Category Archives: Conferences

Politics v personhood: #iltaedtech17 conversations

This week’s  EdTech 2017 Conference, the annual conference organised by the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA) had the theme: TEL in an Age of Supercomplexity: Challenges, Opportunities and Strategies. Some very interesting conversations have come out of the event, and you can explore the conversation on Twitter #iltaedtech17 or explore the hashtag and archive on TAGSExplorer as well as ILTA’s webpages for the programme and live streaming links with videos to follow shortly.

Last year at the event Audrey Watters gave a keynote talk called ‘The Rough Beasts of Education Technology‘ and at the time Audrey was looking at a future before the Brexit referendum or the Trump administration. One of the themes from Audrey’s talk last year that continued to resonate with me when listening to this year’s speakers was the role of machines in the future of education. Whether it’s AI, AR, VR or machine learning, one of the dominant narratives is one of inevitability, of machines taking the place of human beings, of technology dominating how we meet the challenges of our age. At the same time, there were many sessions I attended that a a focus on up-skilling and supporting staff in the deployment of Learning Technology, with the aim of building competence, confident and leadership.

Reflecting on the keynotes and breakout sessions I find myself exploring the tension between the politics of globalised, technological capitalism on the one hand and how our sense of being a person is defined by how we learn and teach on the other.

I heard of many examples of technology being used to scale up provision of teaching and assessment, to deliver content in more personalised, flexible ways, to collect and analyse data and make use of it to increase retention or enhance outcomes. The use of technology in this context is a response to solving the challenges presented by the labour market, the political climate, the shareholder – and reflects a transactional relationship between the learner and the institution that accredits the outcome. There is a sense of inevitability, of technological determinism, that points to a future in which we as human beings only find a use in education for ‘what we are good at’ or rather for what machines are not yet deemed good enough, like providing guidance or critical dialogue.

At the other end of the spectrum where a range of sessions that were focused on putting Learning Technology in the hands of the teachers and learners in more creative, empowered ways – to enhance not replace human learning and teaching. These highlighted how difficult it is to keep up with innovation and use of technology, how big a challenge it is to address ethical implications or build critical approaches while keeping pace with an ever changing technology landscape. And there were many, many examples of Learning Technology at its best: broadening access, supporting learning, transforming teaching and connecting people. One of these was awarded the Jennifer Burke Award at the conference for the #coolPE project, ‘focused on preparing pre-service teachers for the inclusive classroom in a digital era’. It showcased powerful examples of using Learning Technology to address issues like body image, bullying and confidence.

My own short talk at the conference was about how openness in professional practice in Learning Technology can promote equality. Before the conference I did a lot of reading about efforts to promote equality in different contexts, such as gender equality, pay equality, marriage equality and so forth. After the conference I thought more about how our rights are affected by the decisions of those who control the technology that increasingly shapes our understanding of who we are. These kinds of questions have been explored by writers far more eloquent that what I can write here, but it is important that events like this enable us to reflect as part of a community and continue the conversation.

Big challenge ahead: talking about equality #iltaedtech17 #femedtech #oer17 #altc

This week I am looking forward to giving a short talk at the EdTech 2017 Conference, the annual conference organised by the Irish Learning Technology Association (ILTA). This year’s theme is TEL in an Age of Supercomplexity: Challenges, Opportunities and Strategies. 

The event has what looks like a great programme. My own focus is on exploring how openness can be a tool for Learning Technology professionals to promote equality. I am going to look at three specific examples of this, starting with work that’s happening close to home in the ALT Member Community and in particular our local Member Groups – illustrating this with the visual thinkery created for ALT by Bryan Mathers. The other two examples I want to talk about are the emerging FemEdTech network and the voices still echoing from the OER17 conference. I’ve shared my slides below and I look forward to the conversations and feedback in response to my contribution – and a special thanks to Catherine Cronin who has already provided me with some very helpful comments!

Below is the full transcript of my talk:

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you how individuals are taking action to promote equality in Learning Technology, equality in our profession and across sectors – equality for individuals and within institutions.

Equality. We are facing a big challenge. Looking around this room everyone among us has witnessed inequality in some form. On a global scale policy and strategy are necessary to address some of the most fundamental challenges that stand in the way of greater equality for all – but what I’d like to explore is how taking action on a personal basis, taking action as part of our professional practice, can make a difference. Make a difference through openness – openness as in for example sharing OERs, using open licencing, through open governance and open practice at all levels.

