Long time no post....but I have had a few proverbial balls in the air of late. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Creative Commons Global Summit for the first time, and I find the best way to get the most out of any conference is to take a few days...or in this case a few weeks...to think about the experience and then at least *try* to get some of those muddled thoughts out, to synthesize and make meaning from the experience.
This has been a hard post to write. See what I said over there --> "messy thinking, free writing" - I'm not sure why this one feels so difficult. Perhaps it is because I have so much going on in my brain - not about the Summit per se, but ALL OF IT. So, as I have said, bear with me.
It was my first time. I was late. I missed the first keynote, and all of the feelings that might have come with participating in the opening. The first thing I noticed was how BIG it felt. Not big by conventional conference standards - definitely not in the way that other conferences feel - no big hall full of vendor pitches (thought I am still confused by Top Hat guarding the door at the entrance to the main room). But I immediately felt lost. And this is in NO WAY a comment on the organization of the conference - Terry and Mari - they did an amazing job.
More, it was just about me, trying to find my place in the fray.
I have been reflecting on the fact that we so easily find our people in these moments. We gravitate towards those that we know. But, one of my most meaningful, albeit short and ostensibly superficial, exchanges of the whole weekend happened in the first 5 minutes. I went to the washroom to gather myself and chatted along with a woman who had travelled from Kenya. Tracey. We talked about the weather. It was her first time in Toronto. In true Canadian fashion, I apologized. I wish that I had connected with her again. But instead, I looked for familiar faces, and so I worry and wonder if I missed out on all of those other connections, and an opportunity to follow up on that first conversation over the next few days.
"Design is Everything"
I have been thinking a lot about how we "design" the conference experience. And, I am certainly no expert. But, a few things here. First of all, it seems that most conferences are still stuck (?) on the same old formats. Keynotes, (even one of the keynotes introduced her talk as the "I hate keynotes, keynote"), panels, formal presentations...
And, all of this is perhaps "okay". But, I have been thinking about the ways that this feels "othering" to those in the audience. And, so why is it if we know that active inquiry, active learning, and communities of practice are the best way to engage and learn, that we are not seeing more of these types of formats at conferences?
And while I am pretty certain there were no "assholes" at the CC Summit, the point remains that if we still only have a few people speaking from the front of the room, no matter how critical and awesome they might be, it still might get in the way of establishing a culture of care and community.
In the first session I co-facilitated, "Common Connections: Finding a Home on the Open Range", along with other Ontario educators (and our honourary Open Ranger, British Columbian co-facilitator, Rajiv Jhangiani) we wanted to foster a different environment, where folks could sit in small groups and discuss their experiences. It was only upon arriving at the room that we realized that we had been assigned to a space that felt a lot like a mini lecture hall. Rows of chairs facing forward, no tables or collaborative spaces. We did it, and it was fine, but...
The next day, I had the pleasure of helping Rajiv facilitate a session called "How Might we Destroy the Open Education Movement: An Interactive Discussion about Ethics, Inclusion and Equity" The presentation was originally conceived by Christina Hendricks and Rolin Moe for #OpenEd17, but unfortunately neither could attend the Summit. If I hadn't been facilitating, I would certainly have attended because the session invited participants to challenge the work.
By employing two Liberating Structures, TRIZ and 1-2-4-ALL, attendees were asked three vital questions:
1. If we were invested in ensuring Open Education is not open, what actions would we take?
I found the session to be a-buzz with conversation. We even had a commercial publisher in the room. And, given my day job, this kind of facilitation felt completely natural to me. It wasn't until about 10 minutes in that I realized that this wasn't entirely comfortable for everyone. It was Jess Mitchell (who I immediately had the biggest academic crush on, for reals, she is amazing) who voiced that she was struggling with the format, and got me started in considering the design.
Later, (and we both left the session a wee bit early for our V-Connecting session) we discussed what it means to be so structured, and what it means to be unstructured. Jess noted an important point - if we are asking folks to collaborate on something, to make human connections, but then we throw a Google Doc up on the screen, what primacy is placed on the screen versus the humans at the table? Where is the balance? As she noted, "design is everything".
Recently, Maha Bali delivered a keynote for #unicollab2018 and in her slides I found this...The Tyranny of Structurelessness, and I am still ruminating...
Stay Critical. "How to Break Open"
In the themes that emerged from the session above, it was clear that indeed ethics, inclusion and equity need to be at the fore across this work. Discussions about exclusion permeated the conversations around the tables - whether it be by publishing only in English, keeping students at a distance, or ascending only the same established voices at our conferences or online - it seems we have a pretty clear idea of what won't work.
The session reminded me once again, that we need to be thoughtful. In all of our conversations, all of our design decisions. Every. Single. One. How can we ensure that our connections place emphasis on all of the humans in the room (and those joining us remotely for sure). If we have this understanding of how we might break the movement, why are we still making some of these "mistakes"? As a person somewhat (2015) new to the "movement" (is there a movement?), I find that we are perpetuating some of the same structures that we would otherwise claim to resist.
I volunteered for the opportunity to join the "Humans of the Commons" facilitated by Loup Design and Innovation Group, to answer a few questions at the Summit. I didn't know the questions going in, and so my answers were 100% from the gut. When they asked (10:10), "What do you perceive to be the greatest threat to the Commons", I answered "Ourselves".
What I was trying to say - perhaps not eloquently, is that we need to stay critical. At the Summit, Chris Bourg delivered a provocative keynote, reminding us that we are not neutral.
This work is most definitely already happening. This is not a new idea. One only needs to read some of my colleagues' recent posts, here (Sheila MacNeill), here (Lorna Campbell), here (Tannis Morgan) from #OpenEd18 to see this. I was reflecting on how at #OpenCon my eyes were opened to new perspectives, how transformative the final "Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion" panel was in provoking me to check my own internal biases, and to step outside my bubble. Indeed, reading thispost from Lorraine Chuen (as sadly I also missed this session), I realize I still have a lot of learning to do.
We all do. And so how can we move away from asking a few select "experts" to sit at the front of the room on the panel? Yes, their voices are important. Their work is laudable. They are probably amazing. But they aren't the only voices in the room. How can we do better? Who else might keynote? What can we do instead of a keynote?
A lot of folks seem to be referencing that "collaboration moves at the speed of trust" (Covey, 2006) of late. I am left reflecting on how we can build trust to ensure that our collaborations are not only more successful, but also more diverse, equitable and inclusive. How can we design our experiences in such a way that ensures this? If there is one thing I know, it is that I LOVE the community that is "open". But we can do better. We need to keep actively working at building connections and community.
And so after the summit, I found myself again asking, "whose voices am *I* missing"? How can I make sure that "next time" I will seek out Tracey? Who can I work with to ensure a multiplicity of lenses and experiences? What actions can I take to practice care, reciprocity and improved collaboration?
What will my contribution be?
POSTSCRIPT: We hosted our annual conference this year, "Teaching and Learning Innovations" and the theme was "Diversity and Inclusive Approaches". I was struck by how many of my colleagues noted that they were overwhelmed to hear some of our other colleagues, particularly POC, and especially WOC, discuss their experiences on our campus. And so, I realize, this work can start at "home", in my local context. We can all make small contributions in this way.