My first Creative Commons Summit (in 10 Tweets)

This year I was able to take part in the Creative Commons Global Summit alongside my colleague Martin Hawksey, and it was a fantastic experience. I have long been involved in the Creative Commons community and various activities but this was my first visit to the event which is at the heart of it all and I was met with real warmth and welcoming acceptance. The creative and joyful atmosphere of the conference, from the handmade designs on the badges to the samba music playing throughout the museum conference venue conveyed a sense of celebration and joy at this meeting of so many in the Commons but also motivated to pull up your sleeves, get stuck in and do plenty of work (and there was A LOT to be done).

One of the strands I followed throughout the conference was around gender equality, visibility and leadership starting with Kelsey Merkley’s session on the UnCommon Womens project and later in a powerful keynote during the opening evening and running throughout all three days.

I also had the privilege to take part in some of the VConnecting sessions organised around the event, opening up the conversation to those not able to attend in person and I really enjoyed meeting participants from all across the globe in that manner as we sat in corridors and next to lifts, supported most capably by both online and onsite buddies (thanks Ken & Christian!!) who made it possibly for us to talk all things open across time zones and continents.

I also really enjoyed the more creative side of the Summit and I met makers and artists as well as platforms (Hello, CC-Create) that had never heard of before, opening up completely new perspectives on how art, music and design function in the Commons and how big an impact openness in these contexts can have from delivering education to making tools more accessibility and affordable.

As well as talks around creativity and equality I was able to participate in a number of sessions and workshops around digital literacy, staff development and copyright literacy, including this particularly fun session in which I learnt a lot of new things about copyright:

And one of the highlights of the final day was a critically inspired panel about AI (maybe the first conference session on the topic that didn’t leave me frustrated or angry) very elegantly facilitated by CC’s CEO Ryan Merkley:

The final highlight for me was that Martin & I were able to share some of the developments that are happening in our community with the Summit. It was a real privilege for us to have our proposal accepted and we really enjoyed our sessions and were really grateful for the interest & questions it stimulated:

Many custard tarts were eaten, there was rain, fog, wind & plenty of sunshine, there were many useful conversations, resources & ideas shared and I am taking back a lot of inspiration as I join on last VConnecting session from Lisbon Airport.

CC Summit, I certainly hope to be able to join in again another year and thank you for a wonderful experience.

Virtual Teams: Applying order to chaos

Hello and welcome to this month’s post on leading a virtual team. In this post (cross-posted here) the two of us, that is Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) and Maren Deepwell (@marendeepwell), continue our series of openly sharing our approach to leadership.

If you are new here, you can catch up on earlier posts and podcasts or find out more about ALT, the organisation we work for as senior staff. We really appreciate comments and feedback and welcome questions or suggestions for future posts.

This time we’re talking about team culture, upgrading workflows, the ISO9001 Standard, the MIT90s Framework, our dislike of management terminology and the impact of being busy on communication and collaboration as a virtual team.

April

Maren: one of the themes we keep coming back to is how to improve our processes and I have been thinking about that in relation to my personal approach, what we do as a team and how we function as an organisation: first, on a personal basis I have been doing some upgrading to how I manage my own to do lists. This has brought me back to re-reading one of the first books on productivity I ever read, Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done and his “five steps that apply order to chaos” are still a useful reminder for me now. I’ve also been looking at the ISO9001 Standard and the seven quality management principles that inform the standard. Management speak notwithstanding these principles are very much what we do day to day, even if as an organisation we don’t articulate our approach in that manner. It’s useful to review these things from time to time, to remind ourselves of the baseline of how organisations function and how what we do aligns with that, similar to the Open Leadership Handbook we recently looked at. But the part of the puzzle I am most interested in at the moment is how we communicate what we do to our Members and the public in general and I have seen some interesting examples of how other organisations do that, for example the ETUG survey results and Open Education Week sharing its impact summary. One of the challenges we have as a small organisation is to balance getting things done with ensuring what we do is visible and I have the feeling that the busier we are the less communicative we become about what’s been achieved.

Martin: There is a culture aspect of this that is worth unpicking. Last month we highlighted the difference between ‘cultural fit’ and ‘cultural alignment’. Evolving our culture to make they way we communicate to our Members and the public needs us to consider how we adjust our cultural alignment as a team. With a smaller team resource is always a huge factor and change requires time. At the moment given we have two vacancies in our team that we are filling there is perhaps an opportunity to do something as the dynamic in our team changes. In a previous learning technology role culture was a hot topic, in particular, how do you change organisational culture. Something often discussed then was the MIT90s framework in which Scott Morton (1991) purposes that organisations are comprised of “five sets of forces in dynamic equilibrium among themselves even as the organisation is subjected to influences from an external environment”.

In revisiting the MIT90s framework I came across this in the conference paper “Thinking About Virtual Organisations and the Future

Seeing the organisation in this light has made business managers realise the importance for the organisation to transform to meet the needs of the time. But more importantly, underneath a successful transformation is two conditions that must be met for this transformation. They are: (1) the creation of a vision which must be clearly understood and supported by everyone in the organisation; and (2) the ability to align infrastructures (such as information technology, work structures and processes) with the business goals. No matter what form or structures the organisation takes, these conditions must remain true; even for the virtual organisation.

