OER16: Open Culture Conference Overview

Last Friday I was invited to present an overview of the OER16: Open Culture Conference at the eLearning@Ed Conference at the University of Edinburgh, and as part of my talk I included the following summary of our five fabulous keynotes.

Catherine Cronin, National University of Ireland, Galway

Catherine Cronin set the tone for OER16 in her opening keynote asking “If open is the answer what is the question?” She went on to ask us whether we consider ourselves to be open education practitioners or researchers, advocates or critics, wonderers or agnostics. Catherine explored different definitions of openness, stressing the importance of context, and identifying those that may be excluded. In a very personal talk Catherine reminded us that openness is itself personal and that we are all negotiating risk every time we consider sharing. However

“engaging with the complexity and contextuality of openness is important, if we wish to be keepers not only of openness, but also of hope, equality and justice.”

~ Tressy McMillan Cottom, 2015

Catherine Cronin

Catherine Cronin

Emma Smith, University of Oxford

On the week that marked the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, we were extremely fortunate to have one of the world’s foremost Shakespeare scholars and dedicated open practitioner, Emma Smith, with us. Emma also wins the prize for the best keynote title ever surely with “Free Willy: Shakespeare and Open Educational Resources.” Emma wove together the story of her own open education journey with the colourful history of the Bodleian Library’s First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. Emma began sharing her lectures online in 2009, an experience that completely transformed her teaching, and her lectures now reach a huge global audience. She suggested that teaching is now a public activity rather than a private one and added;

“You kind of have to get over yourself and let other people see what you’re doing.”

Emma also touched on the issues of privilege, acknowledging the threat of OER and MOOCs from elite institutions being seen as replacements for staff elsewhere, and she asked “To what extent does open reorder hierarchies?” She also entreated her colleagues in the humanities to share their contextual and teaching materials around original sources.

Emma Smith by Brandon Muramatsu

Emma Smith by Brandon Muramatsu

John Scally, National Library of Scotland

Moving from the personal to the institutional John Scally, National Librarian of Scotland, introduced the National Library’s ambitious digital strategy, launched in 2015, which aims to make a third of its renowned collection of 24 million items available online in the next 10 years. John outlined the range of approaches the National Library is taking to open access to its cultural resources and discussed the challenges for leadership in this area at a national level. The Library’s road to openness has been messy and there have been zigzags and potholes along the way, for example there are tensions between preservation and access. John argued that the National Library needs to go further than widening access, it also needs to promote equity, and “openness” can help with that. After John’s keynote one delegate was overhead to comment that higher education institutions could learn a lot from the National Library’s approach to supporting openness at scale.

John Scally by Anna Page, CC BY SA

John Scally by Anna Page, CC BY SA

Jim Groom, Reclaim Hosting

Jim Groom of edupunk, ds106 and Reclaim Hosting notoriety is one of the most infamous characters on the current ed tech circuit and we scored a bit of a coup by inviting him to give his first ever keynote in the UK. Jim presented a challenging and eclectic keynote titled “Can we imagine tech Infrastructure as an Open Educational Resource? Or, Clouds, Containers, and APIs, Oh My!” and true to form he began with a quote from Black Flag guitarist Greg Gin

“If you don’t like ‘the system’ you should create one of your own.”

~ Greg Gin, Black Flag

Jim urged us to turn our attention from open, shareable educational resources, to shared technical infrastructure. Asking what if we focused more on small-scale personal, re-usable software rather than monolithic, institutional solutions? What if we worked towards a collaborative infrastructure for OER that was always framed and scaled at the level of the individual, not unlike the web? With the shift in web infrastructure to the cloud, the advent of APIs and containers, and a burgeoning network of distributed and collaborative ed tech, we may be entering a moment where the open culture of networks is key to a sustainable future for OER.

Jim Groom by @SuperFamicomGuy

Jim Groom by @SuperFamicomGuy

Melissa Highton, University of Edinburgh

Returning to the institutional context, my fellow co-chair Melissa Highton presented the final keynote of OER16 Open with Care, which explored the challenges for leadership in OER, the role of universities in open knowledge communities and the returns and costs associated with institutional investment. Melissa outlined the University of Edinburgh’s policy and vision for OER and reminded us that “education isn’t always about content, but a lot of it is.”

One idea introduced by Melissa, which particularly caught the attention of delegates, was the concept or technical and copyright debt. If you don’t build open licensing into your workflows, you accrue copyright debt for the future. Technical and copyright debt is the price you pay for not doing it properly first time and as a result you end up paying to replace what you already have, rather than building new functionality. So, sustaining OER at scale is a technical issue and IT directors and CIOs need to be persuaded of the value of funding openness.

Melissa Highton by Anna Page, CC BY SA

Melissa Highton by Anna Page, CC BY SA

In conclusion…

It’s difficult to present a neat summary of such a diverse conference but there does appear to be a collective sense of maturing and moving on in the open education community, a willingness to tackle some of the more challenging questions about risk, power and inequality. There may be some residual tension in the OER community between those who have an institutional remit for supporting openness and those who regarded openness as a purely personal practice, however there is a growing appreciation that openness is a digital sensibility that underpins a very wide range of practices.

I’d just like to finish with what I thought was a lovely quote from a blog post written by OER16 delegates and University of Edinburgh MSc in Digital Education postgraduate, Stuart Allen. Stuart wrote ….

“Having a clear, value-driven vision for openness based on ideas of sustainability, civic responsibility and social justice, as advocated by Catherine Cronin and others, represents the very best of what higher education can be (or should be). But when it comes to implementing this vision in a specific context, there are tensions at work between political values, educational aims and pragmatic concerns. These will have to be negotiated with courage and no little skill.”

~ Stuart Allen, Open Culture, Open Questions

All OER16 keynote are available on the ALT Youtube channel.

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3 thoughts on “OER16: Open Culture Conference Overview

  1. Pingback: Belated Liveblog: eLearning@ed 2016 » Nicola Osborne

  2. Pingback: OER16, Ah’m Yer Da | bavatuesdays

  3. Pingback: OER16 Reflections – The Last Post | Open World

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