Month: October 2014

under the skin of wikipedia

Flayed man holding up his own skin. (c) Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh
Flayed man holding up his own skin. (c) Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh

A fun day out with my team at the eduwiki conference. The conference was opened by Peter McColl, University of Edinburgh Rector who spoke about the role of civic universities in promoting and contributing to the knowledge commons. 

During the day we learned a lot about the various features and extensions which make Wikipedia a ideal platform for open practice in learning, teaching and knowledge dissemination. We noted that there was no activity from Scottish universities listed in the Wikipedia courses list. Several colleagues quickly signed up to become wikimedian campus ambassadors, so that may change.

There were a number of Wikimedians-in-Residence at the conference and we soon began to think of projects for a residency at Edinburgh if we can tempt someone to wiki with us. Martin Poulter (previously resident at Jisc) chose an article about the Edinburgh Resurrectionists as an example to use in the conference to show the talk pages and engagement options.

It was fun ( and not at all scary) to dig down into the bones of Wikipedia for #Halloween

an OER Vision for University of Edinburgh?

The Book of Salvation Opened, 1772
The Book of Salvation Opened, 1772

The University’s mission is the creation, dissemination and curation of knowledge. As a world-leading centre of academic excellence we aim to: Enhance our position as one of the world’s leading research and teaching universities and to measure our performance against the highest international standards; Provide the highest quality learning and teaching environment for the greater well-being of our students; Make a significant, sustainable and socially responsible contribution to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural well-being. As a great civic university, Edinburgh …will continue to look to the widest international horizons, enriching both itself and Scotland. (University Mission)

‘Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.’ (Capetown Open Education Declaration)

The sharing of open educational materials is in line not only with University of Edinburgh’s mission but also with a global movement in which research- led institutions play a significant role. I’d suggest an OER vision for University of Edinburgh might have three strands, each building on our history of the Edinburgh Settlement, excellent  education, research collections, social responsibility, enlightenment and civic mission.

1. ‘For the common good’: Teaching and learning materials exchange to enrich the University and the sector.

  • To put in place the support frameworks to enable any member of University of Edinburgh to publish and share online as OER teaching and learning materials they have created as a routine part of their work at the University. (E.g handouts, teaching materials, lesson plans, recorded lectures, research seminar content, blended-learning content, datasets, problem sheets and tools).
  • To support members of University of Edinburgh to find and use high quality teaching materials developed within and without the University.

2. Edinburgh at its best’: Showcasing openly the highest quality learning and teaching:

  • To identify collections of high quality learning materials within each school department and research institute to be published online for flexible use, to be made available to learners and teachers as open courseware.(E.g. Recorded high profile events, noteworthy lectures, MOOC and DEI course content).
  • To enable the discovery of these materials in a way which ensures that our University’s reputation is enhanced.

3. ‘Edinburgh’s treasures’: Making available online a significant collection of unique learning materials available openly to Scotland, the UK and the world, promoting health and economic and cultural well-being.

  • Identifying a number of major collections of interdisciplinary materials, archives, treasures, museum resources to be digitised, curated and shared for the greater good and significant contribution to public engagement with learning, study and research. (E.g. Archive collections drawn from across disciplines e.g History of Medicine/Edinburgh as the birthplace of medicine/ Scottish history/ social change)
  • To put in place policy and infrastructure to ensure that these OER collections are sustainable and usable in the medium to longer term.

I suspect the expertise ( although not the resources*)  to deliver each of these strands exists within the University through partnership between Schools and Information Services. This vision would build upon work, custom and practice already in place within the University but offers an opportunity to take a strategic approach to publishing open educational resources at scale.  What else should be included?


*The annual cost of running MIT OCW is about $3.5 million

diversity via OER

Two Men in an Interior . Sean Watson (c) University of Edinburgh ECA Collection

Last weekend I was in a conversation about the dearth of LGBT people in medical teaching cases. This may be because LGBT people never get ill and have no health, family or wellness issues.  Or it might be that our curriculum doesn’t reflect diversity in society.

Never fear, I said,  rather than start from scratch writing our own, lets go out to the OER-web to find materials which have been developed elsewhere that are available and licensed for us to use in our curriculum.

One google search later I found this ‘Preparing Future Physicians to Care for LGBT Patients: A Medical School Curriculum‘ from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. You have to register to use it, but it’s CC Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike once you’re in.

My colleague Jo quickly pointed out that the need for an ‘upperclassman facilitator’ might be a stumbling point if one were trying to replicate this teaching plan precisely.  Luckily ,derivatives are allowed. We are free to remix, transform, and build upon the material . Phew.



plagiarism and re-use

The Custody is as Barbarous as the Crime. Francisco de Goya. ECA Library Image Collection
The Custody is as Barbarous as the Crime. Francisco de Goya. ECA Library Image Collection

I was in a discussion to day where the suggestion was made that licensing materials as Creative Commons for re-use would promote plagiarism. I was able to refer to the online papers from the BIS 2013  consultation about open access which explains:

At least one commenter suggested that the adoption of CC BY “[(a)] offers virtually no protection against plagiarism … [and (b)] unfettered creative commons licensing would constitute a serious infringement of intellectual property rights and pose a threat to UK intellectual capital.”

As to (a), plagiarism is the practice of taking someone else’s work and passing it off as one’s own. Plagiarism is a completely orthogonal issue to copyright infringement, and there is simply no evidence to support a claim that CC BY would promote or encourage plagiarism in a way any other solution would not as well.

