Advisory Board Member: Rayna Stamboliyska

RaynaThe fourth of the blog posts from our new Open Education Working Group Advisory Board comes from Rayna Stamboliyska.

Rayna Stamboliyska is is currently serving on the board of the Open Knowledge Foundation France and founder of its Open/Citizen Science workgroup, she advises decision-makers on knowledge technologies in the Middle East and the Balkans. She is founder of RS Strategy and launched OpenMENA in early 2014 to promote open knowledge in the MENA region.


I was delighted and humbled to be invited to join the Advisory Board of Open Knowledge’s Open Education Workgroup. Led by Marieke Guy, the group aims “to initiate global cross-sector and cross-domain activity that encompasses the various facets of open education.” In addition – and what is also of particular interest for me, – the group also wishes to promote open educational practices.

What motivates me for being involved in opening up educational resources and practices is the basic idea that we need to transform infobesity into a structured knowledge transmission. Such a transformation is by design pluridisciplinary and collaborative. It encompasses not only the production and distribution of a wide range of resources but also changes in the way we reach out to learners.

There are thus two main points that I have focused on: how to innovate means of knowledge transmission and how to define learners.

Just like data, opening up information and putting it online is a means, not an aim. People need to actually care using it for open information to produce true and meaningful social good. The question we ask here is naturally the one of outreach: how do we bring all this wealth to the widest possible audience? And how does such an audience stop passively consuming and gets actively involved in knowledge construction and transmission?

We can think of a plethora of ways via which to channel collaborative energy: hackathons, editathons, games, websites, data/knowledge expeditions in schools, advocacy and policy-making efforts towards an increased integration of cross-domain productions in educational programs, etc. As an illustration, think of today’s scientific educational supports in high school: often, these encompass mock examples that were relevant 10 or 20 years ago. Yet we have witnessed an immense traction for citizen science projects worldover. You see me coming: why not integrating citizen science approaches in the classroom? We also witness an ever-growing number of scientists opening up their raw data and publications; how long should we wait for these to be adapted to the classroom, be it high school or in higher education curricula? If – or actually, when – this happens, we will have given a true educational value to the expert knowledge we produce.

When speaking of innovation and pluridisciplinarity in education, we cannot skip the complementary question of definition and impact on learners. Interestingly, the ‘learner’ category here has somewhat widened to include the (less and less) sacrosanct group of teachers. Regardless of whether these are primary, high school teachers or higher ed professors, they are increasingly recognized as learners. To cope with the ever-growing amount of information and changing forms of knowledge transmission, one must be able to learn – and unlearn. To me, teachers are invested with the task of kitting up students with the tools for how to think rather than what to think.

With these considerations in mind, I have been involved in a few initiatives and projects aiming at transforming education. The focal point is to preserve curiosity, a perpetuum mobile for creativity. In 2013, I organized the NightScience event in Paris. The goal of the event was to give a snapshot of state-of-the-art approaches and reflexions on educational practices through a one-day conference and then to give room, during a 2-day hackathon, to enthusiasts with diverse backgrounds to actually co-create tools and resources. The conference gathered t(h)inkers, researchers, hackers and teachers, among whom we were happy to host Prof. Alison Gopnik, Shannon Dosemagen (Public Lab), Dr. Stephen Friend (SAGE), Gerard Dummer (WikiKids), etc. The hackathon was also a quite amazing event where open hardware guru Mitch Altman taught 8-year-olds and (alleged) grown-ups to do magic with Arduino.


In addition to the NightScience event, I was also actively involved in structuring, managing and training the Savanturiers project. The latter is an ambitious innovative program whose aim is to bring learning through research in primary schools. A team of Master students and PhD candidates from different scientific fields have thus endeavoured to develop research projects with 10-12-year-olds in several primary schools in Paris.

Since February 2014, I have left academia in order to dedicate myself to creating and implementing different types of activity. I have thus partnered with Stephen Kovats’s r0g media agency and we are currently searching ways to transfer our joint experience to Mali, a country that faces complex post-conflict challenges whre open technologies and open educational resources could make a real difference. In addition, I am also involved with a brave and ambitious project, the Thirteen Youth Center, which the 14-year-old Vuk is founding in Belgrade, Serbia. Lastly, I endeavour to promote the Open Knowledge values in the Middle East and North Africa through both the OpenMENA initiative I founded and two ongoing projects I have bootstrapped which aim to introduce alternative and creative educational frameworks in Egypt and Tunisia.

Collaboration, peer-learning and opening up resources and practices are thus the common denominator of all the initiatives I have been involved into. I believe we are able to bring about a real change in knowledge transmission and co-creation; engaging with the Open Education Workgroup is one the ways to achieve it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *