Tag: values

Wanted: Equality image intern

A cartoon in our archives showing Noreen Murray as a schoolgirl being reprimanded for making clones of herself in the laboratory (a reference to Noreen’s work cloning DNA)

University of Edinburgh Library and Collections has a huge number of image collections with a wide range of art, science, portraits, people, cartoons and photographs. We would like to open up some of these images to make them more discoverable and usable as images of role models, women in science, women in medicine, diverse groups and positive representations.

Job Purpose:
Your project will be to search our collections for striking, inspirational and engaging images and work with curators to describe, digitise, publish and share them in a way which makes them easy to find and reuse. Your work will be supervised by our collection curators and archivists who will help you to describe and interpret what you find.

This internship coincides with an exciting time for Information Services Group as we celebrate the diversity of our collections. Your work will be the starting point for future projects and give us vital information to help us plan new ways of working. This is an exciting opportunity to work with some of the UK’s most interesting collections and your work will have immediate and visible impact.

Working Hours:
Working hours are 6 hours per week. Flexible conditions (working pattern to be negotiated with the successful applicant).


Main Responsibilities:
•You will work closely with our archivists and curators to identify where in our collections there may be images (particularly of women and women scientists) which can be found, shared and re-used.
•You will take high quality scans and photographs of the images, create descriptive metadata, store files in line with agreed workflows
and regularly add the images with their stories to a library-hosted blog.
•You will work with our other interns to ensure that the images you find are quickly used.
•You will work under supervision, but on your own initiative to use your investigative, research and search skills to discover images with
stories and visual impact.
•Throughout the term of the internship you will find and share a steady stream of content that can be easily re-used in presentations and displays around the university.
•You will gain new skill in researching collections, understanding metadata, intellectual property rights and copyright, as well as using digital scanners and digital images.
•You will work as part of a large team and independently, managing your own work projects and time, reporting on progress, publishing your findings and attendingmeetings and presentations.
•You will gain a unique insight into the library andcollections and equality and diversity issues in that context.
•You will challenge us with new ideas and summarise these in an end-of-project report.
Person Specification:
•A current PhD University of Edinburgh student (this post is designated for the purposes of student employment, therefore you must be a matriculated student for the duration of your employment).
•A background in a relevant subject area such as gender studies, art, sociology, information studies, literature, journalism, photography, science, engineering, education, humanities, library studies, archiving, curation, human resources, management or any other relevant discipline.
•You will have a keen eye for detail, be patient and accurate and understand the
importance, beauty and power of metadata.
•Experience of searching, researching and finding things.
•Initiative and judgment to resolve many day-to-day problems independently.
•An enquiring mind and an eye for detail.
•Strong written and oral presentation skills.
•Good IT skills for using social media, working with data and targeted communications.
•Ability to set, meet, manage and monitor progress against targets.
•An engaging interpersonal style and experience of successfully persuading and influencing colleagues.
•Ability to handle irreplaceable documents and objects with care.
•Understanding of relevant equality and diversity themes as they relate to equality in theworkplace and the importance of visible role models and positive representations.
•Experience of researching a topic in detail.
•An understanding of how cultural heritage collections can support learning and research at universities.
•This internship would suit someone with a background in equality or gender studies,change management or human resources or someone with a particular interest inpolicies and practicalities of gender issues in library, technology or STEM workplaces.
•Creativity and resourcefulness

technical debt for OER

Me trying to find a book on technical debt. Photo credit: LTW, University of Edinburgh CC-BY
Me trying to find a book on technical debt. Photo credit: LTW, University of Edinburgh CC-BY

Three weeks ago,  while preparing  my presentation for e-learningforum@ed conference I was musing on the similarities between ‘technical debt’ and what one might call ‘ copyright debt’.

I was thinking about institutional risks of not being open. Institutional risks are sometimes legal, sometimes reputational, sometimes financial.  Mostly, at IT directors’ meetings we talk about the need to mitigate risks early on, and avoid risks in the future.

Generally,  the risks of not engaging with open practice are reputational: Other institutions are doing it; we might miss out on this good thing; we should be seen to be bold in digital education and leading edge in our open research. There is a risk to our reputation if colleagues do not seem to be up to-date-on licensing and refer to online materials or data as ‘open’ when they are not. But most of those risks are easily hidden under a smear of open-washing and a vagueness about the definition of open in different contexts.

These are not risks which will ever convince a VP Finance and Resources to invest.

