September = stress, support and self-care

So it’s September already and just a few weeks after finishing teaching my Technology Enabled Academic Practice module, I have started the module again with a new cohort of staff. There is a sense that these weeks are critical moments for higher education as learning has shifted online for the coming term and we still have a bit of time to plan well. It’s not surprising that people taking my module want technical help and support to prepare for the coming term. It’s a time for me to do what I can to be helpful and supportive to my colleagues and demonstrate I can make a difference. I’m returning to the blog post I wrote back in April and seeing what I have learnt since then. But boy does this feel like quite a lot of pressure! 

As with the situation in March, there has been a reaction – it’s been impossible to do anything but react to unknown events, and as we move into Autumn and the new restrictions come into force, as the infection rate for COVID starts to rise again, it’s a scary time. Maybe not as scary as things were in March, as we know a bit more about what to expect. However, I got a sense that throughout the summer people were looking to find someone in charge to tell them what to do. This is happening in Higher Education and in the country more broadly. Sometimes the right people have the loudest voice, sometimes they don’t. I also wonder if people have also been looking for someone to blame a little because they are fearful of their own deficiencies but also of having the finger pointed at them. There is a lot of defensive behaviour, where people are wanting to be seen to be doing the right thing.

Those of us in educational support roles have been desperate to help and be seen as the lifeboat which has made us all produce lots of things and provide a surfeit of advice and guidance. I’m fairly sure what what we’re doing is helpful to some extent but also contributing to cognitive overload. Rather like my email inbox which now permanently has around 50 unread messages, I am learning to live with a bit of chaos. But we know in times of stress people can’t process large amounts of complex information, so messages need to be clear and concise and very focused. I try to think about this when dealing my new cohort and have committed to sending a weekly email with the information about what they need to do, and keeping this short and focused.

As we head into the Autumn and start of term I think there is now a need to shift to being proactive while ensuring we recognise this is about partnership and collaboration and community and pulling together, rather than assigning blame. Yet while we are all in this together, some people do have more agency or privilege or more knowledge and they need to use that to help others. Those of us who have worked in educational technology for some time, have a lot of really useful knowledge. However, those people (people like me) need to recognise they can’t do everything and they need to look after themselves. The oxygen mask on a plane scenario is relevant here, you can’t help others if you are not looking after yourself first. 

I think in higher education we need a type of leadership that is strong and vulnerable at the same time. A leader who knows some of the answers but listens to others and recognises those who have expertise. I think we need leaders to curate content, sift through all the stuff that’s out there and point people to the key information they need to know. I’ve learnt a lot from running 20 (and counting!) copyright and online learning webinars since 20th March, hosted by ALT and delivered with Chris Morrison, my copyright literacy partner. But I think it might be time for me to re-read Brene Brown’s ‘Dare to Lead’ book. As we head closer to the start of the new academic year and with anxiety levels rising higher still, curation becomes increasingly important – so we share what is the most useful, not everything we have in our heads.

I wish everyone the very best for the forthcoming academic year, it’s going to be challenging and hectic. At times it is going to feel overwhelming and at times I know I will be overwhelmed and I might have to say no to people. But if you remember nothing from this blog post, remember that sometimes people need your help, but you need to be focused in the support you provide to others. Short emails that focus on the three things people need to know. Or make a quick call to clarify what would have taken a lengthy email to explain. Technology is a wonderful thing but sometimes a smile and a chat and a virtual hug convey a lot more. Good luck everyone, and don’t forget to breathe (through the mask)! 

With thanks to Dom Pates for corralling me into re-starting our blog writing group virtually, so I could actually finish this post!

House of Lords report on Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust

Durham Cathedral

This post was written jointly with my good friend and the Information Literacy group’s Advocacy and Outreach Officer, Stéphane Goldstein which he has also posted on his blog.

“A country’s education system needs to prepare its people for their role as citizens. In the digital world, this means they need to be empowered to be critical, digitally literate consumers of information.”

These couple of lines read like an extract from any self-respecting definition of information literacy. In fact, they come from ‘Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust’, the June 2020 report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies[1]. They form the opening statement of a chapter on active digital citizens, which stresses the crucial importance of information literacy (or, as the report terms it, critical digital media literacy) to a healthy, inclusive democracy. This resonated with us both immediately as the relationship between information literacy and citizenship was something highlighted when revising the CILIP definition of IL in 2018[2]. The chapter is just one part of a document that roams widely in an analysis of the relationship between citizenship and online discourse, but it addresses the absolute need for the education system to catch up with the implications of democracy in the digital age.

The report, and the parliamentary inquiry and evidence-gathering that preceded it, is the latest example of how the public discourse in the UK has evolved in recent times in its understanding of the importance and relevance of information literacy. Only five years ago, another House of Lords report, on the UK’s digital future[3], singularly failed to see digital literacy in terms other than functional skills, closely aligned to ICT and know-how associated with the use of computer technology. Even in 2017, the skills component of the Government’s Digital Strategy[4] was focused largely on basic skills, digital exclusion and the needs of the economy, with little or no reference to critical thinking and citizenship. But with growing concerns about disinformation, online harm, malpractice on social media platforms and subversion of democratic processes by unfriendly non-UK players, attitudes from public agencies began to shift. In 2018, the House of Commons DCMS Committee interim report on disinformation[5] recognised the relationship between digital literacy and making informed choices about material encountered online; and it recommended that digital literacy should be the fourth pillar of education, alongside reading, writing and maths. In 2019, the Cairncross Review on a sustainable future for journalism[6] stated that critical media literacy is necessary to help people judge the quality of online news, and recommended that the Government develops a media literacy strategy. That recommendation was taken up in the Online Harms White paper[7], published later this year; as far as we know, the Government remains committed to setting out this strategy before the end of 2020. And now, this latest House of Lords report builds on these various initiatives.

Progress by public agencies towards developing policies and practice on information literacy (and associated literacies) has certainly been slower in the UK than in other countries. But the Lords report makes up for some of the lost time by being quite hard-hitting in its policy prescriptions. For starters, its definition of digital media literacy is inclusive and closely aligns with how we view information literacy:

“We use the term ‘digital media literacy’ because our purposes go beyond, but do include, the functional skills required to use technology. We define digital media literacy as being able to distinguish fact from fiction, including misinformation, understand how digital platforms work, as well as how to exercise one’s voice and influence decision makers in a digital context.”

It goes on to note that too often, digital media literacy is confused with computer science; and that it is not enough to be merely a technically proficient consumer of digital technologies. And it laments that the Government does not have a full understanding of the critical ways in which digital media literacy and technical computing skills differ. But the report is particularly damming about the perceived shortcomings of the education system and of the school curriculum. For instance:

“The Government’s focus on computing education is insufficient; basic digital skills are not enough to create savvy citizens for the digital era. The Department of Education would appear to be struggling to anticipate the implications of the technological challenges of the 21st century.”

