The Open Education conference last week was easily one of the best conferences I’ve ever participated in. It was intense, incredibly run, thoughtfully planned, and brought together an extremely diverse and intelligent group of people. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so intimidated by the sheer number of scary-smart people in the same room.

The conference was awesome. Lots of people have already recapped the conference itself – I’m not going to even try to add to that. I’m also not going to write a post about how fracking awesome everyone is, listing them all by name. I had a blast talking to everyone. They all rock. I am honoured to have had the chance to meet so many great new people, and to hang out with so many old friends. Blah blah blah…

What I was struck by was the ways I found the conference changing how I was thinking about education, openness, and inclusion. I felt a similar shift at the first Open Education conference I attended back in 2007, but this was a much deeper, more pervasive feeling.

Open Education is not about Resources

Although many of the sessions touched on Open Education Resources (OER, Learning Objects, content, etc…) there was a strong consensus that education is about so much more than content, and is also so much more than the tools and technologies used to present the content and connect the learners. This was a refreshing stance, as we seem to be highly content- and technology-centric when thinking about education (and Open Education, specifically). How do we shift the focus from content to interaction? From publishing and/or consuming to interaction and engagement? There were some interesting conversations about this, and although I don’t think there can be any solid answers, the fact that we’re looking at this stuff as more than just content, at education as more than just broadcast/receive, is a good sign.


Scott Leslie talks about “planning to share” vs. “just going ahead and sharing” – and the most interesting projects (and non-projects) all shared this theme. There were no RFPs, no committees, no Advisory Boards. People just started sharing. And that’s the only part of Openness that matters. It’s not about licenses, copyright, or anything other than just sharing what you’re doing.

And, there is also some hypocrisy in “open” projects – for example, the showing of a very short clip of RIP: A Remix Manifesto, at an education conference, in an art gallery, apparently cost over $100. And the distributors wanted over $300 to let us watch the entire movie. A movie that ends by saying “Download this movie” – and is not legally downloadable within Canada, even though it was produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Openness is not about licensing, it’s about sharing. And locking a movie that is inherently about sharing behind a paywall is breaking the spirit of openness. Hypocrisy.


At an evening session on copyright, Sonny Assu presented some of his work – where he appropriated many of the commercial symbols that have been pushed on us and have become part of our cultural heritage. He talked about how we now use these symbols as parts of our selected tribal identities. The tribe of the $5 coffee cup. The tribe of the white earbuds. This got me thinking about everything I saw in terms of tribalism and identity – which tribes or shared cultural groups do I broadcast membership in? What does that mean, for how other people perceive me? Do they see the symbols of the group identity? How does my perception of others’ group identities affect my interactions with them? How does this affect the relationships that are crucial in education? Lots of stuff to think about, and no answers to come.


Following on the thoughts of inclusion, and on the strong sense of male dominance at the conference (which was a veritable sausage party), I started thinking much more about inclusion. If the open education conference was so strongly over-represented by white males who shared similar backgrounds, why is that? If it’s not through active exclusion (there is no club to join, no registry to sign, no approval process), it may be through a sense of inclusion or non-inclusion. Why are women, people of colour, people of various other backgrounds, not as strongly represented here? Are they missing because they don’t feel welcome? Do they perceive a risk in joining the community? Do they see a barrier to entry? The middle-aged white dudes may not see barriers and risks, but are they tangible for others?

If so, what can be done to encourage others to actively participate in the community? Is that even something that is desirable for everyone? Does everyone’s participation need to be visible to be valid?

But… I said at the top of this post that the participants were extremely diverse. WTF? well, they were, compared to some other edu- and tech- conference. But were hardly diverse, when put into a global perspective. Yes, people were there from a long list of countries, and from a long list of institutions, but almost all shared a similar privileged western background.

Photo by Diego Leal

36 replies on “on the open education experience”

  1. re: inclusion… Registration-wise and counting quickly, the mix was about 35% female / 65% male. I have many of the same questions and no answers. One of the strengths of the conference was that many of us shook our networks hard to get people to notice and participate in the conference. As a result, a much higher number of people at this conference (compared to any I’ve been to) were relatively close in terms of degrees of separation on their social networks. I wonder if this exacerbated feelings of exclusion for some just as it presumably heightened the experience for others?

    1. I don’t think it’s as simple as that. From some of the conversations I had after hours, it was made clear that people were uncomfortable participating in the community in general – something I struggled to understand. There’s something about the volume of posts on edublogs, about the apparent tight connections between the people already “in” the community, that seems to result in a perceived barrier to entry for others. I’m still grappling with this, but think I’m starting to see it – it’s hard to think like someone new to the community, after being a part of it for as long as I can remember.

      I also don’t think that any of this is explicit exclusion, and even though we all try to make efforts to actively include people, that the perceived barriers are stronger than we think. I know that the conference organizers – every single one of you – did a fantastic job in making sure it was clear that the events were open and people were actively invited to participate – but there is something else at play that seems to be keeping others from taking up the invitations.

      1. “it’s hard to think like someone new to the community, after being a part of it for as long as I can remember.” That’s very true. I think it may be the “new kid on the block” phenomenon. Many usually just look on from the sideline in the beginning whereas only a few jump right into the action with the guys who have known each other for some / a long time.

