Tag: community

ALT-C 2019

It was my pleasure to welcome the Association of Learning Technologists back to Edinburgh. We hosted the conference here in 2001 and I am very pleased that we are able to do so again.

University of  Edinburgh and ALT have a long standing relationship, a long standing commitment. As well as providing a venue we have also provided some top quality speakers.  Sir Tim O’Shea was a keynote speaker in 2006, Jeff Haywood in 2014 and Sian Bayne in 2017   and there are more than 20 Edinburgh University colleagues presenting here this time.

We also have a long standing commitment to CMALT , some of us have had our CMALTs for a very long time, others are shiny new getting their awards at this conference . I am proud that we have so many CMALT holders working at Edinburgh, an important part of ensuring the professionalization of our learning technology staff who provide services across all the schools. Its that discipline of reflecting on the evaluation, context and policy environment in which they work which ensures they are able to work as part of a community of shared knowledge within the institution and that is a unique business advantage for us.

Delegates were impressed by our venue, the gorgeous McEwan Hall. The name, yes it is it is name of the brewing company.William McEwan paid for the building in 1897 with the profits from much pale ale, export and 80 shillings. You may be able to tell that its been recently renovated. We had 19 miles of scaffolding in here so that the conservators could clean and restore the paintings.

The central piece of art is known as “The Temple of Fame”  it has the names of muses,  philosophers and students. And if you look up you will see the inscription:

Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding. Exalt her and she shall bring thee to honour. (Proverbs 4:7).

You might see this proverb in knowledge creation organisations. It’s also around the dome of the Manchester Central Library and the Library of Congress. I think it means that while knowledge and education have their place, it is wisdom that makes people successful. Knowledge is the accumulation of information, understanding is the comprehension and interpretation of that information, but wisdom is the application. Wisdom is learning how to take the knowledge given and apply it to our lives in a workable manner, so that it benefits us, and benefits the lives of others.

I asked delgates to look up, but  also to look down.

As you leave McEwan Hall and head across to other sessions  in Appleton Tower,  as you go out the door look down.  You will see one of our newly  commission pieces of public art .The work is by Susan Collis it is called ‘The Next Big Thing is… a Series of Little Things ‘. It is a meandering series of little shiny dots that might go unnoticed.

It reminds us that thinking of big ideas is tempting, its exciting to imaging a technology, a magic pill or silver bullet, that one thing we are doing wrong but can correct with a single change and consequently improve the world we work in, but we should not ignore the small things.  The steady drip of work which wears down things that were set in stone and changes the shape of  what we do. That’s often where success starts.

A couple weeks before the conference ALT published an interview conversation with CEO Maren Deepwell and me, and the day the conference began we wrote a piece together for Wonkhe.

If you missed the conference you can catch up with the best bits on Youtube



sweeping the common

Image copyright: Peter Stubbs peter.stubbs@edinphoto.org.uk Used with permission.

Our staff and students experience our physical estate and our digital estate. In the city of Edinburgh much of the housing stock is flats. Flats in a common stair.  Some of these flats are large, grand and very elegant. Nevertheless  they have equal shares and responsibility in common.

The experience of communal living in a shared common stair relies on  a shared commitment to hygiene: knowing when and where to put out your rubbish and taking turns to wash and clean the common.  Taking the time makes the place better for all. Each year, all across the city- notably in Marchmont and the southside- new households of students move into flats and the permanent residents begin again educating them on the mores of communal living.

Universities have large transient populations: new students and new staff each year. If it weren’t for the local community taking care of each other the whole place would fall into disrepair.

I expect you can see where I am going with this…. <whispers> it’s abit like that with OER.

crowdsourcing and communities

Women Singing at a Table (Waulking the Cloth) by Keith Henderson http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/women-singing-at-a-table-waulking-the-cloth-94160
Women Singing at a Table (Waulking the Cloth)
by Keith Henderson http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/women-singing-at-a-table-waulking-the-cloth-94160

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.

learn to edit Wikipedia and change the way the stories are told

Rosie the Editor
Rosie the Editor

All welcome.

Join us at our women in science Wikipedia Editathon  each afternoon 16-19th Feb

Have you ever wondered why the information in Wikipedia is extensive for some topics and scarce for others?

Did you know that the Edinburgh Seven were the first women to matriculate to study medicine in HE in the UK? Do you know when? Do you know their names and the things they went on to do? Do you know about the Surgeons Hall riot?

Did you know that of the 300,000 people who make regular edits to Wikipedia only 13% are women?

It seems like there is work to be done to enrich the quality and quantity of articles which might inspire people to know more about the history of women in science, particularly in Edinburgh where we have such cracking stories to be told.

During  Innovative Learning Week, the University’s Information Services team  are running a series of four Wikipedia ‘editathons‘ with the support of the School of Literature, Languages and Cultures, the Moray House School of Education, EDINA, and the National Library of Scotland. We will  focus on improving the quality of articles about women in Scottish science history. Working together with archivists, academic colleagues and Wikimedia experts, we will train you how to edit and add information to Wikipedia. It really is very easy.

We will explore how writing Wikipedia articles develops digital literacy and academic writing skills. You will be supported to develop articles covering women in science, Scottish women in history, Edinburgh as the birth place of medicine, the Edinburgh Seven, University history, distinguished Edinburgh alumni etc. We will bring out content from the University archives which has never been mentioned on the Web before and you can bring your research, your knowledge, your search skills, your writing skills.

This series of events will run over a series of afternoons with focused topics. You can attend just once or on multiple days, and can select topics that interest you and which need development on Wikipedia. Training, technical support and subject area advice will be provided throughout. One day we will focus on editing biographies and people pages, another day  buildings, places and linking to maps, another day on adding images, but you can work on any of those as we go along.

Each workshop is open to all: campus-based students, distance learning students, alumni, all staff and members of the public.

Once you have learned to edit  you will want to do it again and again. Trust me.

As a starting place we have selected people, mostly women, who are significant to the University, medicine and science, past and present, and will bring interesting source materials that will support article development. You are welcome to bring your own topic and source materials. We will be working to improve and extend the articles about:

  • Mary Anderson (Edinburgh 7)
  • Charlotte Auerbach
  • James Miranda Steuart Barry (aka Margaret Ann Bulkley)
  • Emily Bovell (Edinburgh 7)
  • Matilda Chaplin (Edinburgh 7)
  • Sir Robert Christison (opponent of the university education of women)
  • Mary Crudelius (campaigner for women’s education)
  • Helen Evans (Edinburgh 7)
  • Elsie Inglis (maternity health)
  • Sophia Jex-Blake (Edinburgh 7)
  • Eve Johnstone (Psychiatry)
  • Judith MacKay (tobacco control)
  • David Masson (supporter of the university education of women)
  • Noreen Murray (molecular geneticist – as in Ken and Noreen Murray Library)
  • Edith Pechey (Edinburgh 7)
  • Elsie Stephenson (nursing)
  • Isabel Thorne (Edinburgh 7)