— Sheila MacNeill (@sheilmcn) April 6, 2017
That was my response to the #Iwill challenge given as part of the final plenary session at the #OER17 conference this week. Starting with the end in mind seems apt for a post reflecting on the conference. But how did I get here? Why did I end up selecting generosity, inclusivity and hospitality? There are plenty more that are still swirling round my brain.
I think the answer is these are things that I think I can do, and in doing so can maybe start to address some of the bigger issues politics, power, criticality, definition and action that wove their way through all the presentations, discussions and conversations over the two days of the conference.
Thanks to Kate Bowles and her contribution to the panel session I took part in, the importance of hospitality needs to be highlighted. If we want to extend practice to embrace open then we need to provide hospitable spaces – both physical and digital. Spaces that are welcoming, where you can choose where and when to enter, that make you want to explore and more importantly want to stay, come back to and bring others along.
I think we are all a little bit (and a times quite a big bit) guilty of presuming hospitably in our open spaces without really considering how they are experienced by others. What we might assume is an open, hospital place because we know how to navigate it, can actually appear to be quite hostile to those who don’t come from our context, who aren’t privileged to our understandings of how those spaces work and how to interact within them and with “us”.
There’s an old saying in Scotland that describes the difference between East and West (Glasgow/Edinburgh). In Glasgow people will say “come in, you’ll have your tea” and in Edinburgh “come in, you’ll have had your tea”. There’s a subtle but important difference in terms of hospitality which, never mind the geographical stereotypes, we all need to be mindful of. Open spaces, even with appropriate open licenses, can be appear to be scary, at times aloof and distance, places you enter with a bit of trepidation or just by pass all together.
As an example from my personal experience, I had until this conference, always felt a bit like that about Virtually Connecting. Although open, it just seemed to me a bit of a space for “those and such of those” the great and the good of OER, and those that were involved in what I call “proper” researchers. However, as I have previously explained, I did end up joining one of the sessions at the conference thanks to the hospitality of Autumn and Maha pre, during and post conference. That hospitality extended the digital open space in this reflection on user perceptions, to an invitation to participate and to the warmest, welcoming hospitality in the open physical space of the conference. That little experience of open hospitality is what we all need to ensure we all continue to foster.
Maha is probably one of the most hospitable and generous people I have the privilege of knowing. However in her opening keynote she made a really important point about generosity the need to think very carefully about what we give. As Maha pointed out, if you are hungry but have no teeth and someone gives you an apple, that apparent act of generosity can actually cause anger, hurt and show lack of understanding of context.
So as I try to be generous I will now make a more of a concerted and explicit effort to ensure that my generosity – in whatever form it takes – is appropriate and inclusive and given with understanding and care. This may take some time and I might not succeed all the time but I will try.
I really hope that all of the people who attend the conference both physically and virtually found it to be an open, hospitable and generous. But if they didn’t we need to know why so we can change things.
Another issue that bubbled throughout the conference was that of definition. What does open education actually mean? Have we created our own open silo, with our own cozy spaces and discourse? Why aren’t all educational systems (from nursery to universities ), governments fully embracing open-ness? Many of the reasons of course echo the theme of the conference “the politics of open”. I’m sure they will be reflected on far more eloquently than I am able to today over the coming weeks but if you want a bit of a taste just search for #trexit.
What is sure is that we need to keep extended the conversations, sharing our research, our practice, working with organisations like wikimedia to extend open knowledge creation and sharing, and seriously think about more creative forms of activism as described by Diana Acre in her inspiring keynote. We need to allow others to help us define open. We can only do that if we work together with our wider communities to keep extending our hospitality and giving people appropriate, inclusive safe spaces to learn, share and grow.
There is so much more I need to reflect on but for now this is about as much as I am capable of. I’ve been trying to find an image to use that sums up hospitality, but they are all just so culturally bound it doesn’t seem quite right in this context but I think hot beverage is almost universal . . . once again thanks to the Unsplash community for the generosity of their open images.