As to (b), CC licensing does not infringe IP rights; rather, it is a conditional permission for the public to exercise some rights on specific terms that can only enhance UK intellectual capital by making it more readily available for wide distribution and innovative use.

emerging technologies

 John Playfair's Transit Theodolite
John Playfair’s Transit Theodolite

The original Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy was published 35 years ago today.

According to the Guide* regardless of which world you are in,  there are rules which determine the reaction of most life forms to emerging technologies:

  • Anything which is in your world when you are born is normal, ordinary and just a natural part of the way things work.
  • Anything which is invented in the first third of your lifespan is new and exciting and revolutionary and you could probably get a career in it.
  • Anything which is invented once you are middle aged is just against the natural order of things.


*Episode 8/8 Quintessential Phase 4 ( broadcast BBC Radio 4 23/6/05)

designing to deliver education for 2025

University of Edinburgh  Education for 2025
University of Edinburgh Education for 2025

Vice Principal Professor Jeff Haywood delivered a keynote adress at recent ALT conference. In it he outlined a vision for the University of Edinburgh’s education in 2025.  The vision includes digital education, lifelong learning,  open educational resources (OER) and a significant  growth in online delivery to on- and off-campus students.

To support such a transformational shift we will need to build on recent success, draw upon our values and mission as an institution to find ‘the Edinburgh way’, and plan for investment to support sustainable, scalable growth.

This week the LTW service managers in the  many  IS academic IT teams  will meet as a group to begin to plan a roadmap of serious experiments, projects, support, staff development and infrastructure needed to make this vision a reality. We are looking closely at the many ‘flavours of openness’ in educational practice around the institution and discussing the investment needed in digital skills for teaching, learning and research. In his keynote Jeff stressed the need for the ‘serious experiments’ to be supported, evaluated and evidence based.  The reactions from the audience at ALT ( an international association of learning technologists in higher and further education) was that bold moves were needed at institutional and policy level to support a university like ours to adapt, change and maintain our position on the world stage.

If you would like to be part of ongoing discussions and consultations with Learning, Teaching and Web Services about the digital strategy, please contact  me.  Jeff’s keynote adress at ALT conference can be viewed online in full.

the open union

Teviot Row House, Edinburgh, pen drawing, c1888
Teviot Row House, Edinburgh, pen drawing, c1888.By Sydney Mitchell (Life time: 1930) [Public domain or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Teviot Row house is celebrating its 125th birthday this year and alumni are being welcomed back to share stories.

It is the oldest purpose built student union building in the world and it is stunning. It was designed to be fit for purpose, politics, power and community: ‘And with a house furnished as our Union is, our fellow-students may rest assured that they have much in their power to promote their own welfare.’

If you have ever tried to navigate your way around inside Teviot you might wonder what the original architect* imagined would be going on in there, and there is something of Hogwarts about its staircases, turrets and towers**.

It is a slightly disconcerting space and it takes you a few tries to get where you are going.  But if you persist there are rich environments, private spaces and favourite nooks to be found.

My memories of Teviot stem from my time as a student here, but also from the many summers it served as the Fringe Club during the Edinburgh Festivals. In recent years I have been lucky to spend time in there again as a trustee on the EUSA Board.

25th Oct 1889 description of Teviot’s opening, The Student


To assist in helping Teviot to celebrate, Claire found this snippet in the archives of The Student newspaper from 1889 when the Union  first opened for all.

‘It remains with the students themselves to make the Union what it ought to be, and if they join it as they ought they will be the gainers from it. The want is now supplied, and we shall look with interest on the progress of the new factor in our University life.’

The funding for the building was generated through an early ‘crowdsourcing-initiative’ 1 from amongst the students themselves. It would be fascinating to see if there is any record of that in the archives.

There was a book written for the 100th anniversary, it’s probably in the Library, called No spirits and precious few women‘, a reference to the fact that neither spirits nor women were included in Teviot until the early 1970s, which makes it sound like a rather dull place to me.  Nowadays, however, it is lively and buzzing with student councils, ceilidhs and tasty snacks.


*The architect, Sydney Mitchell was an alumnus of Edinburgh too.

** The creator of Hogwarts, J.K Rowling, is an alumna of Edinburgh too.


free as in freedom

Playground. Linda Gillard (c) University of Edinburgh Digital Image Collections CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 ECA Collection

I spent some of last week playing in  the trade exhibition and ‘Start-up alley‘ at Educause conference.

For a technology conference which has its keynotes in a main hall for several thousand people, the Educause presentations were charmingly retro and hardly technology-enhanced at all.

Clay Christiansen (62) spoke about distruptive innovation using slides featuring  small type, clip art, serif fonts, copyright assertions and some oddly watermarked images. He modelled the Harvard experience in front of an audience of 4000. He asked us to pray for Harvard Business School. Which we did.

Later on, national treasure Doris Kearns Goodwin (71) lectured for an hour reading rapidly from a pre-written paper accompanied by no visual aids. The audience hung on her every word. More proof, were it needed, that learning technology is grounded in the liberal arts.

I went sessions and presentations about the recent  shifts in the open source open communities: Apereo, Kauli and Unizin. There was a lot of talk about freedom and control.

I was surprised how many people wanted to discuss the recent Scottish referendum. More talk of freedom and control.