        A tight-knit community is great, but can make it difficult for others to join in easily because the community members make references to one another, maybe even share inside jokes openly that nobody else understands etc. As a person who may only know one or two of these people, it is not easy to participate unless actively involved (maybe even with a gentle kick 😉 or jumping over one’s own shadow and taking the initiative). That is just generally speaking. Unfortunately, I could only follow the conference peripherally, and thus cannot share any observations for that particular event.

      2. I don’t think it’s the only factor, but your post echoes my original point: people who are already close to each other in the network tend to communicate more easily, rapidly and in greater volume– even if they haven’t met before… or even communicated directly before– making feeling of exclusion felt more keenly for those who weren’t so close…

    2. I go home soon, and will be a bit unavailable now until I catch up and get unjet lagged, but I have one more comment.

      I’d like to emphasise D’Arcy’s first few words: “The Open Education conference last week was easily one of the best conferences I’ve ever participated in. It was intense, incredibly run, thoughtfully planned, and brought together an extremely diverse and intelligent group of people. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so intimidated by the sheer number of scary-smart people in the same room”

      Agreed wholeheartedly.

      Chris talks about ‘shaking networks’. I’m very low in my participation in these. But this is how news came to me nevertheless. Also: this was the most tweeted conference I have been to by a huge margin. I was interested in the off site participation. Streaming of video. Cross session tweeting. About as open as you can get. With video download there is nothing to stop a kind of asynchronous after-match function occurring in bandwidth poor places.

      Maybe this factor has contributed to the quite remarkable conversations on inclusion, belonging, impostor syndrome (etc) we see in this thread, and elsewhere? This could be one factor: another may be the willingness of those with power to reflect, and sometime reflect quite profoundly. In many other conferences, this kind of conversation would not occur or worse get shut down, for institutional, personal and/or political reasons. I don’t think I have seen anything quite like this. Maybe it was needed in the open ed movement, and maybe we will see something happen or shift or something in relationships and openeness to move us forward on other fronts because of this little dialogue?

      The conference was superb. For me, the fact of this subsequent conversation on this topic is makes it even more remarkable.

  2. I’m glad you brought attention to this, because it was a concern of mine even before the conference. I spent some time trying to recruit other women, but it was challenging. I’m not even close to being a feminist, so I can only address this from my own experience, without historical perspective. I hope you will recognize that I’m completely sharing my own point of view here, and not speaking for a larger group.

    I am certain a big part of the challenge is not caused by this particular community, but reflects the current state of women in the work place, especially mothers. A four-day conference with evening social activities naturally excludes primary caregivers, male and female. It is a strain on my family when I participate in these events. There was one evening during this conference where I received 14 text messages from home in a two-hour period.

    But it isn’t just a private challenge. As a woman I am asked how I was able to “get away” from my family. It is a very public statement for a mother to leave home for four days. It affects how people perceive you, as if you can’t have a career and a family. I never hear men asking each other how their families survive with them gone so long.

    One solution to that problem could be to emphasize the value of attending small segments of the conference. Almost everyone I spoke with said they could have gone home after the first day and been perfectly satisfied. The events of that day were powerful enough to stand alone, and possibly more primary caregivers would have attended if they were aware how much they could gain from a single day.

    It is always difficult for me to participate in conferences like this. I am bold enough to go where my inclusion is an afterthought, because I know where the important stuff happens. Everyone knows it, because it gets so much blog attention. Excluded men and women then blog and Tweet how much they would like to be at those informal events. It IS a bunch of inside jokes and exclusive commentary.

    I believe the two biggest problems are in the fact that the norms of the social Web have not carried over into polite society, and the objects of socialization that fuel this community are traditionally masculine. Online, I can jump into informal male-dominated conversations, without many of the barriers I experience in face-to-face participation. If I’m awake in the middle of the night and jump into a debate, I’m not going to be judged the same way I am when I hang out in a bar for hours with a bunch of men. The barriers are not completely removed online; there are still plenty of jealous partners preventing collaboration. But many of the rich conversations I have online, would not translate into face-to-face interactions as currently accepted by society.

    The socialization that holds this particular group together is based on masculine objects and knowledge that is traditionally held by men. While there are many great discussions on educational reform, they are woven between conversations of male-dominated art forms and sometimes athletics. These men socialize around other men. Much of the rich conversation about education isn’t explicit, but contained within references to male philosophers, musicians, artists and moviemakers. The metaphors used to negotiate meaning around shared action in education reform, are tied to these objects, and anyone who lacks knowledge of these objects, will be excluded. I know women who can communicate at this level, but I suspect many of the great thinkers and doers in open learning would prefer to collaborate in a different kind of environment.

