I just got home from OER19. Time for a little reflection and a lot of gratitude.
First up, let me thank everybody involved. OER has become without doubt my favorite conference/workshop of the year. I want to thank the people who put so much into making this conference so great and made such a wonderful experience:
- This year’s chairs, Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz, who put together a wonderful slate of speakers and activities and did such a great job of focusing our attention on “Recentering Open”.
- Of course there’s ALT’s chair/CEO Maren Deepwell. With my growing research interest in academy-as-commons, ALT and it’s conferences are wonderful examples of how we (the academics) can and should pull together to create fantastic stuff.
- There’s the wonderful tech wizardry of Martin Hawksey and his apprentice Harry Lamb. Martin, you make us all look and sound great. The tech never overwhelms the message.
- The two keynote speakers, Kate Bowles and Su-Ming Khoo. I didn’t know Su-Ming a month ago and was a bit nervous a few weeks ago about whether her keynote might either contradict or make my talk superfluous. Hah! Such silly anxieties. I now feel like I have both like-minded colleague and fast friend. We end up making two different arguments for the essentially the same recommendations! And, Kate. What can I say? Kate is so special that words fail me. The entire trip is more than worth it just to see Kate.
There are, of course, many others. There are always others. People I don’t know or don’t know they how they were involved. It takes a lot of people working a long time to put on a conference. Thanks to you all.
I also want to thank all the wonderful and welcoming people I met in Ireland. It could be said that’s their job to welcome people like me, a foreign tourist-type bearing hard currency. But that’s not true. So many people were just plain helpful all the way to taxi drive who drove us to Dublin airport on Saturday. I do believe I learned more about modern Ireland, the Irish, and even the language in that drive than I have from any other means. Thank you all.
Where I Am Not Othered
There’s a thing that happens at open conferences like OER. You get to meet in person people who you’ve known via Twitter or social media for quite awhile. They may even be people who you’ve video chatted or VConnected with. They’re good friends with your good friend so they must be OK. Then you get to really chatting in person and they become a new close long-time friend at a whole new level. That happened for me with Lawrie Phipps.
Anyway, we got to chatting. I shared how OER was my favorite conference. It’s not just because it’s an excuse to fly to England or Ireland and drink in a real pub (OK, that helps). Rather it’s where my heart and my mind both get refreshed. These are my people. I feel connection with them. The fact that they are often from the far corners of the earth just reinforces that feeling for me. These people are trying to do what am I trying to do. They’re trying to make the world better, but not by planning and engineering some panacea or utopia. Rather they’re doing it the only way that really works: focus on education and learning, build human connections, build networks, keep a critical eye open, include everyone. It’s people before organizations. It’s ideas in service of people. It’s technology in service of people.
In contrast, I don’t feel that way at home. At my home school, I often feel like my ideas of open or how to approach higher education or pedagogy are perceived as too weird, too abnormal. At OER, I’m in the “normal”. I haven’t spent a lot of time in “normal” in my life, at least not professionally. I’m usually the guy that sees things differently, looks at the big picture, and questions the assumptions. Sometimes that has done me and my organization well. But sometimes my ideas and insights are seen as just too far “out there” or even just wrong. The ideas, and me by association, are often seen as too “innovative”, too different, just not a good fit. I and my ideas are often treated as if I’m the man from mars – an implicit threat. I don’t get that from everyone. For the few of my school colleagues who read my blog such as Leslie, Jeff, or Anne, this doesn’t include you, but you likely know the feeling too. It certainly isn’t true of my colleagues Megan and Martha in the Center for Teaching Excellence. But the larger administration? That’s where I’m reminded of the misfit. Sometimes the misfit is expressed openly by discounting or bullying. Other times it’s done more subtly by throwing a cloak of invisibility over me and just ignoring that noise in the corner. Unfortunately, those that do the discounting, those for whom “open” is threatening, are often the ones with great organizational power.
Lawrie put a phrase to my feeling. So at my home organization, he says, I am “othered”. But OER is the place where I’m at home – the place I “don’t feel othered”. That’s it. That describes the feeling. At OER, I feel at home. I feel accepted. I can offer my ideas without fear. Sure, some might disagree (we are academics, after all), but they disagree with the idea or the statement of the idea, not me as me. The OER conference includes. At home, it’s a struggle to not feel “othered”.
We conference go-ers often talk of “re-entry” when leaving the conference to return home to everyday life back in the office. I’m preparing to return to everyday office work now. But the conference felt like home. Am I really re-entering? Or am I re-exiting?
There are so many people I wish to thank for this feeling at OER of not being “othered”. If I name them all, I will likely still leave some names out and I’ll end up with what pretty much looks like the registration list. Nonetheless, I want to thank two by name in particular: Martin Weller and Lorna Campbell. Without their urging two and half years ago, I would never have gone to my first one at OER17 and organized the panel we had. And without Lorna’s and Martin’s encouragement and welcome I wouldn’t have developed this lovely home across the sea.
PS: Special Notes
There were so many interactions that were valuable that I cannot name them all. But I want to send a special message to three people.
So for James Glappagrossklag, Billy Meinke, and Laura Czerniewicz, let me say: I heard you. I appreciate the your support and confidence. I accept the challenge and you will be hearing much more from me about this commons stuff.