The first example is the work of ALT’s Member Groups, and also Special Interest Groups who share their practice and collaborate openly, all across the UK and beyond. Aligned to ALT’s aims the Learning Technology professionals who are active in these groups share the values we have set out as a community and sharing their experiences, both failures and success. These groups, by being inclusive and community-led, have contributed to making our membership more diverse and their work continues to contribute to strengthen equality in our profession.

Now, the emerging femedtech network is a new initiative that is led by Learning Technology professionals who are taking personal action to promote equality and to do so through open practice, conversations and events. It’s an important effort to create a safe space that is also open and inclusive. We want to celebrate and extend the opportunities offered by education in/and/with technology – to women, and to all people who might otherwise be disadvantaged or excluded. If you haven’t already, I urge you to look at the work that this network is beginning to undertake.

My last example are the voices still echo-ing from the OER17 conference convened earlier this year by Josie Fraser and Alek Tarkowski. Josie, Alek and the organising committee made a concerted effort this year to create a more diverse, inclusive programme with a distinctive all female keynote line up and a programme that inspired a lot of critical reflection and conversation long after the event – and indeed that conversation is still going on. Catherine Cronin, who was part of the closing plenary at the conference, later reflected that the themes of criticality, equality and social justice were at the heart of OER17. It was a powerful example of many individuals taking action together – through openness – and making a difference.

Days like today give us that opportunity, to reflect on how we, as individuals, as a professional community, can take action to achieve greater equality through openness, to harness technology to do so – and then to go and make a difference.

Input welcome: promoting equality in Learning Technology through openness

I am working on a slide deck to give a short presentation at the upcoming EdTech2017 conference (1-2 June, Institute of Technology Sligo, Ireland)on promoting equality in Learning Technology through openness. The proposal I submitted already includes a number of examples, but the inspiring (and still growing!) list of blog posts following the OER17 conference has made me consider what else I might include. In particular, there are two aspects of my talk I am going to be researching further and if you have any suggestions or references any input is most welcome:

  • “Where are we now”… in terms of equality in Learning Technology. I am thinking both about the edtech sector in general and the way in which the use of technology for learning, teaching or assessment can help promote equality;
  • Reading and ideas for good practice. As this is a short talk I’d like to include a list of where to go next so that participants can follow up further.

If you can contribute any references or other ideas, please leave a note in the comments or via Twitter to @marendeepwell . Thank you.


Time to be… open #OER17

We’re getting ready for the OER17: The Politics of Open conference this week. As one of the organisers of the event my main focus has to be on making sure everything runs as well as it can – but it’s also an opportunity for me to spend a few days with a community who shape the future of open education around the globe. And this year the conference has a stellar line up across 2 days with sessions set to challenge the politics of openness from the personal to the national.

Image of ALT laptop stickers
Stickers featured in the workshop

There already is a plethora of blog posts by practitioners reflecting on and setting out their thoughts, hopes and inspirations. It makes for inspiring reading and personally I can’t wait to see some of these conversations play out at the event. I might have to write a follow up blog post (with a particular focus on a workshop I will be running jointly with Bryan Mathers called ‘From Voice to Visual – the making of an open strategy’ ). For now, here is what I’ve got in mind for my own #OER17, beyond the running of it:

First, I’ll be looking out for new opportunities for Learning Technology to scale up, support and strengthen Open Educational practice. Technology isn’t always the answer, but I often think it can do more for openness.

Second, I’ll be making time to have conversations. This year I am prioritising people over the programme… so if you are at the event in person or joining into one of the streamed sessions (or my first venture into Virtually Connecting thanks to Maha Bali!) come and say hello.

Third on my list for this week is to enjoy OER17. That might seem like an obvious one, but it’s worth remembering. Over the past 12 months I have seen volunteers and colleagues pull together an event that has grown in participation, influence and voice. It’s going to be an amazing opportunity for everyone to come together and hopefully translate into practice and policy what they experience this week – taking action for open education.

