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Guest Post: Being in the OERx Domains Space by Sheila MacNeill


I attended my first OER conference back in 2016. That was the first year ALT took over the running of the conference, and I was thrilled and quite nervous to be one of the keynote speakers. Since then, I have faithfully attended the conference as a delegate and session presenter. I’ve always found the OER conferences to be really stimulating, engaging and fun events.

This year I decided it was time to give a bit more back to the and be part of the conference committee. From my time as being on the ALT Board, I know just how much work it takes to put on a conference, and how important a role all the volunteer committee members play in the success of the conference. And of course this year there is double the fun,  it’s not just OER but Domains too.

I’ve always found the OER conferences to be really stimulating, engaging and fun events. I’ve also found them a very caring place too. As the f2f conferences were relatively small, there was a chance to speak to almost everyone and to share experiences, worries and joy. Openness, care and joy in the times of pandemic, is one of the conference themes this year. I’m so glad it is.

Over the past year there has been a renewed focus on care – care for our students, our families our friends, our wider communities. When ALT launched its COVID response sharing initiative, it provided such a wonderful example of open practice and just how caring the community were in sharing their work for others to use. Over the past year there have been many examples open sharing of practice. I’m sure there are going to be many more examples shared during the conference too.

However, as the time off campus has extended, and the shift to emergency online teaching has morphed into “new normal” practice,  I have become increasingly worried about the toll this is taking on colleagues. Particularly those who have younger children and are juggling home schooling with their own work and teaching commitments. Time has always a been a precious commodity. Remember the days when there was no time to think about moving teaching online? When there was no time for any more meetings in the week? We have had  to do that and so much more over the past year.

Whilst in theory attending online conferences should be easier – no travel for starters. The reality is not quite that simple, particularly during lockdown. The screen may take you somewhere else, but all around you the pressures of everyday life remain. However, I do think that it is important to try and make time (and make a little change of space – maybe another room if you can) to attend conferences. The importance of getting away from the day to day online space and re-connect with others who are in the same situation is more important than ever right now. Conferences might not be fully  recognised as having well-being benefits, but I am convinced that they do.

If you manage staff, one way to show you care is to allow you staff to attend conferences. To support them in that time away from daily work, to encourage them to put an out of office message on saying that they are attending a conference, to give them some space. Space to engage with the conference with out guilt, without having to feel like they have to check emails every hour, space to think, space to go for a walk and listen to a session recording, space to breathe, space to share on social media, space to be a conference delegate, space just to be somewhere else for while.

If you are attending the conference, then give yourself some space too. Engage with the conference in a way that is meaningful for you. That might mean going for a walk to think about what you just heard in a keynote or session. It might mean taking the time to email /message someone with a question about their presentation, it might just mean taking some time to have a cup of coffee, not look at a screen and just be.

I’m going to share a little secret with you. Back in pre pandemic conference times, when I couldn’t decided what conference session to go to I would quite often just go and get a cup of tea and have a seat by myself and try to have wee think. Sometimes my thoughts were about issues raised during the conference, sometimes they were about something completely different. Invariably there would someone else doing the same, and they would stop by and have a chat. Sometimes about the conference, sometimes something completely different. More often than not, those chats often turned into the most useful and memorable parts of the conference.

It’s hard to do that in an online conference but, if you are going to attend the conference – and let’s face it why wouldn’t you? – do try and let the conference allow you a bit of time for a bit of self care. Even if it is just being able to step away from the screen, have a cuppa and let your mind wander without any guilt. That is all part of the conference experience too.