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OER23 Conference: a whole lotta love

Next week, the OER Conference comes to Inverness, and I am very much looking forward to it! There’s a packed programme, lots of ways to engage and the anticipation has been building for months, as these guest posts show. OER23 has a super Conference Committee of nearly 100 volunteers who have worked together for months to peer review papers, organise social activities, help plan conference delivery both in person and online and spread the word about the conference far and wide.

Why this post?

I’ve had a professional involvement with the event since 2015, and I’ve been one of the lead organisers since 2016, helping to steer the event through years of growing in impact and engagement followed by the crisis of spring 2020 and the (post) pandemic years since then.

I’ve had the pleasure and the privilege to be involved in many wonderful events over the past 15 years, and it’s not possible to pick a favourite amongst so many special moments, moving keynotes and memorable evenings.

That said, when it comes to my own practice, the OER Conference is probably the event from which I have learnt the most, at which I had those conversations that changed the path of my career and encounters that have led to a decade of collaboration. Openness in all its forms is fundamental to my work and my worldview and the OER Conference was my gateway to that world.

So, as this is my last year as one of the lead organisers, I want to say thank you to the OER Conference and this blog post is full of love for what has been quite a ride… .

Looking back at my journey with the conference

You won’t be surprised to see that I have written a lot about the OER Conference since 2015. Going through these posts there is so much that jumped out at me, so here are some personal highlights that give you a flavour of the journey we’ve been on to get to Inverness next week:

OER22 Cover art

2022 was the year when things started to come together again (cautiously)

‘Wow. It’s really happening. This time, we are hitting not only the virtual but also the physical road again in order to journey to the OER Conference. OER22 here we come!

The last time the OER Conference took place as planned as in Galway in 2019, and since that time, three years ago, no edition of this very special event has gone to plan. In 2020, OER20 pivoted online with less than two weeks to go, and became very much a pandemic conference. In the crisis mood of those early days of the pandemic, OER20 became a free event with refunds winging their ways across the globe to participants who suddenly had a lot more to worry about than a cancelled conference. …’

OER22: On the road again

What I recall most clearly about last year, is that 2022 was the year of careful hugging.

OERxDomains21 cover art

2021: OERxDomains21

The 2021 edition of the conference brimmed with creativity and joy against a backdrop of bleak pandemic reality. We had hugely high expectations and months of work from everyone all aimed at Reclaiming the Joy of EdTech. OERxDomains21 was also a conference of firsts:

  1. … the first time we had FIVE Co-Chairs – who brought all their expertise, passion and ideas to bear.
  2. … the first time participants remixed 159 conference badges.
  3. … the first time we recorded 220 of 236 participants synchronously networking online on Discord, flooding the Hallway Chat, Introduction Channel and resource pool with contributions.
  4. … the first time that these two organisations (ALT & Reclaim Hosting), and two conferences (OER and Domains), mashed up together to create this new, joint event bringing two communities together.
  5. … the first time that we delivered a synchronous and asynchronous programme for participants from 18 countries and plenty of time zones for a total of 75 hours of programming.
  6. … the first time that we found streaming platforms that made high quality recordings immediately available to participants and then to the public, enabling late arrivals to catch up and supporting delegates from across the globe.
  7. … the first time we delivered an event with a staff team of 11 (up from the usual 5-6), many of whom had never met before.
  8. … the first time that we delivered an online event without Martin Hawksey, who headed up ALT’s event delivery for the past seven years (waving to you, Mr Hawksey, I hope we did you proud :).
  9. … the first time anyone had the most special TV programme design that went from emails to programme pages and beyond thanks to the work led by Reclaim Hosting, enabling our participants to quite literally step into their own Community TV Channel.
  10. … the first time we managed staff handover between time zones seamlessly between sessions as one staff team ended their day and the other arrived.
OERxDomains21 – celebrating a first of firsts

My most vivid memory from that year is Jim Groom singing ‘we did it again’ over and over.

The image shows a landscape with blue sky and a heart-shaped wooden sign in rainbow colours.


The year before, 2020, things looked very different. A lot of what I have written about the cancelled conference that lost us a huge amount of money and still happened with 1100 people online with only two weeks notice to move from in person to online… is hard to read now. At the time we had no idea of how long the impact of those early weeks of crisis would stay with us. But even in those dark days, there was joy at OER:

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.

