Image by Taro Taylor, made available under a CC BY-NC licence.
It’s often the case that when a person goes to a conference, there’s an expectation on them to come back and share the learning, the experience and what was gained. This is especially the case when working in a team as is the case with the ROER4D project where much of our work is collaborative and my attendance was an experience and encounter that would meet some of the team’s goals and our work in general. Budgets also mean that often it’s not possible to send more than one person from a team. So there is pressure on the team member who is lucky enough to be able to attend a conference that they achieve some real gains and have a process for sharing the experience.
So this blog post is partly to reflect on that process and what it means, and also to share with the wider ROER4D community some of the experiences of the OER17 conference I attended in London in April. The timing is partly prompted by a presentation session Glenda Cox and I will be giving to the ROER4D team and colleagues at the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) at the University of Cape Town about the OER17 conference in the coming week – this will be a formal space to share learning and contribute to others’ professional development. It’s also got me thinking about inclusion – how to leverage connections made at conferences like OER17 so that they become meaningful rather than fleeting and how they count, not just for me but for the work that we are doing.
So first of all, the main question that people tend to ask when you come back from a conference is along the lines of ‘how was it?’ and ‘what was it like?’ This post is one of the attempts to share learnings and offer some reflections.
The first keynote was Maha Bali (@bali_maha on Twitter) whose keynote presentation (link to video) provided a central space to engage with openness critically, including being aware of the context in which open can meaningfully operate and what has to be given up for the sake of open. Questioning the value or norms of openness through examples, Maha reminded the audience that seemingly worthy initiatives such as Reclaim Hosting/Domain of One’s Own requires people to have a credit card and pay annually rather than using free web services yet many people globally around the world do not have a credit card. In another example, Maha questioned the assumption that OER as a way of reducing costs is always valuable; taking the example of Egypt she pointed out that the cost of educational materials or copyright laws are not really issues that affect access to materials, and that for teachers the ability to sell supplementary educational materials at low cost is a valuable source of income. Acknowledging inclusion, marginalisation and opportunities for participation in open was a key takeaway of Maha’s keynote setting the tone for a critically reflective and pensive conference.
The second keynote presentation (link to video) was by Diana Arce (@visualosmosis on Twitter), an activist artist whose approach to art is to challenge and provoke and who takes art and artefacts into communities. Sharing some extraordinary projects and ideas such as a project to build awareness of racism through offering of “white guilt cleanup offset credit” certificates or setting up living art installations which can only be complete with audience participation and engagement, Diana’s contribution was her reminder of the value of art (both as a process and product) for communication and her reminder that “if you want to communicate with anyone, hire a creative”. She also reinforced the idea of the importance of participation in that some of her art is only complete when the audience has had an opportunity to feedback and engage. She was also keen to state the importance of taking art to the audience – physically – rather than expecting audiences to come to the artist. She also reinforced the need to understand content and provenance and how certain art installations can be misunderstood or at least are more complex that they might appear – she mentioned that the recently installed “Fearsome Girl” art installation in Wall Street appears to be a grassroots feminist statement, but has actually been installed by an advertising agency on behalf of an investment firm. Diana urged us to be critical about how we use and view art as a political act.
The third keynote speaker was Lucy Crompton-Reid from Wikimedia UK, whose presentation (link to video) reminded the audience about how contributing to Wikipedia can combat ‘alternative facts’, and she asked lecturers and teachers to encourage students to use Wikipedia to curate and create new/open knowledge and gave examples of how students were already contributing to Wikipedia and shared ways of integrating Wikipedia into classrooms. A number of institutions, including the universities of Oxford and Edinburgh, have “wikimedians in residence” whose job it is to encourage institutional engagement with Wikipedia and the other services and initiatives in the Wikimedia “universe”.
These three very different keynotes together did a great job of framing the conference presentations, being at once provocative, political and practical. They also each individually gave me something tangible as well as intellectual to take back to the teams in which I work – ideas around communicating with diverse audiences about the value of open working, being aware of unintended consequences of open initiatives and how participating in open projects collaboratively could counter some of the worrying trends in what is increasingly a “post-fact” or “post-truth” environment.
