OER20 Soup Image

‘Capturing our lived experiences of #OER20 in the online #HybridSpace’…by Gabi Witthaus & Gill Ryan


BREAKING NEWS: The Open Space session, ‘Foraging for “good hybridity” in Third Spaces’ at #OER20, by Gill Ryan and myself, will no longer be run as a 30-minute synchronous session. Instead, we will facilitate a Twitter conversation throughout the conference, in which we all share our lived experience of #OER20 as a #HybridSpace.

Since we’re not going to be together in London…

The original plan was that we would all sit together in a physical space, and would discuss aspects of our educational practice in relation to some common polarities. We were then going to try to identify possible (existing or desired) transformative “Third Spaces” where a new culture, representing the best of both worlds, could be nurtured and given space to grow. Examples of common polarities and associated Third Spaces might be “traditional” vs “non-traditional” learners (Third Space = inclusive teaching?), or “teaching” vs “learning” (Third Space = co-creation?). Our session aimed to critically explore such Third Spaces, and would have involved us all in producing artsy-crafty flipbooks or other types of visual representations of these spaces. (Our trailer gives a flavour of this, with Gill showing some of her lovely handcrafted flipbooks!)

Now, however, a global pandemic has paradoxically plunged the conference into its own Third Space… If we imagine the First Space as the physical conference, which no longer exists, and the Second Space as our ideal (as individuals and a community) of what we hope to both “get out of” and “put into” the conference, then the Third Space is everyone’s actual lived experience of the online conference. This is a particularly timely concept to explore, as we all merge our work and home spaces to accommodate remote practice in the time of COVID-19.

Working from home (photo by Gill Ryan CC-BY-NC)

Third Spaces and hybridity 

The term “Third Space” is often attributed to postcolonial scholar, Homi Bhabha, who used it to refer to the ambiguity that is experienced when people from two or more different cultures meet, leading to the potential for what he called “creative heterogeneity” (Bhabha, 1994). Bhabha was interested in the unequal relations between “first world” and “third world” settings, between the coloniser and the colonised, and issues of power inherent in these relations. One of his central ideas was that the cultures of the colonisers and the colonised could be seen as existing in two separate spaces, but that an ambiguous “Third Space” could arise where these cultures merged at the margins, creating what he called a “hybrid” culture. In Bhabha’s view, the Third Space could challenge traditional power dynamics, and could be transformative for both cultures. Gill and I recently used the Third Space concept to explore aspects of agency amongst refugees and displaced learners in open and mobile learning (Witthaus and Ryan, in press), and will be sharing that when it’s published.

“Positive hybridity”, agency and #OER20 

Bhabha’s concept of hybridity has subsequently been challenged for glossing over the power inequalities that are embedded in relationships between social groups such as the colonisers and the colonised. For example, Per Bauhn, a Swedish philosopher, and Fatma Fulya Tepe, a Turkish scholar of gender issues, applied the concept of hybridity to a study of a community of Turkish refugees in the Netherlands, and concluded that, from the refugees’ perspective, there could be “good hybridity” and “bad hybridity” (Bauhn & Fulya Tepe, 2016). Most of the participants in this study said that they felt neither fully Dutch nor fully Turkish, and whilst for some, this ambiguity was experienced as disempowering, for others, being a member of both cultures was seen as augmenting their lives. The authors argued that the difference could be explained by ascertaining whether hybridity expanded or diminished an individual’s capacity for agency. By agency, they meant a person’s “capacity to realize her goals by means of her voluntary and purposive behaviour” (p. 353). The key question they asked themselves, therefore, was: “Did the person choose this hybridity, or was it imposed on them?” Where hybridity was chosen, it was accompanied by a sense of agency, and was experienced as positive. This chimes with bell hooks’ claim that, as a female African American from a working class family, she has purposely chosen to live her own life” in the margin”, rather than having marginality imposed upon her. She refers to that space in the margin as “a site of creativity and power… where we move in solidarity to erase the category colonised/coloniser” (hooks, 1989, p.23).

These notions of positive vs negative hybridity, choice vs imposition, and agency vs powerlessness, themselves seem to invite Third Space thinking, emphasising the political nature of hybridity in Third Spaces. Many people who find themselves in a hybrid situation did not choose that particular version of reality. All of us in the OER conference community will feel, at least to some extent, that the online format was imposed upon us. It will be a hybrid space that may contain possibilities for individual agency to be enhanced for some, or diminished for others. Some might find the virtual experience anxiety-provoking or stressful, while others experience it as “natural”. Some will be better equipped (both materially and in terms of digital literacies) to experience it positively. Some people may find they have accessibility needs that are better met online than face-to-face, or vice versa. There may be some participants who would never have joined in the face-to-face conference, but now find themselves becoming part of a whole new academic and social community. There will be as many different “lived experiences” of #OER20 as there are conference participants. Gill and I (and, we think, many other conference participants) will be intrigued to know: how is it going for you?

So… here’s the plan: a Twitter conversation about #OER20 and #HybridSpace

Starting now, and throughout the conference, we invite you to tweet, using the hashtags #OER20 #HybridSpace, posting anything you would like to share about your lived experience of the online conference. Let’s share photos of our home workspaces, our feet in our slippers, our cats on our keyboards, screenshots of our conference highlights, etc., as well as comments about how we are feeling about engaging online with the conference and the OER community. The creative element may not be entirely lost, as we can also use the Remixer flipbook to visualise our #HybridSpaces.

After #OER20 

After the conference, Gill and I will collate and share the visually rich expressions of our collective #HybridSpace as an #OER20 artefact, and will attempt to carry out a (totally unscientific!) analysis of the factors that appeared to contribute to people’s experiences of either positive or negative hybridity. In the meantime, we wish everyone happy hybridity, and invite you all to start tweeting about your lived experience of #OER20, using the hashtag #HybridSpace!


Bauhn, P. & Fulya Tepe, F. (2016). Hybridity and agency: Some theoretical and empirical observations. Migration Letters 3 (13), 350-358.

Bhabha, H. K. (1994). The Location of Culture. Routledge. London: Routledge.

hooks, b. (1984). Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center. Boston, MA.: South End Press.

Soja, E. W. (1998). Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and other Real-and-Imagined Places. Capital & Class (Vol. 22). Cambridge MA: Blackwell.

Witthaus, G. & Ryan, G. (In press). ‘Supported mobile learning in the “Third Spaces” between formal and non-formal education for displaced people’, in Traxler, J. & Crompton, H. (eds). Critical Mobile Pedagogy: Cases of Inclusion, Development, and Empowerment. New York: Routledge.

Author Info: Gabi Witthaus is a consultant at Art of E-learning. She is doing her PhD on the online engagement of refugees and asylum seekers in HE. She also works in the College of Arts & Law Digital Education Team at the University of Birmingham. Twitter: @twitthaus Blog: www.artofelearning.org