I opened, OpenEd, an opening

What a trip.

Bea's welcoming smile set the tone for the seminar.
Bea’s welcoming smile set the tone for the seminar.

I mean that in not just the literal sense, a trip across the Atlantic Ocean is something I haven’t done in over 12 years. I also mean a trip in the jocular sense of a psychedelic experience. The LSD experiments of the 1950s and 60s revealed profound shifts in consciousness for participants, and although my experiences may not have been quite so disruptive, I do find myself deeply changed. I’m a newcomer to open education. I only stumbled into the realm of ed tech and digital pedagogy in 2013 at the start of my doctoral program with my graduate assistantship assignment to my university’s technology integration center. Open education came shortly after, when I began tracing some of the work I found really intriguing, ultimately getting involved with the OpenVA group in Virginia. My exposure to people and their practices and scholarship has grown in fits and starts since then, and the past week at #oeglobal with GO-GN inKraków surely demonstrates a fantastic surge in growth for me.

The GO-GN 2016 seminar was facilitated by the OER Hub team–Bea, Beck, Martin, Rob and their invaluable organizer Natalie, as well as GO-GN originators Fred Mulder and Robert Schuwer. Each of them offered not just their expertise in open education research and scholarship, but also guidance in open scholarly life, navigating graduate programs, and presentation skills.  I’m certain that all of the 2016 doctoral student participants gained much from their input. The nine students traveled from around the globe, representing nine different countries and thus research in nine very different contexts. Thus, we also had much to offer each other. I’ll try to summarize my biggest gains in three categories: progress through a dissertation project, the particularities of “open” research, and a deeper appreciation of privilege.

Our common journey

Although we hail from nine different places (and institutions)

  • Viviane from Brazil (Athabasca University in Canada)
  • Jin from China (Beijing Open University)
  • Sujata from India (Indira Ghandi National Open University)
  • Chrissi from Greece (ok, basically UK- Manchester Metropolitan University)
  • Nicolai from the Netherlands (Radboud University Nijmegen)
  • Bernard from Rwanda (Leicester University in the UK)
  • Glenda from South Africa (University of Cape Town)
  • Paco from Spain (Open University in the UK)
  • Jamison from the United States (The College of William and Mary)
Fred sending out the knowledge.
Fred tries to transfer expertise from his mind to ours.

–our common thread is a focus upon some aspect(s) of open eduction in our doctoral dissertations. Each of us admitted to feeling somewhat isolated in our home institutions, with few colleagues and even fewer fellow students focused upon open education. Helpfully, even with our diverse programs from an array of institutions, we could all connect on the processes and labor of executing a doctorate. As the student in the earliest stages of my project, I had much to gain from those such as Bernard and Glenda who have just completed the bulk of their work. Amazing insights came from the rest of the group who are in varying stages of their research. All of us gained more experience with presenting in an international context, with varying levels of jet-lag. We were forced to cope with hardware issues- the projector didn’t render my slides as I’d hoped, Nicolai’s computer destroyed his formatting at the last minute. The opportunity to share these experiences–with the common thread of open education–instilled a fresh sense of camaraderie and confidence for me, something I expect to nurture through continued engagement with GO-GN.

Finally, “open” at the center

For the first time in a meeting with a room full of educational scholars, I didn’t have to get into explaining “open”, OER, and their implications for policy, practice, and the future of education. What is an open license? Got it. Gratis versus libre? Of course. Instead, we could focus on various strategies, approaches, methodologies, and the various contingencies of our diverse contexts. Bernard shed light on still too often overlooked digital divide, with examples of students traveling hours by bus in Rwanda to access the internet and download course materials. Jin is exploring the impacts of the increasingly ubiquitous five minute lesson format at the Open University in China. Sujata is evaluating policies in India and their affects upon faculty and student attitudes and practices with OER. Grasping the kinds of inquiries and approaches that my colleagues around the globe are tackling is helpful in distilling my own research questions. This is what constructive collaboration looks like.

Martin zaps us full of open scholarship.
Martin zaps us full of open scholarship.

By stretching my mind to embrace the perspectives of the others, my own perspectives are enhanced. In the US, access to education is primarily understood as an affordability issue, with technical, bureaucratic, and cultural structures as obstacles moving further into the background. But perhaps those obstacles, as witnessed by my colleagues, need to be brought to fore in North American research. When “open” is at the center of our dialogue, I found a much more nuanced and penetrating inquiry is the result.

And for me, a note on privilege

Trying to understand my privileges and my positionality in my home, institutions, culture, and the globe at large is a topic I have been working through ever since I lived in Cairo, Egypt for three years as a teenager. It has been something I’ve been pushing up against in my post-secondary studies with great regularity, and became especially poignant when I started tackling the design and instruction of a graduate online course called Designing Inclusive Learning. I had become pretty well practiced in cautiously entering new scenarios, rarely finding myself unaware or surprised by the enormous array of advantages I hold. And then I went to Kraków:

There I was, blissfully unaware of the advantages I hold in conducting research on a topic that is overwhelming expressed in my native tongue. I’ve been in North America too long. Several colleagues from home asked how I would be navigating an international conference linguistically, and I assured them all transactions were in English. I secretly pitied their naiveté. Turns out I was the naïve one.

So a chief takeaway for me: mind blown by radical, global collaboration. I have secured an entire set of formative, supportive, and constructive relationships with the OER Hub and GO-GN. I look forward to a career-long engagement with these groups through mutual support and exchange. Much gratitude to everyone involved for including and welcoming me along.


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