Dr Jill MacKay, from Open Science to OER and Open Textbooks

Man working on laptop with design of authors open textbook next to image of man working on laptop
Image Credit: Design by Joe Arton, Original Images: Rat sketch by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay, Valentin Salja on Unsplash, Good Faces on Unsplash, Creative Commons 0 license

In this post, Dr Jill MacKay, a lecturer in veterinary science education at The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies and The Roslin Institute Easter Bush Campus speaks to Stephanie (Charlie) Farley, the Open Educational Resources (OER) Advisor with Information Services Group (ISG) about the development of her Open Textbook on R, a programming language. Their conversation speaks to one of the beauties of the open movement; that you don’t have to use everything in the exact same way…


After creating research methodology video tutorials and sharing them on Media Hopper Create as Open Educational Resources (OER) for a few years, Dr Jill MacKay has now also published her first Open Textbook. Open Textbooks are books that have been made accessible online free of cost and are also openly licensed to allow free modifications, use, and sharing. ​

The Open Textbook ‘R @ R(D)SVS’ is designed to help staff and students get to grips with R, a programming language and free software environment for statistical computing and graphics.

Charlie: You first came to our attention when you open licensed your video tutorials on R, Mendeley, NVIVO, Bristol Online Surveys, and Exceling in Excel. Why did you create and then open licence those tutorials?

Jill: As an interdisciplinary researcher my passion is in methodology. I’m also a big supporter of Open Science and work on Open Science frameworks as much as possible. I try to make my analyses open, share my data so others can check my work, and to preprint papers before publication. As scientists we present this finished product which sometimes can be taken as the absolute truth, when actually the whole process needs to be exposed to scrutiny. OER are an extension of that whole ethos. It’s about opening up so that others can see and review my work, and with OER someone can take it, fix it, and make it better. Because that’s actually fundamentally what I want. I want everything I do to be better.

Charlie: What prompted your creation of an Open Textbook on GitHub, came about and the process you went through?

Jill: When we pivoted to the hybrid model of teaching I thought it could be useful to have an alternative resource to the videos. Now, I really shy away from textbooks as learning materials. I’m a practising scientist and have a few textbooks that I love to reference all the time, but for the majority of undergraduates they can access those readings in the library through e-resources.  When I realised I was going to being teaching R to students in this very different online environment, I felt let’s put it together as an Open Textbook on GitHub. I had a lot of help from my colleague Steph Smith who reviewed it and provided incredibly useful feedback. As an educator having peer review is helpful, I always feel nervous that someone is going to find a huge error when I put resources out there but that’s ok.  At the end of the day feedback leads to a better teaching resource, and that’s great.

Charlie: Have you attended any OER or copyright and licencing training? What resources do you use to create and licence your resources?

Jill: Back in 2015/16 I was involved in the Animal Behaviour and Welfare MOOC and did licensing training. The resource I’ve found really useful is the Creative Commons licensing website. I found it easy to understand, to pick the license that worked for me and then to relicense my materials. My slides I think have quite a distinctive style now, I have a folder of materials that are openly licensed that I use again and again. Being slightly pragmatic I often reuse my own slides so it’s easier to make slides that can be reused in any context.

Charlie: Do you use and re-use OER made by others in your own practice?

Jill: I do, yes. I find the short videos on Media Hopper, YouTube, etc, the little explainers very useful. I like having short discrete chunks that I can point toward rather than a MOOC as I don’t have time to go through a whole MOOC to find the right content. One of the beauties of the open movement is that you don’t have to use everything in the exact same way. I guide students through a research project so being able to map resources to point students towards is useful, whereas someone teaching a course may find it useful to point towards a whole connective suite of resources.

Charlie: It sounds like it’s been serving you well to create and use OERs in your practice.

Jill: I think it’s great to work here where you are encouraged to make educational resources freely available. From a purely selfish point of view, for me it’s a portfolio. I think anyone who is early career should be making a portfolio where you can show off your work. My GitHub collection was part of my promotion evidence showing the materials I make and that I am recognised in doing this. I think there’s a real selfish argument to make that portfolio where it can be seen. You don’t need to be super public facing to create resources that the public can use.

Charlie: Do you know of anyone re-using your resources?

Jill: I receive the odd email from a PhD student saying I watched your video and just have a question. And Moray House asked to use some of my materials for their, I think their postgrad research conference last year and again this year. It’s lovely to receive emails as a courtesy but they’re there and licensed so please use them as you like.

Except where otherwise stated, this blog post by Stephanie Farley & Jill Mackay of the University of Edinburgh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 licence.


Stephanie (Charlie) Farley

Stephanie (Charlie) Farley  is the Open Educational Resources (OER) Advisor with Information Services Group(ISG), providing OER, copyright and open licensing training across the University. Charlie is an advocate of playful engagement and learning, running the popular OER Game Jams and Gif It Up workshops, and the creator of the award winning 23 Things for Digital Knowledge programme. In 2018/19 as part of an Innovation Fund project she developed a Playful Engagement Strategy for ISG.

Jill MacKay

Jill MacKay is a Research Fellow in Veterinary Education with an interest in digital education, the staff-student relationship, human-animal interactions, and interdisciplinary research methods. She teaches on several R(D)SVS MScs and the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security BScs. You can find her on Twitter @jilly_mackay 

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