Laura Czerniewicz and Catherine Cronin

Coming up for air, keeping on breathing #OER19

One month, many miles, and dozens of conference blog posts later, our co-chairs Laura and Catherine share their final reflections on OER19.

We were thrilled, we were inspired, and then we were very tired. It is exactly a month since OER19 and we have finally come up for air from our day jobs (which, like everyone else, we had to re-enter after the conference) to write a post-conference blog. We have been bolstered in the meantime by the curated Voices from #OER19: blog posts, resources, photos and more. Thanks for the the ongoing discussions taking place in those blog spaces (here’s to blog commenting!). We acknowledge that much has been said, and beautifully. Numerous people took the time to reflect on the conference as a whole, including some newcomers, all with something valuable to say. So much resonated with us.

What an astute insight, Jim Groom, to describe OER as therapy! And how empowering to be a place where Lauren Brumfield could say “At OER19… I found my voice”.  And also, a place, where Leo Havemann commented that ..”listening and responding are at least as important as saying something yourself”. A conference which Michael Fuchs said was ”varied and instructive”, providing “a short recap [that] can only be the snow cover on top of the iceberg – creative metaphors were very popular at the conference”. (Translation by Deepl, hope it is OK Michael!)

Many people commented on the diversity of voices. Brady Lloyd commented on a “varied amount of research being delivered in a way which was so personal yet so relatable in many ways [which ] was truly remarkable, especially when you consider the cultural differentiations” . And Sheila MacNeill wondered at “the stories I heard, the narratives were not of the great, I am, look and me and do what I do kind. They were diverse, challenging, not perfectly boxed solutions”. Added to this was Lorna Campbell’s relief that “I heard many, many diverse voices at OER19, but not once did I hear That Guy (TM). !

But perhaps the best way to encounter the rich and multiple voices from the conference is to enjoy Wendy Taleo’s OER19 TAGS Dance …..

Now, from our perspective, a few additions to that flowing stream.

Intentions and reality

As co-chairs, our aim and hope for OER19 was to co-create a space in which people could bring and share their vital, critical work related to open education –in the form of research presentations, participatory workshops, stories, first-person narratives, and more– and also be together, both in Galway and virtually. We conceived of the open agenda as an alternative imaginary – not just about recentering open within the open education community, but also recentring open in higher education itself, at a time when HE is increasingly marketized. Over the past few years in particular, many of us have been pulling in these directions: towards more critical approaches, towards epistemic justice, towards greater equity. We do this work as individuals, in small groups and in disparate networks, often in the face of institutional and broader resistance. At OER19 something special happened. The reality exceeded even our intentions, with all who participated collectively creating a space for this to be the central narrative rather than the counter-narrative. We hope, and believe, that much will flow from the emotion and energy shared in that co-created space.

Inclusivity, walking the talk

We worked closely with ALT to do as much as we all could to build inclusivity into the conference processes, programme and participant experiences. In the category of “what we knew already but now know more deeply”, it takes concerted attention, intention and effort to walk the talk when it comes to equity and inclusivity. We learned from other events and discussed ideas with colleagues who lead by their values and example. After conversations with Tannis Morgan and Maha Bali, for example, the four of us co-authored a post (with thanks also to Cheryl Hodgkinson-Williams) Making international academic spaces international. We made an effort to incorporate many of those ideas into OER19, from scholarship spaces and a contributory scholarship fund to organising gathering places each evening so that all who wished to socialise could do so comfortably and feel welcome. A vibrant local committee collected information on local activities for delegates to enjoy before/after the conference, making sure to include options for new visitors, people travelling alone or with children, indoor/outdoor options, pubs as well as coffee shops. And we sought, as much as possible, to enable virtual participation (including welcoming conference submissions from virtual presenters), as we believe this is an essential aspect of inclusivity – as well as adding much to the conference experience for both onsite and virtual participants.

In terms of the conference programme, we were led by the values of inclusivity and equity, as well as the OER19 theme of ‘Critical and Global Perspectives’. Before thinking about potential keynote speakers, for example, we thought deeply about the opportunity we had to foreground voices that may be on the margins/periphery in different and sometimes multiple ways (e.g. geographic location, gender, race, position). Ultimately, we invited five keynote speakers. Two are established scholars who shared, during their keynotes, that they did not consider themselves to be part of the open education community. Yet Kate Bowles and Su-Ming Khoo’s keynotes resonated powerfully – not least in helping us, perhaps, to trouble the boundaries of ‘the open education community’. And for the OER19 keynote panel, PhD students were perhaps an unexpected keynote choice. Yet, Taskeen Adam, Caroline Kuhn and Judith Pete each shared their current and incisive open education scholarship as well as unique Global South perspectives, knitting these together in a powerful and memorable keynote.

Taking risks

Walking the talk involves taking risks. This year, the physical location of the conference posed risks. The 10th annual OER Conference was held in Galway, Ireland – i.e. a UK-run conference held outside the UK for the first time, in an EU country, the week after Brexit was to happen. Months before the conference, this looked like nothing but risk. The risks were taken on board and managed, thanks to outstanding leadership and stewardship from Maren Deepwell and ALT.

Actively inviting and enabling virtual participation within a conference poses challenges and potential risks, particularly for a small organisation like ALT. Our thanks to the wonderful Martin Hawksey for making it possible for hundreds if not thousands of people to benefit from OER conferences over the years, both synchronously and asynchronously.

Finally, for OER19 we suggested two new formats: Open Spaces (spaces for emerging conversations) and Alt-format (7-minute slot, any modality, for “sharing an idea in a way that speaks to heart and mind”). Both proved to be spaces for different and often powerful forms of storytelling and scholarship. One wonderful example is FemEdTech, which formed a vital and vibrant part of the OER conference this year. FemEdTech began in early 2016, had its first ‘public outing’ at OER17 (in an informal lunchtime gathering), and grew and strengthened in 2018 with a scheme of rotating curatorship for @femedtech. The Open Space #femedtech session provided an opportunity to share the work and the values of the network in a space which embodied many of those same values. Please read the blog post by Lorna and Frances Bell to find out more.


Several people have asked us about the experience of co-chairing. Organising a conference is a challenging and sometimes testing space; collaborators must be prepared to negotiate, to make decisions, often quickly, and to give and take criticism. In our case, our previous academic collaborations and friendship were a basis for our decision to co-chair together, and the experience was rich and fruitful. We joked, on the last day of the conference, that we were nearly finishing one other’s sentences – and then we actually did when we each chose the same Rebecca Solnit quote to use in our conference wrap-up. In taking on the challenge of co-chairing, we encouraged and emboldened one another. We are both grateful to have had the opportunity, as well as immensely grateful for all that everyone brought to make OER19, together.

What better way to end this blog then?

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth’s treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal… To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.” ― Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark