OER19 – Stories of Hope

It always takes me a while to write my post OER Conference reflection because I invariably come back brimming with so many thoughts, ideas, emotions and new perspectives that it’s hard to know where to start. When Catherine Cronin introduced the themes of OER19 Recentering Open: Critical and Global Perspectives at the end of OER18 in Bristol she stressed the imperative of moving beyond hero narratives and including marginalised voices, and the conference certainly met that challenge.  Rarely have I had the privilege to be part of such a diverse, inclusive, respectful and supportive community.  It was a humbling and empowering experience. 

Hope, Labour and Care

If I was to pick one overarching theme from the conference it would be hope. Kate Bowles set the tone of the conference with her profoundly moving and thoughtful opening keynote A quilt of stars: time, work and open pedagogy.  Along the way, Kate acknowledged and paid her respects to those who have shaped and supported her learning journey, from the traditional owners of the land on which she works, the Wadi Wadi Nation, though pioneering Irish astronomers, American solar quilters, friends and colleagues.  And Kate also gave us a moment of silence to re-member those who had helped us on our own open journeys and who were not able to be with us in Galway.

Kate spoke about the importance of our labour of care, and how we absorb that labour into our own open practice, but she also highlighted the risk that without a system wide ethic of care, open practice becomes another caring labour.  And we know that such labour usually falls to women and those who lack power and privilege. (This is a something that is very close to my own heart and the heart of the femedtech network.) But it was Kate’s closing note that really resonated with me throughout the conference.  Quoting Henry Giroux “Hope must be tempered by the complex reality of our times” Kate reminded us that although hope must be realistic about the environment we work in, change is possible, and that  

“Hope is not a pipe dream, it is the most important resource we have. It is the heartbeat of our politics.”

Hope was also the theme of the closing address of the conference, with co-chairs Catherine and Laura separately and independently both choosing the same quote from Rebecca Solnit’s Hope In The Dark

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

Telling Tales

It seems fitting somehow that Galway was a place to tell stories. Kate began by quoting Jerome Bruner in her keynote “any story one may tell about anything, is better understood by considering other ways in which it can be told.” I heard many stories told in many different voices. Su-Ming Khoo told the Haida story of The Raven and the First Men and the opening of the world.  Johanna Funk shared her story of Learning on Country in the coastal homelands of Galiwin’ku with Dr Kathy Guthadjaka.  Lori Hargreave told her own deeply personal Tale of Resilience. When the audio technology failed us, Frances Bell stepped in and  gave voice to Suzan Koseoglu’s moving found poem reflecting the voices of Turkish womens’ stories of open and distance learning, which led to a powerful conversation about women’s anger when they are denied the right to education. (Huge appreciation to Tom Farrelly for chairing a technically challenged session with such sensitivity, ensuring that all these women got to tell their stories.)  But perhaps the story that spoke to my own heart was Sara Thomas’ Once Upon an Open, a story about rescuing two Scottish women, Marie Lamont and Lady Catherine Bruce of Clackmannan, from the forest of history, a story of orcs, and trolls and damn rebel bitches, a story of who gets to tell stories.

Values and Pictures

We were also telling stories in our University of Edinburgh workshop, Positioning the values and practices of open education at the core of University business, when Stuart Nicol, Anne-Marie Scott and I challenged participants to share stories of how openness could be centred and have impact in their institutions.  To provide inspiration we shared some of the amazing open licensed images curated by the University’s Centre for Research Collections and the results were as inspiring as they were creative.  We filmed the stories people told and as soon as we’ve got them online, we’ll share them on Open.Ed.


Decolonisation, dispossession and the need to foreground indigenous knowledge were other themes that ran throughout the conference.  In her challenging and thought provoking keynote, Openings – Bounded (in) equities; entangled lives, Su-Ming Khoo noted that while we would like to think of Higher Education as a zone of freedom, that freedom is bound up in our entanglements with power, capitalism, and the colonial present. She challenged us to unmask the colonial wound and use these open wounds to be the place where healing and suturing can take place, reminding us that there is honour and value in the art of repair, kintsugi.

“We need to address the psychological and emotional legacy of colonialism and the needs of both the oppressor and oppressed in order to overcome and transform.”

Su-Ming’s keynote made me think of my own people and their history of being both oppressed and oppressor; the Gaels who were cleared from their homelands to the ‘New World’ only to re-enact their own dispossession on the people they found there.


femedtech had a powerful presence at the conference.  Sharon Flynn gave a huge shoutout to the importance of the community in her welcoming address and we were overwhelmed by the positive response to the femedtech Open Space, femedtech.net, both in terms of the writing that’s been shared and the people who came to our open space session, where it was standing room only.