And, taking a dim view of the Department for Education’s current approach, it goes on to suggest that the Department demonstrates a lack of understanding about what is needed to bring about necessary change; and that it struggles to anticipate the implications of technological challenges of the 21st century.

How might these shortcomings be addressed? The report makes two important recommendations, which we quote in full:

“The Department for Education should review the school curriculum to ensure that pupils are equipped with all the skills needed in a modern digital world. Critical digital media literacy should be embedded across the wider curriculum based on the lessons learned from the review of initiatives recommended above. All teachers will need support through CPD to achieve this.”

And, to develop the evidence base in a thorough and comprehensive manner:

“Ofsted, in partnership with the Department for Education, Ofcom, the ICO and subject associations, should commission a large-scale programme of evaluation of digital media literacy initiatives.”

It is gratifying that a distinguished parliamentary committee has reached such conclusions. Two of its members are former education ministers, which adds weight to its findings: Baroness Morris, who as Estelle Morris was Secretary of State for Education in 2001-02; and Lord Knight, who as Jim Knight was Minister of State (Education and Skills, Schools and 14-19 Learners) in 2006-07. Of course, reports from parliamentary committees do not make Government policy, and as things stand, the Government has not yet formally responded to this particular report. Indeed, it is not impossible that they may reject its recommendations, in the same way that it rejected the House of Commons DCMS Committee’s 2018 proposal to make digital literacy the fourth pillar of education.

All the same, we hope that the report will make an important contribution to current thinking on making the school education system more fit for purpose. For our part, a small group of us have launched an initiative[8] that supports a greater integration of information literacy – and associated concepts, such as media literacy, digital literacy, news literacy and critical literacy – into the school curriculum. The initiative takes the form of a statement which we are asking interested parties to sign (this was actually made public before the publication of the Lords report, but it shares the same concerns). The aim is to get as wide a variety of individuals and organisations as possible to lend their names with a view to influencing public policy in this direction. Please consider signing this if you agree with what both we and the Lords Committee are saying. Destiny is all!

Authors’ note: ‘Destiny is all’ is a tongue-in-cheek reference to our mutual appreciation of ‘The Lost Kingdom’, a BBC-Netflix series based on the books by Bernard Cornwall and set in the 9th and 10th centuries, in Anglo-Saxon and Danish England. Like all good historians, we recognise the need critically to assess your sources, but we heartily recommend this series if you are looking for a lockdown box set to whet your appetite for researching the true historical characters on which much of the series is based! The city of Durham features in several episodes of the series – hence the photo of its magnificent cathedral.

References

[1] House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies, 2020, Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld5801/ldselect/lddemdigi/77/7702.htm

[2] CILIP, 2018, CILIP Definition of Information Literacy 2018. https://infolit.org.uk/ILdefinitionCILIP2018.pdf

[3] House of Lords Select Committee on Digital Skills, 2015, Make or Break: the UK’s Digital Future. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldselect/lddigital/111/11102.html

[4] Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 2017, UK Digital Strategy. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-digital-strategy

[5] House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, 2018, Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Interim Report. https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmcumeds/363/363.pdf

[6] The Cairncross Review, 2019, A sustainable future for journalism. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/779882/021919_DCMS_Cairncross_Review_.pdf

[7] HM Government, 2019, Online Harms White Paper. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/793360/Online_Harms_White_Paper.pdf

[8] Information literacy for school education. https://www.informall.org.uk/news/il-school-education/

What I’ve learnt in the last 3 weeks about online learning that my entire career could never teach me

In happier times, at Hever Castle Christmas wonderland, before I realised I would spend quite a bit of 2020 feeling like I was in a box!

Like many people I have been struggling to cope with what’s happening in the world since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. I’ve been emotionally up and down now, particularly since the UK went into lockdown on Monday evening, as it meant being separated from my partner, friends, family and work colleagues. I’m getting used to a new normal, of getting up, doing a YouTube workout, then after a quick shower and breakfast, switching on my computer and starting work for the day. My daily communication is now entirely mediated by technology of some form such as Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom and whichever platform is needed. I’m trying to take regular breaks, I am going out running once a day, I am staying in touch with my friends and family. I’m trying to keep sane in a world that feels a little bit insane, scary and uncertain.

As someone who has worked in online learning for almost 20 years I am also finding it hard to make sense of the sudden shift to online learning that is happening in our universities, schools, colleges and workplaces and what my role should actually be. I feel like my expertise is needed and have been doing a fair amount to share my knowledge of copyright and online learning with the education community (more about that in a separate blog post). In this blog post, while it’s too soon to start reflecting on what this might mean long term, I’m going to share some of the things that I have learnt from this experience from this sudden shift to online learning.

To give some context, in the last 3 years I have been working at City, University of London as a Senior Lecturer in Educational Development, leading the technology enhanced learning pathway through our MA in Academic Practice. I teach two modules: Technology-enabled Academic Practice and Digital Literacies and Open Practice. Before moving to City I worked at LSE for 15 years in the Centre for Learning Technology, providing copyright advice to staff using educational technologies and helping them get access to digital resources. Slightly more than 2 weeks ago when I heard the news that LSE was stopping face to face teaching and switching entirely online I knew we were living in unprecedented times. LSE had largely been resistant to shifting to online for most of the time I worked there. Lecturers were happy to upload slides or some readings to Moodle, but online learning was not what they were seeking to do. So to switch entirely online, before most other universities, meant something pretty significant was happening in world. And I think for the first time I started to feel a bit anxious. I’m learning to live with being a lot anxious quite a lot of the time.

City University is a different sort of institution to LSE, my colleagues in the Educational Technology team provide a range of services to staff using technology in teaching and while we have different levels of engagement, I noticed almost the moment I started working there that many staff, but particularly those in health sciences, were keen to try and experiment with technology. They knew it had real potential and benefits, they just (like many of us) struggled to find time for their professional development. Those who have taken my modules give positive feedback that this course gives them the time and permission to concentrate on trying something new in their teaching. And many of them realise throughout the 8 months that the Technology module runs, that they are more competent with technology than they think and that it does offer them and their students benefits. Despite more enthusiasm from the outset, City were a week or so behind LSE in making the switch to entirely online learning.

For my own teaching, I had to make a quick decision as the crisis unfolded in what I shall call Week 0 – Monday 16th March, an entire week before the UK lockdown. I was due to teach a day long workshop for my technology module. I left the office on the Friday before wondering if I would be back to do this, and over the weekend it became apparent that I would not. While City wasn’t shut, I felt that teaching a module about online learning, and insisting my cohort came into City to study all day would be a risk both to myself and to my participants. I was also aware that almost half of my cohort are either health sciences lecturers or work in the NHS as health educators, so could be quite distracted. I took the decision that I would shift the entire day online, and really try to make it work. Partly to prove to myself I could do it. But largely so my cohort might experience an online session that I hope might give them some ideas for adapting their own teaching.

