During the recent Open Education Conference, the Michelson 20MM Foundation and the awardees of our attendance scholarship program had the opportunity to hear from experts from around the world and meet others implementing open educational resources across the educational sphere. Over the next several weeks, we will share reflections from our scholarship recipients on their experiences at this year’s OpenEd Conference. Today, we are featuring James Weichert.

Seizing the Opportunity to Dream Bigger, Much Bigger

Open Ed 2021 was my first-ever academic or professional conference. As a third year undergraduate, it is fair to say that I was extremely nervous headed into the week of the conference. For one, I’m a relative newcomer to the open educational resources space. As Academic Affairs Vice President for the undergraduate student government at the University of California, Berkeley, I have a fair bit of experience arguing with faculty and administrators on behalf of students and in support of policies and initiatives that make our campus more accessible, affordable, and inclusive for students. But despite my experience in academic affairs, I still knew very little about the world of open educational resources (OER). As a result, I was extremely excited to see such a lively and welcoming conversation take shape at the conference. Even though I was a little disappointed not to be in person (not in the least because I wouldn’t mind missing a week of class), the online format opened up new opportunities for discussion, and highlighted a broader world of open education. I particularly enjoyed the digestible, fifteen-minute pre-recorded presentations from a variety of stakeholders, including researchers, librarians, faculty, and students.

My biggest takeaway, though, is that the OER community needs to be ready to seize this opportunity to dream bigger; much bigger. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of technology and open access resources to the basic functioning of higher education. It has also pushed us to fundamentally rethink the boundaries of OER itself. What does it mean to make an institution open by design? How can we expand open education beyond textbook affordability? How can we leverage technology to make the educational experience more accessible, affordable, and inclusive for students and instructors alike? I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I do know that open education does.

As universities plunge head-first back to in-person instruction, many students are beginning to wonder why options for remote learning are not sticking around. While many students are understandably eager to return to the social and mental health benefits afforded by in-person classes, many of the same students still appreciate the flexibility and accessibility provided by continuing remote learning options into the future. The need for accessibility is particularly acute for disabled students, who are at higher risk of serious illness due to COVID-19 and for whom remote learning options for this fall are a potential life-saver. I really do believe that open is the future of education. To make the most out of this opportunity, the open education community needs to be ready to embrace new ideas, new technologies, and new people. My challenge to the community is this: What would it look like to make OER more accessible and inclusive to everyone, especially people of color and people with disabilities? How can OER be a rallying point for a broader conversation about the future of education?

James Weichert is an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley. 


Honoring the 2021 Michelson Open Education Scholarship Recipients 

Cailyn Nagle is the Michelson 20MM OER Program Manager and ran the 2021 Michelson Attendance Scholarship Program. Here are their closing remarks on the blog series:

The Open Education Conference has a long history of being a learning and creative space where a mix of educators, writers, students, advocates, and others can share what works and plan for what might work. Over more than ten years, the conference has grown from the small community that started it all to include members of the open education community from across the globe. 

For the past three years, this conference has given me a refreshed perspective and sense of possibility that reframes what I know and pushes me to learn more. This year, I felt privileged to share that experience with the awardees of the Michelson 20MM attendance scholarship. 

Although we sponsored registration for the awardees, the experience was not a one way exchange–they provided valuable perspectives not only for our blog series but in the daily debriefs we hosted. Our daily conversations focused on the broader questions the conference addressed such as: What is the role of students in the open movement and how can we expand that? These conversations strengthen context to understand and share our experiences at the conference and the work of fostering a more open and inclusive education system overall. While the overviews, panels, and workshops were the conference, these brief debrief sessions were my highlight of this year’s experience. 

I want to thank each of the participants in this year’s attendance scholarship, for their written words, their shared perspectives, and of course, their hard work.  


Michelson 20MM is a private, nonprofit foundation seeking to accelerate progress towards a more just world through grantmaking, operating programs, and impact investing. Co-chaired and funded by Alya and Gary Michelson, Michelson 20MM is part of the Michelson Philanthropies network of foundations.

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