OpenEd 2009 Recap

I spent the better part of last week attending the OpenEd 2009 conference in Vancouver, B.C. The event itself has pushed me in so many directions I’ve had a terribly difficult time making sense of all of it. It was certainly one of the most interesting mix of personal and professional growth that I’ve dealt with in quite a long time. Last year I was lucky enough to attend Harvard’s Berkman at 10 conference and I must say while that event made me rethink everything I thought I knew about the Internet, this event has reshaped my thinking about my ability to impact education in a more general sense.

When I registered for the event it had quite a bit to do with the people I knew would be there and the opportunity to meet and talk through issues with those folks was key. The sessions surprised me in ways that I was honestly not prepared for, each one I attended was massively insightful and wonderfully done. I’ll do my best in this post to reflect on some of the things that jumped out at me, but will in no way be able to fully articulate the things that are still roaming around in my head as they relate to the Open Education community. What follows are notes and reflections that were started sometime during the week and have been edited on and off over the course of several days — it’ll bounce between present, future, and past tense … so try to hang in and I apologize going in about how long it is.



New Scholarship, Pedagogy, and Opportunities

Clearly some of the work David Wiley has ben doing will lay the groundwork for informing Institutions about the relative value an OER initative will have on their long term success. The part of OER that is unfortunate to me has been listening to many top level administrators frame the discussion as one that is built solely on financial issues. Many of the people actually invested in the OER space talk about it as a “moral imperative,” related to sharing content to the World and doing good. I agree with this stance on lots of levels but it is the realities of the Institutional base that creates a strong argument against doing it. I feel like what is begining to happen is that there are people (Wiley is one of them) who are looking more critically at what it might mean to a University from both a financial and moral perspective. The other thing here is that I spend nearly all of my time thinking only about resident learning and ways to make that a more open experience. The other thing that I noticed is that most of the conversation related to OER focuses more on the more pure distant education and not resident education. This has kept on the sidelines for much of the conversation. The meeting in Vancouver made me rethink that position …

I did my best to share my thoughts related to openness from an RI perspective and tried to stress that we shouldn’t limit our activities to simply courseware, but also tools that empower openness. I think through the conversations I had I was able to talk those notions through with some people, but at times I did feel as though I was still on the outside looking in. Reflecting on the whole experience I can say I feel much better about coming at this from a slightly different perspective.

The final note I’ll make about the notion of new conversations and scholarship centers around the fact that the OpenEd conference has become an internationally known event that draws some of the most serious educational technologists in the world. The fact that I can be asked to participate in a global conversation that is really designed by ed tech people for ed tech people is relatively stunning. The place was absolutely buzzing with energy and without being too over the top, it felt to me like there is a bit of a sea change on the horizon. I think for too many years we perhaps leaned on potentially out moded forms of design that are centered on ignoring the power of the open social web. It is in that realization that I felt as though I really belonged with this group. I think that we may be in the moment where the work of the last 10 years specifically will begin to penetrate the thinking as it relates to teaching and learning. That we can drive real curricular change and challenge the notion of the behaviorist view of traditional learning design. The flexibility and openness afforded to us is empowering educational technologits to imagine new forms of pedagogy that over time could radically alter the open vs. closed conversation that dominates much of education. Again, I don’t want to make too much of it, but spending time talking through this issue is what has been the transformative moment of the event for me. Openness will happen, but I believe it will be built on new forms of scholarship and pedagogy by people who have been living their lives in the social web — experimenting, imagining, and designing learning spaces that tear down the long standing notions of top down, locked down content. That to me is more motivating than anything I can consider.

People Matter

Like I mentioned earlier, I went mainly for the people and the hope for intense conversations. I am leaving with an even greater sense of community and with new friendships. I’ll clearly leave people out, but the hospitatility and intensity of those who put this event together is inspiring — Brian Lamb, David Wiley, Chris Lott, and Scott Leslie all put their best foot forward and built something that is clearly very difficult to create — an event that is intellectually challenging paired with what I would consider a world-class collection of voices in the field. Canada has its share of thought leaders in our field, but I had no idea I would meet so many more. Some of the others who either rocked me with their sessions or just through informal conversations are listed below … in no particular order.

Alec Courous is someone whom I read as much as I can and have come to respect on so many levels over the last few years. As a faculty member he is challenging the notions of scholarship and pushing his field in new directions. While Alec didn’t present, the conversations I had with him — down to his empassioned readings of twitter messages — made me think even more critically how important it is for me to personally continue to attack my own doctorate and to press my colleagues at Penn State to follow his lead. His open course, Social Media and Open Education is a very interesting model that we may consider for our own C&I 597 course Scott McDonald and I will teach in the spring. Very cool design and the openness is amazing.