    Many of the blog posts and tweets about the conference focus on the value of personal connections. Most of those posts reference men. The photo you used in this post has been viewed more than 330 times, and only contains men. When I first saw it, I wondered if it was taken right after I left. I wondered what it would be like if I were in that photo. Terrifying! Three of the men in the photo have brought me to tears numerous times with their responses to my ideas. Two of the men in the photo comfort me and calm me when the others get me upset. I get upset, not because I am a woman, but because I take the comments personally. I take the comments personally, because they are not cushioned in an inside joke or literary reference. They are raw criticism of my ideas, without hidden meaning in shared social context. When they critique each other, it comes with a gentle shoulder punch and anticipation of competitive retaliation. When they criticize my work, it feels like terminal dismissal. (I’m anticipating the responses, even as I write this, and that keeps me from being as candid as I would like.)

    Another barrier to participation is the subculture of this movement. We promote open and transparent, with full knowledge most of the critical discourse happens in undocumented spaces. When every conversation or comment can be captured, tracked and archived, those of us promoting openness are probably some of the most cautious communicators. Most of us cannot be openly critical of our organizations. We hesitate to disagree with anyone with whom we could potentially hold future transactions. Our public commentary may seem brazen to some, but I find it highly sanitized. Behind the scenes is where the action happens. And the action can only happen when there is a foundation of trust. We reduce our network into smaller, closer connections, insulated and protected in our clans. This is nature.

    I try to break through and break into the clan, but I know I’ll never really be a part of it. I don’t believe it’s just because I am female, but I know that is a big part of it. I see conversation stop when I approach. I watch as discussion of sexual or violent art is curtailed because there is a woman at the table. I return to my hotel room, late by my standards, but the men keep drinking and talking. I miss the breakthroughs and I never understand the inside jokes.

    Despite the discomfort, I absolutely believe the face-to-face contact with these people I’ve grown to know and love is essential to both my career and personal progress. The fan-boy posts are there because these people are truly extraordinary. They are working their butts off and making sacrifices to create a better future for my children. For that, I am eternally grateful. I just keep hoping my actions will not be seen as inappropriate, according to society, but as an invitation to other women to cross over into this space and have a say in how we decorate it.

    1. I don’t have the energy to even begin addressing what seems to be fundamental to this post– the state of gender, relationships and community– and which is way WAY larger then the Open Ed conference or Open Ed in general. There’s not much to take issue with and no solutions where I could.

      You do kind of pre-emptively curtail the conversation in your comment above, so I’ll just note that there’s an irony in your perception that “criticism” of you comes without the “shoulder punch” and “anticipation of competitive retaliation” when, in fact, I think the fact that engagement with you and your ideas often DOES come with *just* those expectations and it’s *that very fact* that makes it difficult.

      After a particular moment at Open Ed I started paying close attention to conversations around you and I have to say I saw very little of conversations stopping when you appeared or changing when you left. You left early on the last day of the conference, before the photo you refer to was taken– and that assembly wasn’t planned, it was a serendipitous moment when all the conference organizers happened to be together– and then everyone around joined in. Perhaps that was a subtle sexism, but it feels like coincidence to me

      FWIW, perhaps very little, *I* am the primary caregiver for my children, *I* have to leave them behind, *I* go to my hotel room early because socializing in a group setting is not really my thing and *I* (and I suspect most) curtail all kinds of conversations depending on who’s present, often as a form of respect.

      1. I should mention: there certainly *IS* discussion between and with men regarding them leaving their children at home during these kinds of events. I was part of some of them.

      2. Chris, this was a personal reflection, that’s all. My comment on the photo was personal observation and curiosity, not criticism or suggestion it was contrived. I used the term, “primary care giver,” so I could include men, as well as people who care for others who are not necessarily children. I’m just sharing how I feel. If I am difficult to engage with and the problem is me, and not women, or caregivers, then just let it go. There is no issue.

        1. It’s a personal reflection, but you (inescapably, I think) carry that reflection– explicitly and implicitly– to the larger and abstract worlds/spheres. At the same time, this kind of thing is always personal. Don’t see how it can be otherwise. But it does lead to continually needing to say what I’m going to say here again: you belong in this conversation.

          When the jump is made from a single event to the larger world or when the lens refracts from specific conversations to conversation in general, I just don’t have any answers or solutions and it’s disheartening and depressing. I did and do the best I can. It’s not good enough. And I don’t mean good enough for *you*, but in general.

          1. Chris, I sincerely apologize if I made it sound as though the organizers didn’t do enough. You all did an absolutely fantastic job of putting together a truly spectacular conference. There’s no debating that – easily, hands down, the best conference I’ve been to in years, with an obvious amount of care and thoughtfulness put into setting it up and running it.

            My comments came from discussions that were outside of the official conference, and observations that I made in light of those conversations.

    2. I just wanted to speak to one little part of this post, Jen. Your comment that “I never hear men asking each other how their families survive with them gone so long.”

      I can assure you that these conversations DO happen with men. I don’t think there is a working parent alive who doesn’t struggle with finding the balance between work and professional life.

      A big part of the reason I did not attend Open Ed was because I was just coming off being away from my family for 2 weeks and could not justify to myself or my family being away again, even when I desperately wanted to be there.

      Now, I am a father and not a mother, and I am not naive enough to know that the expectations society places on mothers v fathers is different. But, frankly, I don’t see this expectation reflected in my peers. The old ladies I meet in the park who ask me where the Mom is – yes. But I could give a rats ass what they think about roles of fathers and mothers in contemporary society. People that think this is exclusively a female issue are living in a time that has long since passed. It is a parent thing.