Presenting ROER4D’s work
My presentation was titled Understanding the nature of OEP for OER adoption in Global South contexts: Emerging lessons from the ROER4D project, and I was able to share some of our work in the ROER4D project about understanding the nature of OEP in the studies that are emerging, and mapping what we are seeing using the 10Cs framework developed by ROER4D PI Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams (as shown in the slide below).
Using the 10Cs framework, I shared some of the emerging practices that could be seen in the ROER4D studies and build on the idea that for an OER to exist, there has to have been a prior open practice, and for OER to be sustainable, there needs to be supportive practices to enable the cycle to continue.
It was challenging to get across the ideas in the 20-25 allotted minutes but the interested questions that followed suggested that there is a desire to understand more deeply why some of the practices we associate with OER adoption, which ones are present and why, and how our understandings of Open Educational Practices are contextually grounded. The framework has enabled identification of practices that are not happening, and we are therefore building up a picture of the nature of OEP in the ROER4D studies (as in the diagram below) and also making changes to the framework in terms of naming practices and surfacing new ones.
Round up of relevant presentations
This conference induced serious FOMO in me (fear of missing out) due to all the presentations being squeezed into two days resulting in multiple presentations streams, but I gained much from those I was able to attend. I tried to focus on those that had resonance with my own presentation about understandings of Open Educational Practices (OEP) and these included:
- A presentation from Beck Pitt, Michelle Reed and colleagues on Exploring International Open Educational Practices. I found Beck Pitt’s foray through a number of definitions of OEP helpful and an exploration of OEP through case studies using Cronin’s dimensions of OEP framework effective to making sense of the nature and types of practices, while a US perspective from Michelle Reed confirmed a particular focus on adoption and creation of open textbooks.
- A presentation by Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz on the subject of Critical pragmatism and critical advocacy: Addressing the challenges of openness. This timely presentation offered a number of lenses through which to critically see, make sense and guide work that is being done in the open, accepting that while open education is political there are dangers in being too “purist” about open, and that flexible approaches might be needed to enable change.
- A presentation on Open Education and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by Andy Lane discussed the potential contribution of OER and OEP to support the SDGs and considered a systems thinking approach to review the way open education activities might be fostered within tertiary education to support the SDGs.
- A presentation by Janice K Jones entitled The jagged edge of OEP: De(constructive) Political, Personal and Institutional Spheres explored the political, personal, professional and institutional enablers and constraints upon educators’ practices of Open Education.
- A presentation by my colleague Glenda Cox who shared her and Henry Trotter’s ROER4D sub-project research on the influence of institutional culture on lecturers’ agency in relation to OER contribution, which also drew on her PhD research
A Plenary Panel which ended the conference (link to video) where Catherine Cronin, Laura Czerniewicz and Muireann O’Keeffe reflected on the state of open education and invited participant feedback on actions that they as a community might take.
Networking, sharing and virtual participation
Virtually Connecting, an initiative that enables virtual participation at academic conferences had a strong presence at OER17, and I was fortunate to take part in the final Virtually Connecting session of the conference along with Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz to share my experiences and connect with virtual sign-ups – ROER4D PI Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams joined remotely. Going forward I intend to take advantage of the opportunities the Virtually Connecting program offers and promote it to others.
At the conference side conversations during breaks, before and after sessions and evening events gave opportunities to find old friends and make new ones. Perhaps it’s something about having a propensity towards openness but generally the people at “open” conferences are friendly and welcoming both in engaging with newcomers as well as being constructive and helpful after presentations. There is inevitably a bit of “cliquiness” for newcomers, and I would caution that “old timers” be aware of how they introduce others and what assumptions they make about who or what others in the room already know. I’ve noticed that some of the “luminaries” or “rock-stars” of open education are often referred to by their first names when, for example, being introduced in or referred in a presentation – as if everyone there should know who is being referred to.
Post the conference, the networking and sharing has continued and this curation of blog posts indicates how a conference can live on after the physical event has ended. This is enabled by social media and also by the personal efforts of many individuals who choose to continue conversations. There is often a flurry of blog posts after the event and sometime some visual capturing of the event and learning.
Taking it home
So to sum up, for conference delegates who want to share the conference experience more widely, activities such as sharing presentations, facilitating connections and making them happen once you are home, writing and reflecting and sharing that through networks and social media are useful strategies. But I’ll leave it to my colleagues to give me feedback on which strategies might be most helpful.