The session focused on learning theories and learning design and over the weekend I had an email from one participant asking me if I could make the session more practical to help her shift to online teaching. This started me questioning about how to approach the content. Of course I wanted to do something practical to help people, but launching into a hands-on training session in using every technology tool we have at City would not have been productive. I also felt as a point of principle, we needed to start with the pedagogy and the learning outcomes before we jumped straight into using technology. This is really the ethos underlying the whole module. We ask participants what aspects of their own teaching they would like to improve and to consider any challenges they are facing in their teaching. Then we think about technology and how it might help. So this was a principle I really felt would help people, to give them a framework they could use to plan their shift to online teaching. Obviously we all have a pretty clear problem currently, being unable to leave our homes and teach our students in traditional ways.

I returned to my lesson plan and the materials I had prepared. The session was going to be based around learning design principles using a lot of Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework. Had we met face to face we were going to do an ABC Learning Design workshop. I realised fairly quickly this would not work as an online session. I also knew that a day long workshop would need some rethinking to work effectively. I used my lesson plan to think about what type of learning was happening at different points through the day. There were clearly chunks of knowledge acquisition which lent themselves to some presenting. Time was short so I planned to deliver these during a synchronous session that I would also record. It made sense to me to start the day with an Adobe Connect webinar. My students already have webinars built into the course and most have used the software already. I felt I wanted some face to face time to just check in with people and set them up for the day with a timetable of what they were going to be doing. I decided to start with a quick poll to check in with people and see how they were feeling and to acknowledge the strangeness of the situation.

I then devised some simple activities to do throughout the day – reading a blog post about ABC, watching a couple of videos on the Conversational Framework and Connectivism and then writing a reflection in the Moodle discussion forum, to try and replicate some group discussion. At lunchtime around 3 people checked in with me to ask some questions, including one business studies lecturer who was looking for some help as she planned to run her first Adobe Connect session a few days later.  This lunchtime surgery session for anyone stuck and in need of some help seemed to work well. The day progressed and people posted in the forum. We then came back together for a final session from 3-4pm. I made the slides and content much more minimal but asked people to talk about what they had learnt from the day and which aspects of learning design and learning theory might they use to help them plan the shift to online learning in their own teaching. I also did another poll to see how people were feeling at the end of the day. Anxiety levels seemed to have gone down a little which was a relief (mine has too!) We also had some great discussion, largely in the chat box but by the end of the day people were feeling braver and switching on their audio to speak.

My lesson plan for the day (which I also sent to them all and posted in Moodle as a simple word document) is here if anyone would like to take a look. I tried to make it as clear as possible with step by step instructions and links to the relevant part of Moodle so they knew what was expected. It wasn’t perfect but I’ve had some positive feedback from the cohort and I hope the blend of synchronous and asynchronous activities gave them flexibility to study in the way they want to. I’m also aware that many of my cohort are very stretched at the moment, emotionally, health wise or work wise. So I am checking in with them, giving them options to defer their studies and get extensions on their assignments.

In summary, some of what I learnt from these few weeks include:

  • Think really hard about priorities – every day, every week, every hour even – what needs to be done NOW. What can wait. Review everything that ever ended up on a to do list! What do you really need to do it? Do you need to do it now? Can you add it to your schedule to do it in a timely way, to stop feeling like everything needs to be done immediately. The need to adapt my own teaching made me really look at what I was covering in a day long session and prioritise what they really needed to know for now and for their assessments.
  • Accept that it’s not possible to achieve everything and that is ok and that some things just will have to wait and people will understand. Some of my marking has been late, it’s been the one things I’ve found really difficult to concentrate on. But I am trying to communicate with people and let them know when I can do things. But the experience of an ABC workshop was just not something I could replicate online, so I did the best I could and pointed them to the resources and down the line, when this is all over we’ll run a workshop.
  • Try to be good enough. Anyone who knows me knows I am not a perfectionist, I’m a getting things done person. And at this current time I’m being even less of a perfectionist. I made a voice over PowerPoint this week. It was not the greatest thing I have produced, but it is perfectly audible and will do and so it’s up on Moodle and ready for the students. The same with hastily adapted day of teaching. It wasn’t perfect, but on balance it was a lot better than bringing people into the university and I gave people a way of engaging with the teaching live or following up afterwards with a recording and discussion forum activities.
  • Ask for help! I realised that many of my colleagues are genuinely lovely people and want to help and letting some of them know I was struggling was important. By the end of this week when my colleague Sarah said “Jane you sound so much more energised today – I think you are feeling better” that really gave me a lift. Several joined me for my day of teaching and everyone has been checking in on each other to make sure we’re getting through this. I’m really grateful to everyone I work with for being so supportive at this current time.
  • Online learning is not about getting the content online, it’s about your role as a teacher. Many of us working in this field have talked about how slides in Moodle or long lists of readings are not online learning for years, but at this time it’s becoming so clear that people want human contact. I miss seeing my students face to face, so I’ve been talking to them on Teams and Skype and in Adobe Connect. I’ve also realised that without the teacher it’s just lists of stuff. We need someone to help us make sense of what we are studying – our teachers, our peers, our colleagues.
  • Engage with your students and check in with them frequently – now more than ever they need to know you care. In the word of Paolo Freire “The teacher is no longer merely the-one-who-teaches, but one who is him/herself taught in dialogue with the students, who in turn while being taught also teach. They become jointly responsible for a process in which all grow.” This is a tough situation, but we are all in this together.
  • Make any instructions crystal clear and tell people about them multiple times. Write lists that say – first do this, then do this, read this and answer this question. It’s not always obvious what we are expecting people to do with information we present to them. They need our help turning it into knowledge. And no this is not spoon-feeding, this is good teaching and we’re all suffering a bit from knowing where to focus our attention and need plenty of reminders.
  • Take time to do some proper planning as it will pay off in the long run. We’ve all been saying for years we haven’t got enough time to do things, but now we’re locked down time is something some of us have a lot more of. So take the time to think about your teaching, return to your learning outcomes and think about your students at the moment, and their capacity to study and take things in. Give them as many options as you can. Perhaps a short video, a longer piece of reading and an activity. If you are making recordings or voice over PowerPoint that’s helpful, but make sure there is a way they can ask questions. Keep the video as short as you can covering the really key points.

I am not sure if I am saying anything profound. Shifting to online is hard work, it’s always been hard work, but everything is hard work at the moment. There are so many people who’ve told me this week how tired they feel from all the online meetings. I usually commute for around 3 hours a day, and I am more tired than ever in my short walk from the kitchen to the home office. I need down time and I need to be kind to myself. We will get through this, alone / together. I’m sure we’ll all learn a lot more about technology over the coming weeks and months, but I hope we’ll reconnect with what makes us human and the underlying values of higher education that the world needs now – the need for communities, self improvement, fulfilment, kindness and most of all love for each other. Teaching is a political act said Freire, but he also said that “education was an act of love and this is an act of courage.” I shall keep that in my mind in the coming weeks.

