#OERxDomains21: Just what does it means to be open?

In the final keynote of the #OERxDomains21 conference, Rajiv Jhangiani asked what does it mean to be open?  After 2 days of sharing, caring, questioning, laughing, at times crying, it was timely reminder that “open” is a multifaceted concept and the practice(s) of open education manifests itself in many ways, and is deeply contextual.  Open educational practice, is as Catherine Cronin so beautifully put it back in 2017a constantly negotiated process.”

As with all conferences (and all other delegates) I had to negotiate and navigate my way through the conference programme and online spaces over the 2 days. I have to confess that at the conference committee meetings when Jim Groom was explaining the broadcast concept of the conference, I didn’t quite get it. But I had faith that it would all be OK.  I just didn’t realise how OK it would actually turn out to be. 

Online conferences are different from face to face, it is harder to connect, to get that “conference buzz”.  I thought ALT did an amazing job last year in extremely rapidly pulling  together the online version of OER20. However this year, the conference platforms were at another level. The combination of Streamyard, Youtube, and Dischord worked  really well. I’m sure I missed a lot of the functionality of Dischord, but I managed! And I did get a real sense of live, hallway chats.

So congratulations to the Reclaim team and ALT for realising an almost seemless online  experience.  I have never chaired a session with an online “producer” before. Having someone dealing with countdowns, pulling in questions from the youtube chat was amazing. I have to say I kind of never want to not have one again!  The way that the “backstage” area for all presentations worked was amazing, and I’m sure some will be share in more detail elsewhere.

Of course any conference is not just about the location. What makes any conference work is its community. It’s what we,  the people,  do in the spaces (online or physical) that makes the difference. People not technology make conferences work. I think it’s fair to say that there is quite a core OER community and quite a bit of crossover between it and the Domains community.  The community aspect of the conference is one of the reasons I keep paying to go to OER conferences. It’s a vital part of my CPD – I don’t have any office buddies to talk to everyday. As we all know, open isn’t free and this is one dose of openness I am more than willing to pay to support. It’s a bit like an extended family reunion.  But we can’t let ourselves become a complacent, clique. We always need to ensure we are welcoming new people to the fold.

This year, there was a very necessary and needed focus on care. It’s been quite a year. People are tired, and need the support that a conference can provide such as sharing different approaches to open pedagogies of care, of social justice.  Brenna Clarke Gray talked about the “tricky truth about care” and the way (institutional) structures are actually indifferent. Where are the structural changes to institutional systems that are truly based on care?  Weekly wellness emails don’t really cut it and don’t deal with the moral stress that so many staff are dealing with.  Developing resilience is a sign of institutional, structural failure not personal failure. I really can’t recommend watching the recording of Brenna’s session enough.

Of course structural change is hard,  but if we can’t take the time to change things now after a global pandemic then when can we? I do have a sense that in HE  we are moving into a future that is being driven by narratives that aren’t based on the contextual realities of learning and teaching right now but more on neoliberal views ofwhat education should be and rosy tinted views of “getting back normal.”

I’ve always been a bit skeptical of phrases like Education 4.0 but I was intrigued by a session called University V is alive! Now open to the cruel and the dead, from Eamon Costello and Prajakta Girme. After finishing day 1 with the marvelous remixed and bingo infused keynote from Laura Gibbs, this was a stark contrast.  Whilst Laura shared a wonderful set of student created stories, Eamon and Prajakta  used a speculative fiction approach to present an unsettling, dystopian view of the open day for  University V,  34 years from now. Kudos to Eammon for his delivery, use of music and mix of visual artefacts and effects to create an unsettling start to day 2. We began to understand how every entrant to University V was indeed a number related to all family numbers and their behaviours that related to points, and value. There were intriguing clues as to who Professor A might be, how she(?) had changed her name to get “to the top”. As Eammon pointed out in the the Q&A the truth is really stranger than fiction, and we don’t have to go to far to discover what others might think only happens in fiction is actually happening in real life.

This came starkly to mind during Jasmine Robert’s powerful keynote. Jasmine’s honesty about her own trauma in the context of the reality of the the Derek Chauvin murder trial was a stark reminder of structures of oppression and who still controls the dominant media narratives. It’s not a huge jump at all to see Professor A as a person from a black, ethnic minority background who has manage to game and play the system to get to the top and protect her/him/they? (because we don’t really know Prof A’s gender) anonymity. The narrative of University V might be very different if it were written using non global north images and based on an alternative historical perspective.

