Closer to home

I’ve struggled for words this week, or rather I’ve struggled to know whether to speak. There are so many other voices that need to be heard and listened to right now, rather than another privileged white cis woman. I can’t help feeling that stepping aside and making space for these other voices is the most useful thing I can do. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that I am appalled, I am utterly horrified, by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of the white supremacist state that is the USA. I can’t even begin to imagine the rage and fury of Black people who live with this fear and injustice on a daily basis. So for most of the week, I’ve tried to use the small space I occupy online to amplify the voices of others, while trying to listen and learn from what they have to say.

At the same time I’m not so naïve to think that systemic racism and police brutality are problems that only afflict the US.  Witness the deaths Joy Gardner, Cynthia Jarrett, Sean Rigg, Mark Duggan, and Sheku Bayoh, whose death at the hands of police officers in Kirkaldy, is currently the subject of a Scottish Government Public Enquiry.

Racism is so ingrained in the social, historical and cultural fabric of Scotland and the UK that we barely even see it. I live in Glasgow, a city whose mercantile wealth was founded on the exploitation of Black bodies; the slaves who worked the plantations of the tobacco barons and sugar merchants. When we walk down Ingram Street, Glassford Street, Buchanan Street, we barely give a thought to the fact that these streets commemorate slave owners. Their mansions are now art galleries, bars, restaurants, designer clothes shops but nowhere in Glasgow is there a visible public memorial to the enslaved men, women and children whose lives and labour were exploited to build the wealth of the slave owners and their city. Scotland has a long, long way to go before it even begins to acknowledge its racist, colonial legacy.

When universities, museums, art galleries and archives tweeted their support for #BlackLivesMatter this week they were, quite rightly, called out for their hypocrisy and performativity. After all, where is the evidence that black lives really do matter to these public institutions? Where is the evidence that they are addressing systemic racism, discrimination and inequality?

At the same time, the deluge of racist abuse that the University of Glasgow received for tweeting its support for #BlackLivesMatter shows why it’s so important that our education institutions do stand up to be counted.

Ironically, Glasgow is currently the only university in Scotland that has made a concrete effort to address its historic legacy of profiting from slavery through its Slavery, Abolition and the University of Glasgow report, its commitment to raise and pay £20million pounds in reparations and its MOU with the University of the West Indies to found a research centre to “stimulate public awareness about the history of slavery and its impact around the world.”

In its own public statement in response to the murder of George Floyd, the University of Edinburgh announced its intention to:

launch a community-led process of restorative and reparative justice, through which we will interrogate the role of the University in slavery and colonialism.

And furthermore to:

launch a cross-disciplinary hub, RACE.ED for research and teaching on race and ethnicity… to bring together academics and students to explore issues of racism and be part of a University network taking forward anti-racist initiatives within our University.

Because of course addressing historical racism is only part of the picture, we need to address the systemic racism and discrimination that still pervades our academic institutions. The University of Edinburgh Student Union’s statement of solidarity notes:

Across Scotland, Universities have a BME attainment gap of 8.9%, which rises to 24.5% for Black students (AdvanceHE, 2018) – at Edinburgh, the BME attainment gap is as high as 17.7% in some Schools (EDMARC, 2019a). The University’s own internal review of support for BME students in 2019 found that a lack of racial literacy among both staff and student fundamentally undermined the experiences of BME students at Edinburgh (UoE, 2019) – this is unsurprising in an educational environment where BME academic and professional services staff are less likely than white staff to be employed at higher grades (EDMARC, 2019b) and across the UK Black academics make up less than 1% of University lecturers (HESA, 2019).

And as Dr Jasmine Abrams succinctly put it:

I don’t really know how to end this post, so I’m going to end it with the queer Black poet Essex Hemphill

“It is easier to be angry than to hurt. Anger is what I do best. It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. It is easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.”

Please donate if you can. There is a list of bail funds here, and a list of UK organisations fighting racism and injustice at the end of the EUSA statement here.