If you want to convince an IT director or a CIO to invest in systems which have built-in  open-licensing workflows,  protecting the institution against the risk of expensive copyright debt may be the way forward.

My definition of ‘copyright debt’ is based on my understanding of ‘technical debt’. Technical debt is a metaphor often used in IT to explain why it costs so much to replace IT systems. I  use it to explain why rather than spending my budget on new exciting learning and teaching functionality, I am having to spend it to replace something we thought we already had.

You can ready about technical debt on Wikipedia. It’s the cost of not doing something properly in the first place. From the moment you build a system poorly, without due attention to software code rigour and process, you begin to accrue debt and then interest on that debt. From the moment you don’t fix, patch and maintain the code, the same thing happens. At some point you are going to have to go back and fix it, and the longer you leave it the more expensive it will be*.

From the moment a colleague tells you that they don’t have time, or don’t care about the copyright licensing and metadata on their teaching materials and load them up into a VLE, online course environment, departmental website, online course-pack, lecture power-point slides, whatever, you start to accrue ‘copyright debt’.

Someone will have to go back to those materials at some point to check them, figure out who made them and when and check for 3rd party content. The longer time passes (or staff change) between the original materials   being uploaded in to the VLE the harder it will be to find the original source.

The cost will hit at the moment that you migrate from one VLE to another, or from one website to another, or from one media asset management system to another.  At that point lecturers and departmental administrators will be asked to confirm that they have copyright permission for the materials they are migrating, and they will say ‘ I have no idea, in fact I don’t even remember/know where all the bits came from’.

They will suggest that someone in a central service (usually the library) should do the checking, and that is where the cost hits. No-one in the library is super-human enough ( unless you pay them a lot)  to check all the hundreds of teaching and learning materials in your VLE, so most of it will just be binned and colleagues will be outraged that they have to make it all again.

I’d suggest the common causes of copyright debt include (a combination of):

  • Business pressures, where the business considers getting something released sooner before all of the necessary copyright searches are complete.
  • Lack of process or understanding, where the businesse is blind to the concept of copyright debt, and make decisions without considering the implications.
  • Lack of flexible components, where materials are not openly licensed, the re-use permissions are  not flexible enough to adapt to changes in course content.
  • Lack of time, which encourages colleagues  to do quick  google searches and take materials they find without checking the license.
  • Lack of metadata, where content is created without necessary supporting metadata. That work to create the supporting metadata represents a debt that must be paid.
  • Lack of collaboration, where knowledge of open practice isn’t shared around the organization and business efficiency suffers, or junior learning technologists  are not properly mentored.
  • Parallel development at the same time on two or more VLEs  can cause the build up of copyright debt because of the work that will eventually be required to move content from one to another. The more content developed in isolation without clear licensing , the more debt that is piled up.
  • Delayed reformatting – the  formats which were used for creating learning objects quickly becomes obsolete. Without clear permission to make adaptations it is hard for older TEL materials to be converted to new formats.  The longer that reformatting is delayed, and the more content is written to use the older format, the more debt that piles up that must be paid at the time the conversion is finally done.
  • Lack of alignment to standards, where industry standard features, frameworks, open technologies are ignored. Eventually, integration with standards will come, doing it sooner will cost less.
  • Lack of knowledge, when the content creator simply doesn’t know how or why to use open materials.

The challenge in all this of course, is that the individual academics making the materials don’t care about the longer term cost to the central services of this debt. This argument won’t persuade them to take the time to change their practice, so we must build rigour for open practice  into the workflows of our enterprise-wide systems and services as soon as we possibly can, making it easy for colleagues to make positive choices.

Or else we risk a whole heap of copyright debt.

*Basically it is the software equivalent of ‘ a stitch in time saves nine’.

(While I was doing this thinking, I bumped into  a session at #OER15 called  ‘the cost of not going open‘ by Viv Rolfe which also looked to quantify costs. Viv’s approach is to look at costs and savings around academic time spent creating materials, which complements my thinking rather nicely.)



ctrl alt c

Picture taken by me in the street. No rights reserved.
Picture taken by me in the street. No rights reserved.

I have spent a couple of days this week at the ALT ( Association of Learning Technologists) Conference at Warwick. There were three keynote presentations. Each really interesting in its own way and each building upon the other. The assembled delegates were very well served (as were those tuning in online)

The first keynote was by Jeff Haywood, VP and leader of IS (University of Edinburgh). I would not ever want to give the impression that one has to go away to conferences to hear what is going on in your home institution, but it was fun to see it all up on the big screen and to tune in to the twitter comments from our peer community.

