The 3 Bs of OER19… busy, brilliant, and blogtastic

storm clouds over the water
Another Storm Passing Nearby. Credit: Šarūnas Burdulis from USA [CC BY-SA 2.0] Source
Another blog post so soon? Whatever is the occasion, you may ask. The occasion was OER19 and it was an auspicious one indeed. It’s difficult to sum up such a diverse and packed event but for me, it was busy and brilliant. The warmth of the welcome in Galway and from our hosts at NUIG was echoed by the unexpectedly glorious sunshine. Making and renewing connections was both rewarding and challenging, given that I was surrounded by so many people I’d love to talk all day with. I was lucky enough to have conversations with many wonderful people, not least an array of GO-GN buddies. But of course, most of the time, there were sessions to attend, present, experience fomo about, and run to and from (especially when they turned out to be in The Other Place). And then, there were more sessions. Wonderfully though, although most of us have returned (re-exited as Jim Luke put it) to normality, reflections and conversations are continuing. The storm of blogging surrounding the conference, in addition to the deluge of tweets and of course the streams of sessions (and recordings that I am still catching up on – thank you ALT), is made possible by a community walking the walk of openness. Many OER19 posts are still being aggregated on the conference site.

The sense of a renewed enthusiasm for blogging connects with quite a few of the conference’s themes. Keynote speaker Kate Bowles mentioned that she hadn’t considered herself a part of the open education movement, but I know I am far from alone in being sure she is at least an honorary member on the basis of her open practice as a blogger of heartfelt, incisive and evocative stories of the struggle to do right by our students, our colleagues and ourselves in higher education. In their session on the Bonnie Stewart, Dave Cormier and Lawrie Phipps asked us to consider how we can make the web and therefore the world a better place, given that social media has turned out fairly anti-social, and Dave wrote a blog post, and tweeted:

And the post-conference blogging and commentary has, at the time of writing, gone all meta, with discussions of the possible/desired return of the ‘comment blogger’ as a result of Lorna’s conference reflections (see also tweets). This suggests to me that people in this community are serious about the idea that listening and responding are at least as important as saying something yourself.  Delightfully, this was also a key theme of this session I facilitated along with Caroline Kuhn and Suzan Koseoglu (plus there-in-spirit friends Aras Bozkurt and Sue Watling), during which Gabi Witthaus memorably said something like “before I reply I question whether what I have to say really adds value for the people reading it, or just adds to the noise“. This is an observation that stays with me, and even makes me wonder if I should be adding to the noise now, but then, signal/noise is also in the ear of the listener? In any case, given my past history of blogging about once a year, I hope I can get away with it.

I can’t possibly mention all the great sessions and people of OER19 but I did want to say that my overarching sense is that the confluence of voices urging us to examine, interrogate and bolster the why(s) of openness has become a roar. This ongoing trend towards criticality prompted me to revisit a discussion of the OER conferences in a 2015 paper by Sian Bayne, Jeremy Knox and Jen Ross (which I drew upon in a talk at OER17), which ends by making the point that the conference or more broadly, the OE movement,

in championing the ‘open’, simultaneously suppose[s] the existence of an education that is closed and inherently contrary to contemporary ideals of accessibility and equity.

While some suggestions in the OE literature may give the impression that the OER-enabled global utopia is moments away, this hasn’t seemed to me to reflect the actual perspective of the majority of people who embody the work of opening educational practices from day to day. I interpreted it rather as a salient challenge to OE (conference/movement/community) to question whether we should be recycling utopian rhetoric, or instead dialing it back and carefully considering how hard it is to make an impact and effect change in institutions and systems and broader societies. I took this not, in other words, as a rebuke to educators making their work open, but as a warning not to engage in a turf war for the moral high ground with people who do other work that is also hard and important. My observation over the last few years is that the OER conferences have gone from strength to strength from the point of view of those of us who seek critical engagement with the purposes, outcomes and lived experiences of openness, and with the stellar stewardship of Laura Czerniewicz, Catherine Cronin and team ALT, OER19 did not disappoint. Roll on OER20.