Launch of the Digital Cultural Heritage cluster in the Centre for Data, Culture & Society

I’m pleased to announce the launch of the Digital Cultural Heritage cluster, part of the Centre for Data, Culture and Society. The cluster has been in development for the past year, and I’m the cluster lead/facilitator.

There are about 25 University of Edinburgh colleagues associated with the cluster so far, and we hope it will continue to grow as more people who are doing work in this area get involved. In addition to providing a way to amplify the University’s work in this area, we are also aiming to host workshops, showcases, roundtables and other events (including some to be co-organised with the Digital Cultural Heritage Research Network); facilitate research networking and exchanges; and develop exhibitions and teaching resources.

You can visit the Cluster’s new web site at

Digital Cultural Heritage cluster home page

Now open for applications: Funded studentship on the Ethical and Social Futures of Data-Driven Education

Following on from my last post, I’m happy to announce that the funded PhD studentship on the topic of “Ethical and Social Futures of Data-Driven Education” is now open for applications (closing date 15 May 2020). The studentship is co-supervised by Dr Karen Gregory and me, and so the successful candidate will be working at the intersections of digital sociology and digital education.

This is a really (really!) important time to be doing this work, and we hope there will be lots of interest in applying, even under the strange circumstances in which we all find ourselves. In addition to the project itself, the successful applicant will be part of the first cohort of the Edinburgh Futures Institute’s Baillie Gifford programme in the Ethics of Data and Artificial Intelligence. Have a look at the other four projects being advertised to get a sense of the interdisciplinary opportunities being part of that cohort will bring. Professor Shannon Vallor is leading the programme, and there are a lot of great plans being developed for the cohort.

Beyond that, you’d be part of the Digital Sociology research group, the Centre for Research in Digital Education, and have links with the international “Higher Education After Surveillance” network and a range of other organisations and researchers around the world doing important policy, development, pedagogical and scholarly work in this area.

Please contact Karen or me with any questions about the research.

“The university of data”: surveillance, futures and higher education

I thought it was time to summarise some of the work I’ve been doing with colleagues in and beyond Edinburgh on the topic of higher education and surveillance. I’ve touched on these issues in the context of my doctoral research (trying to understand how students viewed the ‘audience’ for their high-stakes reflection) and in relation to work around plagiarism detection, surveillance and trust (see the conference paper Hamish Macleod and I wrote, and the forthcoming book on the Manifesto for Teaching Online). In early 2019, Amy Collier and I began to put together an international network of people – so far mostly in the UK, US and Canada) to explore possible futures for surveillance in universities – we’ve called this network Higher Education After Surveillance, and it is full of truly brilliant people doing urgently needed work in this area.

Amy and I wrote a commentary for Postdigital Science and Education, explaining some of our thinking behind the idea of ‘after surveillance;’. We explain that when we say ‘after surveillance’ we are not looking back, but instead:

gesturing toward a future that involves a deeper understanding of the role surveillance has played and continues to play in universities and tactics and strategies for interrupting and perhaps reducing or reconfiguring its impacts. This requires a willingness to speculate that some of the surveillance roles we have come to accept could be otherwise, along with an acknowledgment that we are implicated in what Lyon terms ‘surveillance culture’ in education. What can we do with that knowledge, and what culture shifts can we collectively provoke?

Two new things have so far emerged from the network. One is a research project called Co-designing with Speculative Data Stories. This was funded by the Edinburgh Futures Institute Research Awards scheme, and the research team (me, Amy, Anna Wilson, Jane McKie and Martin Hawksey) proposed to run ‘speculative data stories’ workshops with groups of colleagues in UK universities whose roles involve supporting, promoting and working with learning technologies. With the current closure of campuses and intense pressures on those very colleagues to support their institutions to move considerable amounts of university work online, we have had to put this project on hold – but we are hoping to be able to reimagine it in some form, soon.

The second new thing – and the prompt to write this blog post today – is that Karen Gregory and I have been successful in securing one of five new funded PhD studentships on the theme of data ethics (Edinburgh Futures Institute/Baillie Gifford). These projects will be advertised in the next few weeks – ours is called The University of Data: Ethical and Social Futures of Data-Driven EducationI am very happy, as is Karen, to hear from anyone who might be interested in applying for this! More info to follow soon, in a separate blog post.


Collier, A. and Ross, J. (2020). Higher education after surveillance? Commentary, Postdigital Science and Education. Online First.

Ross, J. and Macleod, H. (2018). Surveillance, (dis)trust and teaching with plagiarism detection technology. Proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Networked Learning 2018, Edited by: Bajić, M, Dohn, NB, de Laat, M, Jandrić, P & Ryberg, T. ISBN 978-1-86220-337-2.

image source: Unsplash. Photographer: Franki Chamaki.

A new postgraduate programme in Education Futures at the Edinburgh Futures Institute

Shawl Design, 242. ECA Rare Books, University of Edinburgh Collections.

A big part of my working life for the next few years involves the development of a new postgraduate programme, to be part of the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI). The programme is made up of a number of interlinked pathways, including one on Education Futures – this is the one I’m leading on. The programme will be interdisciplinary, challenge-led, and have core data and creative skills courses as well as a range of core and option courses for each pathway.

