conference,  open education,  OU

Voices in the open

I’ve been at an excellent OEGlobal conference in Edmonton for the past week. There was a lot of presentations about networks of open pedagogic practice, use of open textbooks to engage students, regional OER initiatives, and so on. It was impressive stuff and a significant advancement from the sort of solo-educator open textbook implementations we used to see.

We were there with the GO-GN team, celebrating 10 years of that network. This was our largest gathering, with members from 15 different countries. Robert Schuwer gave a fascinating talk on the history of the network – tip to people setting on a project that may have legs, make sure you record those decisions somewhere, otherwise 10 years later you’ll be going “I think it was your idea to call it that?”.

At the conference, there was a strong effort to hear different voices from the usual ones, starting with Darrion Letendre talking about “two-eyed ways of seeing” that combine indigenous ways of knowing with Western knowledge. I appreciated the challenge offered by Sandra Lamouche, in saying that open knowledge may violate indigenous approaches to knowledge (for example, where certain knowledge is restricted according to gender, age, geography, season). Knowledge is seen as a gift to be given, and earned, which creates some tension with the open community’s idea of open to all.

For me the conference was about voices. It was the first time many people had attended a conference post-pandemic and the first time I had seen a lot of North American colleagues since 2019. So to be reacquainted with familiar voices was a joy. Our GO-GN anniversary had a remit to bring more people from the global south, which we achieved, but even then Canadian visa issues prevented three people from attending from African countries, even though we were attempting to get this sorted right up until the day of departure. This highlighted how voices are absent through various barriers. And as I mentioned, the conference organisers made a conscious effort to bring in different voices, with three indigenous keynote speakers.

Despite the success of GO-GN, I felt that one voice that was lacking from my perspective was that of my own institution, the Open University. Our GO-GN team was the only OU representation whereas we used to have a stronger presence in this area. There were lots of interesting projects and innovations underway, and this disjuncture between significant open education developments and the presence of my own institution was disappointing to me personally.

I should probably take some responsibility in this, after all I have been active in the open education field for a long time, with OpenLearn, OERHub, UK OpenTextbooks and GO-GN. Internally I have advocated for the OU to take a strategic lead in the open ed field. But you would have to say, I haven’t been fully unsuccessful in this endeavour. I would like to see the OU leading on open textbooks, open pedagogy, diamond open access publishing models and to have a strong voice in open education networks such as OEGlobal, Open Education week, or even ICDE. We should be vocal in the pushback against commercial publishers, advocating for open practice at Governmental level, exemplifying the reuse of content, challenging models of scholarship to make them more open or implementing open assessment models.

There are many excellent examples of open education practice across the OU – OpenLearn (which recently won a well deserved award), ORO, Core, Moodle open source, and open science, etc. But it tends to do these things separately and without much coherent engagement with the open education movement. I remember bemoaning once that the OU wasn’t first in a lot of these things, and my colleague Patrick McAndrew commented, “but we are very good at being second”. I think that was true, we often implemented a robust, viable version of a development after some of the initial hype (eg OpenLearn, FutureLearn). But after that successful period of engagement in the 00s we’ve stagnated somewhat despite the pockets of excellence. There’s a real benefit to the OU in situating themselves as leaders in all things open – it’s in our name after all.

And this is where I feel some responsibility. I could have done a better job at advocating for the benefits of a more comprehensive and innovative open education approach at a strategic and institutional level. Some people are really good at doing this and being relentless until they get success. I think I took a polite “hmm, interesting” as a result too often. Come on OU, I believe the Future is Open.

But I shouldn’t let that personal grumble detract from the overall experience of a great conference. Any conference where you get to nerd out in t-shirts Terry Greene reversioned from the Edmonton Oilers logo is a great conference:


  • Alan Levine

    Was so good to see you in 3 dimensions, Martin. It seemed like anytime I went for a walk in Edmonton, I bumped into you. And I appreciate so much that GO-GN’s presence was huge and active. That makes for an energetic force in the event.

    I don’t know if apologies are needed. Worth noting from the OU was a strong showing for the remote participants in our OEG Connect platfom from Lesley Boyd at the OU, who could not travel, but joined the calls for distant participation

    I’ll put on my OEG toque and offer to do what I can to engage more with the OU or seek more levels of participation- I am trying to get more activity going than just our events.

    Thanks for being there!

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