    3. What an amazing comment Jen. So heart felt, so honest. I don’t know of any history you have with the gang, but I think your comment touches on issues of sensitivity that I can relate to. Chris starts off with “I don’t have the energy..” which in the context of this discussion alone strikes me as insensitive. Typical bloke hey! (arm punch to Chris there 🙂

      What Jen writes, I didn’t read as criticism, factual, or even digs.. I read it as an open expression of a feeling she has, designed to help us think more deeply about what and why there is an observable absense of women in our dialog and conferences. I personally found lots to think about in her post. Some which I can identify with regardless of my gender (male in case my photo doesn’t show when I post this). On several occasions I had a kind of paranoid feeling of not being in on something.. a slight difficulty in actually confirming a place in a conversation.. a feeling of being more outside than in. When I felt these thoughts, I put it down to cultural differences and that I’ve smoked too much pot in my days. In reality they are things so subtle to not warrant serious actionable consideration. I mean, how much can we expect to know and trust one another without having actually met before!? I know I came to this meeting with higher than reasonable expectations – excited to meet the people who have impacted me so much through their writing and attention. What a relief it was to have Dave Wiley greet me with outstretched arms!

      So I heard what Jen says, but didn’t recognise it as gender related. I can certainly see how gender could be used to understand the feeling, just as I have used culture. Neither are true or false, just lenses. Understanding that some people see the world through particular lenses more than most is all part of the skill of sensitivity I guess. To be sensitive with others, and to keep our own sensitivity in check.

  3. It was nice to see some of the folks that have had a long involvement in shaping the Canadian online learning practice like David P, Griff R., Rory, M. and Jutta, T. attending the conference. I see their attendance as a very positive thing in the Canadian perspective – not that they all were not all well aware of what’s happening in open education.

  4. First, Jen, I don’t think you can call this ‘just a personal reflection’. It’s a broad commentary on the field generally. If you are suggesting that it is a very public statement for ‘a mother’ to go to a conference and that ‘women’ are seen a certain way… you are not just reflecting personally. I’m not saying you are wrong… because i don’t think you are. ‘generally’ this is true. The socialization that holds me to this community is the same as it was before i arrived. They are smart. They make my thinking better.

    I feel for Chris. I can’t count the number of times i have had people come up to me and say “wow, you’re giving your wife a break today… how nice of you” if I’m out with the kids. And you’re the primary care giver… i just share that role. Women are over-validated, and that’s hard and men are under-validated and that’s hard.

    For Myself in terms of my goals getting to the conference and who I was looking to meet f2f. I was, primarily, interested in the people behind the words that comment on my blog posts, whose posts i comment on and who i interact with around opened. It just so happens that two of the three women who happen to do this regularly (nancy white and barbara ganley) weren’t able to make it to the conference. I am a co-primary care giver. I heard at least 6 different men say “i can’t seem to figure out where people are going at night”. I never received a single phone call or tweet to meet with anyone, but happened to be one of the 15 people who were left hanging around at closing time… which is when we wandered off to go places. There may be gendered reasons why people didn’t hang around, but i don’t think the ‘choosing’ was particularly gendered. It certainly doesn’t reflect my own personal tastes as my own best friend is my housemate, and I more often than not end up in the company of women. Not that it matters, but i left the conference with a gender equal number of business cards.

    Darcy… i think the photo is a red herring. We were in the hallway chatting and someone said ‘lets take a picture’ and the people in that conversation jumped in the photo. Any exclusive, planned ‘in’ shot would, by necessity, have included jimbo.

    Gender is a huge issue in education and in technology. Put the two together and there are serious problems. I thought the the organizers did a pretty good job of giving us a balanced conference… a quick glance through the presenters shows that. But there is a definite amount of work that needs to be done… I worry about mixing up general, societal issues and painting them onto a specific conference where any number of different factors may have created the situation seen by D’arcy and Jen.

    Finally… i have felt ‘outside’ of this community for the last few years. My path has never crossed with a single person in that picture before, Had significantly disagreed with many of them… and had always vaguely wondered if they just didn’t like me or my work. It turns out… the discomfort was mine.


  5. I’m still thinking about the responses to the post, and I’ll probably have a more in-depth response later, but I wanted to clarify a few things that seem to have polarized people.

    The “photo as a red herring” – I agree that it was not a planned photo, but that’s what struck me about it. It wasn’t random, either. A casual photograph taken in the hallway managed to capture a group of people that were extremely similar in background. To me, that makes the use of that particular photograph even more relevant, and not as a red herring but as a snapshot.

    The “mixing general issues and specific conference” issue – I was really not trying to imply that any of the gender issues were specific to the Open Education 2009 conference, nor were they emphasized there. The reason for the post was to pull together thoughts and impressions that I was mulling over through conversations with many people before, during, and after the conference. The conference was in many ways just a reason to talk to various people. Much of the gender and inclusion stuff comes from a series of conversations with 4 people who pulled me aside to make a very clear, passionate and urgent case that they were not feeling included. It was nothing intentional, just a result of the culture – and something I hadn’t really thought about in depth previously. These conversations really sent me to think hard about it, and to try seeing from other perspectives.

