These are my reflections from the OER17 conference in London. It is a mark of a powerful community and conference that it is nearly 3 weeks gone, yet it has a powerful hold on me. I wrote just six months ago how OpenEd16 changed me. Lightning has struck twice. I can’t be the same again.
There is so much to recount and I’m sure I can’t do justice in mentioning all the great stuff I learned. Instead I’ll try to actually put it into practice and spread the word.
My journey to London started with a speculative blog post last November in the wake of Trump’s election in the US. With the encouragement of Martin Weller, David Kernohan, and others it led to the panel discussion I assembled for the conference. Just the experience of putting together the panel with so many great people was awesome. Thank you to Martin, David, Maha Bali, Lorna Campbell, Robin DeRosa, Chris Gilliard, and Nadine Aboulmagd.
The greatest experience for me of the open education community in the past couple years has been the connections made. I want to comment here on the importance of making connections. For decades, I’ve gone to conferences and shows. As an academic, I’ve done the economics world, the higher ed leadership/accreditation world (HLC, AACU and the like), the community college and general teaching and technology conferences. Sometimes I felt like visitor from Mars and other times it felt close-but-not-quite. The open education community has become home. I feel at home with these people.
One of the best aspects of the open education community is that people are, well, open. They connect. They welcome connections. They are, as Kate Bowles would say, hospitable. I find them authentic. So in the last couple years as I’ve become more active in the open education community, my “network” has grown. Saying the “network has expanded” sounds too cold. I’ve connected with people. I can say with pride and great warmth that I now have connections to people in places around the world. This makes the world smaller and more human.
I’ve always been concerned for events and the well-being of people around the world. I follow the news. I seek out other perspectives. But without personal connections, such concern is only abstract. To read of a bombing is tragic. But when we have personal connections, the depth of feeling changes. We connect to the humanity.
A year ago I would read of the bombing of a Coptic church in Eqypt and be sad to think of the people killed and their families. I may have reacted with anger at the political policies that lead ultimately to desperate acts of terrorism. Now I read of such a bombing and the depth of feeling is greater. I know people there. They may be hundreds of miles away and uninvolved but they’re a lot closer to it than I am. I have at least some small glimmer of their lives. I wonder how it affects them. Being connected to at least one or two real persons, individuals I know and care about, my concern, feelings, and thoughts for all the Egyptian people take on a different character. My connections with one or two help weave a stronger fabric for humanity.
At OER17, I experienced making new connections to people in places I thought I would never connect with. Places like South Africa, Germany, Scotland, France, and Australia. But I also experienced how what starts as connections can deepen into relationships.
I want to mention two in particular. It was so wonderful to finally put a face and human touch to them. Jim Groom is somebody I’ve learned from, worked with, and given grief to over the Twitter for a few years now. We’ve come to know each other enough that Jim himself wondered how it could be that we hadn’t met in person yet. (I still maintain it’s because he fled the country when I signed up for Reclaim, btw.) That connection became a relationship.
Finally I want to acknowledge the wonderful soul of Maha Bali who I only connected with for the first time last fall, yet has become such a valued relationship in my life it is difficult to believe it has only been six or so months. I see and understand things differently because of Maha. (and Maha, you’ll be pleased to know that with my wife’s help I am practicing how to properly pronounce your name. It’s harder than you think for this old Ohio boy).
Open education, by fostering openness as a value, respect for people, and the technology to make it happen, creates connections. When we mindfully nurture those connections and collaborate creatively, those connections become relationships. Relationships can span the globe and weave the fabric of humanity. That is how we will eliminate poverty and create peace – one connection at a time. The politics of open is the politics of connected people.
Thank you all for the experience.