Open Knowledge in the Curriculum: Building competencies, attributes and literacies

This is the full transcript of a talk presented by Lorna M.Campbell, Ewan McAndrew, Kay Douglas and Stephanie (Charlie) Farley as part of the University of Edinburgh’s online Learning and Teaching Conference, in June 2020.  Slides from the presentation are available here Open knowledge in the Curriculum: Building competencies, attributes and literacies.

University of Edinburgh Vision for Open Knowledge

by Lorna M. Campbell, OER Service Manager

At the University of Edinburgh we believe that the creation of open knowledge and open educational resources are fully in keeping with our institutional vision, purpose and values, to discover knowledge and make the world a better place, while ensuring that our teaching and research is diverse, inclusive, accessible to all and relevant to society.  This commitment to open knowledge is more important now than ever,  in the midst of a global pandemic that has disrupted education for millions of learners around the world. Indeed in response to the COVID-19 crisis, UNESCO has issued a Call for Joint Action to support learning and knowledge sharing through Open Educational Resources (OER) with a view to building more inclusive, sustainable and resilient Knowledge Societies.

Building core competencies and transferable attributes with open knowledge

We also believe that co-creating open knowledge and open educational resources through curriculum assignments can play a valuable role in developing core disciplinary competencies and transferable attributes, including digital and information literacy skills, writing as public outreach, collaborative working, information synthesis, copyright literacy, critical thinking, source evaluation and data science.

University of Edinburgh OER Policy

To support the creation of open knowledge the University has an Open Educational Resources Policy that was approved by our Learning and Teaching Committee in 2016.  The policy is informative and permissive.   It helps colleagues make informed decisions about creating and using OER, and encourages staff and students to use, create and publish OERs to enhance the quality of the student experience.

OER Service

We also have a central OER Service based in Information Services which supports staff and students to engage with open knowledge and provides a showcase of open educational resources created by colleagues around the University.

OER Service Activities

The OER Services runs a wide range of digital skills workshops and events focused on OER and open education.  We offer support directly to Schools and Colleges, and we provide advice, guidance and training on copyright and open licensing. The Service also supports the ISG Playful Engagement Strategy and works closely with out Wikimedian in Residence.

Wikimedian In Residence

By Ewan McAndrew, Wikimedian in Residence

The Wikimedia residency is a free resource available to all staff and students interested in how to benefit from and contribute to the free and open Wikimedia projects.
This work of the last four years has culminated in the first ever booklet dedicated to UK case studies of Wikimedia in Education. This is the ‘how to’ guide I always wanted to produce – showcasing exemplary work being done by course leaders and pulling it out into the open for others to be inspired by.

Reframing Wikipedia in Education

It’s inspiring when we think differently, away from our students being passive consumers and instead think of what we can actively contribute. We can’t just say Wikipedia is not reliable either. Some pages are excellent. I know because our staff and students have contributed to over 3,000 articles on Wikipedia, and been scrupulously dedicated to sharing fact-checked knowledge online.

Today, Wikipedia is the largest open education resource in human history, the gateway through which millions of people seek access to knowledge, as such our students and staff are using it, and they find it incredibly useful in an introductory role as part of their initial research. Not the end point and not something that should be cited. But we need to be supporting them in developing good practice, in having those conversations about what constitutes a reliable source, what good academic referencing looks like.

Information that is right or wrong or missing on Wikipedia affects the while internet. Our students are intrinsically motivated to help improve representation online and global understanding of our disciplines. Why? Because “search is the way we live now” and the information that is on Wikipedia spreads across the internet and what is right or wrong or missing on Wikipedia affects the entire internet. And if we’re not supporting our staff and students to engage with how knowledge is communicated online and our relationship with these big digital intermediaries (like Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Amazon) who are all using the open licensed content in Wikipedia then we are doing massive disservice to them and the global open knowledge community at large.