    And I left my wife and son for nearly a week to attend the conference. It was hard on all of us. I also went to bed several hours before the men every evening, likely missing much discussion. That’s just how things go. I’m too old to stay up that late, and that’s fine.

    1. Hmm, the photo. My memory is that I was partly the catalyst. My version of the photo is here: I just wanted a little memento and ended up taking it several times with different cameras for others. I think there was a feeling of a significant moment, but actually part of that was “Whew!! we made it” in terms of the conference burden that inevitably conference organisers carry. Feeling relaxed with each other, a sense of camarardie, friendship etc all come into it. But also, many of these guys DID do a lot of the work.

      After day 1 was over, I listened in on a couple of intense conversations, checked e-mail and emerged from this to find there was literally no-one from OpenEd left in the area. I then unloaded my PC and checked Twitter. There was not one tweet on anyone going anywhere to do anything, and nothing I could find about the extra event on over at the Art Gallery (Like when was it on?). Where did the decision making occur on where to go and what to do?? Who did what?? As a newbie to using twitter at a conference, I actually wrote a blog post about this, thinking about Twitter/social F2F questions, but never posted, felt just a little critical.

      The next day someone (Chris?? Scott??) mused that they would consider the evening sessions going later, and I consciously thought “You are reflecting, I don’t need to say anything”.

      The next night I did decide I have to take some initiative early, and did so. Ended up at a pub with a few others before the BBQ.

      Dave, Chris and D’Arcy’s comments on feelings of inclusion etc. What can I say? I’m astounded really.

      Included? Did I feel included? Well honestly: I travelled a long way to get there, in the whole openEd I am a rank Newbie in this field, poorly placed & fragmentary in terms of prior thinking, regretting I had to do a talk when it was so basic what I was saying (I was feeling like a fraud) . . . I assumed unconsciously I’d be like a guest, so I guess I felt like I was starting from zero anyway. OTOH: I did have some great individual contacts and small conversations. Just a few random names from scribbled notes – Michael (C and K), Jen, Sylvia, Jon, Konrad, Mary, Nicole, Christine G, Catherine, The Michigan folk (who knit), Rahat, Cyprien, Panagoita, John (I) . . . But I still feel like constantly on the outside and bottom of the totem pole.

      @ Dave: Business cards? I’m running 50/50 genderwise. I have 8. Nice metric.
      @ Jen: a comment I will need to revisit. Undocumented spaces? I wonder. I think enough does emerge. Leigh on our post event road trip hypothesised the effects of having every blog anonymous.
      @ D’Arcy “but there is something else at play that seems to be keeping others from taking up the invitations” yes.

      @ everyone. THANKS. Parallel conversations needed here. There is more in this post than inclusion issues.

  6. I’m not sure if it useful to unknit a few issues, but for sure I think gender IS an issue, but there is more than that. In my community work it amazes me time and time again when you ask people in a community who is “inside” and who is an outsider or on the periphery, most people point to others as in and themselves as out. It is very strange. When you have friendship layered on top of community issues, that enhances this sense of “self as outsider.” This has been consistent MORE with distributed groups, but also w/ F2F groups. I see it in my neighborhood. We all think everyone else has the connections, that they have figured out the network, when in fact we share this sense of outsiderness. It is odd. Where is the person who understands this and perhaps help us see it, understand it, then transform our practices so that at least we become more aware of it and help move those who want to feel “in” to have that chance, rather than sticking with the assumption they are outside?

    In one of my central communities of practice,, we try and gather once a year. We have such important and meaningful connections with each other, those who have been to previous gatherings tend to fall into each others’ arms when we meet. But only about 25% of attendees at a gathering are oldtimers. We have tons of new folks.

    One year it was said loud and clear, wow, you all are such a tight, cool community and we feel like outsiders. So we added a pre-meeting day as an introduction to the community. We tell (and one year illustrated) the community story – with anyone adding embellishments. We did a social network mapping experiment that went TOTALLY awry, but opened up a very productive conversation after we mended hurt feelings. We blundered, but we made this “entry” and “outsiderness” discussable and tangible in a way that I think really made a difference. (As an oldtimer, though, I’m not a good reference!)

    As with most things, there is a lot about love here and love, no matter what we do, tends to be messy. For those who live a rich life of the mind, that can sometimes even be more confounding because it can’t be explained. 😉

    Finally, for what it is worth, I just spent 5 days with 5 other people from the Teach and Learn Online network. They all work in education. I don’t. yes, of course, there were many times I felt like an outsider, particularly intellectually. What has changed for me is that once I caught on to this “outsider” phenom in my life, I began to embrace it and enjoy it, to play with it.

    That said, it IS for me very different from the gender issue. Which is huge and in my field, a terribly difficult thing to even discuss, even while “gender issues” are supposedly mainstreamed in international development. So I’ll leave that one alone for the moment.

    1. I suffer terribly from impostor syndrome… that’s a feeling, a lense, a perspective, and a lathe on my soul that trumps all others by a good degree.