I’ve know D’Arcy Norman for years online and have even had a chance to meet him once face to face prior to the event itself. D’Arcy styles himself as just “a lowly ed tech geek from the University of Calgery …” what he is however is someone who started much of the incidental openness that has spawned the very community that gathered here in Vancouver last week. He doesn’t write as much as he used to, but D’Arcy was honestly the first voice I heard online from my own field. He didn’t intend to inspire people in our field to bypass the traditional publishing path and make our own voice, but he did. These efforts pushed many of us, including me, to start experimenting with open platforms and to start imagining how they could be used in a teaching and learning contexts. Our discussions did not disappoint and I was thrilled to see he is just as snarky in person as he is on Twitter. His talk was short, but created lots of ongoing conversation … I would have liked to have had more time.

Telling Stories by the Fire

Telling Stories by the Fire

Alan Levine‘s “Amazing Stories of Openness” session was a real highlight. Alan always pushes it hard when he presents, but this was a whole new level. Alan used the open web and made calls for amazing stories from colleagues across the country and beyond. Alan decided that instead of him telling the stories he’d light the camp fire and have a virtual panel where he moderated and negitiated his way through some of the best reflective videos I’ve seen. I think in a lot of ways his approach was more about imploring those in attendance that amazing does happen in education when you build it on transparency.

History of EduGlu

History of EduGlu

My time with Jim Groom did not disappoint. I find it amazing that Jim drives forward with everything he does with both massive amounts of energy and passion yet controls his message so well. But the thing that strikes me in a deeper way is that each time I spend time with him I see how truly innovative and forward thinking he really is. I was just as in awe of his talk, “The Design of Openness” this time as I have been in the past, but his approach was softer and more well articulated in many ways. Instead of hitting us over the head with a technological solution to a problem that may or may not exist he spent his time weaving a story that focused on the things we should be concerned about — most importantly student learning and engagement. He deflects compliments, but he is honestly opening new doors for many of us to get our message out there to people outside our specific slice of the field.

Gardner Mesmerized Us

Gardner Mesmerized Us

This was my first time getting to listen to Gardner Campbell from Baylor give a talk. I’ve met Garder and he is certainly one of my daily reads. He is also a faculty member working to redesign the Honors College at Baylor and he will do it with a style and substance that few I’ve met can bring. His talk, “No Digital Facelifts” was nothing short of mesmerizing. It was the only session that I went to that felt it lasted five minutes. Articulate, smart, and a bit provactive his message really resonated with me. His delivery was masterful — as much as any of the best lectures I’ve been to … in other words, he schooled us all. It is a much watch. His ideas of students as “sys admins” for their own educational cyber-infrastructure is at first almost laughable until you start to sit back and think about how little flexibility we give students to explore and design their own online identities. His metaphor of C-Panel as the CMS was staggering upon further reflection and while there isn’t a chance in the world that we could honestly do something like that, it gives me hope that within the next 5-10 years we can make real steps in that direction. When I go back and re-read my last sentence I want to edit it … but more on that in another post.

Dave Cormier’s session title, “We’re not your [@#$%] educational resource” was masterfully delivered and articulated. I’m honestly embarassed to say that I was not previously subscribed to Dave’s blog, but that changed immediately. His claim that we minimize the importance of community as components of the OER movement was wonderfully given. The discussion and debate that occured was mind opening. On top of that, Dave is a very smart and insightful guy across a very broad spectrum. I spent way too much time hanging out talking with him about a dozen or so topics late into the night — the Railway Club was an ideal location to expand our conversations!

John Mott from BYU simply blew me away. Another must watch presentation. All I can say is this guy knows what he is talking about on so many levels it is a bit scary. The fact he does in such an unassuming way was even more humbling. Thinking about how one builds a brdige between a personal learning environment and the LMS is a critical step along the path towards taking personal responsibility for one’s own learning. Another guy who just made me smile and marvel at was Chris Lott. I’ve followed Chris for quite some time, but hadn’t had the chance to really talk to him or see him in action. Getting to hear him talk and then spend time with him in a social setting was well worth the trip.

Then there was this undercurrent of new kids coming to the party. I met Boone Georges in person after many months of watching his Twitter stream. Andre Malen proved to be every bit as smart and articulate as both Brian Lamb and D’Arcy warned me about. I think those two, if they choose to stay in ed tech, will be great leaders in our field going forward. Having the courage and confidence to not just show up, but to challenge the thinking in such deep ways tells me so much about these two. BTW, there were about a half dozen or so amazingly intellignet young people at the event that I never did quite catch their names, so I appologize for not mentioning them by name. The old guard isn’t quite old or stale enough for a total changing to happen, but this is the first new blood I’ve seen injected into the conversation in quite some time.