For she’s a Senior Fellow…

My SFHEA Certificate

I’ve not written a blog post for quite some time and not because I’ve not had much to say, rather because there has been far too much going on. However, the occasion of being appointed a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy has prompted me to write a short blog post about this. Also because I have offered to mentor and support others and to share my fellowship claim.

Writing my SFHEA was probably one of the most difficult things I’ve written. I won’t lie, I had moments when I wanted to give up and go and lie in a darkened room. I write all the time, and I support others applying for Fellowship so I am not quite sure why I found this so challenging. I think it might be because I am not very good at reflecting on why I do things. I know as an educator we’re supposed to be reflective, I know how important reflection is as part of learning, and I do to spend some time, usually, after I’ve taught a session, or run a workshop, or delivered a paper, reflecting on what went well, what went less well. But I don’t spend very long doing it, if I am honest. Usually because I am on to the next thing. I also don’t spend a lot of time questioning my motives about why I do things. I have tended to follow my heart when it comes to my professional interests. I do stuff that I find interesting. I research topics that make me wonder why something happens. I’m a naturally curious person I like to think, so well suited to research. I also like to stay firmly in my comfort zone that I have spent many years carving out for myself. So being asked to write a reflective account of my activities and my professional journey was a fairly terrifying experience for me. Hang on, I have to try and make sense of why I do what I do, beyond seemingly the obvious?! The other part I found really hard was knowing what impact I am having. So a SFHEA claim needs you to be influencing, mentoring and supporting others in their teaching and learning activities. Instinctively I know I do that, but writing it all down, with some evidence of impact was really challenging for me as we all know how hard ‘impact’ is to measure.
I started working on the SFHEA probably around 2 years ago, I did a fair amount of writing, before concluding I couldn’t understand the format and I needed to put it aside. I missed two deadlines to get the dratted thing submitted. I found myself a buddy and then failed to work with them or set aside enough time (thank you Richard, because in the end you were incredibly helpful and supportive and got there 6 months before me!) And then around September time I realised that I just had to get this thing submitted by the January 2020 deadline. it was becoming like a millstone around my neck. If Pam my manager asked me once more when I was going to let her read something, I would just have to hide my head in shame and run away. There was nothing for it, I needed to devote serious time to it and nail the darned thing.
I should probably start by saying we have an internal professional recognition scheme at City, which HEA accredit and called RISES. So our requirements are a little different to those who apply directly to HEA or to other internal recognition schemes. But broadly speaking I think they all follow a similar format where you write a professional journey, a reflective account (including two case studies) a mapping grid against the Professional Standards Framework and a CPD plan.
I am grateful for the the tremendous support I received from my colleague Ruth Windscheffel, and also to Pam Parker, who I did finally let read my drafts and to which she gave me incredibly helpful feedback. Inevitably though I found myself trying desperately to write it over Christmas and New Year. Ideal! I also realised the deadline for submission was the day after my birthday, so unless I wanted to spend my birthday writing it, I needed to get the thing done a few days before. I’m grateful to Chris for his ever critical eye on a fairly dreadful first draft that had no real structure and frankly was a brain dump of everything I’d been up to in the last 10 years. I’m also grateful to him for blagging me a place on a writing retreat at the University of Kent in early January. Here I got support, help and hope (in the form of Julia Hope) who ruthlessly edited a couple of paragraphs and got me into the right mindset. I finally nailed my application, submitted the thing and then just had to wait a month for the panel to meet and deliberate.
It was a tense day on 14th February, (no I was not awaiting a torrent of Valentine’s Day cards) it was the day the panel was meeting. I spent a nervous lunchtime in the gym at a body pump class, which is always good for working off some tension. Around 3.15 I was delighted to get unofficial confirmation from the panel that I had been successful and the following week I received my letter and certificate from the HEA. I am really proud to put SFHEA after my name. It was worth the pain, and if I can help others achieve it in a less painful way, then I would be happy to try. Thank you to everyone who supported me, and who have subsequently congratulated me. SFHEA is a big deal and a lot of hard work but I am a very happy fellow now! I’m also trying to be more reflective, to think a bit about what I am doing, why and what impact it has on others. It’s a good mentality to get into, but I am also really willing to help and support others on their journey.
A PDF version of my application is here and please do drop me a line if you have any questions.

Reflections on OER19 and teaching in the open

Me, Lorna Campbell, Chris Morrison and Dave White

It’s a few weeks since I returned from the OER19 conference held at the National University of Ireland in Galway. I have been to the OER conference twice before, in 2017 when I presented on research into university copyright and IPR policies on lecture recording, and in about 2012 when I ran a session about OER and information literacy. Both times I found the community really welcoming, friendly and there was a real mix of people, some of whom work in the educational technology field, some in the library world but many others in education. It was through attending OER17 that I ended up meeting Virginia Rodes and going to Uruguay last year, but that is a whole other blog post and story I’ve already written about! However, I was delighted to catch up with Virginia who was presenting her doctoral research into open educational practices in Latin America, as well as plenty of other friends (Claire McAvinia, Bill Johnston, Sheila MacNeil, Marion Kelt and many more) and people I know via twitter, some of whom I got to meet in person for the first time. Many congratulations to Laura Czerniewicz and Catherine Cronin who were the co-chairs of the conference, they did a fantastic job. And there were delegates from many different countries attending the conference, which made it a really rich experience.

It’s always good to reflect on a conference a few weeks later, because it’s a chance to see what has stuck in my mind, for me beautiful patterns and images stick in my mind from the conference, not just because it was on Ireland’s wonderful west coast. I am still thinking of Kate Bowles opening keynote where she talked of the ‘Quilt of stars’ showing us pictures of beautiful quilts of the night sky, but also using it as a metaphor for how work often goes outside the boundaries of working life, spilling over the edges. She asked some tough questions about the growing trend to commercialise higher education and how at odds this is with the open education agenda. I agree that the open education community often relies on the labour of those who through their employment at a university, can give their work away for free. Not everyone is in such a privileged position. It is something Chris and I thought about long and hard when creating resources such as Copyright the Card Game and the Publishing Trap and then giving them away for free by licensing them under Creative Commons. It’s what I want to do, but it’s also work that I invest in over and above what the day job would ever cover, and it does mean this often spills into my own free time.

Me and Virginia Rodes – reunited!

