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More than swag: #oer18 material & visual culture

As an Anthropologist I’m interested in how human beings shape to the world and relate to each other. In particular, I’m interested in how what we make, exchange or treasure articulates our relationships. This past week participants from the OER18 conference have shared a wealth of… well, you shall see.

This is my story of the conference told through its material and visual culture. It is a story of swag … of badges, stickers, t-shirts … but it’s also a story of values, friendships and love, of rebellion and criticality, of struggle, adversity and diversity. It’s a study in gift giving, of intangibles made flesh, and it reminds me of the saying that ‘work is love made visible’ by Khalil Gibran. OER18 seemed to bring out a lot of that this week.

All of the images included below have been captured from the OER media site, the Visual Thinkery Gallery or the #OER18 Twitter conversation. If you are keen to find out more about what OER18 was about and its impact, head to the conference news section and explore from there, in particular the growing list of blog posts.


It all started with a shoe tweet … and like the insightful and thought-provoking narrative that Lorna presented in her opening keynote, the red ribbons on her shoes started to wind themselves through our conversations over the following two days. The anchors and the nautical theme that reflected both Lorna’s research interest and the conference location reflect a thoughtfulness that was part of every aspect of Lorna’s talk and I was grateful to be able to sit back and listen as her vision took shape. 

Possibly my best conference shoes ever #OER18 #shoetweet by @LornaMCampbell
Possibly my best conference shoes ever #OER18 #shoetweet by @LornaMCampbell


VHS Video

But even before the first keynote or welcome got underway, it all started with a VHS World Premiere… from the generous folk at Reclaim Video from Fredericksburg, Virginia. If you spot someone wearing a Reclaim Video shirt, ask them about the membership offers and upcoming movie premieres. I hear the Atari 5200 in particular will be big… .

I admire how much thought, care and humour went into this launch. As well as being a video rental store, Reclaim Video is an inspired, playful project led by a small team with a big vision. It reflects the working culture and ethos of an organisation that cares about its mission to empower students and faculty with a domain of their own, to use technology in an informed way and to take control. As part of a similarly small team myself, I can feel the power such a shared endeavour has, for the wider community or customer base, but also for the team behind it. The renaissance of video (and a domain of one’s own for everyone) starts here…

OER… remixed

One of the strongest visuals of the conference was remixed by participants themselves over and over again using the sandbox and gallery set up by Bryan Mathers. Bryan shared his (visual) thinking behind this project himself in a blog post and during the conference he also shared his own genius creations with participants – but what I thought was so powerful about this particular process was that it enabled everyone to create like Bryan can! You went to the site, adjusted colours and sizes, added your own text and BANG: out came perfectly beautiful visual thinkery like magic. Like all the most effective OERs there were no barriers to re-using it. This was so easy to remix that it generated a lot of activity and adoption. You could be confident and playful from the very beginning. Yes, this was OER remixed – but it was also a really empowering sandbox to play in!


Stickers, badges, gifts, shirts…

There is a strong component of gift giving and exchange at OER Conferences as people who have never or only rarely meet in person exchange tokens that express and develop their digitally conducted relationships. It’s an opportunity to show what you stand for, what you believe in, to share and show your colours.

Drawings and doodles

Putting pen to paper or screen is a powerful way of capturing your thinking and there were many drawings and doodles shared at OER18. I often learn the most from these visual records of sessions I was not able to participate in myself, and I am grateful to everyone who takes the time and makes the effort to disseminate the different voices and perspectives, ideas and thoughts in this way. Please keep drawing and doodling in your own inspirational ways.

Learning, looking, listening…

Far beyond the swag was a boat tour, sunshine (the weather gods are definitely on the side of openness), music, walking tours and apprenticeship – OER18 brought people together to learn from each other, see the world from a new perspective and to listen to the other voices in our community.



There were many hugs exchanged and those moments are hard to capture. But some things just stay with you regardless. Like a dodo that made it’s way from Mauritius to OER18 travelling with one of our research student contributors and which I will treasure (thank you, Pritee!). This photo of the heart shaped padlock, shared by Dan Harding, was a nice symbol for me at the end of the event, and a fitting destination for the red ribbon of narrative that wound itself from the opening #shoetweet through our time in Bristol.

If ‘You don’t stand for something, you fall for anything’ from Harder than you think by Public Enemy is one of my favourite lyrics. It reminds me that when people make an effort to show and make what they stand for, they contribute to change in the world. So I stand back and look at the people power reflected in the material and visual culture of OER18.

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