So in terms of developing a culture where staff are more focused on visibility and communication you could argue that the changing team dynamic is an opportunity for everyone to engage in a new vision and ensure our infrastructures (IT, processes, structure etc.) are aligned. I feel I’ve taken us down a bit of a rabbit hole with this but I’m interested to know if you have an answer to “the busier we are the less communicative we become”?

Maren: My response to that would be that the busier we get the more likely we are to loose perspective. In any busy team, or role, there is always a balance to be struck between getting things done and finding time to think about things – and different factors can make it harder to find that balance: lots of change, things happening outside of work, ill health, heavy workloads etc. Signs of not quite finding that balance in my experience are things like not using project plans or to do lists properly, but instead allowing one’s inbox to dictate what to focus on (we talked about noisy versus important things in a past post), arranging to catch up and not remembering what about, feeling stressed but not that things improve when you tick things off your list etc. Kindness towards one self and others is key here. Giving oneself a break is particularly important when things are busy and can be hard to do. And it always helps to go back to basics, like the to do list strategy I mentioned earlier, and use the processes you have in place to regain some of that perspective, which in turn makes it easier to communicate what you are doing, progress being made and importantly achievements to colleagues and stakeholders. One simple tweak we have made this year is to add to our Operational Plan a column that prompts everyone to consider how they would sum up the output of a task in 280 characters or less and a column which asks us to note what’s new in any given area of operations. We are just about to make use of these new elements for the first time and I am curious to see how useful that will be for us to gain that sense of perspective and balance as a team. I really like our plan and find it really useful to track strategic progress and operational load, and it’s been great to tweak things to try and make it even better. One of the things you talk about is shared vision and that is a really interesting topic when like us you are in the final phase of delivering a really strong, shared vision and strategy before creating a new one. When people get involved in an organisation at this stage in the cycle, how can we best approach that? Any thoughts?

Martin: For me I think it’s important to remember that there is a distinction between our strategy and our processes, recognising that they are still interconnected, but that our processes are likely to have more impact on our culture. It is obviously still useful if our team engages with our strategy but I don’t see that as essential if they are delivering, it being the responsibility of management to make sure they are delivering the right thing. That said, there is probably some overlap between our values and processes, for example, something like openness is hopefully reflected in some of what we do in terms of some of the practicalities of sharing resources (e.g. documents, slides and other outputs are Creative Commons licensed and publically shared), but again you could argue some are more engaged with the processes of finding sharing resources under Creative Commons rather than the underlying value of openness. So ultimately I don’t think the stage we are at in our strategy has that much impact on our culture or vision. Where it has a bigger impact is potentially around processes, for example, if our next strategy has a different focus there might be different performance indicators that our processes have to deliver. So in terms of bring new people in to the team I think by focusing on the processes there is an opportunity to give them a sense of our existing culture and vision. Something I think important to remember is new people may bring new culture and vision which can be greatly beneficial to the organisation.   

Maren:There is a lot to talk about here and I have many different thoughts in response that it could be interesting to explore, but in a nutshell, the key thing for me is for everyone to understand, established staff and new colleagues alike, why we do what we do. You are right that maybe where we are in a strategy cycle isn’t as important as long as everyone is on the same page about what needs to happen, why and how. I conceptualise the why as the strategic perspective, the how as reflecting our values and the what as the practical delivery. Maybe there’s a podcast in the offing for our next episode, so that we can talk about some of these questions in more detail, but one final thought I have on the communication front is a ‘Tell someone about it’ or ‘Who needs to know about this’ checkbox that could be added to everything.. reminding us to keep communicating as we start the busiest period of the year.

Crafting keynotes… an inspiration from #OER19

In June I am heading to Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops on what is a long awaiting (first) trip to Canada. Thanks to the organisers of the ETUG 25th anniversary conference I have a wonderful and rare opportunity to meet with colleagues in British Columbia and visit a community that has much in common with my own organisation, ALT – both long-established Member-led professional bodies committed to Learning Technology and sharing similar values and priorities.

The ETUG Twitter account has been sharing news about the event, which has a movie inspired anniversary theme of Back to the Future: Looking Back, Moving Forward and so as one of the keynote speakers my own planning and preparations have long been underway.

You can watch a short video of me talking with Clint Lalonde here as we get very excited planning for my talk.

And that got me thinking about all the work that goes into crafting a keynote for an event like this and the opportunity it presents for me to read, research, remix, make and think about things. Back in January I contributed to the #SocMedHE18 conference and the talk I ended up writing (Community, Openness, Equality: a keynote in three hashtags #SocMedHE18) was the result of a really inspiring process in dialogue with the conference committee and following the Twitter conversation, creating new artwork and images along the way.

Whilst I do give a lot of talks the kind of opportunity to give a keynote of a more challenging or creative nature is rare for me and I value the chance to start from a blank canvas and re-imagine, re-think my ideas and views from scratch.

