Guest Post: Open viewed from the stands by Clare Thomson & Kate Molloy

This time last year, we were booking hotels and flights, and wondering how Clare might transport the LEGO for our workshop from Belfast to London without too much difficulty. When OER20 moved online, we examined how our workshop, based on care, might translate online. Suddenly, care seemed more crucial than ever. Our reimagined workshop was very different, more reflective and less hands-on.

Working in learning technologies meant that our workload increased tenfold in response to the pandemic situation. Our roles became reactionary as we supported the move to online teaching, online exams, and preparing academic staff for an uncertain future. We reflected on how we could continue to promote our core values, care and openness, in a landscape where we were simply firefighting. This especially, in the face of the long hours we were all doing, how could we encourage others to take care when we struggled to apply it to ourselves?

An unexpected element of supporting staff undergoing this shift was that in many cases sessions were more about coaching, mentoring or even counselling than about technology. Also, as education technologists we found ourselves having to provide our advice balancing care both for staff and for students, whether this was for teaching or for assessment design. This brought the work we have been doing on care ever more into focus and the need to keep evolving it to meet changing needs.

Kate’s view

When Irish education closed its physical doors on 12th March 2020, we didn’t anticipate that we would be supporting digital teaching and learning remotely for the next year, and not the two week closure time that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced. Our team began to run training to support teaching online and to support online exams. Open resources and practices weren’t on our priority list when we dropped everything to provide technical support and advice in an emergency situation.

Delivering our OER20 workshop online, and participating in the conference, was a rare bright spot in a dark time. My focus began to shift during the summer, especially when so many wonderful open resources began to emerge in response to teaching online. It was heartening how educators responded to the crisis. I started hosting ABC Learning Design sessions, integrating tools like H5P and, and created new open resources with the Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning project team. The project team continued to facilitate webinars, and the #IUADigEd community began to grow.

While it’s been a joy to work with colleagues far and wide, I fully admit that the screen time is getting to me. It manifests physically, and there are points where I have to walk away. I’m fortunate that I can safely get outside, and that’s been my saving grace throughout the pandemic. I wholeheartedly suggest untethering physically while still connecting through your headphones!

Clare’s view

As soon as the full closure of our campuses was announced in Northern Ireland, our team understood staff would be in very different places with regards to digital teaching, from experienced to absolute beginners. Little did we know at that time that we would continue teaching fully online, and still are at the time of writing, which differs from many universities. As we put together our plan, open resources were crucial, both for inclusion in resources but also to inform our approach, as practitioners and institutions shared their experiences and knowledge. These open resources were integrated into webinars and support materials including the work that Kate is involved in with the Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning project. From the outset we encouraged staff to consider incorporating open resources into their teaching, highlighting the benefits for them and their students.

Reflecting on the upcoming conference and open for this post I have also realised the extent that open has been crucial to my family’s wellbeing and care throughout the long months stuck inside with each other. These include recorded theatre productions, online recipes, physical activity videos, music, DIY how-tos, silly GIFs and memes, stunning nature photos, stories and countless other lifelines.

Open and care are ever more complex, with academic content ownership conversations continuing to prove tricky, however for us, they are intricately enmeshed in our values as educational technologists. I have found the OER conference to be a unique and special space where they come together unlike any other. It also brings with it elements of fun and playfulness; the shift to online has encouraged speakers to reimagine their delivery design to ensure that participants have different ways to engage and join in, allowing for movement away from the computer.