OER18 and OEGlobal18, trends and findings


Two conferences in two consecutive weeks, both on research and experiences with open education. The first conference, OER18, took place in Bristol on 18 and 19 April. The second, OEGlobal18, in Delft from 24 to 26 April.
This blogpost contains a personal reflection on both conferences.

Are the conferences very different?

In order to characterise the two conferences, the following table shows some characteristics for comparison.

CharacteristicOER18OEGlobal18
# Participants160380
# Countries represented17 (**)45
Country with highest # participantsUKThe Netherlands (33%)
# Submissions (initial)91216
% accepted80%82%
# Presentations75± 160 (*)
ThemeOpen for allTransforming Education Through Open Approaches
SubthemesOpen Learning Skills, OER, Open and Learners, Politics in Action, Diversity and Inclusivity, WildcardConnections, Formal education, Innovation, Institutionalizing, Open Education research, Policies, Practices, Student perspectives, Tools
ContentMainly researchResearch, experiences (cases)

(*) A number of accepted proposals were finally withdrawn by the proposers for various reasons (mostly financial).
(**) Based on 59% of the participants who provided this information
(Thanks to Maren Deepwell and Martin Hawksey for providing the data for OER18)
This table shows that there are significant differences between the two conferences. The larger scale and greater diversity of subthemes in OEGlobal18 are particularly striking. As a result, the atmosphere at OER18 is a little cuddlier and things are a little less tightly regulated, albeit both events were running smoothly.

Can clear trends be derived from both conferences?

Not really new trends, but more a confirmation of trends earlier observed: attention for the adoption of OER, both at the level of the institution and at the (inter)national level (the latter often at the policy level), practices concerning open textbooks, educational innovations with open educational practices or open pedagogy and their impact on learners and results, and more intertwining of different fields of openness, in particular between Open Science and Open Education. Little experience yet with techniques such as VR/AR and AI and their applications in the open domain.
One theme, however, was highly present in OER18 and (to a lesser extent) in OEGlobal18: attention for the inclusiveness of openness. In particular at OER18, this was the subject of many presentations and of the keynote, not surprisingly regarding their theme “Open for all”. Terms that were often mentioned in this context:

  • Narrative: the story of an individual or organisation about openness in education. Many of these stories are based on a fairly homogeneous environment and culture: that of the Western, highly educated middle-aged white man. This carries the risk that (unintentionally) entire groups in the world will receive less attention and will therefore experience less benefits from more open education. Closely related to this:
  • Underprivileged groups: those groups of people who are less reached by the open movement. Particular mention is made of women.

These debates are necessary, otherwise inclusiveness and equality as mentioned in UNESCO SDG4 (Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all) would be at risk. At the same time, I have the following comments on this:

  • These debates are being held, consciously or unconsciously, in the context of higher education. This carries the risk that a large part of the world’s population will remain “underprivileged”. For example: a study by Ben Janssen and myself on the adoption of OER in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training sector showed that hardly any attention is paid to this sector from the perspective of the open movement, both in research and in practice. There also seems to be much less attention for K-12, although several presentations addressed this sector, in particular at OEGlobal18. This may however also be related to the target group targeted by both conferences (higher education and (OEGlobal18) community colleges). But the question then becomes: where will these debates for other sectors than Higher Education take place?
  • These debates are, by their nature and subject matter, very philosophical and theoretical. David Wiley asked the question “Purist or pragmatist?” in his keynote at OER18. As a “pragmatist”, I find it difficult to translate findings from these debates into the practice of teachers and lecturers who we want to make aware of the benefits of open education. I have already described this dilemma in a blog post in 2012 (English version), in which I asked (in slightly different terms) the question “purist or pragmatist”.

Are there current trends less present at these conferences?

Yes, in addition to the aforementioned developments with VR/AR and AI applications, open badges and credentials and applications of learning analytics did hardly feature in the presentations at both conferences.

What does this mean for (higher) education in the Netherlands?

Just carry on with what we are already doing in terms of research, experiments and implementations, aiming at a wider adoption of OER, but with more focus on open practices and open pedagogy. However, an effort towards primary education, secondary education and MBO would enable initiatives for the adoption of OER to substantiate the observation that most seems to happen in higher education. There was such an initiative in the years 2009-2013 with the Wikiwijs programme. In the meantime, Wikiwijs has become increasingly well known, in particular within secondary education. This can form a solid basis for concentrated actions in research and implementations for the adoption of OER.
Looking back at OEGlobal18

Looking back at OER18