I spent the better part of last week attending the OpenEd 2009 conference in Vancouver, B.C. The event itself has pushed me in so many directions I've had a terribly difficult time making sense of all of it. It was certainly one of the most interesting mix of personal and professional growth that I've dealt with in quite a long time. Last year I was lucky enough to attend Harvard's Berkman at 10 conference and I must say while that event made me rethink everything I thought I knew about the Internet, this event has reshaped my thinking about my ability to impact education in a more general sense.
When I registered for the event it had quite a bit to do with the people I knew would be there and the opportunity to meet and talk through issues with those folks was key. The sessions surprised me in ways that I was honestly not prepared for, each one I attended was massively insightful and wonderfully done. I'll do my best in this post to reflect on some of the things that jumped out at me, but will in no way be able to fully articulate the things that are still roaming around in my head as they relate to the Open Education community. What follows are notes and reflections that were started sometime during the week and have been edited on and off over the course of several days -- it'll bounce between present, future, and past tense ... so try to hang in and I apologize going in about how long it is.
New Scholarship, Pedagogy, and Opportunities
Clearly some of the work David Wiley has ben doing will lay the groundwork for informing Institutions about the relative value an OER initative will have on their long term success. The part of OER that is unfortunate to me has been listening to many top level administrators frame the discussion as one that is built solely on financial issues. Many of the people actually invested in the OER space talk about it as a "moral imperative," related to sharing content to the World and doing good. I agree with this stance on lots of levels but it is the realities of the Institutional base that creates a strong argument against doing it. I feel like what is begining to happen is that there are people (Wiley is one of them) who are looking more critically at what it might mean to a University from both a financial and moral perspective. The other thing here is that I spend nearly all of my time thinking only about resident learning and ways to make that a more open experience. The other thing that I noticed is that most of the conversation related to OER focuses more on the more pure distant education and not resident education. This has kept on the sidelines for much of the conversation. The meeting in Vancouver made me rethink that position ...
I did my best to share my thoughts related to openness from an RI perspective and tried to stress that we shouldn't limit our activities to simply courseware, but also tools that empower openness. I think through the conversations I had I was able to talk those notions through with some people, but at times I did feel as though I was still on the outside looking in. Reflecting on the whole experience I can say I feel much better about coming at this from a slightly different perspective.
The final note I'll make about the notion of new conversations and scholarship centers around the fact that the OpenEd conference has become an internationally known event that draws some of the most serious educational technologists in the world. The fact that I can be asked to participate in a global conversation that is really designed by ed tech people for ed tech people is relatively stunning. The place was absolutely buzzing with energy and without being too over the top, it felt to me like there is a bit of a sea change on the horizon. I think for too many years we perhaps leaned on potentially out moded forms of design that are centered on ignoring the power of the open social web. It is in that realization that I felt as though I really belonged with this group. I think that we may be in the moment where the work of the last 10 years specifically will begin to penetrate the thinking as it relates to teaching and learning. That we can drive real curricular change and challenge the notion of the behaviorist view of traditional learning design. The flexibility and openness afforded to us is empowering educational technologits to imagine new forms of pedagogy that over time could radically alter the open vs. closed conversation that dominates much of education. Again, I don't want to make too much of it, but spending time talking through this issue is what has been the transformative moment of the event for me. Openness will happen, but I believe it will be built on new forms of scholarship and pedagogy by people who have been living their lives in the social web -- experimenting, imagining, and designing learning spaces that tear down the long standing notions of top down, locked down content. That to me is more motivating than anything I can consider.
Like I mentioned earlier, I went mainly for the people and the hope for intense conversations. I am leaving with an even greater sense of community and with new friendships. I'll clearly leave people out, but the hospitatility and intensity of those who put this event together is inspiring -- Brian Lamb, David Wiley, Chris Lott, and Scott Leslie all put their best foot forward and built something that is clearly very difficult to create -- an event that is intellectually challenging paired with what I would consider a world-class collection of voices in the field. Canada has its share of thought leaders in our field, but I had no idea I would meet so many more. Some of the others who either rocked me with their sessions or just through informal conversations are listed below ... in no particular order.
Alec Courous is someone whom I read as much as I can and have come to respect on so many levels over the last few years. As a faculty member he is challenging the notions of scholarship and pushing his field in new directions. While Alec didn't present, the conversations I had with him -- down to his empassioned readings of twitter messages -- made me think even more critically how important it is for me to personally continue to attack my own doctorate and to press my colleagues at Penn State to follow his lead. His open course, Social Media and Open Education is a very interesting model that we may consider for our own C&I 597 course Scott McDonald and I will teach in the spring. Very cool design and the openness is amazing.