OER20: Care, hope and activism

CC BY, Bryan Mather

The OER Conference is always one of the highlights of the year for me.   It’s the only open education conference I attend regularly and I’m privileged to have been present at every single one since the conference launched at the University of Cambridge back in 2010.  So needless to say, I was gutted that the f2f element of this year’s conference had to be cancelled, despite knowing that it was unquestionably the right thing to do.  I know from experience how much work and personal investment goes into planning the OER Conference and what a difficult decision it must have been for ALT and for co-chairs Mia Zamora, Daniel Villar-Onrubia and Jonathan Shaw.  That initial feeling of loss was tempered by ALTs announcement that they would be moving the event online, an ambitious plan, given that the conference was barely two weeks away.  I was always confident that ALT could pull off this #pivot as they already have a wealth of experience facilitating online conferences, through the annual winter online conference, and as an already distributed organisation they didn’t have to cope with the scramble to set up remote working that may other organisations and institutions faced.  What I didn’t expect though was for ALT and the conference co-chairs to deliver an entirely unique event.  They didn’t just move the planned face to face conference online they completely transformed it into a new, original and completely free online experience that welcomed over 1,000 registered participation from across the globe.  And please note, the OER20 conference wasn’t just free as in speech, it was also free as in beer, so if you participated in the event, either listening in to the presentations, or even just following the hashtag online, please consider making a donation to the conference fund.  Every little helps to support ALT and cover the cost.

Of course the theme of the conference, The Care in Openness, could not have been more timely or more prescient.  The whole notion of care has taken on new weight since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic.  Care has literally become a matter of survival.  The only way we will get through this is if we care for each other, and if we protect and value those that care for us.  

If I was to pick two session that for me, really embodied this ethic of care it would have to be keynote sava saheli singh and Mia Zamora in conversation, and Frances Bell talking about the femedtech quilt project.  Both sessions featured films that provoked a really strong, but very different, emotional response.  Screening Surveillance’s Frames is a deeply unsettling tale of surveillance, commodification, dehumanisation and alienation.  Powerful, challenging and disturbing, watching Frames is a profoundly uncomfortable and thought provoking experience. The subsequent discussion brought to mind Jimmy Reid’s immortal address on becoming rector of the University of Glasgow in 1972; Alienation

“Society and its prevailing sense of values leads to another form of alienation. It alienates some from humanity. It partially de-humanises people, makes them insensitive, ruthless in their handling of fellow human being, self-centred and grasping.”

This quote particularly resonates with me.  So much has changed in the 50 years since Reid’s address, but so much remains the same. It is the system of capitalism that is still so often the root cause of our dehumanisation and alienation. Industrialisation may have given way to surveillance capitalism, but digital technology is simply the latest mechanism for our alienation. 

sava ended her brilliant keynote session with a much needed call for compassion and action:

“We need to approach everyone with compassion…All of us are activists now.”

It was a huge privilege to hear sava and Mia in conversation, and my only regret is that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet them in person. I hope that will happen one day.

Nowhere is that compassion and activism more visible than in the making of the femedtech quilt, a craft activism project and a material manifestation of care led by the indefatigable Frances Bell.  Frances produced this beautiful film about the making of quilt and it’s safe to say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house after watching it.   Like the quilt itself, the up-swell of collective emotion was “beautifully imperfect, imperfectly beautiful.”


 

I find it hard to put my profound appreciation for this project into words, but Su-Ming Khoo spoke for many of us when she thanked Frances for giving us all “somewhere to put our connection and our gratitude”.

My other highlights of the conference included….

The launch of the University of Edinburgh and Wikimedia UK’s Wikimedia in Education handbook.  Edited by Wikimedian in Residence, Ewan McAndrew, this free, open licensed booklet brings together 14 case studies from educators across the UK who are already integrating Wikimedia assignments in their courses and classes.   I know how much work has gone into the production of this booklet so it was great to see it being launched. I’m sure it will be an invaluable  and inspirational resource that will encourage educators to see the huge potential of integrating Wikmedia projects in education.

Staying with the Wikimedians, Wikimedia UK’s Scotland Programmes Coordinator Sara Thomas gave an impassioned talk on Wikimedia and Activism.  I love listening to Sara present, she always makes me want to storm the barricades! Sara reminded us that learning and creating open knowledge are always political acts. Creating knowledge encourages agency, but access to information alone does not result in enlightenment. Knowledge is nothing without literacy and information literacy is crucial for participatory democracy.

