on the open education experience

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

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