I went to several fascinating talks at OER19 including one on research in Portugal by Paula Cardoso and Lina Morgado into whether there is a relationship between academics likelihood to publish their research openly and the creation of OERs. I also attended a great session on creating through crowdsourcing an open textbook on learning design. It led to some really interesting discussions about what a textbook was and I was struck by how the open textbook movement is really taking off in many other countries, but not the UK. Virginia’s talk about her research into OER adoption by academics in Latin America, using a grounded theory approach was fascinating and her model highlights the many dimensions that impact on the decisions around openness, including teacher identity and agency, their view of the curriculum and curriculum development. She also talked about the agenda to decolonise the curriculum and why the views of teachers in Latin America might differ substantially from those elsewhere. Other people’s who’s talks stood out were Johanna Funk from Charles Darwin University, who described four open education projects, Taskeen Adam who talked about her research into MOOCs in South Africa. I was pleased to hear Helen Crump and Caroline Kuhn speak, two people I follow on twitter. And Nick Baker from Canada, who talked about lighting fires in open educational practices.

I was struck by the keynote from Su-Ming Khoo, who I met at the evening social when Dave White decided to give her some keynote pointers (it largely involves a special type of pointing!). Su-Ming also used beautiful imagery based on the legend of the raven in Haida mythology, which are First People from Canada’s west coat. The raven was curious about what was in a clam shell and in opening it, so the world was created. There is a wonderful sculpture by Bill Reid in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I realised at once I have seen this sculpture, when taken to the museum by my great uncle, Michael, who in fact was a good friend of Bill Reid. Su-Ming talked about the beauty in things that are broken, the gift economy and talked about ‘eccentric’ open education which draws attention to what is missing, and engaging with difference to make us think differently. I really resonated with the theme running through the conference about how education is social justice, but it is also for social justice. Su-Ming urged us not to be ego-centred but to be decentered. But asked us whether there was there a time when education wasn’t broken? Are we harking back to a golden age that didn’t exist? I often think that when lecturers talk about students and critical thinking, or attendance at lectures or engagement in class – did this golden age ever really exist?

Galway Bay

Another highlight for me was the opportunity to run a panel discussion based on my new module I launched at City, University of London last autumn as part of our MA in Academic Practice. My module, EDM122: Digital Literacies and Open Practice is something I enjoyed every moment of preparing and teaching. I also was so pleased that I decided to include a webinar programme as part of the course and to invite a series of experts in the field of both digital literacy and open practice to participate. It was great to be joined on the panel at OER19 by three of my webinar presenters: Lorna Campbell, Dave White and Chris Morrison who reflected on their experiences of being part of the course. One thing that struck me was a comment by Dave, when I remarked on how many people had come to our session, which was late in the day and in a different building. He said ‘well Jane, there are a lot of people talking about open practice and you’ve actually done it, in terms of launching this course.’ I’m not arrogant enough to think I am the only person who has ‘done it’ but judging from the interest I got, then there are not a lot of examples out there yet. I want to be clear, I was totally inspired by the University of Manchester for their Open Knowledge in Higher Education module, which they invited me to teach on a couple of years ago. Martin Weller had a big impact on that course, and his work on Digital Scholarship has shaped my thinking for many years. So others such as Martin and Manchester are definitely leading the way! And I also piloted this course in Montevideo, Uruguay last August, and they are also pioneers when it comes to open education. The slides from the panel discussion are online. Thank you to my speakers for sharing their insights, and thank you to everyone who came along to the session and asked such thoughtful questions.

As with all good conferences there was time for networking, some great food and a few drinks and it being in Ireland we got to experience some live music too. I was sorry I could stay for longer in Ireland, but it’s going to be a busy few months on the Copyright Literacy tour. But thank you to ALT, (to Martin and Maren) and to Catherine and Laura for putting together such a memorable and thought provoking conference. And finally, thanks to Dom Pates for giving me some time and writing space on Friday, so I could get this blog post out there in the open finally!

Writing about writing

Reflection on a river in Kent

I’m helping re-launch the LEaD writing group on the 8th February at City University and I am a little bit excited about running this group with my colleague Dom Pates. It turns out we have both been blogging for over 10 years, and we are both keen to support people who want some time and space (and maybe a bit of technical assistance with WordPress) to do some writing. Interestingly we are both looking forward to having the time and space to do some writing ourselves and may finally finish a draft blog post we’ve been working on for over 6 months now, on academics’ attitudes towards lecture recording.

Despite doing a lot of it, I don’t think I am a particularly good writer, but I love writing, almost as much as I love talking. Sometimes I wonder if in fact I like writing more than talking, because I can go back and edit my often badly formed ramblings, which I don’t have the luxury of doing when I am speaking. Getting the right words in the right order is something that I think is really important, and it’s something than in my impatience to get a message out there, I often fall down on. It’s not that I say the wrong thing, or put my foot in it (not always!) I just often end up a little clumsy and inelegant the first time I try and get my words out. I don’t let it put me off, or slow me down or make me self conscious about what I am going to say. I think some people can spend far too much time working out what they want to say and speak in sentences that are both articulate and profound. But they have lost someone in the moment, by hesitating and not getting to the point quickly enough. The slow and cautious approach to communication is not me! There are of course some exceptions, such as when I prepare for a talk or a keynote, I need a plan, I need to spend a fair bit of time working out what I want to say, how best to express it and the order to try and convey my thoughts. I’ve even been known to write myself a script. But in every day life when we have to speaking off the cuff it is just not like that, but it doesn’t seem to have done me too much harm in my career.

I have noticed there is a complex, maybe even symbiotic relationship between writing, speaking and editing and I wonder if the fact I have been writing on a computer now for well over 20 years has shaped my writing. My entire PhD was written on a now defunct old laptop, which weighed a ton and in fact rarely left my flat. I transported files between it and my desktop computer on floppy disks, not even CD-ROMs. Yes I really am that ancient. But I realised early on as a researcher that writing directly onto a computer seemed to feel like there was a more direct link between my thoughts and the words appearing on a page, than when I went back to writing by hand. I don’t buy all the articles that suggest there is something more real about handwriting. I lost the ability to capture my thoughts by hand a long time ago. Perhaps I spend too long editing and re-editing, as is the luxury of the computer screen, I don’t know? But I do know that when I start to type the words start to flow from my mind in a way that feels meaningful and powerful.

I hope that the writing group will be an opportunity to share some of my experiences with colleagues who might want to write as part of their academic practice. Writing is for me an important way of reflecting on what I do, but it is also inextricably linked with thinking, and moving my ideas forward in ways that don’t always happen when I try and speak about them. Writing blogs posts is also liberating, because they are allowed to be partly formed thoughts and work in progress. However, if in writing a blog then people start following you and reading your posts, does it lead you to become more self-conscious and less likely in fact to write? It’s an interesting question and one I don’t know the answer to. I know I am writing far less on my own blog recently, and is that lack of time? Or is it the creeping fear that I need to only write when I have something profound to say? I don’t know but I am aware I now have several other outlets for my writing, including the Copyright Literacy blog, the Learning at City blog and the blog I created for my new module, Digital Literacies and Open Practice – perhaps one can have too many options? So in the interests of taking up the habit of writing on my own blog again, I’ll put this post out there and see what people think. And if you happen to work at City University of London and fancy coming along to the writing group, we’re re-launching on 8th February from 12-1pm in B310 and I will see if I can bring along some cake! Feeding the body is at least as important as feeding the mind through reading, writing and reflecting.