One of the things I like best about crafting new keynotes is creating the artwork or images for the slides and I usually use my own or remix them. This time, I am hoping to remix a lot of images and use them to underpin my argument visually. It’s a great creative outlet for me to make openly licenced slide decks that I can then share back for others to use or remix. It also allows me to give credit in my talk to all those whose work I build on.

But writing keynotes or planning them ahead of time is also very practical. After all, few people can create an engaging narrative with a strong argument on the fly and some of the speakers whose talks I have most enjoyed certainly write and think out what they will say well ahead of time. I find writing a summary at least, that I will then flesh out in the month before, adding slides and key points to remind myself is not only useful for me, but also provides transcripts for others to refer back to later or indeed remind myself of what I said or meant to say.

But this keynote that I am working on just now may end up having a playlist more than a list of references and I think that is to do with what I took away from OER19 and the collection of reflections I have been reading. For one reason or another I missed all of the keynotes at the conference this year and like many who were not able to attend themselves, I have been going through the programme and listening to and watching the sessions we recorded – but my strongest impressions of the speakers has been through the memories and reflections of others who have written about them. And that has been quite an extraordinary experience because much of what others took away from the talks seemed to be about values, about what the speakers and their practice stand for.

Being a keynote speaker can be a powerful thing particularly if you choose to use the platform it gives you for a cause that chimes with your audience. And it seems that in the case of OER19 that definitely happened. So much emotional investment and enthusiasm is rare at conferences I attend and as we are now nearly two weeks after the event and the posts and discussions keep on flowing this is further reflected in the continued engagement and activity. So there are fresh role models for me to be inspired by, keynotes to relive that really struck a chord and transcend what you can normally expect from an hour in a lecture theatre. And indeed there are many involved in making OER19 happen whom I have been inspired by in the past, like the Co-Chairs Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz, alongside Jim Groom, Lorna Campbell and Sheila MacNeill, or Bon Stewart, Martin Weller and Maha Bali and Jane Secker. All of whom have kept their audiences spellbound at previous OER or ALT’s Annual Conferences and I remember sitting back, listening, enjoying what each contributed to those events and to my own thinking. Some of these talks opened up my perspective to completely new concepts or problems, others inspired me with their example and encouraged my own practice. But each have made the hour I spent listening and participating very special, a moment stuck in my mind.

We have all met speakers and participants who turn up for their session, who seem to have missed all instructions or information provided beforehand, who run over time, who don’t answer questions, who don’t speak on what they promised and who don’t really contribute.

Fortunately, there is also the opposite of that. Keynotes who make the best participants and participants who make the best speakers and OER19 felt a lot like everyone’s places could be swapped around every few hours because everyone was working so hard to contribute, to listen, to make it happen for everyone else.

And that is a big inspiration for me to take away and apply to participating and contributing when I head to Canada in June. And I am remixing and making and crafting to a soundtrack of inspiring working songs. Because sometimes music says it better and the mood from OER19 is not easily contained in words or even pictures.

Virtual Teams: Different voices, shared professional practice #PressEdConf19

Virtual Teams: Different voices, shared professional practice #PressEdConf19

We are excited to be joining #PressEdConf19 for a session that explores a conversational post format can be used to support reflective practice. We share tips from an ongoing year long project discussing the move to a distributed team and discuss the pros/cons of openness and share ideas to try yourself.

The idea for the session came from our ongoing blog project in which the two of us, that is Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) and Maren Deepwell (@marendeepwell), write a monthly series of blog posts to openly share our approach to leadership. You can catch up on earlier posts and podcasts or find out more about ALT, the organisation we work for as senior staff. This post has been cross-posted on Martin’s blog here.

Screenshot of Maren's blog
Screenshot of Martin's blog

What is conversational blogging?

Maren: Our conversational approach to blogging has three main parts: a shared document where we collect ideas/thoughts on an ongoing basis, a monthly deadline around which we draft a joint post, which is written like a conversation (we take turns to write sections sequentially) and then the last step is usually using a Google Hangout to finalise and publish the post discussing the content as we make final minor edits. To publish we post on our own blogs, linking to each other’s WordPress sites. We have each set up our own categories/tags for the posts on our respective sites and we each share links to the posts on social media.

Martin: Having a monthly routine really helps in making you take some time each month to reflect on recent developments and with the conversational format there is an opportunity to get feedback/input from someone else. This all happens in what I find is an the ideal timeframe, the discussion is still fresh in your mind but also there is time to reflect on the other person’s contribution and either use that in your own contribution or discuss further usually in one of our catch-ups.

Why do we do it?

Maren: leadership and managing teams are topics I found hard to blog about previously, but nonetheless they are a big part of what I do. This approach has enabled me to share that aspect of my work, and through the process learn a lot myself. When we set out on our journey to becoming a virtual team I found any stories and tips from others who had already done this helpful & inspiring and I hope that in turn these posts may be useful to others who are grappling with home working, online collaboration and leading virtual teams. We are fortunate to work for an organisation that embraces open practice and values what we do on our own initiative.