Equality, empowerment, accreditation and beyond. My fantasy conference proposals… #altc

Every year around this time when I encourage my peers to submit proposals to the ALT Annual Conference, I reflect on the fact that as one of the organisers I can’t submit a proposal myself. And given that as a Learning Technologist this is one of the key events in my diary each year, I have often thought about what I would submit if I wasn’t affiliated with ALT. So here are some of my fantasy proposals, ideas in the making, that I won’t be submitting (again) this year. If you have your own ideas then your chance to submit your 250/500 word proposal is still open until 20th (or soon to be 27th) March. Take your chance & make your voice heard.

Poster, Theme: Wildcard: Poster showing how peer accreditation for Learning Technologist works based on the CMALT framework, which is mapped to a number of other accreditation pathways including the UKPSF, the Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework and Blended Learning Essentials. CC licenced so that the model can be adopted by participants in their own contexts.

Lightening Talk, Theme: Empowerment in learning Technology: Empowered #edtech governance. A fast paced, visual take on how to work collaboratively with decision makers to build new strategies, using work with cross-sector stake holders as examples. Would include a 1 page “recipe” handout to take away and try out in your own organisation.

Presentation, Theme: Learning Spaces: this presentation would be led by three apprentices/interns whom I have worked with in the past year and they would take participants on a tour of their learning spaces, both physical and virtual. The tour guides would explain how spaces are used and lived in, why and for what purpose. We would reflect on issues like privacy and agency in different spaces and importantly what happens in the spaces and time periods between things, i.e. between institutions, between life stages, between qualifications. We’d question how Learning Technology can provide continuity for life long learning both online and in person.

Panel, Theme: Empowerment in Learning Technology: Working in Learning technology one of the things I am passionate about is equality. Particularly for those working as open practitioners there are so many ways in which inequality and discrimination can impact on our ability to achieve our aims. This panel would bring together 5 exceptional practitioners to share their own strategies for empowered practice in Learning Technology and to reflect critically on how their approaches are challenged. We’d invite participants to contribute their own tips and tools in advance and during the discussion, ending up in a series of posts providing practical information that would be useful to both learners and professionals.

Workshop, Theme: Wildcard: Learning Technology: top 10 complete failures. This is one of the sessions I’d like to go to but somehow it doesn’t seem to make it onto any conference programme. Presumably because no institution pays for their staff to go and share the details of how they lost money or worse when Learning Technology failed. And indeed because no one wishes to have this particular reference added to their CV. Still, other conferences now include specific sessions where we explore what happens when things go wrong. What happens when projects don’t deliver, students don’t use the tools or academics simply don’t co-operate. The list of forgotten, crumbling Learning Technologies is long. This workshop then would include the brave colleagues I have known and worked with over the years who would be prepared to share their perspectives so that we don’t have to make the same mistakes over and over again. Participants would be contributing their own stories. Ideally one or two policy makers and industry experts would be contributing, too.

You probably have your own ideas as to what sessions you’d like to go and see at the conference. Submit them… .

The Future of Education in the House of Stairs…

I am looking forward to participating in the OEB Midsummit in June. Speakers have been invited to provide a quote about the future of education and you can read what others have written already on the event’s website (click on a speaker’s name to see their quote).

Whilst I was thinking about what I might say, I read through what the others have written and one quote from Audrey Watters is “I’m afraid that the future of education will be built by people who read dystopian science fiction novels and liked the “innovations”.” That made me think about books I have recently been reading by William Sleator. I am only familiar with his young adult novels and one book in particular has stuck in my mind for the past 20 years or so: it’s called House of Stairs and was published in 1974.

When I read it as a young adult I was most interested in the individual characters, five 16-year old orphans, trapped in a seemingly endless space that is filled with white stairs. The stairs become their world, the landscape in which they negotiate each other and themselves. As their struggle to survive intensifies their relationships do, too. At the end of the book [spoiler alert…] they are rescued. Yet despite the relative safety they find themselves in, their experience alters their behaviour and lives irrevocably. Some resist, others comply, and all pay a high price. It is not a happy ending and the vision of a dystopian future where even the most basic of rights and choices are beyond the characters’ control stayed with me.

Reading it again recently I thought less about the individuals, although the story is still gripping, and more about those in charge. Those who watch over their experiment as it comes to its gruesome conclusion. The powers that be (political or economic) have needs that this experiment must meet and the fate of the young protagonists is only incidental, it is revealed, to the wider effort. They have no agency, no say over their fate or future.