I also really enjoyed Bonnie Stewart and Dave White’s thoughtful and compassionate session on Designing for Systems of Care: Can Open Pedagogy Scale Caring? Dave spoke about the dangerous grey area between surveillance and care, and argued that personalised, individualised learning is actually reducing our agency, our self-direction and self-determination. We’re at a point where the tech sector appears to be telling us “we’ll care for you and personalise your experience, if you tell us everything about you.” But we can’t use technology to lock everything down, we need to create a culture of trust now more so than ever.

I made one very small contribution to the conference this year, a short alt-format talk on open practice and invisible labour, which you can read here and listen to here.  Sadly this talk became all the more relevant with news reports yesterday afternoon that hundreds of university staff on precarious contracts have been made redundant by the universities of Bristol, Newcastle and Sussex.  As my colleague Melissa Highton succinctly put it “This is why we strike.

There is always a strong social element to OER conferences and there was a risk that this would be lost with the move online.  However the conference team excelled themselves and, if anything, this was one of the most social and inclusive conferences I’ve participated in, ether on or off-line.  The social bingo was hugely popular and a great use of Alan Levine’s fabulous TRU Collector SPLOT. (If you enjoyed playing OER social bingo, you might like to support Alan’s work by contributing to his Patreon.)  The KarOERke was also priceless.  Anyone who knows me will know that karaoke is my idea of HELL. I can barely even bring myself to watch it, never mind participate!  However, I had great fun dipping in and out of the online KarOERke on ds106.tv.  My only regret is that I missed Lucy Crompton-Reid singing Kate Bush.  The final rousing chorus from Les Mis was something to behold though.  Y’all are daft as brushes.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the OER20 though was that none of the emotion and connection that is so characteristic of the OER conferences was lost. If anything, this was heightened by the #unprecedented global situation we find ourselves living through.  Suddenly these tenuous temporal connections we made with colleagues from all over the world during the two days of the conference, felt more important than ever before.  A valuable lifeline, and a network of care, hope and activism that connected us all at a time of uncertainty and isolation. Ultimately these are the things that matter and these are the things that will see us through.

Drawing the Line: Reflections on open practice and digital labour

This is a transcript of my short online talk at the OER20 Conference. 

My name’s Lorna Campbell, I’m a regular contributor to the femedtech network and I’m speaking to you today from Glasgow in Scotland. I make no apology for the fact that this talk raises more questions than it answers, and like much in the world right now, it has evolved significantly over the last few weeks and months.  The original inspiration for this presentation was a post I wrote for the femedtech Open Space during last year’s OER19 conference.  The Open Space sought to question dominant narratives of “open” and explore whose voices are included and excluded from our open spaces and practices. 

As Catherine Cronin reminds us, openness, by its nature is highly diverse and contextual. We all experience openness from different perspectives and different positions of power, prejudice, privilege and discrimination. For some of us, openness is part of our job, our research, our field of study. For some it’s a philosophy, a personal commitment. For some it’s political. For some it’s emotional. For many, me included, it’s a complex mix of all of the above.

I’m fortunate to experience openness from a position of privilege.  I work at an institution with a strong civic mission and a real commitment to open knowledge, where my primary responsibility is to support engagement with open education and OER.   I also contribute my labour to other organisations that support like-minded goals, sometimes as a volunteer, sometimes in a more formal capacity, as a Trustee, sometimes just for fun. 

We all have a deep personal commitment to our open practice, to equity and social justice. We all want to be good citizens of the open community, making a positive contribution to the global commons. But when do the hours that we willingly devote to open education start to become unacknowledged, invisible digital labour? How much does the open community rely on this invisible labour?  And perhaps most importantly, how far does it exclude those who are unable or unwilling to contribute their labour for free? 

These are questions that many in the open knowledge domain are increasingly trying to address.   One of the key concepts underpinning the new Movement Strategy being developed by the Wikimedia Foundation is Knowledge Equity, the commitment to focus on knowledge and communities that have been left out by structures of power and privilege, and to break down the social, political, and technical barriers preventing people from accessing and contributing to free knowledge. If the Wikimedia community is serious about honouring this commitment to knowledge equity then it must also acknowledge the problematic issue of invisible labour.  

CC BY-SA, NASA + VGrigas (WMF), on Wikimedia Commons

As open practitioners, the boundaries of our labour are complex and porous and this has both positive and negative consequences for ourselves as individuals, community members, workers, activists and volunteers.