Martin: When ALT decided to move to becoming a distributed organisation I was aware that it wasn’t a journey many organisations of our size had been on and also with current trends in flexible working it would likely be a journey many more would start. With this in mind I was keen that as an organisation, particularly with a charitable objective that includes “for the benefit of the general public”, that it would be useful to others to capture some of the decisions we made and solutions to problems we encountered. In many ways initially I thought it would be a collection of how-tos, like how-to operate a virtual phone system, and whilst that does feature in some of our posts for us the process is more beneficial than the output.

Screenshot of a collaborative hangout
Conversational blogging in action

Why do we blog/practice in the open?

Maren: As Senior Staff we often write about the work we do as an Association and representing our Members is a privilege that we are mindful of. It’s important for the voice of the organisation to reflect its values and a diverse community of professionals. These Virtual Teams posts and podcasts, published on our own domains, provide an opportunity for our own voices to develop and be heard, to share our individual perspectives reflecting our own interests, questions and challenges. Open practice always involves a degree of making yourself vulnerable, open to criticism or ridicule but thus far the constructive feedback and helpful comments outweigh those drawbacks.

Martin: I never actually anticipated people reading our posts but given the number of conversations we have had with people who have it suggests that there are those who find what we share to be of interest. As you mentioned, blogging in the open isn’t without its risks but I feel the benefits of someone else reading, sharing and/or commenting on our posts in general outweighs this.

Ideas to try yourself…

Maren: There’re lots of different ways to join a blogging conversation. You might find inspiration in this approach to academic blogging at the University of Edinburgh or the OpenBlog19 challenge started by David Hopkins. You might like to try blogging about a project with colleagues, prepare a list of questions or topics you each try to answer or take turns to address. My top tips would be: respect others’ voices, listen rather than transmit and take your time to reflect whilst you work together.

Martin: On a practical level I usually find copy/pasting from a Google Doc into the WordPress editor works without any problems and even images are copied straight into your draft. If you are experiencing problems with formatting there is an official WordPress Add-on for Google Docs, designed to let you “compose a document in Google Docs and export it directly to any WordPress.com or Jetpack powered WordPress.org site as a draft post”.      

Thank you for reading #VirtualTeams #PressEdConf19.

Virtual Teams: Things that don’t look broken still need fixing

Things that don’t look broken still need fixing

Hello and welcome to this month’s post on leading a virtual team. In this post (cross-posted here) the two of us, that is Martin Hawksey (@mhawksey) and Maren Deepwell (@marendeepwell), continue our series of openly sharing our approach to leadership.

If you are new here, you can catch up on earlier posts and podcasts or find out more about ALT, the organisation we work for as senior staff. We really appreciate comments and feedback and welcome questions or suggestions for future posts.

March

Maren: this month I’m keen to pick up on a couple of things we started talking about in the last podcast, talk about all things open as we get ready for OER19 and also discuss a book you recommended, Invisible Women. It’s an awesome read full of interesting facts and laugh out loud moments (car manufacturers’ advice to lower my voice to help AIs understand my ‘atypical’ high female voice made me giggle it seemed so ludicrous) and there are many things that really chimed with me in the context of this series on open practice, starting with how important it is for women & men to each contribute their perspective to policy, research and practice equally. The joint keynote we wrote for International Women’s Day at UHI is a good example of this – neither one of us could have written the talk on their own.

It’s the open collaboration, the dialogue, that produces deeper insights. Gender data gaps discussed in the book provide countless examples of where that kind of dialogue is lacking from workplace practices (biases in recruitment software) to disaster relief (male only committees designing shelters without cooking spaces). Another point the book prompted me to reflect on is how important transparency and openness are for promoting equality. There are countless examples of complex technologies, especially AIs, that are proprietary and don’t permit us to investigate potentially biases much less address them. The two overarching thoughts I took from the book are that firstly, in one way or another, women, and by extension anyone who doesn’t fit the ‘template’ is made to adjust in order to fit – even if changing the underlying policies/design/structures would have bigger benefits for all. And secondly, how we always prioritise something else, focus on the next crisis, instead of focusing on gender equality ‘because we see the rights of 50% of the population as a minority interest’.

Martin: ‘Fit’ is an interesting topic. As part of our talk at UHI I thought I’d look at the findings of the ALT Annual Survey to see if there are any notable differences for survey responses based on gender. This was a very quick analysis so I can’t say if the results are statistically significant but it was interesting to see differences in areas such as enablers/drivers for the use of Learning Technology by male and female respondents. Fit, and in particular culture fit, features as a chapter in ‘The Open Organization Leaders Manual’, which you recently shared. In this Jen Kelchner’s writes about “Stop hiring for culture fit“. As part of this Kelchner argues that instead of cultural fit organisations should recruit for ‘alignment’:

“Fit” implies that your organization seeks to indoctrinate new members into its specific way of life—to clone its vision of the ideal member in everyone who joins it. When we talk about “fit” we create the potential for exclusion. It prompts us to seek someone who already embodies the values and principles we think are best (then seek to “fit” them into a pre-existing spot in our organizations), and ignore others.

