2020 – The year that open came into its own
2020 marks 5 years of the OER Service at the University of Edinburgh. The service was launched in 2015 in advance of the OER Policy being formally approved in January 2016. This time last year we were meeting with LTW colleagues to discuss how to mark the occasion and to start planning a series of activities and events that would culminate in a one day open education symposium at the University. Our plans to celebrate 5 years of the OER Service went to the wall before they even got underway, as it quickly became apparent that 2020 was going to be a year unlike any other. However despite, or perhaps because of the COVID-19 pandemic, open education and OER has risen in prominence and become of greater importance than ever before.
With schools, colleges and universities closing all over the world, education being disrupted for millions of learners, and institutions struggling to adapt to the sudden online pivot, it quickly became apparent that open education resources and practices could play a critical role in mitigating the impact of the pandemic on teachers and learners. Furthermore, it was clear that organisations and institutions that had already made a strategic commitment to open education and OER were well placed to responded to the unparalleled challenges of the pandemic.
International bodies, including UNESCO and Creative Commons, were quick to recognise and respond to this potential. In April UNESCO issued a COVID-19 Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through Open Educational Resources (OER). At the same time, Creative Commons launched the Open Covid Pledge, which encourages organisations to make their intellectual property available free of charge for use in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and minimising the impact of the disease.
Inspired by the CC Pledge, open education consultant Helen Beetham launched the Open Covid Pledge for Education with support from the Association for Learning Technology. The aim of this pledge is to make intellectual property pertaining to education freely and openly available to support educators, students and decision-makers, to help educational organisations survive and thrive, and to build a fairer and more resilient education system. The University of Edinburgh was one of the early signatories of this pledge, and we have since shared a wide range of resources and practices using the #OpenCovid4Ed hashtag.
Because the University of Edinburgh already had an established strategic commitment to OER and open education, and the infrastructure and resources to support it, we were able to respond rapidly to meet the unique educational demands of the pandemic. This included launching the COVID Critical Care MOOC in record time, sharing open licensed 3D PPE models, disseminating free teaching and learning resources for school teachers to use online, highlighting relevant resources from legacy MOOCs and new short online courses, and rolling out new digital skills training courses and advice on copyright and open licensing for remote and hybid teaching. You can read more about all these initiatives here: For the Common Good – Responding to the global pandemic with OER.
Our open approaches to developing policy and guidance also meant that we were able to share our new Virtual Classroom Policy and Digital Safety and Citizenship resources under Creative Commons licence in order to benefit the whole community, at a time when many institutions were grappling with how to create effective policies to address the new world of hybrid teaching.
We also saw a remarkable increase in all kinds of academic blogging, as colleagues realised that blogging is a really effective way to share practice, build community and collegiality, and minimise the impact of transactional distance. We now have over 3,600 blogs on the University’s centrally supported academic blogging platform blogs.ed, many of which are open licensed. We developed a new workshop on blogging to support remote and hybrid teaching and, for colleagues who were keen to create new blogging assignments for their courses, we were able to share grade-related marking criteria for assessed blogs developed by Nina Morris and Hazel Christie as part of a previous Principal’s Teaching Award funded project.
The move to hybrid teaching also resulted in an explosion of innovative media content being created across the institution. There are now over 4000 open licensed videos, covering a wide range of topics and subject areas, available to share and re-use on Media Hopper Create, with more being added every day.
Because we already had the OER infrastructure in place to support all this activity, and a wide range of open channels including blogs, websites, twitter and social media accounts, we were able to disseminate our open resources, research and practices, using the #OpenCovid4Ed hashtag. This makes exemplars easily available and accessible to all without the need to curate a repository.
Discussing the Open Covid Pledge for Education, in advance of our plenary panel at the ALT Winter Conference, Melissa Highton, Assistant Principal and Director of Learning, Teaching and Web Services, noted that with every university creating masses of new online content this year, now might be the time for more institutions to engage with the idea of having licensing services in places other than the library, and to focus on embedding copyright literacy in digital skills development for all learning technologists, academics and students.
We may not have been able to celebrate 5 years of support for OER and open education at the University of Edinburgh in quite the way we had originally planned, however if this year has taught us anything, it’s that strategic support for OER and open education enables us all to respond more effectively and equitably to all kinds of challenges. The ground work we’ve already laid stands us in good stead for whatever 2021 brings.
Header image: Meeting Backgrounds from the Collections, CC BY, University of Edinburgh