Reflecting on teaching digital literacies and open practice

Some days I feel very lucky, other days I think I am privileged and some days I just think I’m really tired and I have been working hard for a long time. Which is not to say a lot of people haven’t, but this last term for me was the culmination of a lot of intellectual effort, maybe more than normal. I finally got to teach a module about the stuff I love, my own module on digital literacy and open practice (or what I might call copyright and information literacy). I got to devise everything about it from scratch including the title of the course, the learning outcomes the assessment, the readings and all the teaching I would do. So I wanted to write a blog post about how this has gone, but in fact in reflecting on this term I realise I am partly reflecting on my experiences over the past 2 years of transformation, of identity crisis and of finding the things I love.
It took me quite some time to realise I needed to make a change. I worked at LSE for 15 years and I reckon that might have been around 5 years too many. The change was prompted by realising I wasn’t happy with what I did 9-5 so was filling my days with a whole load of stuff I wanted to do, I felt unappreciated and that time was passing by and I was becoming more frustrated. It was the Aurora Programme that made me finally do something about making a change. We talked about our ambitions and values and it took me back to a time when I had made another decision. I clearly remember the day near the end of my PhD when I told some of my friends and colleagues I didn’t want to be an academic (yet). I was about 24 or 25 and I realised I had spent enough time at university and needed to do something different. People who know me well know that I often tend not to realise when I’ve done something for too long particularly if I am having a good time – I eat too much, talk too much, write too much. And when we do something for too long I think it makes the experience a bit less great and we stop learning. However, when I made that decision at 24 or 25 I didn’t mean I never wanted to be an academic. In my heart I always wanted to be a lecturer, I just didn’t want to do it then without some what I called ‘real life’ experience. And I remember saying, ‘by the time I’m 40 that’s what I’ll be doing’.

Jane in Uruguay with students on her course

Aurora made me remember this, and I also recall thinking to myself one day, that when asked by a stranger ‘what do you do for a living’ that nothing would give me greater joy than to be able to say ‘I’m a university lecturer’. And now I am, thanks largely to Aurora and to the wonderful opportunity at City University to join the Learning Enhancement and Development team. And now I have my own module teaching all the stuff I really care about and this term has been a wonderful combination of fabulous, terrifying, exhausting and inspiring. I felt I wanted to write a blog post about what I’d learnt teaching this module, but in fact I feel a bit like I’m still so wrapped up in it that I don’t know properly if I can reflect. I know I’ve worked really hard, preparing the reading list, devising all the teaching activities, offering webinars with guest speakers and opening those up to the wider world. I know I have some marking to look forward to next week. But I’m not yet sure what I’ve learnt about teaching Digital Literacies and Open Practice. I thought I’d try to write a few things down that struck me that might help me make sense of it. But the overwhelming feeling I have is how wonderful it’s been finding the things that I love actually mean something to other people. I have known for some time that what I did meant a lot to librarians, but becoming an academic in educational development means I have to teach people from all sorts of disciplines. And so I wondered, would they find the topic interesting? Would it resonate with them and would it hang together, or just be a weird perspective on the world that people would later call the ‘being Jane Secker’ phenomena? So what have I learnt so far?

Don’t make assumptions about anyone: whether they are staff or students, whether they are experts or novices. You have to try and work stuff out together when you are teaching and learning. You have to be prepared to have your students teach you things, and to have to teach them things you didn’t expect to. I suppose that it was inevitable we’d get into copyright on the module and people might not know a lot about this, but we discussed a whole range of topics, from digital natives, to green and gold open access. From the value of frameworks and models to how to embed both digital literacies and openness into the curriculum.
Technology can terrify some people including me: and don’t assume that people just get comfortable with using it just because they keep being exposed to it. My first assignment has involved getting the students to make a video and what a challenge I set them (and me!). From my own perspective I knew nothing about how to set up a video assignment in Moodle, where would people put these files? What exactly was I expecting from a video? Did they have to appear in it? So many questions including many of my own. And I also become hyper sensitive to whether I was using enough technology in the module, should I use Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter? Were post-its ok or would we be better with a Padlet to capture feedback. I constantly found myself making jokes as my own digital ineptitude which seemed to keep raising it’s head when I tried to get Dave White on a webinar or just switch from my laptop to the desktop computer. I had several experiences that led me to question my own digital capabilities but the trick is to have the confidence to carry on!
Enthusiasm and passion can get you a long way but it’s not going to change the world, you basically have to get people to see the relevance of what you are doing to them, so they become agents of their own change. I had a sneaky quick peak at my module evaluation last week and it looks really positive. I saw several mentions of how enthusiastic I am as a teacher. I really hope that is the case, but I know that that won’t be enough. I need to ensure that people taking the module actually find things that resonate with them if they are going to make changes to their teaching practices. I can’t be there every week enthusing them, they need to take what they’ve learnt and embed it into their discipline and ways of working. I think positive feedback is always great, but it will be fantastic to try and measure the impact of what people have learnt down the line. And just in case you wonder, the picture is me in my Victorian dress, that I don’t use to teach people about open practice, but I do use where I lead them on historical walks – another passion of mine! What I’ve learnt from doing that is being passionate and enthusiastic is great, but it’s no substitution for actually having accurate historical details!

Jane and Chris at CopyCamp in Poland

The Publishing Trap and other games have got a real value in academic practice – that’s not to say it didn’t before, but the best part of the course for me was taking all the things I love and seeing them work in my teaching. And on the final afternoon when everyone played the Publishing Trap and really enjoyed it, I felt all my hard work was worth it. That game is mine and Chris’s greatest creation in many ways, but I’ve also felt it like a millstone round my neck as well. I love it and hate it in equal measures! I love it’s a game of life and I love the characters (particularly dear Brian the microbiologist with a big beard and an allotment). But I hate how complicated it is (but then so is academic life) and how people have nit picked about certain aspects of the game that aren’t quite like real life. Playing it last week with everyone as the culmination of the module, and having them really enjoy it, was just wonderful though. And I am delighted to report that Brian came joint first and Mary made it to NASA!