Social justice was a critical theme across the conference, and both Jasmine and Rajiv highlighted it in their keynotes. Both stressed the need for us to let the under-represented voices be included, to support open pedagogies rooted in care and love. Part of that care is to recognise that not everything can or should be open. We need to create safe spaces for our students to have critical conversations, to help them develop their own voices, introduce them to a range of sources – not just “the white men”, and then give them the choice of where, how and when they want to put themselves in the open (as Laura’s keynote illustrated).

As ever it’s so hard to condense a conference experience into a blog post. From the opening plenary discussion keynote, where all the speakers rooted the conference in our current reality, OER x Domains 21 was, for me a very timely and necessary experience. Timely as it’s a year into the pandemic and teaching remotely, necessary as we all need to have space to get together, to share our stories, to learn from each other, to show our support and care for each other in a different space.

For me the overriding sense was of community, of care, of open humaneness (thank you Tutaleni Asino) of focusing on what really matters “we are teaching students not content” as Jasmine Roberts reminded us ; we are not humans “doing”, we are humans “being” said Glasgow College Student President Nicolas Garcia, in the opening plenary keynote . We might still be figuring out just how we can “be” in these still unsettling times, but open education, social justice and care are all great navigation points for this journey.

Many thanks to all the co-chairs, the organising committee, ALT and Reclaim staff , keynotes, presenters and participants alike for creating another great conference. Yes, collectively we all indeed did “do it again”. And it’s not over yet! There are workshops next week so do check them out. I’m delighted to be part of one around the potential future for BYOD4L. Wendy Taleo and Sarah Honeychurch invited everyone to contribute to an open zine in their Collective Hope short recording session. So here’s a little montage of some of my visual highlights.

Gasta time again #GastaGoesGlobal

Earlier this week I once again joined a great set of speakers (Maha Balil, Leigh Graves-Wolf, Martin Weller, Mark Brown & Frank Rennie) to almost a year to the day, take part in Gastas Goes Global 2. The brain child of Tom Farrelly, Gasta sessions are basically a set of short (5 minute) presentations, with lots of audience participation counting speakers in and cutting them off if they exceed the time limit. You can read more here.

This year the online organisation and facilitation really moved up a notch (tho’ it was pretty impressive last year too). So many thanks to everyone involved in the set up, streaming and feedback of the event. Having a 5 minute time visible on screen was both useful and slightly panic inducing. Particularly when it got to a minute and you still had about another 5 minutes of “stuff” to say!

Another addition this year is an open book to accompany the event. All the speakers have been asked to submit an article based on their presentations. I’m glad of the opportunity to do that as I did have to cut out quite a bit of what I had planned to say. More of that in another post!

In Tom’s introduction he said that one year on, this was a chance to reflect, to review and most importantly share experiences of the past year. One point I wanted to make, but I don’t think I got over as well as I’d hoped is that although it felt like everything changed last year, it also feels like nothing actually changed either. . The oil tanker of education (particularly higher education) is still traveling on the same, well worn route. There hasn’t (as yet) been widespread changes to core curriculum, to our “scheduling” of teaching, to notions of what “being” a student is now. But maybe I just haven’t seen them yet. The disruption of lockdown hasn’t really invoked any radical changes to the overall structures of our education systems. But, again maybe that’s just my interpretation, so please contradict me and challenge me, dear reader.

One element I that I know I did rush through was the importance of community. That has been so important for everyone in and outwith education. The Gasta itself is/was/ such a fabulous example of community action, generosity of spirit, of expertise, of time, of kindness, of care, of good humour and most importantly sharing. For me it was another energising experience. From the focus of care from Maha, to the wonderful poetry to help soothe the soul from Leigh, to the unexpected analogies with Jaws from Martin, all the speakers brought a wealth of stimulating thoughts to the session.

At the start of my talk I said I was tired, but on reflection, I think weary is a more accurate word to use in my context. I’m weary of lockdown, of restrictions, of missing places and people. I’m also wary of what might actually be ahead. There is some hope, but we are not over “all this” yet.

So many thanks to Tom and all team for putting on such a great event.

Here’s a link to my slides, and yes they are the same ones I used last year, which I felt was appropriate, as I’m still wondering “so what now?”