These complexities have been thrown into stark focus by both the Covid-19 pandemic and the recent UCU industrial action, which focused on equality, job security, fair workloads and fair pay.  The strike highlighted the problems of exploitation, discrimination and precarity that exist right across academia, and from which open education is far from immune. When our personal and political commitments and activism are so interwoven with an exploitative system, boundaries become blurred and it’s hard to know where, if anywhere, to draw the line. How can we balance our agency as open practitioners and citizens of the global commons with cognisance that it is our digital labour that sustains a system that is by turns inspiring and dispiriting, empowering and exploitative?

USS Strike Rally, George Square, Glasgow, CC BY, Lorna M. Campbell

These issues were encapsulated in a twitter thread from @HEreflections1 during the previous round of industrial action.

“One of the most pernicious aspects of stress, anxiety and burnout in education is that it often starts with individuals who work longer hours through enjoyment and an ethic of care. But at some point the organisation captures this as core work which has to be done.

As a result the enjoyment, the agency is lost and the stress begins to grow, leading eventually to hate and/or exhaustion in some cases. And it creeps up on people so that they blame themselves. This is the failure of the system, and any discussion of well-being or expert groups focusing on happiness misses the point completely.

What starts with dignity and vocation is smashed by performativity, by human as resource, and by an inability to see education as a community.”

And yet despite the toll taken by the exploitation of our invisible digital labour and ethic of care, we all continue to do our best, to go the extra mile, to pick up the pieces for our students and our colleagues, and nowhere has this been more apparent than in our collective response to the current coronavirus crisis.  Colleagues returning from strike threw themselves into the task of supporting the online pivot, while dealing with the new reality of working from home, juggling childcare, home schooling, caring for elderly relatives and immunocompromised friends, while coping with financial insecurity, and unprecedented stress.  All of this emotional and affective labour has been contributed without question or complaint at the same time that institutions are deducting strike pay from our wages and, in some cases, making redundant the precarious staff who carry so much of the burden of this labour of care.

There are no simple answers to any of the questions I’ve raised here, but I believe it is important that we raise these critical issues and that we keep talking about them, so I’d like to invite conference participants to reflect on the nature of their own open practice and invisible labour and, if they feel so inclined, to share their experiences and reflections at the femedtech Open Space

Further Reading

What comes next

Today marks the end of the current round of UCU strike action and it’s been an unsettling few weeks in more ways than one. I didn’t join the strike until half way through the first week as I had already agreed to present a keynote at the Wikimedia in Education summit at Coventry University before the strike dates were announced. This is the second time I’ve broken a strike to participate in an event of this kind and in both instances it wasn’t a decision I took lightly. However as the event, and my keynote, had a strong focus on equity and social justice, and addressed some of the issues that the UCU strike has been highlighting, I took the decision to go ahead.

Since then I’ve withdrawn my labour from my university and have done what I can to support the strike. I haven’t been picketing because I can’t afford the travel costs on top of the eye watering loss of wages, but I’ve been trying my best to observe the digital picket, by not tweeting anything directly related to my work at the University of Edinburgh. Although I’ve continued tweeting information related to the strike, and sharing posts on #femedtech, withdrawing from the open education community on twitter has been quite an isolating experience.

Because I work part time for my university, I also contribute my labour to several other oganisations on a voluntary basis, so I’ve continued to participate in some events and activities in a personal capacity, however it’s been a constant struggle to decide where to draw the line. So, for example, although we didn’t plan any Open.Ed activities for Open Education Week, which fell in the middle of the strike, I did participate, as a member of the #femedtech network, in an asynchronous event Open Policy – Who cares? organised by the ALT Open Ed SIG.  Was that the right thing to do? I have no idea. I also participated in two VConnecting Missed Conversations that explored some of the themes we discussed at the ALT / Wikimedia DE Open for a Cause event in Berlin in December, wrote a blog post about “women’s work” and the femedtech quilt, and an article about the labour of care in Higher Education for WonkHE.

Care was one theme that emerged repeatedly during the strike. Care for ourselves, care for our students, care for our colleagues, care for our profession. And now that diligence of care is going to take on a whole new dimension as we do our best to care for each other in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Going back to work next week in these exceptional circumstances is going to be difficult and challenging for everyone so I hope we can hold onto that ethic of care over the coming months.