To be able to think, analyse and reflect is empowering. Having agency, having the power to determine the shape of things to come, seems to me to be a purpose of education. In the House of Stairs only extreme resistance offers the chance to exercise your own will, to have any form of agency.

I just hope that the people Audrey Watters is talking about don’t have the same bedtime reading as me.

Group, Action, Technology, Learning, Empowerment, Future… FELTAG inside out

FELTAG Revisited
CC-BY-ND @BryanMMathers

This talk is for the FELTAG 2016 conference taking place on 28 September 2016 in London. Having given plenty of talks about FELTAG in the past few years, I have been pondering what I really want to say to my audience in twenty minutes. Part of being the opening keynote is that you get to speak first and help set the tone for the day, but looking at the agenda of what’s to follow, it feels a bit like every case study and best practice example  imaginable will be well covered. In addition, I had a conversation recently with Bryan Mathers about Revisiting FELTAG, and the resulting visual thought which I have linked to in this post (and which was published here) , made me think about where we go from here – what does the future hold for FELTAG? I hope this talk will help us find the way.

View of Westminster Abbey
CC-BY @MarenDeepwell

Westminster Abbey:  where it all began for me was in February 2013 when I was the new chief executive of ALT and was invited to represent our members as part of this group convened by Matthew Hancock, who was then  Minister of State for Skills and Enterprise in BIS. The picture shows a foggy morning view of Westminster Abbey as seen from the meeting room in BIS where we met. Subsequently I have been part of FELTAG’s cross-sector successor ETAG, the FELTAG Coalition, our own FELTAG SIG, FELTAG panels, responses, updates, its evolution and most recently I revisited FELTAG with Bryan Mathers. But in February 2013 there was only one thing about FELTAG that I was interested in: firstly I was trying to figure out the “G”, namely who the other members of the group were, their aims and vision. Many of them are in the audience today, but others are no longer directly involved. As a group we stopped convening formally as soon as our recommendations were finalised in late 2013. But once the original group had done its work came the time for action. The “A” that gives FELTAG its power.

FELTAG Report (2014)

Teachers: The original report included ambitious recommendations and  a vision that demanded a change in culture, in thinking. It was as radical as was possible at the time, but what followed in the Government response, progress updates and so forth was not, at least in my view. However, it is extremely complicated to try and operationalise change in a rapidly evolving technological, social and economic context and  even harder to devise robust drivers for change through funding and inspection mechanisms that hold so much sway across the sector. So trying to define in quantitative terms what progress should be made was in some ways a logical next step. The infamous 10% online learning quota requirement comes to mind here.  This particular recommendation about bringing the workforce up to speed was meant to recognise that teachers play a key role in the intelligent use of Learning Technology, not machines.

Source: Hack Education

Technology: Yet while we may have thought a lot about teachers, about people generally, the technology quickly took centre stage. It was clear to all that there is a consistent disparity between different providers across the country, some struggling with providing basic infrastructure while others are investing heavily. At the same time various threats technology embodies became more pronounced as we read about the automation of jobs, the power of big data networks, the might of the technology companies. At times it seemed as if instead of finding ways to empower and support people in learning and teaching, Learning Technology could be a fast track to restructuring them out of the business of education all together.


Conflict: It think this quote from David Noble from his book Digital Diploma Mills captures the conflict at the heart of the FELTAG recommendations perfectly. It juxtaposes the potential of technology to scale up, reach out and increase output with the power of human agency in learning and teaching, and with the importance of the teacher, support staff, managers or governors. Further Education is passionate about its learners.

Now I have thought about the first three letters (G, A and T), I want to turn my attention to the “L” in FELTAG. L stands for Learning. And for Learners (all of us). It’s at the heart of what FELTAG was and is about.

Source: YouTube Clips from ALT

Learning Myths: One of the challenges we face in Learning Technology is knowing how to make the best use of it. It’s the “what works and what doesn’t work” dilemma that is hard to answer. However even if we take technology out of the equation, keeping up with what we know about learning and how we learn best can be challenging. Lia Commissar from the Wellcome Trust recently illustrated how high a percentage of UK teachers still believe in learning styles. The answer to her quiz questions as the one in the picture above is “not true”. Highly recommended viewing.


