Waves not Ripples: Reflections on #OER17

Brian Lamb tweet on #oer17


I’m starting with Brian Lamb‘s tweet, good grief – I’m even blogging a reply to Brian Lamb’s tweet, because it highlights one of the things that worked best about #OER17. It’s fitting also since Brian was one of the original EdTech edublogging crew (along with Alan Levine, Darcy Norman, Scott Leslie, Scott Wilson, Barbra Ganley, Jim GroomBarbara Dieu and a host of others) who inspired and encouraged me to work openly and blog as part of my edtech practice back in the day (13th March 2004!). It’s always gratifying to give back to the community, and to support the lighting of many fires. I love the conference functioning as a distributed, open platform, rather than a localised, time-limited event.

Catherine Cronin has just noted “many OER17 participants have remarked and/or written about the conference focus on criticality, equality, social justice” – and it was this conscious focus that I believe cleared the decks for the kind of discussion and thinking we’ve seen come out of the conference. The conference clearly signalled not only the legitimacy of experience, but also the essential role that diversity of experience in relation to the practice of open education plays. Being open depends upon it. This idea isn’t anything new, but by making the political so explicit #OER17 was able to benefit from the years of work and thinking that preceded it – from open education practitioners and communities globally in general and from ALT‘s OER conference series in particular.

Two questions

Looking over the conversations from and around OER17, these are two of the questions I’m asking myself:

  • One of our aims – and the title of OER15 – was ‘mainstreaming open education’. Obviously many of us see this recognition and understanding of open education within general society as desirable. Many of us have argued that Wikipedia represents a fundamentally mainstream positioning of OER and open education practice – even if the majority of beneficiaries don’t recognise it as that or have ever heard of an open licence. There was acknowledgement at OER17 that OERs can be created and made use of as much by political extremists than every other group.  There is an understanding that OER doesn’t magically equal social good (and subsequently, a lot of attention given to open practice).  If it is a broad aim of the open education movement to enter into the mainstream, and given that we know the mainstream is a frequently inhospitable place, with arguably large parts of it currently characterisable by widespread backlash to social justice gains – what do we mean when we say we want to mainstream OER? Is it an inherently de-politicising (in the Cixous sense) move?
  • I’m suspicious of the current distinction between open pedagogy and open practice, and in particular, how little explanation is being given to the privileging or even just use of the term pedagogy over the term practice. Is the use of pedegogy being used as shorthand for educational practice? Is it being used to underline the importance of formal education, or the primacy of teaching? Why not open heutagogy? Is it being used as a form of interpellation, a signal to include and exclude specific groups within open education? What is wrong with ‘practice’? How do we benefit from continuing to insist on a break between theory and practice, or theory and politics? Is this distinction as harmful as the disavowal of the relationship between the personal and the political?

I’m excited to see that our opening keynote Maha Bali is running an open hangout on the 24th April asking What is Open Pedagogy?


I think one of the reasons #OER17 did so well in terms of attracting papers and discussions that fit the themes was because although our themes were broad, they were very clear. I’m a big fan of this kind of scaffolding. In terms of #OER18, a focus on learners is really welcome and useful for all of us. There was just criticism that learners were missing from #OER17, so I’m really excited to see how the new co-chairs, David Kernohan and Vivien Rolfe build on previous conferences to ensure learners are centre stage. I’m really keen to see some focus on open educational resources and practice in relation to disability – I’ve been to some great sessions at previous conferences, but we didn’t focus on this as strongly as we could have this year.

I’ve updated the title of the blog post to reflect a phrase Teresa MacKinnon used in the our followup webinar, describing #OER17 as “causing waves not ripples”.