Openness, Precarity and Equity

As part of Open Education Week, the ALT Open Education SIG and Femedtech facilitated an asynchronous event Open Policy – Who cares?  The organisers invited provocations from members of the open education community in the form of Flipgrid videos and writings on femedtech.net. This is my contribution. 


I’ve worked in the domain of open education for over ten years now and I passionately believe that publicly funded educational resources should be freely and openly available to the public.  In fact this is one of the founding principles of the Scottish Open Education Declaration.  When we talk about open policy the focus tends to be on “open” and “free”, however I think what is critical here is “funding”, because as we all know, open does not mean free. If we want to support the creation of open knowledge and publicly funded open education resources, then the education sector has to be supported by adequate funding and, perhaps more importantly, by equitable working conditions.  And this is where problems start to arise; at a time when casualisation is endemic in the UK higher education sector, too many colleagues are employed on exploitative precarious contracts.  This is why we are currently in the middle of a period of sustained industrial action that is protesting universities’ failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.  If you are a teaching assistant employed on a fixed hourly rate that doesn’t even begin to cover the preparation time for creating your teaching resources and lecturing materials, it’s hard to make the case, ethically and morally, that you should release your resources under open license, because you’re effectively giving your labour away for free, and very few marginalised workers have the privilege to be able to do that. So while I still believe that we do need more policy around open education, and that we have an ethical responsibility to make publicly funded educational resources available to all, we also need equitable working conditions that will enable us all to contribute to the shared knowledge commons.

Diminished

It’s hard to know what to feel about today, but there’s a lot of emotion there, just below the surface; disbelief, anger, fear, disappointment, betrayal, gut wrenching sadness. It’s prickling behind my eyes, rising in my throat. I haven’t been able to watch the clips of the MEPs singing Auld Lang Syne in the Parliament, or listen to Molly Scott Cato’s final speech. Just scrolling past them on my twitter feed has me blinking furiously.

And that’s another emotion that’s there. Fury. Sheer blind fury that specious, self-serving men have dragged us out of the European Union against the will of a significant majority of the people of Scotland. And much as I feel for all my friends and colleagues in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, and fuck knows I do, there is a special fury and indignation reserved for Scotland and the lies we were told six years ago. The fake Vows and false promises that swore the only way Scotland could guarantee its place in the European Union was to vote no and remain part of the UK. Well look where that got us. But to make this just about Scotland depreciates the enormity of what is happening today. The UK’s withdrawal from the EU diminishes us all; every one of us, every country in the UK, every country in Europe will be lesser tomorrow than we are today.

By triggering the Brexit referendum four years ago, Cameron truly opened Pandora’s box, releasing all the evils of xenophobia, racism, bigotry and isolationism. They were all there already of course, make no mistake. Many people have faced, and continue to face, these evils every day of their lives, but there’s no doubt that Brexit has given the racists, the bigots and the xenophobes a legitimacy that surely even they could scarcely have dreamed of.

And like Pandora, all that’s left to us now is hope; hope that another generation can fix this mess we’ve made, hope that another referendum can bring us back together, hope that Europe will not turn its back on us and will keep that light burning.

“Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s coming yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man, the world o’er,
Shall brothers be for a’ that.” 

Hope and Resistance

I guess this is another one of those blog posts. You know the ones. The ranty sweary ones. The morning after the night before ones. Those ones. This morning my partner said “How many times do we have to wake up like this?  It’s like fucking groundhog day.”  I’m getting a bit (a lot) fed up of writing these and tbh honest I had no intention of writing one today. But on days like this I can’t not write.

I wish could say I was surprised by the result, but I’m not. I’m horrified, terrified, disgusted.  I’m heartbroken beyond words for friends and colleagues in England and Wales. But I’m not surprised. I’m also immensely proud of every person in Scotland who voted to keep the Tories out. And who have kept voting again and again and again. And yeah on the one hand it feels very much like the dawn of another (worse? Who’d have thought that was possible.) Thatcher era, when Scotland was disenfranchised and denied a say in it’s own destiny. But on the other, having come so close to independence, to have stated so strongly that we do not want the racist reactionary right-wing politics so popular and populist south of the border, surely we won’t give that up without a fight?  