Education Futures is particularly exciting (in my view!) because it will focus on some of the key ideas and topics informing learning, knowledge and education across the whole life course, with an emphasis on understanding the relationships between data and education. I want to see the pathway appealing to people from all sectors of education and learning, including schools, workplace learning, community education, and higher and further education. Things are still in the early stages of development, but by studying this pathway, we want students to be able to:

  • Understand and critically examine possible futures for formal and informal education.
  • Analyse education’s role in shaping and responding to global challenges and social, political, cultural and environmental change.
  • Make critical links between education and data-driven innovation, exploring the geographies, mobilities, values, ethics and forms of measurement that come along with greater innovation with, use of, and reliance on data.

Course topics we’re currently discussing include the future of learning organisations; educating for the future; personalisation, surveillance and anonymity; policy, metrics and governance; education and work; agency and social change; participation, care, inclusion and culture; expertise, literacies, trust and data fluency – and more!

I’ll have lots more to say about this in the coming months. However, EFI has just launched a ‘market pulse’ survey to learn more about what people think about the proposed programme and Education pathway so far (there are also surveys available for some of the other pathways). If you are interested in the future of education, knowledge and learning, and have thoughts about this programme or might even be interested in studying something like this, I’d be really grateful for your input!

Get in touch if you have any questions about what we’re up to.

(ps – I chose the image for this post because it’s in the new University of Edinburgh collections colouring book, which is sitting on my desk waiting for me to colour…)

Higher Education After Surveillance – a transatlantic project

I’ve meant to post about this for a while, but things have been hectic! Higher Education After Surveillance is a new project that my colleague Amy Collier (Middlebury College) and I dreamed up last year, in light of work we are each doing around issues of surveillance, trust, visibility, digital sanctuary and more, and as a way of trying to think big about some of the challenges we are currently facing. We enlisted the help of a small but mighty group of colleagues around the UK, US and Canada  to get involved, and we hosted a virtual roundtable in March as a way of beginning to scope what such a group might do.

We’re aiming to develop this project in a sustainable way – it isn’t funded (or not yet, anyway), and everyone involved is already incredibly busy – so that it can become something genuinely meaningful, critical and impactful. We also need to think carefully about the scope (geographical and otherwise) of this work. It’s all very exciting, and timely, if daunting – it seems there are new stories, questions and areas for attention emerging most days (this week in the UK it was the announcement of a collaboration involving JISC and the Office for Students, led by Northumbria University, to ‘lead transformation in how the Higher Education sector identifies mental health issues in students‘. It… has not gone over well).

If you are or know someone who needs to be involved in what we’re doing, please do get in touch.

“Unlike a Version”: Exciting news about a funded PhD research opportunity with National Galleries of Scotland

The Madonna of the Annunciation, Francesco Allegrini, National Galleries of Scotland

UPDATE, 3 April 2019: The advert for this studentship is now live on the University of Edinburgh web site! Closing date is 3 May 2019.


We are so excited about this new PhD studentship that we want to let people know it’s coming. We’ll soon be advertising a fully funded AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Partnership (CDP) studentship, for a project we are (for the moment!) calling “Unlike a version: the lives of digitised artworks”. It was a working title, but we all found it so funny that we decided to keep it – and that probably tells you something about the team our lucky student will be joining (and in case you aren’t a 1980s-era Madonna fan, this is the reference (Youtube link) ). The studentship will start in October 2019.

If you don’t know about CDPs, these are amazing funded studentships that not only pay fees and a stipend (for eligible UK/EU students – there are some rules about this), but create really brilliant opportunities for students to be immersed in a cultural heritage organisation over the period of their studies, and support their professional development and scholarship with travel funding, a student development fund, and membership of a network of other doctoral students across the UK.

So: this project is the perfect opportunity for someone whose interests span art, digitisation, digital cultures, engagement and interpretation to spend a few years in Edinburgh working with a team of supervisors from National Galleries of Scotland (Christopher Ganley and Màiri Lafferty) and the University of Edinburgh (Jen Ross and Melissa Terras) on a project that will explore the meanings and movements of digitised artworks in the context of NGS’ collections. We think the right starting position here is that digitised artworks are more than merely versions of the ‘real thing’: they have meaning and value in their own right, and significance for sharing, interpretation, connection and inspiration. The project will develop a richer picture of digital objects and how they contribute to the shifting boundaries of the institution, to curatorial practice, and to NGS’ ambitions to open more of its collections to digital re-use.

The project and the supervisory team are obviously great, but this is also a magnificent time to be a creative/digital/data person in Edinburgh. Do you know about the Edinburgh Futures Institute? The Creative Informatics programme? The city-wide Data Driven Innovation programme? The Centre for Research in Digital Education? What about the festivals, the heritage organisations, the cultural scene? All happening here, with people, projects, networks and opportunities second to none.

If this sounds interesting to you, and you want to know more, please contact me! I’m happy to have informal conversations and answer questions.