      1. we’re all impostors. the trick is to just say “screw it” and enjoy the ride. I still have trouble grokking that people think I know what I’m talking about, and they likely feel the same way.

        1. In the end, all we really have is our humanity – shared insecurities but also shared hope for something better from ourselves.

  7. I def. think Race is an issue. You would think Latinos and Blacks don’t use tech. We do, and we use it effectively. I think your events should be promoted in different areas/venues. With PR tools like twitter you can access large groups of underrepresented people if you want.

    I detest traditional academia for its colonial views, and the educational tech world seems to be following this. Whenever i hear abt. minorities and tech its always in the context of the digital divide (at least when spoken about by the dominant culture). This is preposterous–sure there are plenty of poor minorities without access, but there are increasing numbers daily. I think we do them a disservice by not including them in discussions, etc…

    Add to this that homogenous viewpoints lead to stagnation–it does not seem open to me.

    I think an infusion of culutre and class would benefit the academy and distance ed very much.

    Thanks for taking the time to read this short note–I’m really busy and don’t have enough time to write what I really want to say right at this moment.


    1. Good points, Max, and I think this was tangible during the conference as well. There was a strong effort made to include people from various cultures – one of the keynotes was from South Africa, representing grassroots and governmental projects in Africa – and I think the conference organizers are keenly aware of the issues as well.

      The next conference will be held in Barcelona, and that may help to break some of the perceptions of North American centricity.

  8. This is a conference I dearly wanted to attend, but between job commitments and my upcoming loss of pay (furloughs!), I couldn’t swing it.

    I will say that as much affection as I feel for people in this community forged of blogs, conference-going, and Twitter streams, I’m much more of a lurker than I’d like to be because I don’t code, I don’t hack, and a lot of emphasis, it seems to me, is placed on these skills of creation and production and customization of software or scripts or, to a lesser extent, hardware.

    Me, I help people teach and learn better, and the ways I do it require only an end-user’s (albeit an imaginative end-user) understanding of tech. Do I wish I had the uninterrupted time and quasi-mathematical-scientific-technical cognitive strengths to understand and write code beyond HTML and CSS? Sure. But my *particular* commitments as a parent (as maybe especially as a mother, I don’t know) and university staff member mean that I don’t have the concentrated time *I* need to learn these things, and it means I always feel outside the community–not even that I’m an impostor (because I do think I “get” teaching and helping others be more thoughtful about it), but that I’m a flat-out outsider because I spend my time in different ways than do others (mostly the men) in this community.

    Does that mean I’ve been made to feel unwelcome? Not at all. Does it mean I can’t speak the language? Yep. Do I wish that sometimes the conversation would be considerably less technical? Yep. But that’s not my directive to make because my interests are not necessarily others’ interests.

    That said, I have heard enough women’s stories about how they’re treated or marginalized at certain tech conferences or even unconferences to know that women’s concerns and experiences of alienation are real, regardless of whether or not the women are programmers who can speak code. It’s going to take a lot of frank discussion and concession from all sides to make conferences as diverse and vibrant as we wish them to be.

    1. Funny. I don’t really code either. I can’t hack things together, i couldn’t build something from scratch to save my tail. I was talking to several people over the length of the conference who are in the same position. I can move a few things around and have, painfully, taught myself how to run a server over the last four years, but most of my work is more like yours. I’m also a university staff member… I just kinda ignore people when they’re talking over my head 🙂


  9. I’ve had a blog post brewing for a few days already about the conference and some perspective I gained on my own beliefs/assumptions about whether I “belong” in that conversation. That’s still coming…

    In the meantime, I just wanted to add a short comment from an outsider’s (and female) perspective.

    I was there when that photo was taken. And as it’s been mentioned, it was a spur of the moment event where many of the organizers were all together. I stood aside and didn’t join in. I even commented on the fact that there were no women in the group and many of the men in the photo agreed.

    What I wondered to myself afterwards, however, was why I didn’t join in? Yes, it was mostly the organizers. But the other men who were in the area that day (who weren’t organizers) DID jump in for the photo – without the need for an invitation.

    At the time, the voice in my head was saying “Should I join in? But I’m new here. And yes, I’ve talked and lunched and learned with these guys, but I’m not really sure they think I belong here. Well maybe if one of them invited me to join in…”

    Lots of that is my stuff – my issues. I recognize that and will take the time to reflect and learn.

    There is, however, truth that needs to be acknowledged about how we each feel – and that we don’t have to nit-pick and make someone else wrong so that we can be right.

    Yes, men feel the separation from their families, talk about it, and make often difficult decisions for those families. And yes, women have a set of expectations and judgments (often on ourselves!!) that puts a different perspective on our actions that men most often won’t even understand. In fact, that’s exactly where my blogging journey started! I also believe that men have a set of expectations on them as husbands and fathers that women will never understand…

    I’ve been in the IT industry for the last 15 years. I’ve worked exclusively in education for the last seven years. I completely agree with Jen’s comments about culture and feeling excluded or struggling to find an “in” for discussions or for socializing. That’s not exclusively a female issue, but it’s certainly heightened for us (as the non-dominant group). I sat at lunch with a bunch of people at OpenEd and felt completely out of place as everyone talked programming and html and such. I’m glad I went anyways – but it was damned uncomfortable sitting there and feeling like I had nothing to add to the conversation… I had to trust that I added value at other times.

