Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing reflections from our #OpenEd scholarship recipients on their experiences at this year’s Open Education Conference. Today, we are featuring Alison Cole, an Academic Librarian and Assistant Professor at Felician University.

The Open Education Conference (OpenEd) was an online affair this year, but the event managed to surpass my expectations in feeling like a “real conference.” I have participated in countless webinars and online workshops in the past, but this was my first time attending a weeklong virtual conference. I started the way I would with any conference, by skimming the events schedule and planning which sessions to attend. Iin this case, I had to be mindful of my day-to-day responsibilities and screen time to avoid burnout. While it was tempting to try and attend as many sessions as possible, I felt good about picking and choosing selectively as I could go back and view recordings of sessions that I missed. Even a week after the conference I am still working my way through the videos and enjoying every second of it! 

A huge perk of a virtual conference is the ability to collaborate with people from around the world. Of course, another perk is taking coffee breaks in my kitchen. I even managed to snag some conference swag by way of the Taco Tuesday recipe contest that went down on Discord!

I attended the opening Welcome session and the “Get to Know Discord” session that followed. I spent all week on the OpenEd20 Discord server and Twitter building community and networking. The platforms allowed me to dig deeper into topics that interest me and gain new insights and resources to help me in my professional development. I was inspired by the many presenters that opened their sessions with Indigenous Land Acknowledgement statements and unsure of where to start, I asked in the #open-ed-101 and #practices channels in Discord for resources in creating one. I received so many great maps, how-to’s, and resources to help me get started in response.

Open education makes education and learning more equitable and accessible for all. I registered for the conference hoping to learn about new technologies, resources, and ways to scale the use of open educational resources (OER) not only at my institution but also across schools throughout New Jersey. OER and open access can make a real difference in ensuring learners and researchers are able to access quality research and information. These free materials support social justice, inclusion, and anti-racist education. Libraries, librarians, and other information professionals are in the perfect position to guide the shift to an environment of open information.

In Monday’s “Open Educational Resources as Tools to Foster Equity” I learned how the “5 R’s of OER” can be powerful tools for recognitive justice (Revising and Remixing OER to increase visibility of diversity and social differences), representational justice (representing student voices by involving them in the creation and participation), and redistributive justice (Retaining, Reusing, and Redistributing free materials).

Many of the sessions were directly applicable to my current work with OER at my institution. “OER Courses: From 0 to 46 in One Year!” helped me to streamline my own processes and procedures as a librarian advocating for OER and assisting faculty in adoption. Having the faculty map their weekly activities and lessons to learning outcomes is a crucial step in matching appropriate OER. As a librarian in a private institution, “That’s not an issue here: Addressing Myths and Misconceptions about OER at Private Institutions” provided me with examples of real-world applications of OER programs at private institutions that I can bring back to my own.  

I ended the week feeling refreshed, motivated, and armed with the tools and community to advocate for open education. The conference welcomed attendees from nearly every state and over fifty countries. I was able to reconnect with colleagues across the nation and forge new bonds with open advocates from around the globe. I look forward to keeping in touch and following along many of the projects I learned about this past week. The event left me full of ideas and hope for the future of education. A scholarship from Michelson 20MM allowed me to attend this year’s Open Education Conference, and I’m already excited about returning in 2021.

To quote the Monday Plenary, “Openness is the right way to do scholarship.”

The Michelson 20MM Foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in leading organizations, technologies, and initiatives that seek to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful career. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. Visit us at 20mm.org.