Guest post: A meta-conversation of our collective experience of OER20 as a hybrid space…by Gill Ryan and Gabi Witthaus

Last summer, when Gabi and I started collaborating on a book chapter exploring ‘third spaces’ and hybridity in refugee education, little did we know that all our working, teaching and learning would be taking place in hybrid spaces by the time OER20 rolled round. Initially, we had planned an open session to explore what makes for ‘good hybridity’ (Gabi explains more in her pre-conference blog). Inspired by the FemEdTech quilt, we had incorporated craft into the session with templates for flipbooks that participants could use to illustrate third spaces in their open educational practice. As events overtook us and the conference moved online, the session morphed into a Twitter chat about the hybrid space in which OER20 was taking place.

Gabi and I were up alongside some amazing sessions – both live and pre-recorded – and wondered who would venture into our wee chat with so much competing for their attention. But I think we tapped into something that people needed to talk about. While the hashtag (#HybridSpace) hadn’t been used by other contributors, many of them touched on the concepts we were exploring. Alan Levine asked “Do we have to be there to care?” and highlighted the traditional conference gap of the “there and there-nots”, those with conference and travel budgets versus the many who cannot access those privileged spaces. Maha Bali and Autumm Caines explored the idea of hospitality in virtual conferencing, ensuring that those who participate remotely feel welcome. Sava Singeli Singh began her session by expressing her sadness at not being able to meet some of us in person, but her joy at being able to meet so many more of us online. She noted that OER20 had moved from closed to open and that this may be our opportunity to move to a Star Trek future!

One of the abiding realisations of the past couple of months has been that accommodations requested by disabled people, carers and others who could benefit from remote working, learning and conferencing are now suddenly not just possible but essential. ‘Good hybridity’, according to Bauhn and Fulya Tepe (2016), is determined by how much it enhances a person’s agency. Obviously moving the conference online increased accessibility, enabling people to attend who otherwise would not have been able to. But some of the themes arising in our chat suggested that online access does not advantage everyone, or may advantage or disadvantage the same people in different ways. Some presenters had to rise in the middle of night (or stay up very late) to deliver their sessions. An anglo-centric online conference advantages those in and around the GMT time zone but may be less accessible to people who would otherwise have travelled there. Looking ahead to OER21, we discussed the idea of a Follow-the-sun type conference, which offered round-the-clock hosting distributed between universities on three continents. The number of pre-recorded sessions and the recording of the live sessions enabled people to ‘attend’ more sessions that they could usually, and this asynchronous activity was seen as a positive, as was the communality, communication through various channels and ability to engage with presenters. One of the contributors admitted approaching technology burnout as she spends so much of her time in front of screens these days, feeling like a ‘cyborg’ but still enjoying dancing virtually with other conference participants.

As well as sharing their thoughts, we asked people to share visuals of their #HybridSpace. We also moved our idea of flipbooks online and invited participants to make their own using Visual Thinkery’s Remixer (based on an idea by Maren Deepwell), though not many took us up on it. One of OER20’s social activities was to encourage people to share #ThisIsMe photos, many of them revealing the hybrid spaces in which participants were engaging with the conference. Slippers, cats and sleeping babies filled our twitter feeds. We included some of these images in our curation of tweets, links and images from our #HybridSpace session in a Wakelet, intended as an artefact of OER20.

It’s a tribute to the ALT team who worked so hard to make it happen that OER20 featured so many interactive conversations, with no less sense of community, ideas and fun than previous years. The KaraOERke session on Wednesday evening featured children and doggos who usually wouldn’t get to participate. By necessity, the boundaries between our professional and personal worlds are blurring, allowing us to share our humanity in a way we are not usually given permission to do. Presenters can deliver sessions with their kids doing exercise sessions in the next room, scary dinosaurs can wander in behind their parents’ zoom camera, we can admit, as Frances Bell did in the FemEdTech quilt session, that what used to take us an hour now takes four, and dozens of people from around the world can cry together online. Humanity and care were very much in evidence at our hybrid OER20.

Gill Ryan (@gill_ie) and Gabi Witthaus (@twitthaus)

OER20 #HybridSpace Wakelet:

OER20 blog: ‘Capturing our lived experiences of #OER20 in the online #HybridSpace’

Refugee Learning Stories (splot):


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

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.