I’m sitting in Schipol Airport jotting this down before I catch another flight to London, so this will be brief. I know I said in a previous post I would try and blog small, more regular bursts from the conference, but I got fully swept away with its undertow of awesome. I’m just coming up for air now, but a part of me could have stayed in Inverness.
I think Day 2—or the first official day of the conference, Wednesday April 5th—may have been the best single day of any conference I’ve ever attended. Putting it up there with NorthernVoice 2007 and OpenEd 2009, it was simply magic! I know I’m not to be trusted because I speak in hyperbole fairly often, but I will say I deeply needed to be in Inverness with the rest of the amazing folks who made the trek to feel truly alive again. I fed off the energy, maybe too much, but it fed something deep in my soul that had been starving. As Brian Lamb joked on our trip up the West Coast in February, “You’re a seeker.” And I’m beginning to think that he’s right, I’m seeking something as amazing as Day 2 of OER23 on a more regular basis!
Why day 2? Well, it is unfair because the whole event was amazing, Bryan Mathers workshop of thinking visually was brilliant, and hanging out with Lauren as we got settled into Inverness was about as pleasant as could be. Inverness played a gigantic role in how great this experience was, and I think just about everyone who was there would agree. In fact, I was up quite late Day 1 given I had forgotten I was on the hook for a Gasta session, and I started to panic a bit, and that might have been the start of the manic energy that helped shape my experience of the next day…DAY 2!
Day 2 had me up early trying to finish my presentation after writing an SOS email to Brian Lamb and Grant Potter for ideas for my Gasta session. I like working under pressure, and one of the things about in-person conferences like this is how generative they can be with all the discussions, chats, interplay, and joking feeding one’s creativity and sense of connection. I think that all fed into not only my Gasta session, but my other talks the following day. When you’re in a place committed to a thing with other people, there’s a different sense of being there—and for me it let me step away from my usual routine at the keyboard and dig in on what’s right there in front of me in a new context with a self-selected group of people who made a similar sojourn.
Anyway, after working on my Gasta early morning Lauren and I got some coffee and then headed to the University of the Highlands, Inverness, which was an awesome venue for the event. I was chatting with Anne-Marie Scott (I did a lot of that at this event), and she commented that bringing it back to a campus setting and grounding the event in a university environment was welcome, and I have to agree.
First up was Rikke Toft Norgard keynote, which started the official event off with what Bryan Mathers noted was “definitely his kind of crazy”:
It was a wild talk filled with chimerical beasts right out of the AD&D Monster Manual, and she threw out provocations like what would “an atmosphere for OER look like,” which is something I am fascinated by not only because of Bryan Mathers’ art for Reclaim Cloud, but it pushes the idea of open education off the two dimensional textbook page into three dimensions. I took visual notes for the talk, nothing as awesome as Bryan’s featured above, but I will blog this talk separately because I think the theme of #hopepunk is huge, and a really powerful way forward.
Rikke and her mom were an amazing presence at OER23—and a brilliant way to kick off the day.
After that, I attended a session with Beck Pitt and Fereshte Goshtasbpour discussing their work with OER in Kenya followed by a session wherein Kate Molloy discusses how she liberated the open content at University of Galway from the VLE with H5P and Hypothesis. It was an awesome start to what what prove a constant throughout the conference: top-level sessions. Kate definition of her work as a pragmatic open edtech appeals to me on some truly foundational levels of what we do as edtechs, and the fact a small, scrappy group (or was it just Kate?) can push adoption at the scale of the university is amazing. That is open for me! Moreover, I had the good fortune of catching up with Kate extensively, and her humor and candor about the work of open really exemplifies the warm spirit of OER23. The idea of “doing the work” remains a mantra at Reclaim, so the following image really appealed to me!
After that, I took an hour out of the schedule to catch-up with Anne-Marie Scott and discuss her recent life changes as well as dig in a bit on what it might look like to congeal the work already happening in the edtech sphere around open infrastructure. It was great catching-up with Anne-Marie, the radio had kept us connected for years now—but being able to hang-out in-person was even that much better.
After that it was lunch, and I was beginning to worry about the Gasta session happening later that day. I tried to get in a few polaroids and enjoy a quick bite, and then Lauren and I stole away to rehearse our talk for the next day. The afternoon session I attended featured the state-wide OER program in Colorado followed by Tanya Elias talking about OER and scale—both of which worked together beautifully in terms of practical applications and larger, conceptual musing on the costs and affordances of small versus scaled open. It was an absolutely brilliant pairing of two really great presentations—and that was a theme. And Tanya was yet another amazing presence at this conference, the Canadians always bring their A-game!
The vibe across the conference was generally like that, the rooms were cozy and warm, and when we all re-convened in the main hall for plenaries in was packed and crackling with energy. Knowing this, I took the hour dedicated to workshops on day 1 to finish my ill-prepared Gasta session. Did I mention that…
You see, Maren Deepwell and Tom Farrelly had reached out in early March about doing a session, and knowing the history I happily agreed. But I also did not fully understand the expectation and pressure around Gasta, and had some odd assumption Tom and I would follow-up. But life took over and I went into work mode, and by the time I lifted my head again I was looking at the program in Inverness the day before the conference only to be reminded the Gasta session was on Day 2. “How was I reminded?” you ask. Well, by seeing my name on the list of the online schedule.
I’m not going to lie, there was a certain amount of panic given I was ill-prepared, but I also work well under pressure in these contexts, as mentioned earlier, given how much I feed off the good energy emanating everywhere. The value of being embedded in your community for a couple of days with a shared focus is impossible to fully capture here. Anyway, as I already said I sent a SOS email to Grant Potter and Brian Lamb for two of the main jokes I would use in the Gasta that first evening, and some ideas started to coalesce, and I pushed on it the next night so that by the afternoon of day 2 I could just try and memorize some of the jokes, add some of the polaroids I had taken, and see if I could make sure the timing was right. It was my first attempt at an open ed stand-up routine. Far from perfect, but absolutely a blast. You only have five minutes, so timing is everything and everyone presenting before me seemed to understand that brilliantly. It was A-game city, a conference constant—did I mention that already? 🙂
— Kate Molloy (@hey_km) April 5, 2023
Anyway, the session happened, and I’ve never felt that kind of energy in any room I’ve ever been in for a conference session—it was really hard to describe. It was like all of us were locked into an amusement park ride for the following 20-25 minutes, and we had no choice but to just fully be all-in and go along for the ride together. It was truly a magical moment for me, and I think after it was done there were at least a few other folks who felt similarly. Everyone was amazing, Tom Farrelly’s work as the host of Gasta was truly phenomenal, a performance for the ages, and that was only made better by each and every brilliantly delivered Gasta session by Eamon Costello, Maggs Amond, and Lou Mycroft—truly a crescendo of awesome that all came shattering down when I got up there, but I’ll save that story for another post 🙂
But the audience was in it, every person was there and the eyes and smiles and surprises looking back at us was what enabled this moment to happen as it did—and to have been there and partook of that moment is something I now have and will be forever grateful. OER23 was the thing memories are made of through true and meaningful personal connections, and in some ways every Gasta session was about just that.
And to be clear, at this point I am just about half-way through the day, and in order to finish this post before talking about the final plenary, after-party and karaoke, let me just leave you with this bit of wisdom to arbitrarily close part one of day 2: “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock like Tom Farrelly!”