This week was spent at the OpenEd14 conference in Washington DC along with about 100 other people from Canada (slight exaggeration). I was accompanied by my daughter who busied herself with Minecraft and drawings on Hilton hotel paper. We managed to get to a good number of sessions and having her there forced me to pace myself during the jam packed 3 days.
I’ve attended the two OpenED conferences that have happened in Vancouver, which my first attendance back in 2009. I was struck by how far it’s come in terms of attendance and number of sessions. This OpenEd felt a little more international, with a little more research options, and a great librarian focussed/influenced track. I think this is a good thing and it felt like the field had matured in a significant way.
It’s hard to be critical about one of the conferences that I most value, but in the interest of helping to highlight areas of improvement I’d say that still missing from OpenEd (as it is in other Ed Tech conferences) is greater diversity of voices and amplification of those voices. Ryan Brazell has a great series of recent blog posts that touch on some of this and every one of them is worth reading. The @Hybridped folks also put on a good session that outlined the importance of more voices to the conversation, which I appreciated. Beyond this, I observed that some (although not all) of the international speakers weren’t well attended, and some presentations were overwhelming attended by one gender (including my own, where more than 70% of the attendees were female). This might be pure fluke, and is hardly scientific, but it’s perhaps worth paying attention too. For the record, I’m guilty of attending sessions by people that I “know” or follow on Twitter despite consciously trying to make a effort to explore new people and new topics. I’m reminded of one of the first Northern Voice conferences way back in 2007-ish where in one of the gender diversity in blogging sessions a male audience member asked us to observe our blogrolls and count how many female bloggers were actually being followed. This has stuck with me as an example of how sometimes good intention doesn’t translate into action and I think that there’s probably still some work to do to broaden the field as it moves into bigger pastures.
That aside, I have nothing but enormous thanks and respect for those who organized, supported, and kept us well fed with really great food at this year’s OpenEd. It was an incredibly welcoming place for me attending with a child who was also welcomed (and having dragged her to other less welcoming conferences, it was greatly appreciated). Washington DC was one of the most stranger friendly places I’ve been too–I think I made more friends in the Starbucks line up and the Metro than I have in the last 10 years in Vancouver. I hope that when OpenED travels back to Vancouver next year, we can be as sincerely friendly and welcoming as DC was for us, and since the BCcampus folks are hosting, I have not doubt that it will be GREAT.