Last week I was at the OER22 Conference, and I was actually at the conference because for the first time in two years the OER Conference was in person and online. OER22 was a hybrid conference in every sense of the word; the first day took place in London, the second day featured recorded online presentations, and the final day was live sessions online. The event was organised seamlessly by ALT and chaired by the GO-GN Network. The opening day of the conference in London was the first opportunity many of the OER community had to get together in person since the OER19 Conference in Galway, so it was understandably an emotional experience and a little overwhelming. ALT handled the logistics of bringing people back together with real sensitivity and empathy, with plenty of space at the venue so that people never felt crowded, and plenty of time in the programme for people to network and socialise.
Bryan Mathers opened the conference with a thoughtful and humorous illustrated talk that gave us all a much needed opportunity to ease our way back into in-person conferencing. It culminated with everyone drawing their own version of the GO-GN penguin and sharing them in the fabulous Visual Thinkery ReMixer. Bryan set the tone for the conference perfectly and I think the little drawing exercise helped everyone overcome any residual anxiety they may have had about participating in an in person event. Everyone said my penguin looked scary, but honestly he’s just a bit shy.
The themes of the conference were; Pedagogy in a time of crisis – what does an ‘open’ response look like? Open textbooks: making the most of their potential; Open in Action: open teaching, educational practices and resources; and Open research around any aspect of open education.
I took part in two panels, the first with Jane Secker, Catherine Cronin, Leo Havemann and Julie Voce focused on the approaches adopted by our various institutions and projects to support and develop open educational practices. These include teaching a module on open practices as part of a Masters in Academic Practice, creating open education and copyright literacy policies that signify institutional commitment to open practices, modelling open approaches in sharing our own teaching and learning resources, and advocacy work with organisations at a local, national and international level, to promote better understanding of open practice and copyright literacy. I spoke about how the University of Edinburgh’s OER Policy, supported by the OER Service, enabled and encouraged open practice across the institution, and the importance of supporting digital skills development around copyright literacy. Slides from the panel are available here: Open in Action.
I was also invited to take part in a plenary panel discussion on open textbooks along with Gary Elliot-Cirigottis (Open University), Dhara Snowden (UCL Press), and Jane Secker (City University London), chaired by Beck Pitt (Open University) who was previously involved in the UK Open Textbooks project. Our institutions all had very different experiences of supporting and engaging with the use and creation of open textbooks so it made for an interesting and wide ranging discussion, covering how open resources enabled institutions to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of the pandemic on the cost of resources, the role of open textbooks and our vision for OER in UK HEIs. A recording of the plenary panel will be available shortly.
I also attended a couple of other interesting sessions on open textbooks including Catrina Hey talking about the University of Sussex’s Open Press which is based on Pressbooks and informed by NUI Galway’s Open Press and the Jisc’s New University Press Toolkit. I also really enjoyed hearing about the Open Pedagogy Project Roadmap: A Resource for Planning and Sustaining Open Educational Practices at Penn State University from Bryan McGeary and Christina Riehman-Murphy. Their examples of student co-created open textbooks (e.g. Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature.) were really inspiring and gave me some ideas for initiatives we could explore at the University of Edinburgh.
Other highlights for me included Javiera Atenas talking about the importance of professional conversation as a fundamental aspect of open practice during her presentation about creative project design for open education practitioners. Slides from this session are available here: Creative Project Design. There was also some really lively and thought provoking discussion around what open technology platforms do with your data during Javiera and Leo’s session on Co-creating a framework for platform governance in open education – policy, data ethics and data protection. Leo and Javiera made the point that it isn’t enough for platforms, technologies and textbooks to be free, they must also resist surveillance and other forms of intrusion. Josie Fraser raised a pertinent counter point that this has to be balanced against benefit, noting that some school children had no contact with their teachers at all during the pandemic as some schools adopted an overly cautious approach to online conferencing platforms due to fears over how they store and use data.
On the last day of the conference, I gave an online presentation on our Open eTextbooks for Access to Music Education project. Along with our student interns, we gave a talk about the early stages of this project last year at OER21, so this year I was back to reflect on the project outputs and what we learned along the way. Unusually, we had all kinds of technical gremlins during the session, which Maren dealt with in her own calm and professional manner. We got there in the end and I was really touched with the positive comments on this student co-creation project. Slides and transcript of this talk are available on our project blog.
Sadly I had to miss a lot of day 2 and 3 of the conference due to juggling meetings and other work commitments, but I did enjoy catching up with discussions and resources on the conference Discord, and I’m looking forward to dipping in to the recorded sessions.
One final reflection more generally…Given that one of themes of OER22 was open textbooks, it was perhaps understandable that over the course of the conference the term OER was often used to refer specifically to open textbooks. I still had to do a bit of mental adjustment as I tend to think of OER as being a much wider class of thing, with open textbooks being just one form of open educational resources among many. While I’m really exited about the possibility of open textbooks taking off in the UK, particularly if they are co-created and founded on open practice, I am a little concerned that we might lose sight of the broader understanding of OER. Over the last few months I’ve seen a few think pieces and comments about the crisis in etextbook costs, which suggest that there has been little adoption of OER in the UK. While it’s true that there has been less adoption of open textbooks by academic libraries in the UK than in the US, (though this is changing rapidly), there has of course been considerable engagement with open education resources and practices supported by learning technologists across the sector. With more and more institutions launching open presses and libraries exploring the affordances of open textbooks, I hope they’ll work together with learning technologists, open education practitioners, and academic colleagues who have a wealth of experience of supporting and engaging with open education resources and practices of all kinds. Otherwise we may run the risk of recreating
OER repositories the wheel.
Being among the OER community again, among good friends and colleagues, was a much needed breath of fresh air. It really made me appreciate the hope that co-chairs Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz left us with at the end of OER19 in Galway, and how much it sustained us through the last two years.