ALT's Membership Manager, Debbie Baff, with colleagues at OER18

OER20 People, Community and Connections…by Deb Baff

OER20 will take place on the 1st and 2nd April 2020 in London. I’ve been involved in organising the OER Conferences since 2014 and have had the pleasure of helping to review abstracts, chair and present sessions and also attend as a delegate . The OER Conference is quite a big part of my life. For example, I’m involved in OER20 in a number of different ways :


This year’s theme for #OER20 is ‘The Care in Openness’.

The call for proposals focused on caring pedagogies, open educational and scholarly practices as a form of care and asked how we can build sustainable communities and participatory practices with this in mind. There have been several excellent #OER20 guest blog posts that would be worthy of a read if you haven’t seen them yet ( Frances Bell , Laura Santana, Christian Freidrich, Jade vu Henry and Claire McAvina ) and there are many more planned over the next few weeks so make sure you book mark it !

In their opening blog post back in October 2019, the OER20 Conference Chairs Daniel, Jonathan and Mia ask :

What are your thoughts about care in relation to openness, technology and education? What role does care play in your own working days? We hope to gather all the key ingredients that can help blend open education and caring pedagogies. So tell us, what is your special recipe?

Here are some of my thoughts on this ….

Care: Openness, Technology and Education

As a member of the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) staff team, I have the absolute privilege of working for an organisation that not only has technology and education at the core of its business but also truly values openness. This is evident and highly visible through the excellent open leadership demonstrated by our Chief Executive Maren Deepwell and Martin Hawksey our Chief Innovation, Community and Technology Officer and is eloquently highlighted in the series of blog posts and podcasts entitled Virtual Teams : Openly sharing Our Approach to Leadership.

Openness runs through every strand of the ALT strategy and is an instrumental element of our daily working lives. We are a distributed organisation and as such we all work remotely. Our working practices and procedures are very thoughtfully and deliberately set out with such care in a way that it actively encourages well-being and work life balance. I feel very valued and supported in my daily work. I am of course mindful of the fact that this is often not the experience of others.

As Membership Manager for ALT with responsibility for developing member services and our CMALT accreditation, I am keen to ensure that my own approach embodies such a caring approach.

My own experiences within Open Education to date have shaped who I am, and this in turn has shaped my values and my relationships with other people. I believe it is important to connect with others in a meaningful, kind and supportive way. This will ensure the sustainability of our community.

I have been involved with the OER Conference since 2014. I helped to organise the #OER15 Conference ‘Mainstreaming Open Education’ in April 2015. I was quite new to the Open Education world in 2015, and delivery of the conference was a critical output from the project that I was working on at the time (OER Wales Cymru). As Project Manager, it was really high stakes for me that the conference was delivered successfully. Working with colleagues from ALT and the Organising Committee was an experience that I will never forget. I found a community that I loved and I have volunteered to be part of the OER Conference Organising Committee every year since.

The connections I have made through volunteering in this way have also in turn introduced me to the wider network outside of the conference including the Global Graduate Network (GO-GN), #LTHEChat, #ALTC , #SocMEDHE, #BYOD4L and many more.

I have been welcomed with warmth, compassion and kindness in these communities and encouraged to develop and grow. I have been fortunate to have made very many real friends through this process, some of whom I have met in person, others who I am yet to meet in person.

With this in mind, I came across a post the other day on the Hybrid Pedagogy blog by Cate Denial that really resonated with me. In her post, A Pedagogy of Kindness (Hybrid Pedagogy ) Cate gives a really honest account of why she chooses to practice kindness in her teaching and the importance of both believing students and believing in them. She talks about how ‘a pedagogy of kindness asks us to apply compassion in every situation we can and not to default to suspicion or anger’ (Denial, 2015)

‘I’ve found that kindness as pedagogical practice distills down to two simple things: believing people, and believing in people’ (Catherine Denial 2015)

I love being part of the Open Education Community and there are very many reasons for this. Some of which are more tangible than others. If I may, on a very personal note, share that I have found so much strength through connecting with others. Particularly memorable for me is that members of the community treated me with such kindness and compassion during a very difficult time during the #OER15 Conference ‘ Mainstreaming Open Education‘ when my lovely mum passed away. Despite working together for over a year to help bring things to fruition, on the actual day of the conference I was unable to be physically present , choosing instead to be with my mum during her final days.

I wrote this note in a reflection piece in my blog a few years ago …

Sadly my elation at the organisation of the OER15 conference was hit by the sudden illness and subsequent death of my mum which meant that I couldn’t actually attend on the day. I was deeply touched by the sheer compassion and care that I was afforded by the whole Open Community during such a difficult time . My mum actually watched some of it online with me shortly before she died and I was humbled by the mentions and thank you’s that I received which made not only me but my mum very proud. Although each OER Conference will always be a difficult anniversary for me it will also be a joyous time to be involved with such an amazing community….

Being able to still feel part of the conference through joining in virtually provided me with the strength I needed at the time. People took the time to check in with me and support me.  Even though I was not there on the day I still felt included and connected to the community. I was treated with great compassion.

In my view, connecting with people through compassion and kindness is vital in building sustainable open communities. and this is something really close to my heart. It is important for people to gain a sense of belonging.  Kathy and I will explore this further in relation to our session at #OER20 ‘ The Global Heart of GO-GN’ in relation to the Global OER Graduate Network (GO-GN). We are looking for participants so if you are a member of GO-GN please get in touch with us @debbaff @KathyEssmiller

I love being part of the wider Open Education Community itself. I’m part of something bigger. I feel connected. I feel valued. I care about the community and I feel cared for. I feel I belong. ~ Deb Baff 2017

So for me, the key ingredients that help blend open education and caring pedagogies come down to three things … people, community and connections and it is through engaging with compassion, care and kindness that we can sustain our open education community. I hope to do more of the same at #OER20. Will you join me ?

Debbie Baff