Challenging Openness & Innovation – Takeaways from #OER16 & #OLCInnovate

I did this crazy thing again of attending two conferences virtually at the same time – I presented at OER16 in Edinburgh in the morning, then was participating in OLCInnovate in New Orleans in the evening. As a virtual participant and presenter, I probably get a different vibe on a conference than those onsite. I usually get a lot from watching and reading tweets about keynotes, and I also get a very particular view based on who participates in the Virtually Connecting sessions we do.


A key takeaway from OER16 for me was the challenging of “open”. Not only what it means (which we have been doing for a while), and not only challenging the content-centredness of Open Educational Resources (that’s also been challenged a lot), but also challenging open as a necessarily good thing, and also as a necessarily web-dependent thing. I got this from some Twitter conversations (e.g. someone mentioned openness in the pre-internet age), from the response on Twitter to the session on Self as OER (abstract & slides) I co-presented with Suzan Koseoglu, and from  the keynote by Catherine Cronin followed by the Virtually Connecting session with Catherine Cronin and Jim Groom. Catherine challenged the binaries of open/closed, as did a presentation by Andrew Middleton and Katherine Jensen (abstract & slides). Jim talked about how sometimes focusing on OER as textbooks could be detrimental when it reduces funding for public education (link to his keynote).


I found it really interesting that a conference called Innovate had an entire museum-like thing (they called it Innovation Installation and its digital version is still live) critically exploring the roots of the term Innovation and challenging it – this was led by Rolin Moe, and was located in the vendor area. If you watch the Virtually connecting session with Rolin, or check out the website, you’ll learn about roots of the term innovation that have historically been negative rather than how we usually use it in a positive sense now.

But what was innovative about OLCInnovate? Laura Gogia mentions several ways in this blogpost and this video. What I found particularly interesting in how Laura Gogia approached her steering committee role, is that she focused on how her experience was as a newbie and student at another OLC conference (#et4online) exactly a year ago – and sought ways of improving that kind of experience for others.

One of the things I liked in this conference were the keynote lightning talks. What a great way to allow multiple voices to take center stage and expose the audience to several different ideas in a short amount of time. It’s difficult to drift off during lightning talks, though it can be mentally taxing to watch so many in a row. I found it stimulating, but as a virtual participant watching them after-the-fact, I could pause and go back to the recording throughout the day. I also know there were opportunities to talk with those lightning keynote speakers later (we also had a Virtually connecting session with Chris Gilliard on Digital Redlining which is highly recommended).

Another aspect I really enjoyed was a session I co-presented entitled Meeting the Potential of Hybridity: Equity, Access and Inclusion. Now I have been a virtual participant at conferences and presented virtually at conferences more times than I can count in the last couple of years. This session, co-presented with several of the Virtually Connecting team, invited onsite participants to reflect on how to improve the hybrid conference experience. What I enjoyed most about it was that three of the virtual participants (myself, Alan Levine and Apostolos Koutropoulos) were able to sit (via a laptop) on different tables during the event and have conversations with onsite participants (with the help of our onsite presenters Rebecca J. Hogue, Autumm Caines, Andrea Rehn and Whitney Kilgore). Because we were the virtual participants, we were central to the conversation with onsite participants and really felt like we were there. There was also another session where virtual participants were able to join in live and discuss the session with onsite participants – this was Matt Crosslin’s presentation on #humanMOOC (recording here).

Of course, my perspective on both these conferences is completely partial. I only had a glimpse of each conference… but those are the main things I took away from these events.

Did you recently attend a conference that challenged its own conference name/title? Tell us in the comments!

flickr photo (Rebecca J. Hogue from OLC Innovate) uploaded by ma_bali shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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