In their presentation on the open distributed network and shared curation model that is @femedtech on twitter, Frances Bell, Louise Drumm and Lou Mycroft explained that femedtech’s resources are passion, kindness, enthusiasm and volunteer time, all of which were present at OER19 in abundance.  If any one image sums up the femedtech community, it’s this: 

It is such an honour and a privilege to be part of this amazing community.


If I have one regret from the conference, it’s that because I took part in so many sessions and was also on chairing duties, I missed dozens of talks that I really wanted to hear.  I had to duck out of Taskeen Adam, Caroline Khun and Judith Pete’s open praxis keynote panel so I’m immensely grateful for the recording of this and other sessions provided by ALT and OER’s amazing media team of Martin Hawksey and Harry Lamb.  Huge thanks to Martin and Harry for making sure these critical and necessary voices can be heard by all.

That Guy(TM)

There’s one last point I want to reflect on before I round off this post…Not once over the course of the four days I spent in Galway, did I find myself stuck listening to That Guy(TM).  You know the one, I’m sure you’ve met him at many conferences, the guy (though they’re not always guys) who hogs the conversation and is tone deaf to the voices of those who lack his privilege.  I heard many, many diverse voices at OER19, but not once did I hear That Guy(TM).  So I’d like to thank Catherine, Laura, Maren, Martin and everyone who made OER19 such an empowering and inclusive conference, and ensuring that marginalised voices were listened to and heard.  It fills me with hope.

16 thoughts on “OER19 – Stories of Hope

  1. Oh my goodness, this is such a beautiful summary. I came away from OER19 with a powerful sense of hope, but also a redoubled commitment to notice labour wherever it occurs. As I read this, I thought about the hand gestures that I know are there in each individual link, the finding and copy pasting and hopping from tab to tab — this is the work. This is the work that makes it easier for other people to find the things. It’s true quilting work, arranging and stitching pieces.

    And I’ve come to realise that as many of us have found it hard to do this open caring labour of blogging, we have lost something which matters. So I’ve made a little pact with myself to hold space for commenting as something that takes time, proper time to read and click and reply. Frances does this so well. And as Bon Stewart and I travelled round Ireland after the conference, we remembered that we first met through the comment section of her blog, and then she came over to mine. This is not trivial.

    Thank you for writing this. It is a rich resource for me to come back to.

    • That was the means by which I got to know so many of the distributed collection people that remain important presences, whether they blog or not. It was really *the* social network, there were not systems/platforms we turned too.

      I see no point in longing back for it, the era is gone. But it’s never dead. It lies there in the soil, waiting.

      I remembered very early 2000s a reference by Mathew Kirschenbaum (spelling) referencing someone who spent their time as a “comment blogger”- François had no blog of his own, but wrote in the comment space of others. Rather quaint, eh? some old links https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/1635284948

      • I’ve seen read some interesting discussions about changes in commenting culture in other circles, fandom in particular. It seems as though comments and discussions are becoming more distributed across the web, with content often hosted in one place, and discussion taking place elsewhere. I’ve never had many comments on this blog, but have always had a lot of comments on twitter, which in my case has been a better platform for discussion, but is also so much more ephemeral. I sometimes try to re-capture some of the twitter discussions in blog posts here, which all gets a bit circular! I think you’re right though, what is important is not the platform or *where* these discussions take place, it’s the network that we build and sustain and the people who make it.

        • I am loving these replies. I agree there are pros and cons to the comment discussion happening on Twitter or as a comment party under the post itself. But I definitely enjoy and applaud this comment blogging resurgence and will make more of an effort to comment more often. This idea of commenting as signalling that the writer has been heard chimes. I know you’ve seen Lorna, but for others following this comment trail I’ve also done a reflection on the conference partly in response to this post here https://leohavemann.wordpress.com/2019/04/18/the-3-bs-of-oer19/ .

    • Thanks for your compliment Kate. I think that commenting is valuable work, rewarding blogger and commenters. It also makes listening visible. One of the things I missed in using online discussion in teaching was the chance to show students that I was paying attention by face and body language. The image here from the link in the post https://twitter.com/TomFarrelly/status/1115991676508626944?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw shows that I am really listening to Lou Mycroft. A picture taken at a different time could have shown me looking at the audience also listening to Lou. I have yet to write my OER19 reflective piece but one thing I’ll talk about is a positive impact of the audio problems many of us experienced. I remember that you could have heard a pin drop as everyone listened as hard as they could to hear what Lou was saying. It’s more common now for people to comment on blog posts on Twitter and that does show they are listening but I love the persistence and location of blog comments

      Here is Lou’s video in case you couldn’t hear it or would like to watch it now https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88LGI1IL8r4&feature=youtu.be

      • I love the idea of comments making listening visible Frances! That’s so important. And you’re absolutely right that the unexpected audio problems did actually have a positive impact in the end, not just the audience focused intently on hearing Lou’s words, but also your incredibly moving recitation of the words of the Turkish women.

    • I really appreciate your lovely comment Kate. I always try and write reflections like this after attending the OER and ALT conferences and though I always find it rewarding, I’ve never considered it as a form of making, but you’re right of course, it is.

      Thank you for your care and commitment to commenting, and for sparking the comments and discussions here. They’ve been an inspiration to read.

  2. Hey you, love this idea of a comment blogger. This is not gone.

    I think we are all seeking ways to hear from each other, rather than exhausting ourselves just shouting into the hurricane.

    • Events like OER19 are giving me hope that amongst other things, the bloggers and comment bloggers are starting to return to these digital shores. Yes, this point about seeking ways to hear from each other is absolutely vital to the kind of meaningful and engaged open education many of us are trying to advocate for. For one of the OER19 sessions I was involved in, we highlighted some posts as provocations to think about the idea of lurking or ‘digital silence’ including this wonderful post from Sherri Spelic, Listening as Resistance (https://medium.com/@edifiedlistener/listening-as-resistance-42fac0229c70).

      • I agree Leo, I think with inclusion comes generosity. If people feel included and that their voice will be heard, they are encouraged to devote time to providing comments and feedback to others. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that comments like this thread here have flourished after #OER19. People feel hopeful, welcome, seen and heard.

        Also I’m a huge admirer of Sherri’s work and have learned that she is *always* worth listening to.

  3. Love, love this post, Lorna, and the comments (and may I just salute the added labour of unearthing apparently lost comments!). The words that jump out here… hope, valuable work, care, stories, values, decolonisation, inclusive, respect, kindness… what a tapestry. It feels as if many of us have been pulling in these directions — often alone, or in small groups. This work is not easy, though support from one another helps to sustain us. Last week, something else happened. *All together* we collectively created a space for this to be the central narrative — not the counternarrative. I think this may have been partly why so many people described feeling emotional. Within the academy, I can’t remember feeling and witnessing so many people speaking truth to power — connecting their work and their values, and connecting with one another. It was powerful. Laura and I also are reflecting, and we will write (although the pre-OER19 sprint means that other work has taken hold this week). However, I am so happy to read each post, each comment, and to know that we all remain connected and can carry that forward. Thanks so much for writing all of this so beautifully — and creating this space for conversation, as well as generative silences, to continue. I’m so grateful that I know that I can re-read this for sustenance when needed. #onward x

    • Oh Catherine, I can’t thank you enough for making #OER19 such a welcoming and inclusive experience. I know how much of a team effort the OER conference is and how we are all curating and caring for a community what has grown up slowly over the years, but you and Laura both deserve credit for setting the agenda and creating a space where we could *all* come together to be seen and heard. I’ve been thinking about your comment a lot over the last few days and I really do believe you’re right, what made #OER19 so special was that you made it possible for our shared values to be the central narrative. It was an empowering and emotional experience. Thank you.

  4. Pingback: The 3 Bs of OER19… busy, brilliant, and blogtastic – Open Questions

  5. This is such a beautiful post, Lorna, and beautifully enhanced by the different comments to it.
    I want to add to all what has already been said that for me, OER19 was (is) a place of connection and re-connection, not only with people I admire, appreciate and in a bigger understanding of what love means, I love so much but also, with an intellectual and pragmatic pursuit of ideas that serve the greater social good. It is this combination of emotion and social/human interest that inspires me to work as much as it takes to transcend the different barriers I am confronted in my daily life (e.g. not being able to write as good as I would in Spanish…is a big one 🙂 nevertheless, I persevere!). OER (with-no-year-added) is the place where I always want to come back, that place where I feel at home, where I feel all of us are valued and respected. Being in the company (virtual and physical) of all of you, I have come to understand that ‘home’ and maybe, what I am envisioning as ‘place’, has so much to do with trust, relations, belonging, with care, and with what Kate has described as open caring labour!
    Home is not necessarily where one was born but where one feels, belongs. One of these places is, with not the shadow of a doubt, OER, a space which place resides in my soul and heart, where no boundaries are tied to it, where ‘unbounded openness’ is its geography and ‘care’ its core value.
    Thank you for all what you have given to make the event a life-changing experience for so many of us, one that fills my heart with tenderness and my eyes with tears (of joy), as I write this…

    • Thank you so much for your wonderful, thoughtful comment Caroline! I am endlessly inspired by your spirit and your generosity. You are one of those who embodies the value of care that is at the heart of the OER community.
      Meeting you in person was one of the highlights of the conference for me, and our conversation on Thursday evening, though brief, has stayed with me long after leaving Galway. Thank you again.

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