The academic team at City LEaD

Be grateful for your friends and colleagues – I guess the key thing with teaching this module was that I didn’t do it on my own. I’ve had the wonderful support of my academic team mate, Ali Press throughout. Sense checking my ideas, helping me create a wonderful glossary tool and just being there to support me. I’ve had my colleague Ruth who actually has had the patience to take my module (brave soul) and made such an excellent contribution throughout as a participant. I’ve had the amazing group of guest webinar presenters who joined me, you can see the full list of speakers on the blog, but special thanks to Chris who not only presented a webinar but tuned in to almost all of them. And they are not over yet as there is my final webinar on 11th January with Catherine Cronin. And finally colleagues from the City Educational Technology team who helped with day two of the module with DIY video production (and particularly thanks to Peter and James who have taken the module!) and Stephen and Lenka from the library who joined me on day 1 and day 2 respectively to provide a perspective on copyright and open access. It’s been quite amazing how willing people have been to help and support me. And I am particularly grateful to Virginia Rodes at the University of the Republic in Montevideo, Uruguay who gave me the opportunity to teach a version of this course in August and the wonderful students that I met during my 10 days in what was a magical country.

So as we reach the point in the year when I need to spend a lot of time asleep, overall I’ve learnt that I can make things happen, with a lot of hard work and a little help from my friends. And that there is a real place for a module of this nature in academia. So roll on 2019! I really hope I get to present about the module at OER19 in Galway in April (still waiting to hear about my proposal) but there are plenty of events lining up for next year’s tour. Now I just need to get Chris to design us next year’s tour t-shirt!!

Advice on doing a PhD

I keep saying I want to encourage everyone I know to do a PhD which is not entirely true, but there are some of my friends who have been thinking about a doctorate and so I hope writing this might help them. I realise that not everyone enjoys research but for me it was a life changing experience. I wasn’t always planning on doing a PhD but in some ways it was an inevitable step after I finished my undergraduate degree. I desperately wanted to prove I was clever, I didn’t feel ready to leave university and get a job and I started on the path of doing research as an undergraduate and found it an amazing experience.  Partly it was because I had some freedom to follow my interests, partly I realised how exciting it could be to find stuff out. To find a little niche in the world where no one else had been. However there were a whole set of factors that helped me really thrive as a researcher. A set of specific circumstances that I think are worth discussing and sharing as they seem useful for anyone who might be thinking of doing a PhD. I also realise that I was fortunate, being in the right place at the right time, but I also realise that anyone doing research now has so many more opportunities to connect with like minded researchers. Anyway, here goes with some advice…

Me climbing Constitution Hill in Aberystwyth in 1995

1) Find the right supervisors. I say that because I had 2 supervisors which at the time was relatively uncommon. But it meant I had two perspectives on my work and two experts in their own field which I think helped me work in an interdisciplinary way, but meant I could take advantage of their respective strengths. Supervisors are so important as they guide and support you and having two of them really worked well for me. It also really helped that they were in different departments and really did have quite different specialisms. They both helped me in different ways as I learnt to write about my ideas and refine my thinking.

2)Become part of an inter-disciplinary community. The year I started my research my university (Aberystwyth) had decided to invest in PhD studentships across all departments. Not only did it mean I got some money to live on and to pay my fees but it meant there was around 100 people in my year all starting our research together. We were effectively a cohort who together became a community of researchers. I was a founder member of the Postgraduate Association and we had an excellent Dean of Graduate Studies who was keen to support research students. We organised social events (cheese and wine related usually) and held regular meetings to discuss any issues people were having. We were lucky to get support from the Guild of Students and our Dean gave us a small budget. What is meant for me though was I didn’t ever feel alone. Yes I was the only one studying my strange little topic on historians and newspapers, but I had the support of my friends who were doing PhDs in astrophysics, maths, geography, history, international politics and all sorts of other weird and wonderful subjects. We shared our experiences of the progress we were making, of the issues were were having with our supervisors or with our families (who clearly thought we were all slightly bonkers) and it motivated me and made the experience rewarding on a personal basis.

3) Get some research training. While I may not have appreciated all aspects of the research training course I did in my first year I was effectively taught for the whole year and the course covered all the main social science research methods. Not only did it give me an excellent grounding in theoretical frameworks and research methods it meant I met researchers from all different departments across the university. We learnt qualitative and quantitative methods and analysis, philosophy of social sciences and much more. The course was compulsory for anyone in the Faculty of Social Sciences and it had been devised in response to guidelines from the ESRC, but it was really ahead of it’s time. And even today I still an amazed at how few universities have such an extensive programme. My experiences working in research support in the years since then showed that treating doctoral students as people who might understand all their needs is fundamentally flawed. If you had given me the option of not taking that course, I suspect the confident, know it all I was back then would have decided to opt out. But I’m glad that wasn’t possible and passing that course was an essential part of progressing to my second year, but also made me the researcher I am today.

4) Become part of an academic department. In addition to being part of a wider community of researchers across the university one of my departments had an excellent ethos in the way it treated doctoral students. We were given shared office space on the same corridor as the academic staff, we were allowed to use the staff room and we had many of the privileges of staff. It really felt like an apprentice scheme in being an academic and it was amazing how such little things, such as being able to go into the staff room, made a real difference to how you felt about your identity. We had regular research seminars where we were encouraged to present our ideas and get feedback from our peers and colleagues from across the department showed an interest in my research. It gave me the confidence to submit a paper for an academic conference in my third year, and attending that event at the University of Westminster proved to be a pivotal moment for me.

5) Take the opportunity to teach. Teaching wasn’t really something I had considered before becoming a doctoral student, but it was also something I didn’t have much choice in doing, because I needed the money. I was in fact awarded half a studentship from the university which meant without teaching to earn some extra money, I would have been pretty poor. I can remember being terrified about what I would be expected to do, how I would answer students questions, having to teach subjects I had barely understood as an undergraduate (Dialog and Datastar searching!) But as the time went on I realised teaching was actually fun. I could often get by when a student was struggling by asking them lots of questions and actually reading the handouts the lecturers had prepared (I realised how few students seemed to be able to read and follow a help sheet when doing any form of computer practical!) And I got to chat to the students and learnt so much myself during my time as what we called a ‘computer demonstrator’. I sometimes wonder now if I really was a teacher, but what I know is that I had found something I enjoyed, that gave me a source of income and students seemed to like me.

6) Write from the start. Since doing a research supervision course last year I learnt that factors for success with doctoral students are many, but one thing sets many students apart and makes them far more likely to complete. That is the student who writes from the start. I was encouraged to do this by both my supervisors, but I also remember early on in a meeting them being surprised at the volume I had written. It’s quality Jane not quantity they said, but I often feel I have to get the words out my head and onto paper to start to make sense of what I might be thinking. This was effectively what I spent the 3 and half years of my doctoral work doing, writing and writing and re-writing and re-drafting until finally some of it started to make sense. There are loads of other factors that contribute towards success, but this for me was critical and is something that has stayed with me always. I write so I can think and in writing it helps my thinking, which in turn improves my writing. It’s not perfect, but I’ve never let that stop me. I don’t always write things grammatical correct, but it all comes out in the wash in the end and that’s what proof readers and critical friends are for after all!

