My first OER conference was always going to be special. It was on my campus, I knew I would connect with old friends, and my friend Catherine was co-chair. But I do have a secret; I wasn’t entirely looking forward to it. Just a month prior, I had chaired the annual CESI conference. That work is voluntary, and not part of my day job. It was a success that drew well over two hundred people, but I was suffering from severe conference fatigue. The thought of another conference filled me with existential dread
I had also signed up for the OER19 organising committee, and I had offered my services to the registration and help desk, among other duties. Just a month later, I found myself working at another conference.
However, the programme was brimming with the names of friends, colleagues, and those I’ve long admired. Once I was on the ground and was exposed to the palpable energy, I soon got my second wind.
I also feel obligated to mention that I find writing post-conference reflections to be difficult. I find that I’m at my most analytical, witty, and verbose at inconvenient times, and not when I’m at my computer. With a conference like OER19, when so many prolific and profound folks take to the blogosphere to share tales of inspiration and hope, I feel even more pressure to produce.So, I’m not going to. I mused over things for a few weeks, and when I was driving home from work one night, a particular song lyric stuck out on a random Spotify playlist. The line is from a song called ‘Boxcar’ by the seminal 90s punk trio, Jawbreaker:
‘I’m coloring outside your guidelines’.
This would become the theme of my blog post.
When I think of the people on the ground in Galway at OER19, one characteristic persists. They push boundaries. And they’ve pushed boundaries in the open ed community and beyond. The community hinges upon ethics, creativity, and access. When I returned to the conference theme to help me reflect, I realised something about the OER community.
They’re not only recentring open – they’re recentring education.
This conference wasn’t merely functioning to recentre open – it created a forum to recentre education. Throughout the programme, there was work that focused not only on creativity, access, and ethics. It focused on collaboration, policy, and systemic changes, and beyond. This conference wasn’t just about open practice. At its core, it forced us to tough questions, and inspire us to seek answers.
For a few days this April, the educators that descended upon Galway were those that are colouring outside the guidelines, and with flourish, I might add.
With so many interesting sessions running in parallel, I’m sure many of us had very different conference experiences. I make no apologies – I went to sessions as a fangirl and friend. I wanted to support those I know, and to learn from those I’ve long admired.
Amy Burvall and Bryan Mathers ran a workshop called ‘Amaz-Zine: How to Create a DIY OER Zine’, which was a surreal experience. I wrote for a music zine many years ago, and that long lost joy was evident in the packed room. As we gathered cutout, Martin Weller expressed the same joy about his experience with football zines. And it was worth looking around that packed room – I found myself sitting beside Catherine Cronin, Leigh Graves Wolf, and Kate Bowles. A row ahead of us were Jim Groom and Martin Weller. Bonnie Stewart was by the door. It was surreal to see so many familiar, prolific faces engaging in a low-fi, remix activity. We relished every minute of it. Leigh and I made a zine about dogs, because dogs. You can read Bryan’s take on the session here.
I chaired a packed Femedtech open space session with Louise Drumm, Frances Bell, Lorna Campbell, and Maren Deepwell. There was also a Virtually Connecting session built in to the time slot, which made the open space even more open. In allowing virtual guests to have the same experience, Virtually Connecting is so important to the open community. Frances kindly crafted #femedtech badges for all past curators (and some extras), and the movement really seemed to gain momentum from being discussed on the ground and not only in virtual networks. Lorna highlighted the new open space on the website, which fosters a community of collaboration and reflection beyond the Twitter account, thanks to Alan Levine’s TRU Writer SPLOT theme in WordPress. This network is emergent – and is certainly serving to disrupt power structures in ed tech.
In ‘The Participatory Open: Can We Build a Pro-Social / Pro-Societal Web?’ , Bonnie Stewart, Lawrie Phipps, and Dave Cormier (virtually) facilitated a cafe style session where participants examined their relationship with the web, in particular using open for the public good. If I admit to being a fangirl, I was particularly delighted to be in a session with Bonnie Stewart. I had intended to take her track at Digital Pedagogy Lab in 2018, but she ultimately had to cancel. Watching this session back might be more useful than my description of it, but if you’d like a summary, look at the unicorn sticker. 🙂
Knowing that Reclaim Hosting was on the ground in Galway was another highlight. Jim Groom visited NUIG to run a workshop a few years back, but I didn’t introduce myself. Having the opportunity to speak with him and the Reclaim team was a real treat. It was definitely the first time I had been to a conference where the vendor was so popular. It’s not often that vendors run out of highly sought after merch! I wonder how many attendees personally pay for a site on Reclaim Hosting? I do, and I suspect there are many, many more.
Jim, Meredith, and Lauren shared their reflections on the conference, and it’s well worth a watch.
I was able to act as an onsite buddy for two Virtually Connecting sessions, and jump in to help with equipment as needed, seeing as I was on campus and had some equipment with me. One disappointment was when Bonnie Stewart tried to drag me in as an onsite guest, but I had to politely decline so I could have a quick break before my own session. It puzzled me that when I went to introduce myself to Bonnie, she knew who I was! Hopefully, we get to chat sometime soon.
My own presentation was included in a session with Brian Mulligan, Clare Gormley and a video presentation by CC Zero (mysterious!), so the room was packed. I had to stand outside until it was time for my presentation.
My alt format presentation, ‘Opening the Closed: Introducing H5P to the Virtual Learning Environment‘, was presented entirely through H5P in a blog post. It seemed to be received well, and I successfully presented in a room that packed without flight mode kicking in, so all was well.
This is critical pragmatism on stilts from @hey_km, on https://t.co/EnaT9CipSC. Start small, stay tentative, and share. Lovely vision for change. Is there a way here for precarious workers to work openly? “Mine wherever I go.” #oer19— Kate Bowles (@KateMfD) April 11, 2019
Another highlight of this conference was having the opportunity to work with the ALT team. Maren is so focused, driven, and organised. It helped me to see conference organising from another perspective. When she asked me how I managed to present/Virtually Connect/run the help desk/troubleshoot technical issues/mingle with attendees I had to sigh and answer, ‘Well, there’s this conference called CESI…’
From zines, feminist networks, the pro-social web, and everyone’s favourite vendor – my conference experience was well outside the guidelines of any other academic conference I might attend. And that was the beauty of it – folks at OER19 ask hard questions and provide pragmatic solutions.
This conference didn’t necessarily inspire me to colour outside the guidelines, but it inspires me to rewrite them.
Despite my exhaustion, I left edified, recentred even! My conference fatigue had lifted, though I will be unpacking what I learned for quite some time. I believe that’s why I find it hard to wax poetic about events so soon after an event. I don’t like to distill and analyse everything I learned – I want to hold on to it for when I’m in need.