    My point is that we need to acknowledge, value and listen to each other – not react, get defensive and attack each other.

    There are, indeed, much bigger issues being discussed here than the Open Ed conference.
    In fact, I would suggest that our entire desire to build open ed resources, write and tweak code, etc… has to do with much deeper and larger issues than education or resources!!

    I’m new in this community, I’m not sure I have the right to join in, but I’m going to anyways. I invite all of you to reflect on your reactions and see whether you’re being defensive in some way, if you’re trying to prove a point that leaves you being right and the other person being wrong – and if there’s a way to allow everyone to be heard and respected? I

    Get curious instead of defensive – that’s what I always try to remind myself…

    The conference was amazing!
    I learned so much, loved participating and look forward to much future involvement.
    This is, indeed, a pretty amazing group of people with a willingness to address the really tough stuff!!

    Thanks for continuing the learning journey!

    1. Of course you have the right to join in.

      I don’t think I’m interested in making someone else wrong in order to be right. It’s all necessarily personal and none of us are in our comfort zone with every conversation. And I agree that various roles, genders, etc have expectations and a cultural apparatus that someone on the outside can sympathize with– even rationally understand– but never really know.

      Defensive, though? A bit. It’s probably not a lot easier to be lumped *into* a group (or group of assumptions about behavior) because of my gender than it is to feel excluded *from* a group for the same reason. I’ve no answers, particularly when 10,000 foot issues are intermingled with 10 foot issues, and specifics mixed together with the abstract.

      I was musing about some issues of inclusion during the conference itself for a completely different reason. I’m partially (what they call “conversationally”) deaf due, presumably, to years of hanging my head in front of a guitar amp. I generally get by fine, but when it comes to a group conversation it’s nearly impossible for me to hear what is being said at the other end of a table, or two seats over on a plane, or from the back seat of a car. For physical reasons my locus of conversation and inclusion is smaller than normal.

    2. Just a comment on the conversation:

      I have to say that since this issue has surfaced, I have been blown away by the thoughtful, considerate conversations happening face to face and in the blogosphere. I feel fortunate to be associated with (dare I say INCLUDED) in a community that doesn’t shy away from dealing with the messy stuff that naturally surfaces when grappling with issues of openness, community, sharing and involvement.

      I am reminding myself (as much as I am asking of others) to consider that it takes a different kind of listening when we want to really hear voices that are different from our own. I haven’t quite figured out exactly what that means yet, myself – but I think it has more to do with the heart than the head.

      Glad we are supporting each other in working this through.

  10. An excellent conversation and one that needs to continue. For those of us on university campuses, I am wondering if you see the same issues at play locally? Are your ed tech organizations mainly made of men? I know mine is close to 50/50, but wonder about elsewhere. I also wonder if you see male faculty more often in your offices doing “interesting things with their teaching?” I know it was certainly that way a few years ago, but has changed so dramatically that it is obvious. At our annual teaching and learning symposium, we’ve swung well into the female as the majority — both as presenters and attendees. All of these are just observations and I do not mean to say that OpenEd is an outlier in terms of gender balance. It was a strikingly male crowd … with that said, I did meet and share thoughts with lots of men and women from relatively diverse backgrounds. I felt some of the boldest and most intelligent comments came from Catherine — all the way through evenings with drinks in hand.

    I think, as an American, there was a bit of a sense of being on the outside looking in. There seems to be a hell of a strong community feeling present with the Canadian edu crew that I don’t see in the States. We have strong voices, but there appears to be a strong kinship that is a bit intimidating to break into. I felt like I was a hanger-on for much of the trip, but decided early on that I was willing to play that role to get to participate. Finding places to go was next to impossible for an outsider — especially when cell phone calls were costing me an arm and a leg from AT&T. All of that is from my over-inflated male dominated perspective, so I can see where it would be even more difficult to jump in as a woman (again, I am speaking from a place of zero experience).

    As a final note, it was a pleasure getting to meet everyone and to finally talk f2f with the people I admire. I’d encourage all of us to go back to our Institutions and share the videos of sessions with our colleagues (male and female) and work to level the conversation. I know we are planning to run a series of OpenEd 09 brown bags with the videos pushing open conversations. The event, like this conversation, is incredibly important for the long term health of our fields.

  11. But, but… you’ve got this picture all wrong! Here you are thinking this is a picture just of men, one that clearly symbolizes how women were less included at Open Ed, when instead, actually what you are seeing is a picture of a bunch of Canucks who just happened to let two Americans and an Australian-by-way-of-New-Zealand get into the picture 😉 (the problem with going on holiday for the week after the conference is this thread got all sorts of 29comments serious before I got a chance to crack wise. Tough crowd.)