We have to hope, and more importantly we have to resist. And keep resisting. Care is an act of resistance, self-care is an act of resistance, joy is an act of resistance. Find inspiration wherever you can. Find it in the people on the streets of Hong Kong, Santiago, Beirut and Barcelona. Find it in the climate protesters.  Find it in the kids. Find it in libraries and unions and picket lines. Find it in the words of Jimmy Reid, or Peaches, Hamish Henderson, Rebecca Solnit or bell hooks. Find your inspiration to resist and to hope, and when you find it, share it.

Uncredited Hong Kong protest art.  Source: https://twitter.com/uwu_uwu_mo/status/1176694124675813378?s=20

Where to draw the line?

Today I am on strike to support the industrial action called by UCU over changes to the USS pension scheme and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.  You can find out more about the UCU strikes here: Everyone Out

Having worked on short term contracts for much of my academic career, casualisation and precarity are causes particularly close to my heart and it’s appalling to see how contracts and conditions have deteriorated over the years. I experienced precarity working as a contact researcher for almost twenty years from 1997 to 2015 and I am well aware that my experience pales in comparison to the casualisation and exploitation that many academic colleagues, support staff and early career researchers are currently facing. It’s hard to overestimate the stress caused by constantly scrabbling to get your contract renewed, not knowing if you’ll be employed next month, next semester, next year, not being able to commit to this or that project because you don’t know if you’ll still have a job, not knowing if you’ll be able to pay the mortgage, the rent, the childcare.  Coupled with wildly unrealistic workloads, grinding insecurity, invisible emotional labour, and an “always on” culture exacerbated by social media, it’s hardly any wonder that higher education is facing a mental health crisis. 

But. Here’s the thing, when your personal commitments and professional identity are so tied up with an exploitative system, where do you draw the line?  This is something I’ve grappled with for years. I currently work 0.8 fte at an institution where my primary responsibility is to support uptake and engagement with open education and OER. I’m immensely privileged to work in a field I love at an institution with a strong civic mission and a real commitment to openness and sharing knowledge.  I also have a long standing commitment to open education and social justice that stretches back for well over a decade and I use the time I’m not employed by my institution to contribute my labour to other organisations and initiatives that support like minded goals, sometimes as a volunteer, sometimes in a more formal capacity, as a Trustee or committee member, sometimes just for fun.  These include #Femedtech, ALT, Wikimedia UK, the Open Knowledge Open Education Working Group and Open Scotland.  But when my own personal and political commitments and activism are so interwoven with my professional employment the boundaries become blurred and it’s hard to know where, if anywhere, to draw the line.  I’ve written about the issue of open education and invisible labour before, and I still don’t have any good answers to the questions I raised in this post: Open Practice and Invisible Labour.

So although I am supporting the UCU strikes today, and I will be back on the digital picket line next week, I have not cancelled a commitment to take part in a free event hosted by Wikimedia DE and ALT in Berlin this week on the theme of Open for a cause: fostering participation in society and education.  I’ve done a lot of soul searching to reach this decision, and I’m not sure if it’s the right one, however I believe that many of the conversations that will be aired at this event are directly relevant to the systemic issues plaguing higher education, which the UCU strike is calling for action on.  I’m still deeply conflicted about this decision, but this is where I’m drawing the line, even if it’s terribly blurred.  In lieu of striking for the three days I’ll be in Berlin, I’ve made a contribution to the UCU Fighting Fund instead. 

What gets lost in the fray

The blog post I wrote last week on the context, centrality and diversity of the Open Ed conference community sparked a lot more discussion than I expected, most of it on twitter, but also during a VConnecting session at the end of the conference. I even got an actual comment on the actual blog post, thanks pgogy! As might be expected, the decision to end the Open Ed conference in its current format generated a huge volume of tweets, headlines, blog posts, columns and articles. Mine was just one of dozens. However as the discussion has been distilled into more mainstream press reports, such as Inside HigherEd’s Open Education… Is Closed, a good deal of the nuance and diversity of those multiple voices has been lost.  Perhaps that’s inevitable, but it’s also a little ironic, and as Maha Bali commented:

This post by Mandy Henk, Being A Critical Voice, also really resonated with me, particularly with regard to how we understand power in the open community. 

So for the sake of posterity, and for my own personal reflection, I’m collating the discussion around that blog post here, because sometimes it’s interesting to look back at the voices that get lost in the fray. 