Wikimedia in the Curriculum

Wikimedia assignments help students learn new skills and have immediate impact in addressing both the diversity of editors and content shared online:

  • Masters in Public Health students research review literature each year to add 200 words to Global Health related articles.
  • Reproductive Biology Honours – students work in groups to publish new articles on reproductive biomedical terms. Being able to write with a lay audience in mind has been shown to be incredibly useful in science communication and other subjects like the study of law.
  • Translation Studies MSc students gain meaningful published practice by translating 1,500 words to share knowledge between two different language Wikipedias. And then provide quality peer assessment of each other’s work.
  • World Christianity students undertake a literature review and publish new pages to make the subject more about world Christianity & much less about White Northern hemisphere perspectives.
  • Design Informatics students learn about data science in a much less abstract way through working practically with research datasets, like the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft Database, and surfacing it as linked open data in Wikidata.

Our number of collaborations keeps growing and we increasingly support online courses.

  • Global Health Challenges Postgraduate students worked collaboratively online to improve short stub articles on Natural Disasters and improved them by over 1,000 words over the course of a 4 week assignment.
  • In January this year, as Wikipedia turned 19, Digital Education Masters students at the University of Edinburgh collaborated to publish a new, vastly better article. They literally wrote the page on Information Literacies.

Core Competencies

We need to induct our students in good digital research skills. Our academic support librarians and course leaders along with the research undertaken by Professor Allison Littlejohn on the Edinburgh editathon all confirm that Wikipedia has lots to offer in cultivating communities of knowledge activists, students able to work collaboratively both in person and online, engaged in their learning and in conversations around open access, copyright, neutral point of view, bias, and the credibility of sources.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee stated if there is one thing the open web got right, it was Wikipedia. Students are building the open web in the spirit in which it was originally intended, working constructively, building on prior learning and sharing knowledge openly, for the common good. They teach themselves to become subject experts, and are motivated to do so, to synthesise their research and communicate it accessibly, because they know their scholarship will be read by an audience of not one but millions, in a real world application of their learning that will live on outside of the ivory tower, and they take that charge incredibly seriously. Empowered and proud that their learning has purpose, meaning, and that they have agency.

GeoSciences Outreach

By Kay Douglas, Schools Liaison Associate, School of GeoSciences.

The Geoscience Outreach course was originally developed by Sue Rigby and Colin Graham. In this course, they wanted the student to work with a community partner, but not as a student placement, they wanted the student to act as a consultant to develop a bespoke resource for the client, that would solve a problem or fulfil a need.  The bespoke resource also needed to have legacy. This legacy was a difficult aspect. The client was encouraged to re-use and share the resource but the resource legacy was very local and time limited.

About four years ago, we had an enlightening conversation with Education, Design and Engagement. We realized that the bespoke resources could be developed into Open Educational Resources, or OERs and uploaded onto the web. Since then we’ve been sharing the resources created by our Outreach students on Open.Ed and TES Resources.

Outreach OERs Developed by our Students

Nothing Goes to Waste in Nature – Lesson Plans on Organic Matter Cycling

Jakob’s client was a primary school in a specialist educational setting.  Jakob is now a Postdoctoral Fellow in Arctic Ecology, at Aarhus University in Denmark.

Sea Level and Climate Change

This resource was developed by Roseanne Smith, it was designed for use in secondary schools and was used to teach both science and geography.  This was the first project that crossed subject boundaries. Roseanne is now the Quality and Innovation Manager at the Children’s University, Scotland.

Volcanic Eruptions

Volcanic Eruptions is an interdisciplinary resource by Isla that uses sciences, social subjects, technologies, literacy and expressive arts. The pupils needed the knowledge and skills from all these disciplines to solve a problem the resource sets.  Isla is now a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh and has written about interdisciplinary learning for the General Teaching Council magazine “Teaching Scotland”.

Prejudice Reduction Strategies

GeoScience Outreach also teaches Psychology students.  This resource on Prejudice Reduction Strategies was created by Psychology student Lorna Camus, for Craigroyston Community High school in North Edinburgh.  Lorna is now a doctoral candidate at Heriot Watt University.