Achieving “alignment,” however, is different. Alignment involves embracing diversity of thought and building inclusive, innovative, community-driven teams that are all oriented toward shared goals, even if they look and think differently from one another.

‘The Open Organization Leaders Manual’ uses five principles as part of it’s Open Organization Definition: transparency, inclusivity, adaptability, collaboration and community. In terms of transparency it’s highlighted that:

In open organizations, transparency reigns. As much as possible (and advisable) under applicable laws, open organizations work to make their data and other materials easily accessible to both internal and external participants; they are open for any member to review them when necessary (see also inclusivity). Decisions are transparent to the extent that everyone affected by them understands the processes and arguments that led to them; they are open to assessment (see also collaboration). Work is transparent to the extent that anyone can monitor and assess a project’s progress throughout its development; it is open to observation and potential revision if necessary (see also adaptability).

I feel to our members and the general public that our operations are very transparent (our joint posts being a case in point). In terms of our distributed team it feels like more effort is required to be transparent, as in “to the extent that anyone can monitor and assess a project’s progress throughout its development”, than if we were all physically in the same office. We’ve previously talked about the challenges of virtual operations and the removal of some of the affordances of being physically co-located. Even though we are over 12 months into our move to operating as a distributed team this feels like one of the areas where we have the most continued evolution in our systems and procedures. This is also an interesting time as our staff team will have a number of new faces and I’m interested to see how candidates align to ALT’s values.

Maren: I like the concept of ‘alignment’ instead of ‘fit’ and it is a useful way of thinking during recruitment in particular. But whilst I found the open org manual really useful, its perspective comes from open source/software companies. In our context, in a small charity with a wide breadth of projects it’s harder to make the kind of internal ‘joined-up-ness’ work for everyone than when you are all focused on making a product shipping deadline. There’s a balance to be struck between enabling individuals to get on with their work and effective team communication. And it can be hard to determine how much information is actually useful and why. For instance, I’m finding it rewarding to develop and improve our internal processes for reporting, budgets and project overviews. It’s part of the ongoing effort you refer to helping us as a team work together even better. Like you, I have a lot of enthusiasm for an iterative approach to designing processes. That said, I’m also acutely aware that any change requires time and effort that would not be needed if we just kept doing things the same way. It’s a big ask (and one that requires a strong common understanding of the reasons behind it) to spend time and energy changing things when there’s so much to be getting with. Especially when things don’t look ‘broken’ but still need ‘fixing’ to avoid disaster in the long run it can be a hard argument to make. As well as requiring time and effort, changing internal processes can also temporarily rob us of the comfort and confidence that comes with familiarity. Which leads me to reflect on what alternative sources of comfort I turn to when uncertainty and change are a constant. One example of what I do is to look beyond a period or process of change, and thinking ahead to what things might look like 3 months into the future or a year ahead. And it can be useful to do that as a team as well to create a greater measure of the kind of transparency you speak about. Here’s one such approach, similar to a SWOT analysis, that I found interesting and maybe we can try something like this at our next team day in April.

Martin: Your comment on things that “don’t look ‘broken’ but still need ‘fixing’” made me smile. I’ve some wooden decking at home that falls into that category thanks to some rot, but I get we are talking about something very different here. Having recently gone through my annual appraisal thinking ahead is still fresh in my mind. It’s interesting to reflect on personal goals and I can also see the benefit of exploring and articulating team goals. As often with these collaborative posts they are an opportunity for me to start googling for answers to questions that pop into my mind. Something I started wondering was the impact of churn as staff move on and new faces join virtual teams. I didn’t find anything in particular that talks about this and I suppose the stronger influencer in this instance is less on whether or not you are dealing with a virtual team but the size of the team you are dealing with. As part of my search Google Books did throw up ‘Leading Effective Virtual Teams: Overcoming Time and Distance to Achieve Exceptional Results’ by Nancy Settle-Murphy. As part of the uniques challenges of virtual teams Settle-Murphy highlights that “it’s harder for team members to tell whether they’re out of alignment about important issues … and once out of alignment, it takes virtual teams much longer to pull back together”. Settle-Murphy goes on to highlight one of the challenges for virtual team leaders is “ensuring that all share the same understanding of team goals”. The modified SWOT approach you mentioned looks like it should help with identifying goals, the issue I see is the timing as we’ve potentially got two new starters joining us after April. In a team of six, two new starters make a big impact and with a high percentage of the team changing it’s going to be interesting times but the timing is good as whilst not a lull it does mean we are not throwing our new starts straight into our Annual Conference.

Maren: ever since I took on a leadership role I’ve waited for the right timing for all those things, for the mythical steady state, that blank slate from which to start planning and doing afresh, ideally with all aims clearly defined and understood by everyone. But leading organisations or teams, working with technology and with people is always messy. There’s always history, legacy, mess you inherit, missing pieces of the puzzle and my favourite – the unknown unknowns. Our work is always work in progress. That’s why when you have a moment when things work out, when you achieve something or can enjoy something, it’s worth pausing and revelling in the moment. Send a hug, share a smile, take a breath. And then take that next step towards the inevitable chaos that will no doubt put an end to that peaceful moment.