Finally, I was impressed beyond belief with the participation of my PSU colleagues. Brian Panulla, Stevie Rocco, Ann Taylor, Jeff Swain, and Keith Bailey all came ready to engage and challenge what people had to say. I admit to following Ann’s running notes as a cue for what was happening in other sessions and watching Jeff’s blog for his session thoughts the entire time. I saw a bit of ah-ha monets come across the face of several of them and I know that means PSU will be a stronger place with that crew amplifying the message.

Final Thoughts

I know much of that reads like a fanboy perspective, but at the end of the day these and so many other people made a profound impact on me that I had to get some of it out. The event was terrific and the city was amazing. I’m looking forward to continuing this work here at PSU and beyond over the course of the next few years. I threw out an idea to some of the people listed above about coming to PSU and taking part in an all day event designed to keep the conversation moving forward … if they are half as passionate here as they were at OpenEd we’ll be in good shape.

15 thoughts on “OpenEd 2009 Recap

  1. Hi Cole – nice recap of the event. I’ve been following the OpenEd09 blog-pheromone reflections. I’m finding the post-event summaries revealing and at some level, almost as satisfying as the event itself.


  2. Thanks, George. It was a great event and one that has been a little difficult for me to place into context. I think one thing we are going to do here at Penn State is get a group together to watch a handful of sessions and share some thoughts. It might help to unpack some of the content and grab some meaning. It was tough going room to room and not having time to really think about what was happening.

  3. We will need a couple of brown bags just to get through what you present in this post. Sounds like it was worth the price of having to watch some nasty guy get ill into a brown paper bag on the plane. BTW- thanks for NOT sending a twitpic of that.

    • I think the idea of a series of brown bags locally around sessions from Open Ed is a killer idea. We could get a bunch of people together and watch the uStream and have some conversations around the topics. I wonder if we should uStream us doing this to create a second generation meta event?

      • I’d say let’s take a topic and just do it first. Then we analyze our conversation and see if it makes sense to stream it and how we would market it. Oh, did I just say “market it”? I meant to say ‘get it to an interested audience in a meaningful way’.

      • I was sort of making fun of the meta experience of watching a streamed event while streaming us watching it.

  4. Great recap, Cole. Your post captures some of the energy that made OpenEd so worthwhile.

    It was really great to meet you face to face. It’s interesting how, even for us techies (the people who are supposed to be the best at connecting online), there’s something irreplaceable about in-person interaction. That’s why events like OpenEd can be so valuable, and have such a lasting effect.

  5. Thanks, Boone. Getting to meet and spend real time talking and hashing through ideas was where this meeting was different. I spend a lot of time traveling to various conferences and events, but I’ve not attended anything where so many of the people I admire and respect gathered. Thanks for the comment and thanks for hanging out!

  6. Pingback: links for 2009-08-20 « innovations in higher education

  7. Thanks for this post Cole. One of the highlights of OpenEd was certainly, finally getting a chance to meet you f2f. I’d love to help out with the C&I 597 course … keep me in mind. I have a feeling I am going to learn a ton from the experience so at the very least, I hope to have insight to share.

  8. Thanks for this recap, Cole. Annie Taylor pointed me to it (after I read her chronicle about the same event. I want to comment upon your observation that OpenEd ’09 participants discussed OER as a “moral imperative.” Unfortunately, it’s hard to defend the argument OER can be justified solely on ethical grounds.

    For a moral imperative to exist, one or both of two conditions must exist: either (a) individuals have a right to free educational resources, or (b) educators are duty-bound to provide them. Neither is the case.

    In regard to rights, Article 26 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights ( does state that “Everyone has the right to education” and that “education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages.” However, the Declaration goes on to state that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” In other words, the Declaration recognizes the right of higher education institutions to be selective. If institutions have a right to choose which students gain access to their human resources (faculty), then it follows that institutions also have the right to restrict access to educational resources. OER is therefore not a right that higher education institutions are bound to honor.

    What about our duties as educators? At a minimum, these are codified in statements of professional ethics like Penn State’s AD-47 ( This policy states that faculty members’ primary responsibilities are to “seek and to state the truth as they see it” and to preserve, protect and defend academic freedom. In regards to professors’ obligations to society, the policy does state that they are obliged to “promote conditions of free inquiry…” This could be taken to mean that faculty members are duty-bound to publish only in open-access journals and to share all educational resources freely under Creative Commons licenses. This interpretation, unfortunately, is contradicted by common practice. No faculty member at Penn State or elsewhere would pass up an opportunity to be published in Science, for example, on the grounds that it is a breach of professional ethics to publish in a proprietary, limited-access journal.