I've know D'Arcy Norman for years online and have even had a chance to meet him once face to face prior to the event itself. D'Arcy styles himself as just "a lowly ed tech geek from the University of Calgery ..." what he is however is someone who started much of the incidental openness that has spawned the very community that gathered here in Vancouver last week. He doesn't write as much as he used to, but D'Arcy was honestly the first voice I heard online from my own field. He didn't intend to inspire people in our field to bypass the traditional publishing path and make our own voice, but he did. These efforts pushed many of us, including me, to start experimenting with open platforms and to start imagining how they could be used in a teaching and learning contexts. Our discussions did not disappoint and I was thrilled to see he is just as snarky in person as he is on Twitter. His talk was short, but created lots of ongoing conversation ... I would have liked to have had more time.
Alan Levine's "Amazing Stories of Openness" session was a real highlight. Alan always pushes it hard when he presents, but this was a whole new level. Alan used the open web and made calls for amazing stories from colleagues across the country and beyond. Alan decided that instead of him telling the stories he'd light the camp fire and have a virtual panel where he moderated and negitiated his way through some of the best reflective videos I've seen. I think in a lot of ways his approach was more about imploring those in attendance that amazing does happen in education when you build it on transparency.
My time with Jim Groom did not disappoint. I find it amazing that Jim drives forward with everything he does with both massive amounts of energy and passion yet controls his message so well. But the thing that strikes me in a deeper way is that each time I spend time with him I see how truly innovative and forward thinking he really is. I was just as in awe of his talk, "The Design of Openness" this time as I have been in the past, but his approach was softer and more well articulated in many ways. Instead of hitting us over the head with a technological solution to a problem that may or may not exist he spent his time weaving a story that focused on the things we should be concerned about -- most importantly student learning and engagement. He deflects compliments, but he is honestly opening new doors for many of us to get our message out there to people outside our specific slice of the field.
This was my first time getting to listen to Gardner Campbell from Baylor give a talk. I've met Garder and he is certainly one of my daily reads. He is also a faculty member working to redesign the Honors College at Baylor and he will do it with a style and substance that few I've met can bring. His talk, "No Digital Facelifts" was nothing short of mesmerizing. It was the only session that I went to that felt it lasted five minutes. Articulate, smart, and a bit provactive his message really resonated with me. His delivery was masterful -- as much as any of the best lectures I've been to ... in other words, he schooled us all. It is a much watch. His ideas of students as "sys admins" for their own educational cyber-infrastructure is at first almost laughable until you start to sit back and think about how little flexibility we give students to explore and design their own online identities. His metaphor of C-Panel as the CMS was staggering upon further reflection and while there isn't a chance in the world that we could honestly do something like that, it gives me hope that within the next 5-10 years we can make real steps in that direction. When I go back and re-read my last sentence I want to edit it ... but more on that in another post.
Dave Cormier's session title, "We're not your [@#$%] educational resource" was masterfully delivered and articulated. I'm honestly embarassed to say that I was not previously subscribed to Dave's blog, but that changed immediately. His claim that we minimize the importance of community as components of the OER movement was wonderfully given. The discussion and debate that occured was mind opening. On top of that, Dave is a very smart and insightful guy across a very broad spectrum. I spent way too much time hanging out talking with him about a dozen or so topics late into the night -- the Railway Club was an ideal location to expand our conversations!
John Mott from BYU simply blew me away. Another must watch presentation. All I can say is this guy knows what he is talking about on so many levels it is a bit scary. The fact he does in such an unassuming way was even more humbling. Thinking about how one builds a brdige between a personal learning environment and the LMS is a critical step along the path towards taking personal responsibility for one's own learning. Another guy who just made me smile and marvel at was Chris Lott. I've followed Chris for quite some time, but hadn't had the chance to really talk to him or see him in action. Getting to hear him talk and then spend time with him in a social setting was well worth the trip.
Then there was this undercurrent of new kids coming to the party. I met Boone Georges in person after many months of watching his Twitter stream. Andre Malen proved to be every bit as smart and articulate as both Brian Lamb and D'Arcy warned me about. I think those two, if they choose to stay in ed tech, will be great leaders in our field going forward. Having the courage and confidence to not just show up, but to challenge the thinking in such deep ways tells me so much about these two. BTW, there were about a half dozen or so amazingly intellignet young people at the event that I never did quite catch their names, so I appologize for not mentioning them by name. The old guard isn't quite old or stale enough for a total changing to happen, but this is the first new blood I've seen injected into the conversation in quite some time.
Finally, I was impressed beyond belief with the participation of my PSU colleagues. Brian Panulla, Stevie Rocco, Ann Taylor, Jeff Swain, and Keith Bailey all came ready to engage and challenge what people had to say. I admit to following Ann's running notes as a cue for what was happening in other sessions and watching Jeff's blog for his session thoughts the entire time. I saw a bit of ah-ha monets come across the face of several of them and I know that means PSU will be a stronger place with that crew amplifying the message.
I know much of that reads like a fanboy perspective, but at the end of the day these and so many other people made a profound impact on me that I had to get some of it out. The event was terrific and the city was amazing. I'm looking forward to continuing this work here at PSU and beyond over the course of the next few years. I threw out an idea to some of the people listed above about coming to PSU and taking part in an all day event designed to keep the conversation moving forward ... if they are half as passionate here as they were at OpenEd we'll be in good shape.