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OER20: definitely not ‘business as usual’

I have blogged about every OER Conference I have been to, and this year’s was a very special one. So I want to try and continue the tradition, but what can I say about the cancelled conference that happened online with 1100+ people?

There is plenty to discover and reflect on about OER20 – and this post captures some of the voices, and includes links to content and resources. I’d also encourage you to have a look at the #OER20 hashtag on Twitter and if it is expertise about running events online you are after… then we are collating resources from ALT and others on this resources page for the community. We have also put together a slide deck (and webinars) about “How ALT runs events online: Sharing our expertise”

Slide from “How ALT runs events online:
Sharing our expertise”

But I don’t want to write about the business model, the money lost, the ‘blood, sweat and tears’ that it took to make it happen. Instead I want to share my thanks for the openness of OER20:

Sharing open leadership in a crisis

In the run up to the event, the global situation changed quickly. Plans made one day, were superseded by events 24 hours later. Risk assessments undertaken on Friday turned into disaster mitigation plans by Monday morning. Taking decisions in the face of uncertainty on such a scale is difficult. And being a CEO IS about taking decisions first and foremost. Colleagues from across the globe shared examples of the statements they published, actions they took, plans they made – putting our usually relatively quiet CEO networks into overdrive. I am grateful to everyone who shared their work so freely to help us help each other ‘rescue’ our events in the face of a global crisis.

Yes, academic conferences are certainly not at the top of the list of priorities amidst a pandemic, but professional bodies like ALT serve thousands of individuals at the forefront of keeping learning, teaching and assessment going – and the exchange of information that conferences provide still plays a role in supporting the work they do even in a crisis. Also, there are hundreds of people who have invested time, money and resources into planning trips, who are, in some cases, already on route. Hundreds of individuals who deserve clarity and support from organisations like the one I run.

Precarious circumstances become more challenging when uncertainty increases across sectors and OER20 supports the involvement from many in precarious circumstances through scholarships, bursaries, practical support and so forth. Sharing information and best practice with other organisations enabled us to find the best approach we could, supporting individuals and our community, ultimately enabling us to deliver some of the event online. The work we are doing now, sharing what we have learnt from the experience, is hopefully useful to others who are facing similar decisions in the weeks and months ahead.

Sharing joy and tears in the open

Many contributed much to making OER20 happen. To each of you, thank you. For me personally, there were two moments that really captured both the joy and the sadness of the times in very unique ways.

One was a live online session led by Frances Bell celebrating the FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Social Justice. You can catch both the recording of the session and the accompanying video via the conference page. I have contributed to the quilt project both personally and professionally and yet the power of the live session really took me by surprise. I don’t think any webinar moved me to tears along with half the audience before this. It was a moment of connecting with fellow collaborators across the globe that was so special and made the distances and isolation between us, the crisis we are all weathering, palpable.

The other session was the evening’s #OER20 #KaraOERoke Night. I don’t think I had laughed more than that in weeks. It was very special, but also fun and incredibly moving to see conference participants and their families join in with the Frozen song, reviving classics and demonstrating their singing ability with everything from Motörhead to Kate Bush. Those moments, whether online or in person, are unforgettable.

Sharing care in openness

Rarely has a conference theme turned out to be quite so prophetic as OER20’s The Care in Openness. Little did we know in April 2019 that pedagogies of care would take centre stage in a global pandemic by the time the conference came to be. As it turned out, care was to be central to everyone’s life in April 2020.

We talked a lot about care at OER20, care for students, care for staff, care in institutions, care for each other, care in every aspect of life. What we demonstrated most however is that we all need more of it.

From babies and children taking part in conference sessions, to sharing the event’s ‘official’ pyjama dress code, to dropping in and out of taking part whilst caring for family and friends, pausing to rest and sleep – everything about OER20 reminded me that things were about as far from ‘business as usual’ as conferences can get. In some ways, and for obvious reasons, it was heartbreaking and horrible, to witness how the world was changing and disrupting our community. In other ways OER20 felt hopeful and provided moments of respite, a small measure of solace. And that is most precious in times like these.

Thank you.
Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen.
Thank you for creating openness in a crisis.
Thank you for caring.