OER20: definitely not ‘business as usual’

It still rings true to me, reading this three years later. Those moments are unforgettable. Yes, so much of what we do has started to take place in person again, but not because online wasn’t enough or good. We do so much online. Being able to connect in person, alongside all we do virtually, is a joy (and a privilege), that I wouldn’t want to give up.

Photo of Galway Bay


No year did connecting in person feel more important to me than in 2019, when OER came to Galway:

Openness is many things to many people and the vision that the conference co-chairs have brought to the event has really inspired me and helped me reach a new understanding of the challenges we face by including more diverse voices and perspectives and also by ensuring that openness has been stitched into the fabric of OER19.

In turn, that has inspired the work that ALT does to support this conference in the run up to the event such as tweaking our systems to encourage more sharing, the Board of Trustees funding more scholarship places for students than ever before, contributing to global events during Open Education Week led by the Open Education Special Interest Group, and post-OER19 to the Creative Commons Global Summit. …

Thanks to everyone involved, everyone who puts time and effort and resources into making OER19 happen, I feel like actually getting to go to the event in Galway is just the finishing flourish. OER19 has been a living, breathing, inspiring part of my professional practice for over a year already. But when I watched the sun rise over Galway Bay nearly a year ago, I didn’t realise how rich, how thought provoking and nourishing a journey working on this event would be. I’m grateful that I have been able to contribute, and I look forward to playing my part in making it happen and to build on what will be shared at OER19 to continue to promote openness and support those involved in the coming year, weaving a stronger thread of openness into the fabric of things.

OER19 preview post: openness in the fabric of things

I took so much inspiration from this event:

Being a keynote speaker can be a powerful thing particularly if you choose to use the platform it gives you for a cause that chimes with your audience. And it seems that in the case of OER19 that definitely happened. So much emotional investment and enthusiasm is rare at conferences I attend and as we are now nearly two weeks after the event and the posts and discussions keep on flowing this is further reflected in the continued engagement and activity. So there are fresh role models for me to be inspired by, keynotes to relive that really struck a chord and transcend what you can normally expect from an hour in a lecture theatre. And indeed there are many involved in making OER19 happen whom I have been inspired by in the past, like the Co-Chairs Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz, alongside Jim Groom, Lorna Campbell and Sheila MacNeill, or Bon Stewart, Martin Weller and Maha Bali and Jane Secker. All of whom have kept their audiences spellbound at previous OER or ALT’s Annual Conferences and I remember sitting back, listening, enjoying what each contributed to those events and to my own thinking. Some of these talks opened up my perspective to completely new concepts or problems, others inspired me with their example and encouraged my own practice. But each have made the hour I spent listening and participating very special, a moment stuck in my mind.

Crafting keynotes… an inspiration from #OER19


Galway was a beautiful conference destination, and OER Conference fortunately is not too big to take advantage of going off the beaten track. In 2018, OER took over the Waterside cinema in Bristol… and (obviously) it all kicked off with a VHS tape and – shoes!

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. …

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.…

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.’

More than swag: #oer18 material & visual culture

I blogged a lot about OER18, and I still look back at the sunny days at the harbour side in Bristol with real joy. In those years, the event created such momentum, and a wonderful tradition of nearly every participant being a speaker, too!

We used to joke that OER is the conference for which keynotes could be randomly chosen from anyone in the room. Everyone had a story to tell, everyone had a voice. And that’s still the case today. Looking down the list of participants this year, there are so many past and future keynotes.


This was especially true in 2017, when OER came to London for two days of capital fun and high impact open policy making. This was also the conference that opened with Maha Bali’s incredible keynote – that alone made it a stand out year!

My hope for OER17 was to make time for people and conversations. That was probably the most enjoyable aspect of my days, and like many other participants I was delighted to be able to connect in person with many individuals from my social networks. One of the highlights was joining a Virtually Connecting session with Lisa Taner and Lucy Crompton-Reid, facilitated by Martin Weller – and I am grateful to Maha Bali for inviting me. You can now watch it on YouTube .

Meeting participants from different continents and having a conversation that bridges the physical divide was a great way of seeing things through someone else’s eyes. The social events before and during the conference were another good time for catching up and I was impressed by the bowling, ping pong and karaoke going on all around.

