It’s a few weeks since I returned from the OER19 conference held at the National University of Ireland in Galway. I have been to the OER conference twice before, in 2017 when I presented on research into university copyright and IPR policies on lecture recording, and in about 2012 when I ran a session about OER and information literacy. Both times I found the community really welcoming, friendly and there was a real mix of people, some of whom work in the educational technology field, some in the library world but many others in education. It was through attending OER17 that I ended up meeting Virginia Rodes and going to Uruguay last year, but that is a whole other blog post and story I’ve already written about! However, I was delighted to catch up with Virginia who was presenting her doctoral research into open educational practices in Latin America, as well as plenty of other friends (Claire McAvinia, Bill Johnston, Sheila MacNeil, Marion Kelt and many more) and people I know via twitter, some of whom I got to meet in person for the first time. Many congratulations to Laura Czerniewicz and Catherine Cronin who were the co-chairs of the conference, they did a fantastic job. And there were delegates from many different countries attending the conference, which made it a really rich experience.
It’s always good to reflect on a conference a few weeks later, because it’s a chance to see what has stuck in my mind, for me beautiful patterns and images stick in my mind from the conference, not just because it was on Ireland’s wonderful west coast. I am still thinking of Kate Bowles opening keynote where she talked of the ‘Quilt of stars’ showing us pictures of beautiful quilts of the night sky, but also using it as a metaphor for how work often goes outside the boundaries of working life, spilling over the edges. She asked some tough questions about the growing trend to commercialise higher education and how at odds this is with the open education agenda. I agree that the open education community often relies on the labour of those who through their employment at a university, can give their work away for free. Not everyone is in such a privileged position. It is something Chris and I thought about long and hard when creating resources such as Copyright the Card Game and the Publishing Trap and then giving them away for free by licensing them under Creative Commons. It’s what I want to do, but it’s also work that I invest in over and above what the day job would ever cover, and it does mean this often spills into my own free time.
I went to several fascinating talks at OER19 including one on research in Portugal by Paula Cardoso and Lina Morgado into whether there is a relationship between academics likelihood to publish their research openly and the creation of OERs. I also attended a great session on creating through crowdsourcing an open textbook on learning design. It led to some really interesting discussions about what a textbook was and I was struck by how the open textbook movement is really taking off in many other countries, but not the UK. Virginia’s talk about her research into OER adoption by academics in Latin America, using a grounded theory approach was fascinating and her model highlights the many dimensions that impact on the decisions around openness, including teacher identity and agency, their view of the curriculum and curriculum development. She also talked about the agenda to decolonise the curriculum and why the views of teachers in Latin America might differ substantially from those elsewhere. Other people’s who’s talks stood out were Johanna Funk from Charles Darwin University, who described four open education projects, Taskeen Adam who talked about her research into MOOCs in South Africa. I was pleased to hear Helen Crump and Caroline Kuhn speak, two people I follow on twitter. And Nick Baker from Canada, who talked about lighting fires in open educational practices.
I was struck by the keynote from Su-Ming Khoo, who I met at the evening social when Dave White decided to give her some keynote pointers (it largely involves a special type of pointing!). Su-Ming also used beautiful imagery based on the legend of the raven in Haida mythology, which are First People from Canada’s west coat. The raven was curious about what was in a clam shell and in opening it, so the world was created. There is a wonderful sculpture by Bill Reid in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. I realised at once I have seen this sculpture, when taken to the museum by my great uncle, Michael, who in fact was a good friend of Bill Reid. Su-Ming talked about the beauty in things that are broken, the gift economy and talked about ‘eccentric’ open education which draws attention to what is missing, and engaging with difference to make us think differently. I really resonated with the theme running through the conference about how education is social justice, but it is also for social justice. Su-Ming urged us not to be ego-centred but to be decentered. But asked us whether there was there a time when education wasn’t broken? Are we harking back to a golden age that didn’t exist? I often think that when lecturers talk about students and critical thinking, or attendance at lectures or engagement in class – did this golden age ever really exist?
Another highlight for me was the opportunity to run a panel discussion based on my new module I launched at City, University of London last autumn as part of our MA in Academic Practice. My module, EDM122: Digital Literacies and Open Practice is something I enjoyed every moment of preparing and teaching. I also was so pleased that I decided to include a webinar programme as part of the course and to invite a series of experts in the field of both digital literacy and open practice to participate. It was great to be joined on the panel at OER19 by three of my webinar presenters: Lorna Campbell, Dave White and Chris Morrison who reflected on their experiences of being part of the course. One thing that struck me was a comment by Dave, when I remarked on how many people had come to our session, which was late in the day and in a different building. He said ‘well Jane, there are a lot of people talking about open practice and you’ve actually done it, in terms of launching this course.’ I’m not arrogant enough to think I am the only person who has ‘done it’ but judging from the interest I got, then there are not a lot of examples out there yet. I want to be clear, I was totally inspired by the University of Manchester for their Open Knowledge in Higher Education module, which they invited me to teach on a couple of years ago. Martin Weller had a big impact on that course, and his work on Digital Scholarship has shaped my thinking for many years. So others such as Martin and Manchester are definitely leading the way! And I also piloted this course in Montevideo, Uruguay last August, and they are also pioneers when it comes to open education. The slides from the panel discussion are online. Thank you to my speakers for sharing their insights, and thank you to everyone who came along to the session and asked such thoughtful questions.
As with all good conferences there was time for networking, some great food and a few drinks and it being in Ireland we got to experience some live music too. I was sorry I could stay for longer in Ireland, but it’s going to be a busy few months on the Copyright Literacy tour. But thank you to ALT, (to Martin and Maren) and to Catherine and Laura for putting together such a memorable and thought provoking conference. And finally, thanks to Dom Pates for giving me some time and writing space on Friday, so I could get this blog post out there in the open finally!