More to read and listen to

OER19 preview post: openness in the fabric of things

OER19 is nearly upon us and as part of the organising team the next two week will be really busy for me. I am really excited about the event this year and so while there’s still time, I want to share my thoughts in this preview post.

I’ve also been reading Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez (it’s an excellent read) and one of the points I took away from the book was how women’s rights and gender equality more broadly are treated as a minority interest, something that is never at the top of the list of priorities for government or industry even though we have evidence that shows why it should be. Instead it’s treated as a ‘nice to have’. This is far more eloquently expressed in the book, but my own day to day experience reflects this attitude very clearly: every time I speak about the issue somewhere there are those who roll their eyes or those who nod along patiently waiting until the talk turns back to things that really interest them, things that really matter as if they’re thinking ‘who cares about the gender data gap when there’s an AI revolution to profit from’.

Now, openness I find provokes a very similar response, and is equally demoted to the bottom of the list of things to do, because it also seems like a ‘nice to have’. To those who don’t know better openness is the domain of the dreamers, the prerogative of the privileged, a idealistic idea that doesn’t fit into the education industry of today other than as window dressing, as a veneer to enhance current business models.

In both cases short-sightedness, self interest and lack of imagination present real barriers for meaningful progress – but that isn’t to say that there is none. Fortunately for all, those committed to driving forward the open agenda are succeeding in winning many arguments, changing policy, winning funding and developing viable business models all across the world. This year’s conference programme is filled with examples (https://oer19.oerconf.org/programme/) from a broad spectrum of practice, research and policy making. From institutional case studies and national reports to individuals collaborating on open projects the programme includes sessions that set out to tackle the difficult questions and dilemmas that will come to define the future of openness.

Openness is many things to many people and the vision that the conference co-chairs have brought to the event has really inspired me and helped me reach a new understanding of the challenges we face by including more diverse voices and perspectives and also by ensuring that openness has been stitched into the fabric of OER19.

In turn, that has inspired the work that ALT does to support this conference in the run up to the event such as tweaking our systems to encourage more sharing, the Board of Trustees funding more scholarship places for students than ever before, contributing to global events during Open Education Week led by the Open Education Special Interest Group, and post-OER19 to the Creative Commons Global Summit.

Openness is a very practical core value for ALT as an organisation but it’s also become a more practical and fundamental aspect of my own thinking and practice in particular on open leadership and also contributing to the oer19 open space for femedtech has been inspiring.

Thanks to everyone involved, everyone who puts time and effort and resources into making OER19 happen, I feel like actually getting to go to the event in Galway is just the finishing flourish. OER19 has been a living, breathing, inspiring part of my professional practice for over a year already. But when I watched the sun rise over Galway Bay nearly a year ago, I didn’t realise how rich, how thought provoking and nourishing a journey working on this event would be. I’m grateful that I have been able to contribute, and I look forward to playing my part in making it happen and to build on what will be shared at OER19 to continue to promote openness and support those involved in the coming year, weaving a stronger thread of openness into the fabric of things.

Galway Bay, May 2018

Reflections from a keynote seminar: speaking about realising the potential of Learning Technology

This week I spoke at a keynote seminar on realising the potential of technology in Higher Education and it was a valuable opportunity to share the work of ALT and its Membership. Whilst ALT is growing and the number of Members has more than tripled over the past 10 years, I always include some key points at the start, including our definition of Learning Technology and Learning Technologist and our shared values that inform ALT’s strategic aims. It’s useful for anyone who hasn’t heard about us before, but it also helps situate the perspective I speak from: representing 3,500 individuals and organisations from across sectors and a broad range of professional and learning contexts. It’s key to convey that there is a huge spectrum of practice, research and policy making in Learning Technology when it comes to infrastructure and adopting new technologies and also when it comes to pedagogy, practice and research. This may seem like an obvious point to make, but I find that many discussions about ‘the future’ or policies for technology in education often make the assumption that those involved are all in the same boat or starting from a blank slate, when in reality the fast pace of innovation leaves behind a messy trail of upgrades, legacy systems, gaps and transitions that make interoperability standards such a key issue.

It’s important to at least acknowledge the messy underbelly of the shiny, efficient future that many edtech narratives have been promising for decades. From my perspective there is great strength in really understanding the dynamics in Learning Technology over time as we can’t master what we don’t understand. So in my 10 minute keynote, I focused on some of the messy aspects of Learning Technology and some of the critical questions that we have been asking, sharing examples from ALT’s Annual Survey and the work that our Members have been leading for the past year, to demonstrate how all across the UK the future of Learning Technology is being negotiated. Specifically, I spoke about:

  • Defining our relationship to Learning Technology
  • Working with industry to tackling the challenges of scaling up use of Learning Technology
  • Professionalism in Learning Technology

Drawing on the results from the survey ( https://go.alt.ac.uk/Survey2018 ) I first looked at the dual emphasis on learner engagement (which was been identified as the key driver for the use of Learning Technology over the past five years) and the crucial role of staff supporting each other (time, knowledge sharing, support, cpd) as the other main enabler. More professional roles in education now have a Learning Technology component, including more senior and leadership roles, so it is not surprising that staff time, development and recognition continues to grow as a critical factor. One example I shared is ALT’s input for the inquiry into Technology and Data Ethics, which highlighted that Learning Technology professionals have an important role to play in advising policy makers, helping institutions develop informed and effective use of data and analytics, and supporting educators and learners to develop critical data literacy skills.