Intervention Strategy

This is one of five resources that have been developed for City of Edinburgh Council this year as part of their intervention strategy.  These resources are aimed at improving attendance in school for a specific cohort of pupils, and will be shared on Open.Ed shortly.  One of the students who developed these resources is Joanna Barrie, who will hopefully be starting her career as a primary school teacher in Fife in August.

Some of our student created OERs  can also be found on YouTube.  Gabriele Negro makes a cameo appearance in this video he created on widening participation; Studying Science at Edinburgh University: Everyone is Welcome.  And Archaeology student Beth Adams is continuing to add to collection of original videos Roman About.

What have we achieved?

So what have our former students achieved by developing OERs? They’ve developed core competencies and gained transferrable skills.

We started developing OERs because we had a problem with project legacy. Our legacy now?  There are peaks at September and January that coincide with the start of school terms. This year however, we also saw an additional peak in March, coinciding with the start of lockdown and home schooling.

This Insights report provides more detailed information about the Geosciences Outreach course for those that are interested in finding out more.

Creating Open Educational Resources, OER as an assessed assignment 

By Stephanie (Charlie) Farley, Open Education Resources Advisor

Digital Futures for Learning

The  module, part of the MSc in Digital Education, includes an OER creation assignment. Students on this course are often already education professionals and course organiser Dr Jen Rossfrom the Centre for Research in Digital Education added this element to the course for a number of specific reasons. You may have heard her talking about some of these in her paper last week with Velda McCune ‘Education for an uncertain world – introducing ‘wicked curricula’ and ‘not-yetness’.  

 In the Digital Futures course creating an OER as an assessed piece of work is used to encourage students to critically evaluate the implications of educational trends. It provides a platform to share their learning, and provides an opportunity to create re-usable resources with ongoing, tangible value, and the legacy that Kay has just been describing. 

And the OER that the students create are intended to be resources for themselves and their peers in their ongoing professional development. Here are a selection that have been highlighted and showcased on the Open.Ed website. The Future of Writing, Embracing complexity in Education, Radical Digital Literacy and more. These are now excellent resources available for any educator. 

Jen has spoken about her approach and there are two points of hers that I’d like to highlight. 

That as with the Wikipedia and the outreach assignments, these resources are for an audience beyond the tutor and in creating them our students, the authors, have to consider the needs, interests, and expertise of their peers.


To really consider who they are creating this for, why, and how it can be of benefit. 

Creating genuinely open resources that are usable and reusable requires careful attention to issues such as accessibility, structure, audience, and licensing.

The students need to critically consider and apply their learning, and in doing so are able to create practical useful and re-usable artefacts while demonstrating a range of transferable attributes and competencies. 

Jen wrote an excellent blog post on the why and the how of the OER assignments in her course as part of Open Education week in 2019 which is available on our Open.Ed blog. 

PG Certificate in Academic Practice

OER are also created as assignments in the Digital Education module for learners on the  here run by Celeste McLauglin. And we have some of the excellent resources created by staff at the University who have gone through this process up on the Open.Ed webpages. 

OER Game Jams

I’d also like to take a moment to mention some of the ways that OER creation are being incorporated into classrooms here at the university. So in addition to the OER assignments in the Digital Futures and Digital Education courses, OER game jams, where students learn about copyright and licensing and create their own openly licensed game using open resources have been run with our PG Design Informatics students yearly since 2016. This year I was also invited to run a session with the Second year sociology fundamentals students so they could then incorporate OER into their 2020 zine assignments.  

In Conclusion

Bringing all of this back together, what we hope we’ve been able to convey today is how valuable co-creating open knowledge and open educational resources through curriculum assignments can be in developing those essential core disciplinary competencies and transferable attributes. 

If you feel inspired and interested in incorporating OER and Open Knowledge into your courses we’d love to hear from you. Just get in touch with us at the OER Service, we can chat with you about your learning and assessment requirements, and work with you to provide training for you, your students, and connect you with other colleagues. 

Header image: On open educational resources — Beyond definitions, by, on flickr, CC BY SA 2.0.