Time to be… open #OER17

London followed Edinburgh and Cardiff as host cities of OER in 2016 and 2015 respectively. I may be biased, as I love Scotland, but I think the glorious sunny days right in the heart of Edinburgh may have been my favourite OER days:

Photo of OER16 canvas tote bag


On 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. …

Melissa 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.

#OER16: Empowered openness

This was also a year in which the conference generated engagement in a whole host of other activities across the year:

Led by the Open Education Special Interest Group alongside many other groups across the community this engagement continues to further the work ALT does in Open Education, advocating for change and influencing UK policy makers. There is a whole body of policy work that the OER conference has inspired and sustained in the UK and internationally the importance of which is not be underestimated.


Back in 2015, the start of my time with the OER Conference, I had no idea when I was sitting in the beautiful Royal College of Music in Cardiff, that this event would have such an impact on my practice and my wider work for ALT in the years to come.

Looking back at the blog posts that chart my evolving thinking about open leadership, I can trace the connections between those (for me) early days, and the work I now do on leading virtual teams:

When I recorded a podcast this week, on why open practice is so important for leaders in hybrid and virtual workplaces, I looked back at those posts and reflected on how much has changed:

Little did I know then how important open leadership would become for me as we closed ALT’s offices in 2017 and later managed a global crisis from home.

The OER Conference of course has a much longer history than 2015, and you can still look back at what happened at the events from previous year .

OER23 logo

Looking ahead to OER23!

As I look forward to this year’s event in Inverness, I feel grateful for all the fun, inspiration and creativity that the OER Conference has brought me.

With my CEO hat on I have had to carefully balance the bottom line with wider impact and that equation has become more precarious since 2020. But if I’ve learnt anything from my work with the OER Conference is that the balance sheet doesn’t tell you all that’s important and that this particular event is important to so many people, that it happens even when a global pandemic cancels all plans two weeks before.

It takes a village… and fortunately this conference attracts just that: passionate and politically astute co-chairs, committed and hard working committee members, enthusiastic and inspiring speakers who double as participants, unique keynotes, influential researchers and super staff that help bring it all together.

So as we prepare to bring the proverbial band back together online and in the Scottish Highlands next week, aiming to ‘do it again’ as Jim Groom might sing, I say hats off to you for making it happen!

Thank you for your involvement over the years, for your contribution, for helping make this conference a spiritual home for many, me included.


2015 was not only the year in which I attended the OER Conference properly for the first time, it was also the year that I met Martin Weller, then OER15 Co-Chair, and later a Trustee and President of ALT until 2020. Little did I know then that six years later, six years that felt like an age thanks to a global pandemic, divorce and several house moves, Martin and I would end up sharing a home, two dogs and our lives together.

Our home has OER sofa cushions and Bryan Mather’s OERxDomains21 conference artwork on the wall, and you won’t be surprised to hear that our shared commitment to openness in general and open education in particular is one of the things we have in common. So in a very personal sense the OER conference has brought me, in a roundabout way, great happiness, and for that alone I will always have a whole lotta love for it. 


  1. Alan Levine Alan Levine

    What a grand circle for conferences and people from 2015 to 2023. Kudos to you and the ALT team for always being a vibrant feel to conferences. My first was 2014 in Newcastle and I never forgot that excitement and humanness of these events that I found refreshing from the other conferences I was part of in those days.

    That environment always carried through when you had to go online, saying to me it’s not a factor of technology or platform. And yes it was the same and even better in 2018 and I am feeling the missing presence of meeting people I already “knew” from online encounters, just amplified by being in the same room (or boat!)

    Best to you and all for a vibrant time in Inverness (insert jealousy here). And also for this marvelous circular tale of you and Martin and your happy dog clan.

    Enjoy it all and thanks for all you did for ALT and beyond.

  2. What a fantastic retrospective of your memories of OER conferences, Maren. While I have attended ALT, I have yet to cross the pond to attend an in-person OER Conference, and this post makes me think I need to redouble my efforts in the future. My one confirmed booking to attend in 2020 was, like everyone else’s, thwarted, which was disappointing on a number of levels, not the least of which being that I had tickets to see Arsenal at the Emirates stadium and had somehow convinced lifelong Spurs fan Martin Weller to join me – a true friend move from Martin right there if ever there was one!

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