    Therefore, in fact or in practice, educators in higher education institutions are bound neither by rights nor by duties to participate in OER initiatives.

    I don’t mean to suggest that “opening” educational resources isn’t the right thing to do. On the contrary, as you know, I’ve been one of Penn State’s most insistent advocates of OER. That advocacy, and the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ simplistic example (, have much to do with the fact that the University’s 2009-14 Strategic Plan includes a commitment to support open educational resources initiatives. Although OER is not justifiable solely on ethical grounds, I do believe that sharing resources freely comes close to what philosopher of professions Michael Davis (2002) calls the “moral ideal” of our profession.

    My point is that if strategic plans like Penn State’s are to have any lasting impact, the case must be made that OER is a sound business strategy. One of our College’s most successful distance education programs — the professional masters degree in geographic information systems — has embraced this strategy. Program faculty members have voluntarily and publicly “opened” substantial portions of ten courses in the past year. Feedback from one tuition-paying distant student suggests how the business strategy works: “The ability to access course information … was critical in my decision to choose Penn State over other distance education providers. Distance education was new to me and I had some concerns regarding quality and value. When I discovered the wealth of well-presented information provided for GEOG 482 and other courses in Penn State’s GIS program, I immediately felt an increased level of comfort with the quality of education I would be receiving” (Foster, personal communication, 27 July 2009).

    Penn State is not the first institution that comes to mind when one thinks of progressive intellectual property policies. However, I believe we are at the forefront of the transition to what David Wiley (2009) has called “OCW 2.0” – the “new generation of OpenCourseWare projects … built around sustainability plans.” Wiley suggests that “second generation projects [could be] integrated with distance education offerings, where the public can use and reuse course materials for free (just like first generation OCWs) with the added option of paying to take the courses online for credit.” The College of EMS’ fledgling example demonstrates that Penn State is well positioned to create a sustainable OER initiative that is based on sound business strategy while still being true to the moral ideals of higher education faculty.

    Davis, Michael (2002). Profession, Code, and Ethics. Burlington VT: Ashgate.

    Wiley, David (2009). The Future of OCW, and “OCW 2.0″ Iterating toward openness | pragmatism over zeal. (Blog) Retrieved 25 August 2009 from

    • Hi David. Thanks much for the comment and very thoughtful response. I think on many levels (as I attempt to unpack your comment and the context from the event itself) we are all saying something similar. I think David Wiley’s conversations at this year’s event were very consistent with the notion of sustainability at the core of the progression of the OER movement. With that said, there were lots of people who put (in my opinion) too much stock in the notion that OER is just the right thing to do. I come at this from a slightly different perspective as I am not directly involved in the production of distance learning to support net new students. My focus has been squarely in the notion of supporting open in the resident experience. I know this is very different than where most people engaged in the OER conversation spends their focus, but it is something I firmly believe in.

      I can appreciate your perspective related to the ideas of moral imperatives … I spend way too much time in meetings where the focus is on enrollments and dollars to believe we will engage simply b/c it is the right thing to do. I think you are working hard to find the right balance between open and opportunity. I’ve thought for quite some time that we hide what we are embarrassed about and I think that is as true in eLearning content as anything else. You and your team create quality learning experiences for students and seem very happy to let the World see them. I believe you do that b/c you have created something that actually encourages people to play first and pay second. I applaud that effort and think more of us should be willing to go that route.

      With that said, I do think at some level it should be part of our strategic plan and fabric that we attempt to provide as much access to open materials as possible. I feel like Penn State does carry some responsibility to provide access to content — again I’m not foolish enough to think it needs to go beyond that. I am seeing changes percolating throughout our Institution as more and more faculty are willing to live their academic lives in a more open sense. Is an open course blog an OER? I think so … and by that metric I think we are going well into the open teaching and learning territory. In my mind OER is so much more than a series of instructional screens. Its open ePortfolios, peer groups discussing art, its faculty sharing annotated photographs on Flickr, and so much more. I see the opening of education as a part of the social changes on the web in general and I like it.

      I think a great deal about the work you and your team have done and think it is *the* model for OER 2.0 at PSU. What I am working towards is something more of an overall culture change — where the default is to teach and learn in the open. To borrow from John Mott, to build the bridge from the course management system to an personal learning network. It is a vision that focuses on content that is mixed with social opportunities, external resources, and other open opportunities. In short I couldn’t agree with you more … I’m just trying to reframe this conversation so it makes sense in my view of the academy.

      Again, thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  9. With due respect– and recognizing that it isn’t the sole motivation and certainly not something that will (alone) satisfy institutional mandates, the concept of a moral imperative is bigger than– and far beyond– any UN codification of human rights…

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