Stories of hope and healing, re-centering voices in the open stitching us all together: reflecting on #OER19

a bit of visual thinkery remixing

#OER 19 the conference that, according to the welcome message in the programme “goes beyond hero narratives”.   I wasn’t exactly sure what that the conference co-chairs Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz actually meant by that phrase when I read it, but now a few days after the conference I think I do.

The stories I heard, the narratives were not of the great, I am, look and me and do what I do kind. They were diverse, challenging, not perfectly boxed solutions. They were the narratives of humanity, the narratives of the forgotten and the unrepresented,  the narratives of critical hope.

We couldn’t have asked for a better opening keynote than the one given by Kate Bowles. Kate  threw her questioning, porous, complex quilt of the current state of education over Galway and so the stage was set for two days of untangling and re-tangling of the threads that bind us together.

Su-Ming Khoo’s keynote recentred us through her stories of culturally repairing pedagogies from the Raven creation myth to post WW1 facial surgery, to our current state of colonial entanglement. We cannot mask the past to make it tolerable, we need to make our repairs visible, to heal in the open. To gain inspiration from the Japanese art of Kinstugi – the art of the ‘golden repair’.

Both Kate and Su highlighted that they didn’t consider themselves part of the open community.  I hope they do now. Their open-ness and generosity of thought, care and criticality are at what lie at the heart of open education in my book. They may not be researching open in the way that the keynote panel of Taskeen Adams, Caroline Kuhn and Judith Pete are (I have to say that their panel was one of the most considered, diverse and yet cohesive I have ever seen), but they are definitely part of what I consider the open community to be.

The open community and open practice is a wide beach. One where I find my waves of open practice reaching at times fast and furious at others slow and shallow.  I always know how to find that beach.  

There was much talk about what exactly are the boundaries, the visible and invisible stitches that make up the quilt of openness.  Trying to recenter myself after the conference I truly believe that is is us, the people, the community who are the open stitches. We share(d) our wounds, we healed, we laughed, we gave each other hope.  As Kate Bowles reminded us of the words of Henry Giroux who said hope must be tempered by complex reality.  I think that summed up my experience at the conference.

From finding some creative time with Amy Burvall and Bryan Mathers to make a “zine”  which was full of hope;

A zine of hope from Sheila MacNeill on Vimeo.

to being in a room where it was standing room only to hear more about the emerging open space of the #femedtech community; to realising that at Una Daly and Jenni Hayman’s session around creating communities that I, and many others make and contribute to  communities around, under, above, around about the formal structures of our institutions; to being transported to Big Learning in the Northern Territories by  Johanna Funk; to the fabulous once-upon-an-open tale from Sarah Thomas, I found myself making visible and invisible stitches with everyone around me.

I was struck by the number of people I spoke to at the conference who said they didn’t really think they “did open” ( to paraphrase) but were finding themselves reflecting that many of the sessions they went to were resonating with their own practice. I remember at my #oer15 keynote, I encouraged delegates to be more open about calling themselves open practitioners.  We still need that today. If we don’t talk more openly about open in our day to day practice then we really are hiding in plain sight.

Open education can help us to make those golden repairs visible in our ever increasingly complex educational environment, but only if we keep telling and sharing our stories, keep participating and challenging the complex spaces we all inhabit and in turn providing hope for a better future for everyone. 

4 comments

  1. Thank you, Sheila. Once again your beautiful writing captures the essence of a shared experience so powerfully. Laura and I were happy and privileged to help to create a space in which people could share their narratives of humanity, humility and hope with respect to openness. And so, OER19 was created by everyone who stepped into that space, both here in Galway and virtually.

    My mind and heart are full. Thanks for all you brought to OER19 and thanks especially for this.

  2. Hi Sheila, I’m starting my post OER practice as I hope to go on, by clearing time to respond when people write. So, hello from Dublin airport!

    Your writing has opened up a question for me about exactly how stories and repair are related. I think they are, and I observe this happening — that narratives of optimism can be the beginning of a redirection of the wounded self, towards a more hopeful outcome. This is where the intentionality of narrative becomes important. Sometimes our stories tell us, and often in despairing, circular ways. Learning how to honour that spinning sense of distress needs to be, I think, a story towards a gentle redirection.

    But after listening to many people at OER I realise that optimism needs to be practised very carefully and respectfully so that people aren’t hurried out of their voicing of dismay. This is something that slow work is good at, but the expanded university is one that expresses the strongest possible preference for haste.

    Resisting haste therefore becomes the first step in a journey towards repair.

    Thank you so much for the time we spent hearing from each other in Galway, and for this beautiful account.

    • thank you Kate, for your, as always, your considered response. Yes, we need space to share our dismiss and build back our faith, hope, and confidence in what we are capable of. Safe travels home and looking forward to seeing our shared and divergent narratives grow.

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