The business of learning: I suppose in many ways the crux of the matter is that as an industry Further Education is faced by challenges from many different directions. There is little continuity of strategy or support, competing demands from employers, government agencies and not least a growing base of learners at all stages of life. Fitting what is essentially a messy, individual human experience and life stage transition into a business-enterprise model using technology can often result in a drive to standardise interaction and provision, a wish for being able to predict what happens next, when and to whom. Cue the rise of learning and learner analytics.

Sheila MacNeill speaking at the OER15 conference. CC-BY-NC ALT

Empowerment: If we compare the power the technology industry has and the pace of technological innovation to what we have, you might get the impression that we like using new gadgets and spend more time online than anywhere else, that we hear about the rapid pace of change, the rise of the machines, the arrival of artificial intelligence… but it can feel like we don’t have a lot of control over our destiny. But that is not true. At some level the forces we feel at work are all in the power of people like us, indeed some of them sat in the room I described earlier, on that damp February morning in 2013 with a view over Westminster Abbey. They were there at the invitation of a Government Minister and represented not only industry and education sectors, but policy, funding, media and other interests. The action I took as a member of the group was to take responsibility to empower those within my sphere of influence to meet the challenges Learning Technology poses head on, together and – importantly –  in the open. Sharing, collaborating and helping each other. As a professional body the Association I serve facilitates, represents and supports this growing community.


The future is always just beyond the horizon: This quote and the others I have used in this talk I came across while reading Audrey Watter’s excellent Hack Education blog. It’s full of thoughtful and thought-provoking thinking about the future. And it reminds me frequently that each time I read one of these predictions about the future of education(al technology) I am sad to think that people are going about their business, waiting for the FUTURE to arrive and never taking action to make their vision come to life in the here and now. I think for me FELTAG was about that. Coming together to make a stand. We wanted to draw a line in the sand beyond which the future was actually going to materialise, finally. Not just for some, but for everyone in Further Education.

It has been over a century since Thomas Edison predicted the demise of books in schools and his predication has failed to come true. It’s also been over three years since that first meeting of the FELTAG group. We are now beyond FELTAG, we are finally living the future that’s always been just beyond the horizon and that’s a lot of responsibility for each of us.

P.S. Take action. Join ALT.

2008-2016 in Learning Technology #altc

I missed 2008, but every year since then I have participated in ALT’s Annual Conference. While I work for ALT in my ‘day job’ I also attend the conference as a Learning Technology professional (and this year as a Certified Member of ALT for the first time…). So as well as work, for me it’s CPD, a great opportunity to expand my network and a chance to find out about research, new thinking in the field. While a packed, parallel programme means that I never get to see all the sessions I would like, I want to try and pick out some of the key moments from the last eight years, things that made me think, changed my mind or simply stayed with me.

2015 – Ripples #altc: last year my work commitment focused on the AGM and that meant I had less time than usual to focus on the academic programme. So from 2015 one of my strongest ‘take aways’ is the long list of blog posts that was compiled by participants afterwards. It includes reviews, reflections and in depth posts about individual sessions. Thoroughly recommended reading (particularly welcome in the exhausted week that follows each conference for me).


2014 – Audrey Water’s Monsters: a year of keynote and invited speakers that coincides strongly with my personal interests at the time, including wonderful talks from Jeff Haywood, Catherine Cronin and Bryan Mathers (you can watch all of them on YouTube). But for me, that Thursday morning in the front row in the giant auditorium in Warwick, listening to Audrey Waters weave a spell-binding narrative on the future of Learning Technology was an experience that has stayed with me. Audrey made me think about who has the power to decide about the future of Learning Technology – and how to empower practitioners and researchers to have more of it.

2013 – 20 years of ALT: a very special year for the community as we celebrated the 20th anniversary of ALT, marked by a session led by former Presidents‘ of ALT looking at over the two decades. The conference was opened with a learner perspective, led by Rachel Wenstone from the NUS and also featured talks by Dame Wendy Hall discussing the role of the web and a keynote by Stephen Downes. All three made my think about the forces that shape Learning Technology. There were even fireworks that lit up a rather damp Nottingham sky.