In the second part of my talk, I focused on ‘Working with industry: Tackling the challenges of scaling up use of Learning Technology’ and shared some recent work of how ALT has facilitated Members from across sectors including industry working together and sharing knowledge to tackle some of the most challenging issues identified as important areas of change in the Annual Survey. Those include for example accessibility, relating to the new legislation on accessibility for VLEs, a community-sourced guide for Learning Technologists working with edtech start ups and in relation to tools for lecture capture and learning analytics in particular, compliance with GDPR. One of the strengths of an independent professional body like ALT is that we can act as a central exchange for information from different vendors, providers and users, creating an opportunity for institutions to collaborate on joint priorities and then providing a consistent reference point for the resources that are created for all to refer back to.

In the last part of my talk I focused on professionalisation in Learning Technology and the crucial role of staff. Referencing the 2018 Horizon Report, which identified the future role of educators as a ‘wicked’ challenge (“complex to even define, much less address”) I shared insights from the trends in role development from the Annual Survey, this time adding a separate analysis by gender. This new analysis forms an important part of ALT’s effort to close the gender data gap in Learning Technology. We recognise promoting equality as a priority for a professional body not a minority interest.

This post provides only a brief summary, but you can access the full slide deck with links to all references https://go.alt.ac.uk/2FFvk33 .

#OpenBlog19: The library of the future is…

I have been really enjoying following #OpenBlog19 posts over the past week or more and if you haven’t come across it before now, start by reading David’s original post or browse the hashtag and discover the inspiring contributions to date.

When I went to the Google doc, one topic really jumped out at me and so in this post I’m going to write about what I’d like the library of the future to be like. I’ve spent today walking through libraries of the past, so this post is inspired by the material traces of our histories.

The library of the future is… #OpenBlog19

The library of the future is a physical place, with many entrances and floor and wings to explore. It houses collections of books and manuscripts, tablets, carvings, materials, things, artwork, cultural artefacts and many indices. The library of the future is for human beings and about human beings, our history, our knowledge, our ideas and dreams and hopes.

The library of the future is a place where you can find what you are looking for. A place in which to discover the unexpected. A refuge in which you can retreat from the world and find peace and quiet and contemplation. The library of the future is somewhere you can loose hours, days or whole years to following the red thread of inspiration.

The library of the future is free and open to all.

The library of the future is not dominated by digital data. The library of the future is not focused on making information useful. It does not require you to have a specific purpose or know what you are looking for. The library of the future rewards curiosity, accommodates procrastination and safeguards daydreaming.

The library of the future keeps growing and being added to. It’s bigger than it looks from the outside, expanding into the space that only librarians can safely guide us through.

The library of the future contains things we want to remember and things we try to forget. Recollections of wars won and loves lost. It contains everything ever published and posted, all the journals, newspapers, blogs, vlogs. sites and domains. The library of the future is our archive.

The library of the future is a place of debate, disagreement and dialogue. An institution of reflection and critical literacy. A way of distributing knowledge and the power that comes with that. The library of the future will have a branch near you.

The library of the future is a common good and owned by all.

The library of the future is recruiting… apply now. There are many vacancies.

Who’s responsible for the future of open? #femedtech #oer19

This post is for the inclusive Open Space session coming up at OER19 in April. You can read all about the session here. It is posted on the FEMEDTECH OER19 OPEN SPACE. Here is a link directly to the post.

I have chosen to focus on the question: “How do we manage sustainable spaces for exploring challenging issues around open?” and my response has also been inspired by a recent blog post by Martin Weller on ‘Learning the rules of predicting the future‘. In the post, which deserves extra credits for inspired use of Parks and Recreation gifs (note to self: up your GIF game), Martin sets out the following “rules” for predicting the future for education (I am quoting only very briefly here, so you should really read the whole post, as it makes for excellent reading):

  • The first rule to learn about change in higher education is that very little changes, while simultaneously everything changes.
  • A second rule is that technological change is rarely about the technology.
  • The third rule is to appreciate the historical amnesia in much of educational technology.
  • The fourth, and final rule I would suggest is that technology is not ethically or politically neutral.

