Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


Keep Calm and Carry On – but carefully and differently #OER20

Quilt top

Quilt top I am currently quilting

So it has happened – OER20 in London in April has been cancelled. This comes as no surprise but it’s still disappointing not to be meeting up with friends, hearing their ideas and, in my case, meeting some of the people whose beautiful textile art work has arrived at my house in Macclesfield, to be stitched together by me and others. I am currently quilting four quilts that I hope will have a digital launch at a replacement online event.   Replacing OER20 in London must also be a disappointment and additional work for ALT staff and Trustees, and I think that they deserve our gratitude for their professionalism and hard work.

I, quite deliberately, used the term ‘cancelled’ rather than ‘moved online’ because I want to think about work in the context of what will replace online what would have happened at OER20 in London. So, this post is about how to move online.

We are in the middle of COVID-19, a global pandemic, and that is primarily a humanitarian crisis with some economic consequences. Of course, it doesn’t help that some of us live in countries whose leaders’ self-interest, lack of humanity and ability to lie, with no shade of embarrassment, leaves us in danger, and sometimes ignorance. Fortunately, good medical advice is available and usually followed even when good political decision-making is in short supply. ALT Board and Trustees have made a good decision to cancel the face to face conference.

So, in this situation, I think it is useful to think carefully about what online activities might best replace OER20 from a work perspective.

I offer you this recent article by Lorna Campbell as a reading prompt, We need to recognise where the burden of care falls in higher education.

Offering an online replacement for OER20 will involve ALT professional staff in different work from the f2f conference but it also requires work and decisions from potential participants. We could ask:

Where does the burden of care fall in moving OER20 online?

I’m going to use #FemEdTechQuilt as a metaphor for how OER20 could and sometimes couldn’t move online.

The quilt is a material artefact and it will exist by 1 April, providing I do the material work still needed to complete it – and I will.

Anne-Marie Scott and I had always planned a launch of the digital artefact on 1 April and hopefully that will go ahead as planned. Whatever digital launch the quilt gets at an online replacement for OER20, it doesn’t need to attempt to replicate whatever was going to happen at OER20 in London. And it won’t replace the launch of the material quilt artefact that will happen in future at some face to face event(s). A material artefact like #FemEdTechQuilt deserves a launch where it can be seen and possibly touched in all its glory (though I might have to ask you to bring cotton gloves). We must honour the work of many hands that it is.

A combined launch of our digital and material quilt artefacts would require me to spend time on videoing the finished quilts and more of the process, and frankly, that ain’t going to happen. I can’t spare time from the material completion of the quilts to present them and their process digitally beyond what was originally planned.

What can this tell us about the burden of care in moving OER20 online?

Let’s face it – we can’t replicate the brilliant programme that OER20 in London promised – Keynotes and six parallel streams, let alone the social interactions.

I am a co-author of two sessions accepted for #OER20. The first, a workshop entitled Femedtech Quilt of Care and Justice in Open Education: Final Touches involved material activities where participants would use a sewing machine, draw with fabric pens, iron on shapes cut from fabric, sew fancy stitches to close the binding.  Our quilts are already full of the results of similar activities conducted by contributors who then sent their squares to me. It was a fairly easy decision to forget about trying to replace that workshop with an online activity.

It might be possible to replace the second session, co-authored with Catherine Cronin, Careful and caring struggle: Connecting past movements for social change with possible futures for open education with an online activity but any decision on that would be guided by care for Catherine whose workload as Strategic Developer for must have vastly increased yesterday with the announcement on the closure of Schools and Colleges in Ireland. This is a time for careful prioritisation and postponement of decisions.

Re-reading our session description, I was struck by this part

…. quote from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth: “Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.” At first reading, Smith’s quote suggests a binary of the view of each moment that we experience (inside), and the view of the same moment that others have (outside). Moments and others are multiple, however –as are meanings– thus dissolving the binary of inside/outside.

We are having many moments in this current situation.  Let’s situate care for ourselves and care for others in what we do. We can postpone decisions, we can resist placing expectations on others. We can choose not to do certain things. And we can spare time from our work to have some fun.

So what might I hope for as a participant in online activities that might replace the OER20 programme?

I’m hoping for brevity. That people who had multiple sessions might cancel some, or combine them with others. I’d love to see sessions offered in shorter forms, 5 minute punchy talks, or even the session captured as an image or a Haiku, with opportunities for engagement. Those offering sessions will be thinking about the work involved in making the session online: and those attending will be thinking about how they participate alongside their changing family and work commitments.

I’m also hoping for low effort social engagement – online equivalents of tea/coffee breaks.

For all sorts of reasons, I have been thinking a lot about the human and material aspects of labour over the last six months, and feminist perspectives are helping. One of my current projects is one that you will see, hopefully next week, and I will prioritise it over any additional work that a virtual conference might require. There is important work being done at femedtech at the minute that is another priority for me.

So I am going to keep calm and carry on but carefully and differently.


francesbell • March 13, 2020

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  1. Catherine Cronin March 16, 2020 - 3:16 pm Reply

    Thank you so much, Frances. I’m only seeing this today but am grateful, as ever, for your calm and caring view of the whole – especially in a time of global crisis. Thank you. I will think, with you, about how we might reframe our contribution to OER20 in a way that is useful and respectful of where we all are now. It does indeed seem even more important to create “‘well-lit space(s)’… to draw connections from past struggles for social change and possibly to articulate new possibilities…”

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