OE Global 2019

Conference Swag I’m back home after a fabulous week in Milan. Spent my first morning back at my desk  scrolling through tweets, looking at OE Global conference photographs (via Flickr) and admiring my new swag. Before ploughing on into December, I’d like to consolidate what I gained from the Open Education Consortium’s conference (26-28 Nov 2019).   

Under the theme “open education for an open future”, Chrissi, Paul, Paula and Lamberto (and all the other members of the hosting teams) put together a conference programme that blended formats (posters, workshops, action labs, lighting talks, presentations and world cafe’s) within the context of a busy university – the Bosiva campus of Politecnico di Milano. Since the conference was held in term time, the very busy programme felt rooted in an everyday reality of students lives. The hallways, common study areas and classrooms were full of young people,  not event organizers and vendors. This setting and programme were grounding and served as a reminder for me to be cognizant of a need for OER to be inclusive and quality oriented for each learner and not only focussed on the worthy wide scale principles that inspire the open work of institutions.


This ongoing and lived reality of students in Milan helped with creating a context for the conference. The students perspective on openness was examined in depth during the first session of the conference by Paula Corti and a panel. In a keynote presentation entitled “Students: Storytellers and creators of their own open futures”, we heard three student’s voices (Trudi, Robert and Guilla) who talked about the difficulties and choices that they had to make when studying. Trudi, for example, told the story about how she was forced to make the choice between buying new glasses or a textbook. Guilla spoke about how she and other students were becoming involved in OER production and open practices and how this had an impact on supporting their learning success. A point that stood out for me was that if students are to be life-long learners, then it is imperative that they learn about “open” in their undergraduate years and understand what this approach enables for their 100 year life-long education journey.

The OE Global Conference really did feel like both a global meeting and community building event at the same time with the combination of grass roots activities and thought leadership at a continental scale. Highlights of the  included the opportunity to make or renew connections with projects and people that I have read, followed and retweeted. I was surprised to note how much of the conference programme was about open in the higher and further education spheres and not that much on open in K-12 education. This has been, in my South African experience, the place where OER projects such as Siyavula, African Storybook and Bookdash have made significant impact in education. 

My presentation was around social publishing, digital reading and mliteracy. There seemed to be lots of conference attendees in the space about open textbooks as well as open access publishing, and I thought that my presentation  [link to be provided] slotted quite nicely with this group. There are too many other presentations to write up, although Chris Rowell does a good job at attempting the above. Below are three sessions from each day that I found interesting, each using a different format.

Day 1: The morning’s workshop, entitled MyMi, billed itself as a collaborative guide of experiences in Milan. The organising team set up a “design-thinking” like challenge to create open knowledge through a set of collaborative and experiential activities. Workshop facilitators set the task of developing an interactive guide to Milan. While doing so, their intent was for us to understand the value of sharing everyone’s knowledge and personal experience and together to build collective knowledge. Apart from the vary obvious point of sharing, the workshop had an alternate agenda and that was to show how you could use CC licensing to create a collaborative experience guide to the city.


Day 2: The evening’s keynote by Cheryl Hodkinson-Williams entitled “The warp and weft of Open Education and Social Justice” was both powerful and gently communicated message for all who are already within the open world. Using shweshwe material as a metaphor, Cheryl unpacked the relationships between open education and social justice and how a thread was woven through the economic, cultural and political dimensions (or warps) of education and the associated implications for OER, OEP and OE Communities as it weaves its way through to create a material form. As she spoke, Cheryl allowed us to “pair-share” about our own open stories and it became apparent that  these three dimensions are inextricably interwoven into our experience. Coincidently, James Glapa-Grossklag’s action lab session the next day was about “zero textbook costs degrees”, subtitled “Improving social justice or just lowering costs”  This action lab was was based upon Cheryl’s framework and gave me time to apply Cheryll’s thinking immediately.

Day 3: The brief 10 minute lightning talk by Karen Meijer-Kline about the library as an open publisher and the way that Kwantlen Polytechnic University library has gone gone about developing open textbooks was both practical and inspiring. Particularly enjoyed the revised workflow and practical advice that has obviously been learned through experience

The good news that undergirded the whole OE Global conference was the announcement of UNESCO’s General Conference recommendations to support the development and sharing of openly licensed learning and teaching materials a day or two before the conference started. Practically, they have highlighted five areas of action for mainstreaming OER. And OE Global has accompanied this announcement with a coalition of partner organizations intended to advance open education globally and support its implementation. We heard the backstory from Mitja Jermol and the 4 years of work involving meetings, consultations, lobbying, drafts inputs etc to get to this point. Well done. Was also very pleased to see Tanja and Anja and a significant presence from the OE4BW community of mentors, mentees and organizers.

OE Global and the time in Milan was week well spent. The organizers, presenters and participants meshed knowledge, hands on expertise, key stakeholders, activists and many varied talents to develop an inspiring and thought provoking event. Despite a long history of promoting “open education” this was my first international conference associated directly with this aim. I’ve returned home energized by people, the exchange of ideas and re-inspired by possibilities for social justice and the development of greater agency among those who teach and are learning.

Finally, a big thanks to the Goethe-Institut for assisting me getting and staying there and to OE Global for their assistance and patience with my conference fees.

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