Jeff was followed by a keynote from Catherine Cronin (National University of Ireland). Her presentation covered the importance of values in open practice,  how her values have been shaped by experience, the importance of voting and a very clear representation for women in this workplace/space.  Her presentation was clearly inspirational for many, as reflected in the tweets from audience members and the high turn out at the Open Education SIG a couple of hours later. She signalled that education is a political space and that openness must be informed by what we know about gender, race and class.

Audrey Watters’ ( no institution) keynote also drew upon history and literature. I begin to suspect that a good grounding in the liberal arts is a useful background for educational technologists. She talked about man-made monsters and drew inspiration from previous writers and actors (including the luddites)*.

I spoke with Catherine about Mary Somerville and Audrey namechecked Ada Lovelace.

As I listened to the presentations and audience questions there was much to reflect upon, a couple things are high in my mind though. I have been thinking about the  politics of code, the values upon which it is based and in-built assumptions it can embody. I mentioned Bodington in a previous post. That was a VLE designed on the assumption that all the same tools which were available to teachers would also be available to students. It was in there in the architecture, it did not privilege the teacher’s voice, it was a tool to democratise the classroom.  I like technology which is based on those kind of values.

I was surprised at the conference to hear several people refer to Facebook as ‘open’ and as a space where great things can be done, a place that students have as a ‘good place’ and that educators should use. While I use facebook personally as much as the next woman, I have no illusions as to its origins and the values of its creators. Facebook was born out of misogyny  in elite univerisities and continues to be a place where peer pressure and shaming are rife. I like those values less.

I agree with Jeff, Catherine and Audrey: it is important that we understand our history and learn from our experiences.

There were many mentions of MOOCing cash cows and very few of cultural imperialism or sustainability. In general, the ALT conference made little mention of  FOSS  or CC although WordPress, Moodle and open badges did get multiple mentions and showcases.  A strong representation from the Scottish institutions and Open Scotland, but no discussion of what we’ll do when they cut us off from JANET.**

I could happily go a long time without hearing the phrase ‘herding cats’ again.

You are wondering if I actually attended any sessions about technology. I can assure you that many salespersons showed me theirs.


*I had a heated dinner table discussion with someone at the conference who believed that luddites lived in caves. I suspect he meant troglodytes.

** and despite several mentions of Luddites and laggards, no reference, even in the OER sessions, to Levellers.

swan upping

Picture taken by me in the street . No rights reserved.

Edinburgh is one of 100 universities and research institutes which are members of the SWAN Charter. The Charter is open to any university or research institute which is committed to the advancement and promotion of the careers of women in science, engineering, technology  and mathematics (STEM) in higher education and research.

Athena -SWAN accrediation is only available to academic departments, and now that the University is doing so well the focus has begun to turn to the support units.  This week some of the University of Edinburgh IT Directors began early thinking about the swan-like positions we might assume in the future.

The challenge of course is that ( possibly) unlike other central support departments, the feeder disciplines for working in IT are STEM; so we recruit from the same pool, and there are many more attractive opportunities in industry on offer to the few female technology graduates coming out of our universities.

Another challenge is the focus on advancement and promotion. The structures for this are very different in the academic departments to those in the support units. I read in the THE this week that most dons ‘haven’t the slightest idea’ to whom they report, whereas we spend hours, days and weeks ensuring that line management lines are clear. There are no chances of promotion if your organigram is out of date.

a long day’s journey into rights

Picture taken by me in the room. No rights reserved.

“Sharing, done properly, is both smart and right.” 1

I talked a lot about Creative Commons licences today.

The horizon ( as seen from the rooftop terrace of Evolution House) looks bright, and near, and enlightened. What a privilege to spend a beautiful morning in a stunning venue brainstorming creative ideas with clever and motivated colleagues. I enjoyed reflecting on the last 15 years which have brought me back to this place and on how much easier life is now that the we have a licensing framework that the creators of works can understand, their users can understand, and even the Web itself can understand.

Most of my presentation was based on  an open approaches case study I wrote for Jisc a while back, but I also managed to get in a name check for Bodington VLE.

Two of the things I like about Creative Commons are the mission and the vision. These seem to me like values a university’s learning, teaching and web service should embrace.

Our mission

Creative Commons develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.

Our vision

Our vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.