 

Open Ed: Reflecting on context, centrality and diversity

This week, like many colleagues in the open education community I’ve been following the Open Education Conference. I’m not actually at the conference, in fact in all my years working in open education I’ve never been to Open Ed, but I’ve been following it on twitter, and as always, it’s been a thought provoking experience. This year more so than most. There are a number of reasons why I’ve never attended Open Ed, primarily related to cost and childcare, also I’ve always thought of Open Ed as primarily a North American conference and I’m aware that the North American open education community is focused on quite different aspects of open education than the ones I primarily identify with. That’s to be expected of course, different countries with different education systems, economic conditions, political contexts and social issues will necessarily have very different concerns and priorities when it comes to open education

This tweet from Marisa Petrisch served to highlight just how radically different the US context is to my experience of working as an open education practitioner in Scotland. 

There is so much going on in this one tweet that I can barely get my head around; not least of which is why do people have to pay astronomical costs for life saving medication in the first place?? Though as my colleague Phil Barker commented, this may be an American thing but it’s a reality we may all be waking up to in the UK soon. (And that’s another thing I can’t get my head around.)

Of course to say that I don’t identify with any of the issues that are being aired at Open Ed is a sweeping generalization and one that does a terrible disservice to the broad range of diverse sessions that have featured at the conference this year. Highlighting Women of Color Experiences in Leading OER Projects by Regina Gong, Cynthia Orozco and Ariana Santiago, and Leveraging OER for LGBTQ-Inclusive Teacher Professional Learning by Sabia Prescott immediately spring to mind for example.

This important diversity has been somewhat overshadowed by the controversy surrounding the pulled keynote panel, (I’m not going to go into this, as I’m not sure there’s anything I could add that hasn’t already been said) and David Wiley’s announcement that he would be adjourning and stepping back from the conference so that the community can take ownership of the space and reimagine what kind of event they want going forward. Judging by the reaction on the conference hashtag, this announcement appears to have been met with surprise and respect, and though it’s hard to judge from a distance, my impression is that most people seem to regard this as a positive move.   However I caught one conversation on twitter last night between George Siemens and Tannis Morgan that stopped me in my tracks.

It does seem a little presumptuous to regard one community of people in the US as “the central node globally”.  By its nature, open education is necessarily diverse and fragmentary, because as Catherine Cronin and others have repeatedly reminded us, open education is highly contextual. Indeed Maha Bali wrote a much discussed blog post earlier this week about the necessity of contextualising openness. This discussion about the global context and centrality of different open education communities is all the more interesting as it was pre-empted by this year’s OER19 Conference, chaired by Catherine and Laura Czerniewicz. The theme of OER19 was Recentering Open: Critical and Global Perspectives and one of the aims of the conference was to move beyond hero narratives to including marginalised voices.

With the Open Ed conference reaching a turning point, it’s interesting to reflect on how the OER conference has evolved over on the other side of the pond. When it launched in 2010, the conference was closely associated with the UKOER programme, and as a result it primarily focused on open education projects in Higher Education institutions in England. When that programme came to an end in 2012, many people predicted the demise of the conference, however it continued to grow and thrive along with a growing and increasingly diverse open education community. OER has never positioned itself as a “global” conference, however since it was adopted by ALT in 2015 it has made a conscious effort to be as diverse, inclusive and accessible as possible. This is reflected not just in the diversity of the chairs, themes, and keynotes, but also in the wide range of channels that the conference supports to enable open and remote participation. While the OER conference would not exist in its current form without the generous support of ALT, ALT doesn’t own the OER conference, it facilitates it on behalf of the open community. Anyone can apply to chair the conference and the conference committee is open to all. The role of the chairs is to set the conference theme and select the keynotes, but the shape of the conference and the selection of the papers and sessions is a task undertaken by the whole committee. Like any event, the OER Conference has not been without its own controversies over the years, but the conference’s openness and diversity is, I believe, its strength.

I don’t know what, if anything the Open Ed community can learn from the experiences of the OER Conference, and other open education conferences and communities around the world, but I hope they are able to use this opportunity to re-envision their space in such a way that it meets the unique needs of their own social, political and educational contexts, while at the same time being  inclusive, collaborative and accessible, and cognisant of the diversity of the broader global open education community.