Staff Profile: Q&A with Will Engle, Open Education Strategist, Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology

We recently interviewed Will Engle, Open Education Strategist, for the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology (CTLT) on his experiences with open education and intersections with Indigenous engagement in teaching and learning.

Will is engaged with projects that leverage emerging technologies and pedagogies to support open learning. As a strategist for open education initiatives, he has worked on a range of initiatives that have included helping to support open pedagogy-based assignments that emphasize students as collaborators in the production of knowledge, the effective integration of open resources into individual courses, the development of UBC’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and learning analytics hackathons for undergraduate students. With a Master’s degree in library science, Will is interested in supporting the removal of barriers that limit access to education and knowledge.


1. Can you share with us about your role and work at CTLT? What are some current projects you are working on that might be of interest of Indigenous Initiatives?

Will Engle, Open Education Strategist, CTLT

As a CTLT strategist for open education initiatives, I work to support a set of teaching and learning practices that strive to make the process and products of education more transparent, understandable, and available. Open education is a broad term and can mean using and sharing open learning materials and educational practices that can be built on, modified, or re-used by others, supporting students as creators of knowledge, and connecting learning with communities and networks beyond traditional classroom walls. Open approaches can make education more equitable by reducing student costs for access to learning materials and assessments as well as by enabling instructors to modify learning materials to provide meaningful, contextualized resources for their students. 

At a practical level, I work with individual faculty members who are interested in incorporating resources that have an open copyright license, such as open textbooks, or integrating open pedagogies into their own teaching and learning practices. I also work on broader University initiatives such as UBC’s new Open Education Resource Fund which has grants to help provide UBC faculty and students with support to adapt, adopt, and use open resources in their teaching and learning. 


2. How did you become interested in learning about Indigenous engagement, specifically connecting to your own role at CTLT?

I have had the opportunity to work with great colleagues on the CTLT Indigenious Initiatives team as well as with UBC faculty and scholars engaged in this area – I’ve learned a lot and have been challenged, in the best way, by being asked such critical questions as “What does open education mean when it is practiced on unceded territory?”. 

There are often tensions within open – for example, a large component of open education is grounded in the use of open copyright licenses, such as those developed by Creative Commons, that can give legal permission for the reuse and modification of materials and resources that have those licenses. Such open licenses are not apart from copyright but work within it; however, copyright law is often based on settler colonial legal frameworks which can be in conflict with traditional knowledge and ways of knowing as well as with community and cultural protocols. It is important not to ignore this tension but to acknowledge it, which is something I’ve begun doing when I make a land acknowledgement in workshops or sessions that I facilitate.

In recent years, the open scholarship community has begun to embrace a more critical lens which has been manifested in this year’s Open Access Week theme “Open for Whom? Equity in Open Knowledge” or in past sessions such as “Tension and Risk in Open Scholarship”.  New processes and approaches, such as the use of Traditional Knowledge Labels, which are tools for Indigenous communities to add existing local protocols for access and use to recorded cultural heritage that is digitally circulating outside their community contexts, are emerging as well.  Still, I think there is still a lot to learn and it is important for the open community, including myself, to listen – open cannot just be about technocratic and legal frameworks; it must also be about acknowledgement and engagement with community. 


3. What are your thoughts on Indigenizing Wikipedia?

One type of project I work on is to help support instructors who wish to incorporate Wikipedia editing as a class based assignment to their teaching. Wikipedia is a platform described by its founder as having the goal to provide every single person on the planet with “free access to the sum of all human knowledgeand yet Wikipedia has huge information gaps, exclusions, and issues of bias. I’ve had the opportunity to join a couple of Indigenization focused Wikipedia editing events at UBC: an Indigenous Storytellers Wikithon, organized by Dr. Dory Nason and an Indigenous Literature Writers Editathon, organized by Dr. David Gaertner and Erin Fields. These events have engaged with Wikipedia’s flaws and gaps by working to improve Wikipedia by adding Indigenious content and representation to it. Such communal edit-a-thons have been fantastic, they have engaged the attendees, including students, faculty, staff, community members, as well as the subjects of the work, in both the process of adding important representation and information to a widely used resource as well as in the process of negotiating knowledge construction and in surfacing the real flaws in that construction. 

Siobhan Senier’s article, Indigenizing Wikipedia: Student Accountability to Native American Authors on the World’s Largest Encyclopedia, provides a good overview of some of the processes and challenges inherent in these efforts. For example, as Senier notes, Wikipedia has a policy that states the subjects of Wikipedia articles be must notable enough to have “received significant coverage in reliable, published [secondary] sources.” Wikipedia’s view of reliable sources is not that different from the view of secondary sources used in traditional scholarship: peer-reviewed journals, academic books, and mainstream newspapers are all viewed as reliable secondary sources of information. These sources, though, have often been exclusionary of Indigenious perspectives and voices and may not actually be reliable sources of information and scholarship on Indigenous topics. Writers citing Indigenious community newspapers and websites, which are probably not familiar to most Wikipedia editors, may find their entries or entries deleted by other Wikipedia editors with their sources being flagged as not reliable enough. Thus, the structural knowledge gaps and exclusions that exist in traditional scholarship get replicated and amplified on Wikipedia. However, Wikipedia has a guideline of assuming good faith and, through engagement, biases can be overcome. 


4. What are some important aspects on Indigenizing Wikipedia that you want colleagues and the UBC teaching and learning community to know?

I should note that there are open resources that speak to Indigenization. For example, BCcampus has published a series of open books on Indigenization for post-secondary institutions, such as Pulling Together: A Guide for Teachers and Instructors that was co-edited in part by my CTLT colleagues Amy Perreault and Lucas Wright.  Likewise, the Indigenous Foundations site was developed by the UBC First Nations and Indigenious Studies program and is a great resource that explores topics that relate to Indigenous peoples, cultures, and histories. 

When it comes to Indigenizing Wikipedia, the flaws and bias within Wikipedia often echos the flaws and bias that exist the larger knowledge-based world. Editing Wikipedia provides a real world opportunity to engage in the process of knowledge construction and often forces people to directly confront the biases that are inherent in how knowledge gets built and who and what are represented in that process and who is marginalized by it. 

One reason that I think it’s good for Universities like UBC to be involved in editing Wikipedia is that our demographics, resources, and interests do not necessarily match that of the traditional Wikipedian. A Wikipedia without Indigenious representation and information will not reach its goal of being the sum of all human knowledge. This is important as Wikipedia is widely used by people the world over, but also by all of us – UBC students, staff, and faculty.