Guest Post: OER21…by Tom Farrelly

I’m so glad that my involvement with #OERxDomains21 as a committee member has given me an opportunity to reflect and talk about Openness and the Conference.

Can it really be a year since this temporary situation enveloped us all. I refuse to say the new normal as I do not think that this will be a lasting situation. Nonetheless, I do acknowledge that some things will not be the same again, and in many ways, I am thankful for that. Or, perhaps it is more correct to say that I hope that some things will not be the same again and that we as individuals and our respective organisations and institutions will change.

In November 2020 I was asked to speak at the Irish Learning Technology Association’s (ILTA) inaugural seminar series. The title of my presentation was ‘What DID I hope for? What Do I hope for?’ Chief amongst my hopes for the future is, that Openness will move from the margins to being an integral part of what we all do.

As a result of the pandemic the digital divide has become a yawning chasm. Differential access to the internet, computer hardware, course materials, books and articles has exposed the extent of the differences between students’  learning experiences. There are lots of possible examples where I believe adopting open practices can make a difference, but I just want to briefly highlight the issue of course reading lists. Access to a limited number of hard copies of the ‘essential’ texts has frequently been an issue for many students in the past. But with the lockdown, even that level of access has stopped. Course and module authors should now pause, reflect and research open and accessible alternatives that do not solely rely on access to physical spaces.

But there is a limit to what we can achieve as individuals. Education providers need to truly embrace openness and not just use it as a feelgood strap line without substantive meaning or weight. Tangible examples of a genuine commitment could include acknowledge and support the work of staff who write open textbooks; provide accessible institutional repositories and mandate that publicly funded research outputs are open access.

The #OERxDomains21 conference provides a great opportunity to come together and share our thoughts and insights of how that agenda might be shaped. I have attended lots of academic conferences in my time, but I have to admit there is something really special about the OER conference. I attended my first in Galway in 2019 and online last year, in both instances there was a sense of community and care that I have not quite seen at any other conferences (apologies if I have slighted some of the other great conferences). Hopefully, if you attend you will come away a little more informed and a little more emboldened as an advocate for open education. On that note I will leave the final words to the Irish poet Seamus Heaney who could have been writing about these challenging times and how we might respond to those challenges.

“The way we are living, timorous or bold, will have been our life.”

Portrait of Seamus Heaney, Irish poet


Posted by: Tom Farrelly (@TomFarrelly) is a lecturer and academic developer in the newly established Munster Technological University