I could not be more excited to see the forces of the Association for Learning Technologies (ALT) doubling up with Reclaim Hosting to smash the atoms of their respective OER and Domains conferences together for the upcoming OERxDomains21 conference.
Well I was excited enough to volunteer for the conference planning team. And you should be excited enough to register.
If anyone can bust of the tired norms of conference format (and there’s plenty of those, next slide please… meet me in the vendor hall at 10:30…) in general, but more so, for doing this in the era of Pandemic Oh No Don’t Ask Me To Spend More Time in Zoom, it is ALT and Reclaim.
I’ve been spewing criticisms of conference formats long before this blog even existed, pretty much back to the first one I attended in the Paleolithic Pre-Web era. And as a card carrying introvert, days of being full on and in crowded rooms are soul exhausting.
But just as you cannot lump all educational experiences under one generalized umbrella, I can also not place that on all conferences.
I read colleagues blog and tweet about the ALT conferences for years, and got my own chances to experience it in Newcastle in 2014 and then again in Bristol for 2018. If things are cyclical and the math holds, ought to be my next. At OER14 I experienced a vibe that was somehow caring, challenging, fun, critical, serious, but not self-important. Heck, there was Lego at the conference dinner:
I can say much the same for being at the first Domains Conference REclaim hosted in 2017 in Oklahoma City. At both these organization’s conference, it feels almost like a large family gathering (yes there are dysfunctional uncles, but they are still family). The Domains conference was situated in a retro art hotel that was at the same time a full on museum. Rooms filled with purple penguins:
And the feeling I got at both these conferences was a feeling of care for my experience, that I was not just another registration number and fee ka-ching.
I found also that these conferences all came with a built in potential to create what I have found is the most motivating force in my work– serendipity.
Now a definition ought not be required here. But when you take it as “finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for” (Merriam-Webster) and multiply it by the factor of internet enabled connections, I cannot help but feel I cannot get enough of it.
If there is a MOOC about creating serendipity or some medium published 10 tip, listicle, ignore them. The powerful factor is that serendipity itself cannot be sought for or calculated or solicited. It. Just. Happens. For years I sought stories about it (I still seek them) (please?).
But openness, sharing, are factors that in my thinking can create more potential opportunity for serendipity. Back in a 2011 Edge.org piece, Jason Zweig answered his headline question “What Scientific Concept Would Improve Everybody’s Cognitive Toolkit?” with an intriguing phrase, “Structured Serendipity.” I always read this as practices on can do to increase the potential for unexpected valuable/positive things.”
This is all to say, that despite problems, limits of conference formats, the gathering of people with similar (and often dis-similar) interests for the “conferring” part creates this opportunities. This can be as small as asking a question, offering a comment, reaching out to talk to a “big time” presenter (news flash, keynoters are often just as nervous and worried as everyone else), picking up a conversation with someone you do not know.
I developed a “method” or introducing possible “valuable or agreeable things not sought for” at conferences. Think how you plan your time at these gatherings. You check the schedule for topics in your interest (subject wise, or at these conferences, technology-wide) or for when your friends/colleagues are presenting (or maybe someone you are a fan of).
But I tried for a few sessions something counter-intuitive. I’d pick a session outside of my normal interest range by people I never heard of. There is always something to learn of in hearing how educators pursue answers to problem or how they use a technology you know nothing about. Many moons ago I did this, and I found I was the only person in the audience. This freed the presenter from their fixed slide deck, and instead turned into a stimulating conversation.
This works even better in online conferences as you are not so obvious out of place in a room where everyone else is there burning with interest. This happened just a few days ago during Open Education Week. I randomly dropped in for a series of lightning talks from the University of Alberta, and as it happened, one session included a possible technical solution to one of my own projects and I walked out with 4 new resources I would not have come across otherwise.
This might not be the thing everyone else seeks, and by no means can I guarantee that fantastic serendipitous goodies will come your way if you attend the OERxDomains21 conference. But I can say the odds are good at this conference, if you extend yourself or find ways to nudge up your potential for serendipity. If you come from a place of care and openness and interest in others, you are already generating that potential.
Look for me there and tell me if you find any such sparks. Or heck, chase me down and hassle me if you don’t. I might just sprinkle you with serendipity dust.