Month: November 2014

female, noun or adjective?

Women Singing at a Table (Waulking the Cloth) by Keith Henderson
Women Singing at a Table (Waulking the Cloth)
by Keith Henderson

Last night I had dinner with some very clever women of my acquaintance. I mentioned to them that I had been on “unconscious bias’ training.  ‘What does that even mean?’ they asked. Luckily, I was able to clarify as I have now had 3 different men mansplain it to me.

The University is on an equality and diversity kick. I have now been to 2 sessions on the topic. One much better than the other. I’ll be sending my feedback in. In today’s session I asked whether unconscious bias was the new name for prejudice. That didn’t go down well.

Clearly there are no women who can deliver unconscious bias training to senior university managers, which surprises me, since you would think it was a rich area of work. Perhaps all the female presenters and trainers are being kept in reserve for the Aurora sessions and Athena SWAN sessions.

One thing I have noticed though is that colleagues in the sessions seem reluctant to use the word ‘women‘.  I have heard ‘girls’,ladies ‘and ‘females’ repeatedly.

It was the repeated use of the word ‘girls’ and some rather off-colour anecdotes about lesbians which makes me mark down the second set of presenters. That, and some very uninspiring pedagogy. Surely we can do better than this.


revisiting Woolf in Virginia

The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & The Summer Isles © The University of Edinburgh
The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & The Summer Isles © The University of Edinburgh

Virginia Woolf wrote ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction’*.  A room of ones own is a luxury which few could afford at the time without help from husband or family.

As a woman who values enormously the space I have from which to write my blog, I am particularly keen to do what I can to lower the barriers and restrictions which stop any individual or group writing openly.

I was in Virginia this week to hear more about the ‘Domain of One’s Own’ project at the University of Mary Washington. The project provides all incoming freshmen with their own domain names and Web space.  Students have the freedom to create subdomains, install any LAMP-compatible software, setup databases and email addresses, and carve out their own space on the web that they own and control.  The University picks up the cost of paying for the domain as long as the student is a student. When they stop being a UMW student, they can choose to take over paying for the hosting or let it lapse. In the meantime they have learned valuable digital literacy skills and contributed web-based user-created content to all or any of their courses and activities. The university is not afraid of what the students might do in the space.

It seems to me that this approach is very much in line with University of Edinburgh’s recent ‘Digital Footprint’ campaign, and if we chose to follow it, would build on our commitment to developing the student experience. It is certainly one of the more interesting ways to link student use of the web to their time as part of the university community.

Not cheap though, for 30,000 students.


*A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf is available as OER e-bookvia Project Gutenberg of Australia.

OpenSpires inspires

Screen shot of OpenSpires (C) University of Oxford CC-BY

Over the summer a couple of the interns we recruited to work at IT Services, University of Oxford have been working  with IT Services staff and academic colleagues to create a new website which draws together in one place all of the Oxford massive online open collections (MOOCs), open educational resource (OER) initiatives, open science, open source and open data projects. Oxford began publishing OER in 2009. The work over the last 5 years includes everything from podcasts to crowdsourcing schemes, educational materials to whole digital archives.

You can see them all at

The site serves as an excellent showcase of projects and initatives which have taken a proactive and deliberate approach to openness in line with the University’s mission to maintain and enhance its standing as a university of international reach in teaching, research and knowledge dissemination.

I’ve been really proud to support many of these projects via the OER Service of training and advice in IT Services and of the fact that much of the guidance, training materials and content which IT Services produces is also licenced as OER. It’s important to walk the talk in all parts of the university.

visitors and residents

Unique creation by Sophie of Kellogg. Commercial use by negotiation.
Unique creation by Sophie of Kellogg. Commercial use by negotiation.

Last night I dined at Kellogg again. Now that I am a visiting fellow rather than a resident one I was pleased to be invited to be guest Chamberlaine for the evening.

It was Scholars evening, so we celebrated the many generous gifts of donors to the College, some of whom are alumni, and others who just believe that the work of the College and the work of these individual students is worth supporting. I had lovely company at dinner sitting with social policy champion Amanda and Heather, Desmond Tutu Scholar and Wikipedia researcher.

I chose the importance of voting as the theme for my after dinner speech. We had a number of guests from Somerville College so I was able to make reference to Mary Somerville’s campaigns for women’s suffrage as well as the recent MCR elections, the Scottish independence referendum and the imminent general election.

I was also able to remind the current University of Oxford students that until 1950 as a graduate of that ( and this) university you would actually have had 2 votes in a UK general election. One for the area of the country where you reside, one for the university constituency.

The university constituencies, Oxford, Cambridge, University of London, the ancient Scottish universities and Queens Belfast all sent elected MPs to Westminster.

This was a wheeze started by the Scots and imported to England following the union of the crowns. It went on for a very long time. Several Cromwells, Pitt the Younger, Lord Palmerston, Francis Bacon, Issac Newton, Robert Peel and Ramsay MacDonald benefitted from the arrangement. Needless to say, it did nothing for the town and gown relations in any of the cities and was all ended by the Representation of the Peoples Act in 1948.

In preparing the speech I made use of a very handy OER from University of Cambridge: ‘Dons in the House’.