald Macintyre

OEPS Forum 3

OEPS Forum 3

Any record of an event where your main function is to keep time is likely to be imperfect and impressionistic. However, even as we head towards replacing imperfect human memory with digital memories I still think there is a role for forgetting, for a recollection system that seems to highlight the frequent and the exceptions. So here are my recollections of the day and the main themes.

The problem of alignment on came up frequently. At the moment it is not clear where openness sits, it is partly a function of the multiple interpretations of open, from the affordances of the learning objects (licence or design) to questions around conceptions of openness based on ideas around equity and social justice. These multiple interpretations make it difficult for people to see where it fits. For example, is being open about; international strategy, outreach strategy, marketing strategy, (dare I say) a Widening Participation Strategy. All but the final one came up frequently through the day, and the question was about alignment, about ensuring whatever function being more open served it would only serve that function if it was appropriately aligned to the strategy of the organisation. Inside these conversations about how to and what openness enables for organisations and absent presence was the sense of what it might enable for students. The alignment needs to match the resources capabilities and aspirations of the organisation, otherwise they will not be able to embed open practices. However, there is also a need to think about how well aligned those are to the wants and needs of students. Perhaps we need to ensure the student voice is much more clearly articulated and physically present at future events.

World café session

World café session

One thing that was noted more than once was how silent everyone was, few questions, and I agree with the comment that we had a lot to think about, big challenges to rise to. I also think it relates to this question of matching the internal and external environments of each organisation. As organisation look to align openness with these internal and external drivers they develop their own sense of openness, and in the end I think we each create openness in our own image. It is only right, but the diverse communities that came to the event, might also have contributed to a reluctance to “speak out” to place a mark in an uncertain landscape. For me those diverse readings of openness worked in the small groups, but not in the open floor session – lesson learnt.

However, one question that arose for me at the end of the day is – are there basic ideas or principles we ought to adhere to within open educational practice, and related, what is the role of policy. Where and how does bottom up and top down meet, both within the individual institution and within the broader education landscape. A couple of anecdotes here. In one of the two workshops the OEPS team ran in the afternoon one participant talked about getting his institution to sign up to the OpenScotland declaration, something which was clearly on folks minds. The nature of the OpenScotland declaration, the evolving nature of OEP and the culture within the Open Community (indeed one of key qualities) is the acknowledgement things are in a constant state of becoming.  The individual wondered how you would ever get the management to sign up to an agreement that was not fixed – jokingly noting management are likely to dismiss this with, “lets see what our lawyers say”. A clash of culture. Amusing, possibly, disappointing, definitely.

The second also come from an OEPS workshop, someone from one of the Scottish Ancients noted with dismay that the socio-economic profile of OER users was just a symptom of a wider malaise in Widening Participation, HE providers seems to be getting worse at this and the focus on younger learners was welcome but risked neglecting those who need a second chance. I know, I am sharing depressing anecdotes about clashes of culture and education providers reproducing inequalities through outreach programmes. But I think tensions are bound to arise, we will not change anything if we do not accept it is not all good news.

Allison Littlejohn's keynote speech

Allison Littlejohn’s keynote speech

This is a somewhat fractured account of the day, impressions and bits of questions, I am not going to attempt to draw this together into a neat package at the end. Instead I want to close with some thoughts about what Allison Littlejohn said about how individuals and organisations develop their understanding of OER, from learning about the objects and the licence and how to share, to embedding these in practice and reflecting on the implications for the educator and the learner of changes to educational practice. It is when the questions of objects, affordances, and licences become tacit, become routine that educators and organisations can start to explore what it means for them. I have probably tweaked Allison’s words to my own ends here, but you can read the “real thing” here. So how we do step up as education providers, producing things, doing things is part of it, but as someone noted at the end of the day if all that was achieved by a focus on OEP was making things they would not be satisfied, what we really needed to do as a community was look at how we manage and enable individuals and organisations to change.