Month: February 2015

we can [edit], yes we can

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We can edit and we can eat cake. Picture taken by me, no rights reserved, and no leftovers.

The Women, Science and Scottish History editathon‘ series of events in Innovative Learning Week at University of Edinburgh was a great success. We ran sessions on 4 days, had plenty of new students, staff and friends join us, edited more than 30 articles and trained dozens of novice wikipedia editors.

Each day, the one-hour introduction to editing Wikipedia focused on offering tips and insight into different approaches as well as practical training. Participants were welcome to  attend as many days as they would like: everyday we  added something new. Our Wikimedia trainers (principally Ally, the Wikimedian in Residence at the National Library of Scotland)  was on hand  to provide assistance, and our librarians ( Marshall, Gavin and Grant)  provided specialised materials focusing on the subjects covered.

Knowledge was shared openly. Articles  were created or improved. Networks of connections were made and  shared topics of interest explored.   Copious cake and cookies were eaten, and a fun time was had by all. We plan to do further events and some research to maintain and sustain momentum and support our fledgling crowd community. In December, at  the EduWiki conf  Ally reported that she had not seen much engagement  from University of Edinburgh in Wikipedia projects . At least that’s changed.


The hashtag was #ILWeditathon. Read Our story in a storify

Articles improved

Articles created

crowdsourcing and communities

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

I have been in several meetings this week discussing crowdsourcing and citizen science models for Edinburgh. The terms are often being used interchangably even though they really shouldn’t.

Remembering my time at Oxford  I was thinking of the Oxford Community Collection model. This is a model of working we developed to support any organisation in creating a shared collection of digital asssets through online crowdsourcing and personal interaction.

The beauty of the model is that it combines large-scale online crowd-sourcing with personal, individual interaction. The model allows contributors to choose the way they contribute to a collection, offering those who lack the resources, ability, or opportunity to use computers an opportunity to be part of a digital initiative, sharing their material with the world.

The model also includes a real emphasis on planning for with sustainable success. Being part of and interacting with a community is central. This is described and discussed in more detail in RunCoCo: How to Run a Community Collection Online (2011), a report which presents a simple A, B, C of advice for projects:

  • Aim for Two-way engagement;
  • Be part of your community;
  • Challenge your assumptions.

In finding a unique approach at Edinburgh the fact that we have our successful MOOC learner communities has been mentioned. It’s no longer about what you can get 100,000 people to watch or read, it’s about what you can get them to make , do, add and share. And it’s about being part of your community. More on this later.

european community engagement

Me at ScotlandEuropa
Me at ScotlandEuropa

I spoke in Brussels this week about University of Edinburgh’s leading role in developing and delivering innovation in higher education. The LERU league of European research institutions is an unashamedly closed club of 21, but occasionally they have open-ish meetings and this one was packed, so it was an interesting and interactive session. This particular meeting was at Scotland House, so I felt like I was representing up.

The meeting was focussed around the briefing paper which was written while I was working at Oxford, so it was fun to respond to it on behalf of Edinburgh now that I work here.

I spoke mostly about the unique positions held by the research institutions in engagement with their communities near and far and about the channels for translating research with social relevance.

Earlier in the meeting there had been much conservative concern and warnings (from those not doing MOOCs) that doing MOOCs was not worthwhile. The presentations from Leiden and Edinburgh about our MOOC success and mission relevance perked everyone up again.

I spoke about how involvement in the emerging area of MOOCs is inline with our three- part core mission: teaching, research and innovation. Our teaching in our MOOCs is strongly influenced by research we do about our MOOCs, is innovative, and the platforms we work with are informed by knowledge transfer in educational technology development.

We are motivated to inspire the citizens and leaders of tomorrow to be curious, driven, responsible and capable of academic thinking. I spoke about the U21 Critical Thinking in Global Challenges shared online course (SOC) which builds upon and runs parallel to, our MOOC of the same name. We are taking the opportunity to strategically extend our online learning opportunities to learners or co-enquirers outside our university. Universitas 21 also has 21 members, and some of them are the same as the LERU 21 members, but many are not. Nice to see colleagues from Amsterdam and Lund.

I talked about how we strategically work collaboratively with other institutions, and with commercial partners in the delivery of online learning. I mentioned our increasing strategic closeness with SRUC and their contributions to our growing stable (or barnyard) of horse, animal and chicken MOOCs*.  I mentioned our partnership work with national museums, the Scottish Government and the Edinburgh Festivals.

What struck me though, was that the hype is fading around MOOCs and the idea that this is going to transform the business of higher education  by opening it up to all has passed. It increasingly becomes attractive to those big brands who are getting the strategic benefit of these international platforms to  discourage other from getting into the same space.  Colleagues from Leiden agreed.

Doing MOOCs well is very difficult and very expensive. Unless you have excellent teams, which we do, it won’t be a success.

In fact, if you work at any of the other LERU institutions you should certainly heed all the advice in the LERU paper and not rush into it.


*Leiden have chosen Sharia law and international terrorism as their MOOC topics. That makes ours look actually rather tame.