2012 – knitting in the main auditorium: that’s a special year for me as it was my first as ALT’s chief executive. The playlist reveals a broad array of speakers from across sectors, but one of the sessions that I can still picture in my mind vividly is this invited session with Steve Bunce, who engaged participants in the presentation and got us all finger knitting! Sometimes it’s good to be reminded that pedagogy doesn’t necessarily require the shiniest, newest gadgets… . With Eric Mazor, Richard Noss and Natasa Millic-Frayling together with James Clay, Sarah Porter and others completing the line up of invited speakers it’s another playlist worth revisiting.

Looking north towards Hallingskarvet behind Kraekkja in Hardangervidda, Norway
Looking north towards Hallingskarvet behind Kraekkja in Hardangervidda, Norway by Seb Schmoller

2011 – political climate & “Live Beta”: a year with a cold theme. Two of my strongest memories of that year are firstly an impressive keynote by John Naughton, whose column in the Guardian and other writings I have since followed. As I was particularly interested in the political dimension of Learning Technology at the time, his talk resonated strongly with me. A very different experience also stayed with me, the “ALT LIVE – BETA” experiment which was led by members who were streaming interviews with speakers and other content live from the conference. It was another step in our efforts to enable participation widely and openly and in some ways it set the precedent for a lot of the work in this area we have done since.

2010 – Don’t lecture me…: As one of the most watched keynotes from the past few year’s Donald Clark’s talk “Don’t lecture me” is probably already familiar to you (if you haven’t seen it, you can watch the video with and without the ‘Twitter track’ – which in this case I suggest you watch, too). For me that year Sudhir Giri from Google, who shared his perspective of how Google use their own tools for internal team communication, skill sharing and CPD fascinated me. Given that for several years we have been running our own Google Apps for Education domain which now facilitates a large part of what we do in ALT, that is hardly surprising. I am only glad that our has only a handful of users, rather than the multitudes that the Googlers make up.

2009 – 100th CMALT Holder: My first ALT Annual Conference which took place in Manchester. Also, my first time to hear Diana Laurillard give an eye-opening keynote, which left me with the distinct impression that there was quite a lot about Learning Technology for me yet to learn. However, given that I was most involved in ALT’s accreditation and membership services at the time, the milestone of celebrating our 100th Certified Member has stuck most strongly in my mind. It also set me on the path to achieving CMALT myself, which…. erm….. I did in 2016!

If you have your own memories you want to follow up, the past conferences page on the ALT website can be helpful – or browsing the YouTube playlists which go back to 2008. This year’s conference, as ever, feels to me like there is even more to look forward to. See for yourself: – and I hope to see you in Warwick.

#ilta2016: Two #edtech days in Dublin

Law Society, conference venue

Last week I took part in EdTech2016, the annual conference organised by the Irish Learning Technology Association. It’s definitely worth visiting the conference platform for a wealth of resources and presentations and reading some of the Twitter conversation #ilta2016  or viewing the TAGS Explorer archive. While I was invited to attend the event on behalf of ALT (and you can access the slides from the talk I gave jointly with Martin Hawksey on Slideshare) it was also a great opportunity for some CPD for me and this is what this blog post is about.

Over the two days the programme had a lot to offer, including sessions about the 12 Apps of Christmas 2015 from the Dublin Institute of Technology, Mapping Digital Technology Teaching Practices from Glasgow Caledonian University and building a MOOC on a budget from an institutional consortium.


Alongside a lively social programme and the annual Jennifer Burke Award there were three stand-out keynote speakers: Mike Feerick opened the second day, Rhona Sharpe closed the first and the opening keynote was given by Audrey Waters (again, more info about all of them is available on the conference site).

What I was particularly interested in is thinking about what the future may hold, what forces may shape Learning Technology over the next decade or two and to get a sense of what major developments will determine the shape of things to come. In that respect you could hardly have chosen a keynote line up better suited. However, after mulling over the three thought-provoking presentations that were delivered I feel they have left me with more questions and less certainty. And that is not because innovation is so disruptive or the geo-political climate uncertain. Instead,  I think the questions that arose from the presentations for me were all about inevitability. What’s inevitable and why and who makes it so? To be more specific, here are three questions that help sum up what I am thinking of:

Dublin, day 2
Dublin, day 2

First, how do we conceptualise learners? As customers, as users, as people? Is the dominance of one of these perspectives inevitable? Why? What difference does it make when we think about others or ourselves in that way? How would we want to be thought about?
Second, why do we feel technological development and the proliferation of new technologies is inevitable? Who are the capitalists, engineers and marketeers that make it so?
Third, who do we think of as being in control of the future of educational technology? Many narratives I read or hear seem to be about making the most of what opportunities we can grasp, coping with limited choices or under difficult conditions – succeeding in the face of adversity. But if not us, then who is empowered to shape the future?

