Openbus by @visualthinkery is licenced under CC-BY-SA. Remix by Dr Maren Deepwell.

Guest Post: Remixing our Open Education Online Conference

I am really delighted to kick off this year’s series of guest posts for the OERxDomains Conference! As a CEO of ALT, one of this year’s organising organisations, I have had quite a year of ‘pandemic’ conference organising since last March.

Voices from OER20, include this visual thought by Bryan Mathers.

OER20 was a really, really special and it’s well worth going back in time and revisiting this post bringing together blog posts, resources, photos and more as well as this SPLOT, which was set up to collect ‘extraordinary stories of open and online in the COVID-19 era.

Last year, in the spirit of sharing open practice around pivoting conferences online, we also published ‘How we run an online conference’ live webinars, recorded session (session), slides with links to resources and related blog post .

One year on, however, we have all been in what feels like far too many online meetings, had many more virtual conferences experiences and…my sense is that care, creativity and a change of pace are now more needed than even last March.

So that’s why, when we started planning for this year’s event, we started to think about how we could remix the best ingredients of this special conference into a new format that reflects our changing context.

There are many different considerations not least of all that the event has to continue to be financially sustainable. Whilst there is a common misconception that running online events doesn’t generate direct costs, in this context that’s not the case. Whilst there are obvious savings in terms of catering and venue hire, the effort and time it takes to organise this kind of event is still significant and the process very comparable and people’s time, speaker fees, technology platforms, hosting and design all still have to be paid for. We offer free scholarship places for anyone for whom cost is a barrier to participation and that, I hope, provides the necessary balance between a paid for and free event. So scholarship places are a must and one important element of our conference remix.

Also, all the resources from the conference get collated and published (openly) after the event. This is an element of our past events, both in person and online, that ALT, as a professional body, has a strong commitment to. The thinking that comes out of our conferences forms an important element of professional practice and research, so we want to ensure that this isn’t lost a week, a month or even ten years later. Keeping archives creates extra work, but looking at these Videos, resources and a special COVID collection of materials from ALT’s Online Winter Conference for example, shows just how useful it can be.

Artwork, too, is a key part of the events identity and we are lucky indeed to continue our long-standing collaboration with Bryan Mathers and his Fabulous Remixer Machine… so watch this space for the unique visual identity of this year’s event as it is revealed.

So far, so familiar… let’s think about elements of the event which will be changing:

  • Session formats and strands: we are thinking creatively about how to make sessions engaging and also give a lot of room for open conversations, caring spaces and the kind of spontaneous interaction we all want but find hard to generate online. So in addition to the kinds of sessions you might expect from this event, this year might also bring some less formal, less planned strands into our programme – giving everyone who wants to contribute a different way to make their voices heard and join in to the conversation;
  • Technology: we want to up our game when it comes to using technology and the brilliant minds behind the Domains Conference, who are part of our organising and delivery team, are hard at work to put together a new way for us to deliver both synchronous and asynchronous sessions. What’s key is to give the best support we can to our speakers and participants, whilst also keeping the conference a safe and inclusive space that welcomes everyone;
  • DIY maker space: one of the things I miss about meeting folk in person and travelling, is the materiality of it all. I miss the hugs and the stickers and I don’t think I’m alone in that. So for OERxDomains, we are going to curate a host of DIY activities, from printing conference stuff out to making (drawing, stitching, knitting, singing…) your own. There might be a jingle competition and artwork, too – and we will incorporate that into the online delivery in the run up and during the event;
  • Care and wellbeing: one of the things we are all very clear about is that this conference is going to put care and wellbeing at the heart of everything we do. From a space for quiet conversation to communal activities, our Co-Chairs and Committee Members are already thinking about ways in which we can put this ethos into practice across all the different time zones our participants are joining from.

Last year, we had only a fortnight to move a conference that was planned to take place in London onto a virtual footing, and so many things, not least of all the long awaited launch of the FemEdTech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education, didn’t happen as we had planned.

In these times, which I am not going to call ‘new’ normal, things are still very much at odds with what this much loved event has been over the past twelve years and there is no way round that. Things are not normal as we continue to contend with a global pandemic.

Which is why, OERxDomains is its own thing, with its own, different name, signalling to you all that we are not bolting one unique conference, the Domains Conference organised by Reclaim Hosting, onto another, the OER Conference, organised by ALT. Instead, a new collaboration is born out of these times of care and crisis – and it gives me hope and joy to see it come to life.

I don’t think this will be the smoothest conference experience any of us has ever had, but I can see something remarkable take shape: an undertaking I am so glad to be part of alongside a Co-Chair Team of five, a collaborative staff team and dozens of dedicated volunteer Committee Members.  See you on 21-22 April… and before then #OERxDomains21.

About the author:

This guest post was written by Dr Maren Deepwell @marendeepwell