Graduating in 2000

7) Avoid perfectionism. Few people who know me would say I was a perfectionist. I work hard, but I also have a sense often of the effort needed to make something perfect, which can be far greater than the time that is available. So I have never been afraid to hand in a first draft, knowing it’s not great. Or to ask someone for help with redrafting a paper that I just can’t get right. Perfectionists don’t finish PhDs. What you do has to be good, you have to work hard and put in the hours, when you are collecting and analysing your data, when you are searching the literature and when you are drawing it together into some sort of conclusion. But no one expects perfection. Do your best, in the time you have available, but be willing to put your work and ideas out there to get feedback on them. It’s the only way to learn.

8) Have a hobby. You can’t spend your whole life working on your PhD for 3-4 years. It will feel like that is what you are doing but you need to take time out. I effectively treated it like a job. I worked 9-5 (or in my case more like 10-6). But then I went to the sports centre and did aerobics classes, and went out walking in the hills at the weekend, and socialised. I also did a lot of cooking and learnt to make jam. I didn’t work endlessly into the night (except perhaps right at the end) and I even went on a couple of holidays. Yes you feel guilty the whole time you are not working on the thesis, but you have to do other stuff and for me cycling and aerobics and making the most of the beautiful West Wales countryside at the weekend were the way I survived my PhD.

I do realise I was very focused during this period of my life. From 1995-1999 there are very few TV series I watched. I did go to the cinema still but I didn’t listen to a lot of music – I have huge gaps in my cultural references because I was immersed in my own world of academia (I never watched a single episode of Friends). I threw myself into my research, to such an extent that it’s painful sometimes to go back to it. Since my thesis has been digitised and made available online I have cringed a lot at my writing style. I’ve wondered why I was so enthralled with the topic. But I have never, ever regretted it for a moment. It set me on the path I am on now and has instilled in me a love of research, a curiosity that I hope never leaves me. A desire to ask questions, to present at conferences, to write papers and hopefully one day soon to start supervising some PhD students of my own!

Thanks to Emma Wilson, for inspiring me to write this piece. I hope she finds it useful after our recent discussions. I’d love to hear from others about what doing a doctorate meant to them and how it might have contributed to who they are. A doctorate gives you many things, but it also sets you apart from people, such as making your family think you are strange or terribly clever. That can be both a blessing and a curse! But I say to anyone thinking about doing a PhD, find the right topic, the right supervisors and plenty of support and then do it. You won’t look back and remember life’s a journey so don’t forget to enjoy the ride!

Taking Copyright Literacy to Uruguay

In just over 2 weeks time I will be boarding a plane to Uruguay in South America to teach for a week in the Department of Information and Communication at the Universidad de la República in Montevideo. I have planned a week of teaching which focuses on copyright literacy, open practices and broader issues related to online learning and digital literacies. I’m excited and nervous as it’s my first time in South America. I’m pretty well travelled around Europe, the US, New Zealand and spent a week teaching in Singapore and Malaysia a couple of years ago for the University of London, so I know what it’s like to be jet lagged and committed to teaching! However, as all my students will speak Spanish, I’m hoping that the workshops and classes go well and I at least come back knowing the Spanish for copyright literacy! I’m also very excited as there are plans to translate several of my and Chris’s educational resources including Copyright the Card Game and the Publishing Trap into Spanish! Here’s some information (in Spanish) posted recently by the Department about my visit.
So how did I come to be doing this (yes I do ask myself this sometimes as well!) Well I met Professor Virginia Rodes last year at the OER17 conference in London. I was presenting about the research Chris and I had recently completed on lecture recording, copyright and IP policies in UK universities. It was the day after my leaving party at LSE and probably not my finest moment, but it just goes to show that you never know where life might lead you! And it’s just about possible to present at a conference coherently when you are a little hungover! I attended Virginia’s presentation about open education and copyright reform that was being undertaken in Uruguay to introduce exceptions into their law for libraries and education. I spoke to her at the end of the session and I clearly remember her saying to me ‘you must come to Uruguay’ – well little did I know! Apparently in Uruguay they don’t have copyright exceptions for education and libraries at the moment, and IFLA have been doing work to lobby for this for some time.
So what else will I do while I am in Uruguay? I’m also scheduled to give a keynote at a conference being held at the university, called ‘Copyright, E-learning and Digital Literacy’. I hope to meet lots of people while I am there, including librarians, copyright reform activists and others. I’ve notice I am in good company, a few weeks after my trip Martin Dougiamas the creator of Moodle, will be visiting the university as well. I also hope to see something of the country – Virginia is offering to take me to a few places and I hope I have some time for sightseeing between the lectures and conference! It looks like a fabulous country and I have been reading up on fascinating facts about Uruguay ahead of my trip thanks to a helpful link Stephane Goldstein sent me! So go me, I’ve still got this travel bug and this time it’s taking me to South America! Wish me luck!

Marvellous May…..

May is my favourite month of the year. I have been telling everyone this recently and when they ask why I say it’s because of the light, and the very specific shade of green that is in my garden and in Northampton Square when I look out my office window at City University. I love the fact the days are getting longer and it’s getting warmer. I also feel there are so many exciting things coming up to look forward to, including kicking off the Copyright Literacy tour next week by heading down to Dartington Hall for the DARTS conference. The week after that I’m off to Strasbourg, then to Dublin, then to Berlin! It’s all go and that is only half of it.

My mood lifting is probably also helped by the fact I finished my Copyright X course, the 12 week online course I did at Harvard Law School. It culminated in a 96 hour take home exam 2 weekends ago and ever since I finished it I can’t believe how much lighter I feel! Studying the course was fantastic but it was also really hard work, which isn’t surprising I guess. And I have a month or so to wait until I find out if I passed. Ask me about US copyright law some time, I’d love to talk about Fair Use and some of the underlying philosophies of copyright and IP!

Last week also saw the launch of the podcast I recorded back in January with Jo Wood, for the Librarians with Lives series. I had been looking forward to (and slightly dreading) listening to it again and hoping I said a few things that made sense. So far a few people have told me they liked it and I really enjoyed Jo’s style of questions, which were both serious and light hearted – I suspect quite a few of them didn’t get to the bit about flip flops and Indiana Jones! It turned out to be good timing as it came out the day after a blog post I wrote for the ILG blog, on my role as Chair, saving the world and rewriting the CILIP definition of Information Literacy. And I’d spoken at CILIP on Monday, which led to some fantastic tweets about the new definition doing the rounds. There is lots to look forward to, and lots to do. In some ways I want to bottle this month though, it’s a beautiful time of year. My greenhouse is full of seedlings and as everything breaks into bloom I’m waking up early, doing my mediation and feel I have a lot to be grateful for.