For me these questions are worth thinking about, worth taking time to reflect on.

But… if I had to find answers based solely on the two days I spent in Dublin, that would be simple: I am grateful to experience the kindness and openness that can be built in such a community of practitioners and researchers. Their connections hold great value and power. It’s that which should shape our future in (learning) technology.

#OER16: Empowered openness

Sea from the trainOn the train on the way to Edinburgh to the OER16: Open Culture conference I was past York and heading North when the sun came out. A while later the train tracks approached the coast and I looked out at the sea for the first time in months. A wide blue sea under an open sky. In the distance LEGO-brick like shapes of container ships appeared as we neared the shipping lanes and in the brilliant sunshine we approached our destination. It felt like this conference certainly had good meteorological karma.

Running conferences is hard work, so as you might expect I didn’t get to go to half as many sessions as I would have liked – but what I did have was an experience worth sharing. If you participated in any part of the conference whether online #oer16 or in person, you will likely have your own take home moments. Here are a few of mine:

MHighton_OER16Melissa Highton’s closing keynote gave me a glimpse into what it takes (and whom!) to make OER and openness work at scale across a whole institution, for hundreds of staff, tens of thousands of students and the wider community. Armed with a strong vision and persuasive arguments for senior decision makers it was awe-inspiring to hear at what scale and with what commitment Melissa leads colleagues working to achieve the university’s vision for openness. For someone in my position who has to make arguments for openness all the time, there was a lot to take away and adapt in this presentation.
IMG_2569Making ‘open happen’ by doing it was also something that John Scally,  from the National Library of Scotland, inspired me with. Again, this is openness at scale with literally millions of openly licenced resources being ‘born digital’ in a major national undertaking. Like last year’s keynote speaker Cable Green from Creative Commons, John’s commitment to widening access and sharing with us an understanding of what it takes to open up the national collection of Scotland to all was eye-opening.
IMG_2564Meanwhile throughout my two days #oer16 I saw participants all around getting involved in conversations, making new connections, getting stuck into workshops with everything from musical instruments to colourful creations. Poster-side discussions took place with a back drop of Arthur’s seat and outside in the welcome (and persistent) sunshine the conversations continued.
IMG_2571The Wikimedians also had a lot of activities taking place on both days organising editathons including one on Women in Art, Science and Espionage, walk in “ask a Wikimedian” sessions and presentations . Their support for and involvement with the conference is only one example of how many connections this community has. Long-haul conference attendees staying in Edinburgh for the LAK conference the following week were an equally welcome addition.
@BryanMMathers_OER16Looking back at the two days there is one theme that is particularly relevant to me and which Catherine Cronin explored in her opening keynote: participatory culture (and I am including a visual thought from the wonderful Bryan Mathers here). Catherine was speaking about openness, equity and social justice and her opening set the tone for what felt to me the key factor that made this conference work: participation. Participation as in having a voice, a stake in what is happening, a share in the common future, the future of the commons.
Whenever I hear Catherine speak I reflect that despite the awesome challenges we face in terms of content, infrastructure, technology and policy it is ultimately a very personal thing to be in the open, whether through open practice, creating open content or shaping open policy.
Emma Smith, whose articulate story-telling was spell-binding and thought provoking at the same time, made a comment that most academic ‘work in progress’ being shared is so close to the finished product that it is ready to publish. It is harder, more exposed, to share the actual rough drafts, the work in progress that isn’t something we feel proud of, our processes.
Processes of practice, of production and ultimately of our own learning are personal. It’s about who I am, how I think, what I learn – and that is a scary thing to put in the open. And yet, as a magical glimpse into the world and work of Jim Groom proved, there is so much to gain, such potential, when we do.

IMG_2566That is why we are working to take control over our own domains, our data – being empowered by how we use technology and how we contribute in open spaces. That’s what I am taking away from #OER16 and supporting that process to thrive will be my aim for the next year until OER17.

Recordings of these keynote sessions and lots more available via the OER16 website.