And that has inspired me to think about rules for making sustainable spaces, which links to the broader question of who takes responsibility and how to take responsibility for the future of open spaces of all shapes and sizes. It also relates to the question of permanency on the web and in technologically mediated social spaces in general (I have written about Cemeteries of the web: parallels between Victorian burial culture and digital infrastructure previously). So here goes:

First, I would argue that in most cases planning for the long term, for sustainability in any sense, does not come into the development of new spaces, platforms or tools. So many sites and systems come and go, disappearing often with all the content we have created and without much notice or help for migration. Interoperability standards, transferable file formats and all that goes with it are rarely at the top of anyone’s priority list whilst iterative, agile approaches to development force users to move along regardless. When funding dries up or business models change repositories, community sites, communication platforms etc become unsupported, derelict collections of broken links and unanswered support requests. This is not only inconvenient, but has serious consequences: it makes it difficult to have a sustained critical debate as we constantly loose records of what we have already done; it puts the focus always on reinventing, re-establishing, re-designing new spaces and it promotes the kind of historical amnesia in much of educational technology that Martin Weller warns us about.

Sustainable spaces for exploring the challenging issues around open also require us to address the question of who has ownership of those spaces, both in a practical sense, i.e. who owns the domain, who controls access, who pays the bills, as well as the social aspects such as who controls the conversation, who records it, who can participate and who ends it. Some of the hardest questions we must ask have strong political and ethical dimensions. If the organisation or entity that hosts or supports such a dialogue has a strong agenda, be that commercial, political or social, then we need to question how that impacts on the kind of discourse we can foster and also how this may impact on the sustainability of the project. Open means many things to many people and there is a whole range of motivations to get involved and try take ownership of spaces that support open communities.

One of the things that’s really tricky about both open in education and technology in education is what Martin Weller describes as ‘very little changes, while simultaneously everything changes’. I find that is often to do with our goalposts constantly moving further ahead and at the same time the spectrum of individual and organisational practice spreading out. What I mean is that the range of challenges we ask technology to help us meet is huge – from basic infrastructure to educating millions across the globe. Similarly, when it comes to thinking about open, there is a vast array of situations to tackle. It all depends on the perspective you start from and it can be difficult to find common ground in a conversation that brings together many different contexts – this is exactly the reason why an open space like this one can help.

I don’t seem to have come up with very clearly articulated rules, but rather characteristics and questions around the lack of long term planning, questioning ownership and motivation and the need to appreciate different perspectives from which what we find challenging about open can be explored. One very generic sounding conclusion to draw is that the only rule is to make use of your voice, to continue to engage and question, not to become indifferent or disengaged no matter how difficult that can seem at times. But it is, for me, a powerful reminder that we each have agency, and that taking part, contributing something that helps others understand our way of seeing the world, our perspective on open, our world view (as a women, as a feminist, as a contributor in my case) is a meaningful and important act.

A day in the life of a #femedtech guest curator

It’s my second time to volunteer as a guest curator for the @femedtech Twitter account and in the past year, since my last time as a curator, much has changed.

In 2018, I followed Helen Beetham, being only the second person to try out how to be a guest curator. At the time, the account had 122 followers, had tweeted about the same number of tweets and we were just in the process of writing some guidance for the activity, making it up as we went along and learning from the wonderful examples of networks around us. Frances Bell contributed the slide below to the community-sourced slides for International Women’s Day 2019.

So what is it like to be a guest curator now, that the following is ten times bigger and the network is growing rapidly, organising activities around events and interests?

I start each day by checking in with the account, checking first on the notifications and new followers. Following back those who are new and welcoming them is one of the key things I try to do each day. It’s fascinating to see who follows the account and often I come across individuals and accounts I also want to connect with in my personal capacity.

Then I look for new tweets that have been tagged with the hashtag #femedtech and like or retweet those. This can open up quite a few new rabbit holes down which my time disappears as I find a new book, artist or research that I want to learn more about. In contract to my own Twitter world, there is a much more varied and unexpected range of things being posted. Here are some examples from recent days:

You can see, there is a really varied range of things being posted, so I strongly recommend you follow the account yourself and join in.

Then, each day, I try and find and contribute something new, something from my own network or frame of reference, and which I can share to enrich the conversation or open it up to include new accounts. So this week I posted:

And I also work to communicate from what the network does in my day job, for example this week I had the opportunity to speak at the 13th Research and Innovation in Distance Education, and eLearning (RIDE) annual conference  and I included a section on promoting equality in my talk, specifically focused on new analysis my colleague Martin Hawksey did of ALT’s Annual Survey focused on comparing gender perspectives, and his related post makes for interesting reading.

Being a guest curator for the #femedtech network really opens up new perspectives for me, it helps me get into the mindset of being a volunteer (and my day job relies heavily on the goodwill of volunteers, so that is particularly helpful for me) and it’s a powerful reminder that whilst we are making a lot of progress, there is always so much more to do to create a more equal and equitable society.

And on that note I’d like to mention a last opportunity to make your voice heard, to join in the conversation, which is a new open space for femedtech created in the run up to the OER19 conference. You can read all about it here and consider the following questions:

  • How do we balance privacy, openness and personal ethics?
  • How do we mediate our place in the open community, aspects of which might conflict with our personal ethics?
  • Is openness an act of conformance and / or defiance? And are there performative aspects to openness?
  • Do we feel pressured to be more open than we are comfortable with, or do our boundaries constrain us?
  • How do we manage sustainable spaces for exploring challenging issues around open?