    I can give you my take, as one of the organizers – we drew on our existing networks to invite people, in my own case a network I’m painfully aware can at times skew male. And although I speak French (badly) I am an anglophone blogger, and doubt that many non-English speakers heard about the conference (nor, in any case, were there any facilities for translation.) Worse yet, most of our solicitation happened via internet, in pretty specific higher education channels, meaning all sorts of folks who I think might be interested and possibly impacted weren’t reached. I could go on. And I’m not making light of any of these exclusions, they are all significant and worth remarking on.

    But it seems worth noting, and for me the same goes towards issues of gender, that this for me is a ‘welcoming’ community, one that, when such an issue is raised, it is usually done so, and usually met with, a desire to expand the conversation rather than exclude folks who weren’t part of it already. (And I can already seem people turning that into all shades of problem, but you can’t please everyone.)

    I could be wrong, I can only speak for myself. I think that idea is important- if someone has an issue with *me* or something I have some effect on setting up that actively excludes someone, I truly hope they’d talk to me about it. That seems more likely to affect some change, rather than trying to label an entire movement or even an entire conference as somehow inherently exclusionist, which ultimately seems both over-generalizing but also not useful to affecting change. And for the most part actually, I take this thread and the general conversations I’ve heard to be like that, mostly willing to accept that people are trying, but also trying to point out when they have been failing, in a hopefully instructive way. Or maybe that’s just the road to hell paved in front of me. It’s late, I’m off to bed. Glad you came to OpenEd09. Glad I got to see as many people as I did conspire in person for these few days, a breath of inspiration I know I was desperately needing, still needing. Cheers, Scott

  12. I’ve been keeping up with the posts here since D’Arcy began the conversation and I have to say I’m relieved. It seems we are all imposters on the outside of communities we think everyone else is inside, talk about low self-image! At Open Ed, I personally felt like my two year old last week at her new daycare, classic legitimate peripheral participation – hover on the outside learning the rules of the community and slowly work your way in as you learn. Every once in awhile, someone nice would come and talk to me or I’d get brave and introduce myself. I almost didn’t go to the BBQ because I only know a few people, but I did, and I met Ira on the bus, and then when we got there I sucked it up and just sat down at a table and met Derek, Barbara, Judy and Sara, who were ALL engaging, fascinating people. I also want to specifically mention that despite being ridiculously busy putting on a fantastic, inspiring event, Scott and Brian both took the time to chat with me.

    I’m mostly a lurker but this conversation has made me realize I need to be part of the online conversations to feel more a part of the group. I realize this is going to open my thinking up to criticism, so what else is new, I work at a University!

    So thanks organizers for a great conference – I look forward to learning how to be part of your community. Next time I’ll be in the picture too.

  13. The discription of feelings to do with gender and inside out gangs are useful for imagining what it must have been like for the fella from Western China I met, who could understand English if I spoke deliberately and carefully. I really pittied him when we all got going full throttle. How could he even hope to keep up let alone feel included.

    Barcelona sounds good, but why not China? Brazil? Kenya? At least once there I’d know I won’t be emptying my bank account on food and lodging at twice the rate I would pay at home. I could also feel less guilty about excluding people because for one I’d be more of an outsider, and I’d know they will go to the effort and expense to bring in translators to assist the conversations and presentations.

    But then again, I get to thinking that for my work at least, none of this open ed has been about giving to the poor. It was always about finding efficiencies in how we do things locally. It just so happened that because no one locally was interested in the proposals, I ended up communicating with Canadians and Americans more. But my focus has always been how to get one teacher collaborating with the teacher in the next office, and then one Polytechnic collaborating with the next Polytechnic up the river. Helping kids in Africa has never been my goal in open ed work, because I have no sense that what I do could possibly be of any help to people in need of health care, infrustructure, shelter, water and food. ANd the last thing I want to be is a party in neo colonialism.

  14. I’ve been mulling this over for a couple of weeks now(!) and can’t think of how to properly respond to this. Obviously, I touched on something. I was really just working over some thoughts, from a personal perspective.

    First, although I mentioned inclusion and Open Ed 2009 together, I wasn’t trying to imply that OE2009 wasn’t inclusive, or that the organizers didn’t do everything imaginable to try to make it as inclusive as possible. They did an absolutely fantastic job – far better than any other conference I’ve been to – at helping to create a place where everyone could hopefully feel safe to participate.

    But. People have commented on this post, who have never posted comments here before. Some, who don’t have blogs of their own. The whole inclusion issue is important – there are overt and less-than-overt things that are much larger and wider than just a single event. Why are people feeling like they can’t or shouldn’t participate? It’s not by the overt, directed planning.

    There is something else at play. What? Is it cultural? Gender? Confidence? I don’t know. But I’m going to be trying hard to see how other people may be perceiving interactions and possibilities. Even if I think I’m trying to include others, how does my tone, language, volume, etc… alter how people feel about contributing?

    What struck me, rereading the post, was the language that I used in the first paragraph.

    I can’t remember the last time I’ve been so intimidated by the sheer number of scary-smart people in the same room.

    For me, that’s an exciting and exhilarating thing. A challenge. A chance to pick up my game. But I can definitely see how others might not want to feel intimidated. That’s not a comfortable word. But, sometimes, discomfort is necessary.

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