Surely I am not alone in wondering if time has been following the same portal as lost socks. But it has been— checking the calendar and not doing the math– a “while” since I left the venue for the OER24 conference in Cork, Ireland.

Secret tip: Whenever possible, skip the automated transportation and walk. Even if it takes an hour.

I’m scratching my head at the days when I’d be blogging from the conference, or madly on the way home, or at least the day I got back. I’m now old and slow? But it like looks I believe Mags Amond has been tracking post conference blog posts in a Google Doc, and number 18 was just 3 days ago. Late is in the eye of the excuse maker.

So time to stop blogging about not blogging.

Thanks OEGlobal!

I was rather fortunate my organization, OE Global organized its in person staff meeting 5 days prior to and in the same location as the OER24 conference. The OER[0-9][0-9] Conferences (how about some regex humor) was and this year, confirmed as a conference I’d go to whenever possible. I was on a four year cycle, the first one I attended was 2014 in Newcastle followed by 2018 in Bristol. The frequency dial was sped it to 2 years with 2020 online, 2022 the online side of hybrid, and now 2024. Tada! Is 2026 my next?

The why for why I think this conference is great? Partly the size (~200 or less attendees), but more than that the energy and the people who go. I said a few times at a large conference you might find 10-15% of the attendees who seemed like they were doing the same stuff or the same interests you are, but at OERxx it also seems like way at the top end of the percentage scale. It’s also the approach the conference organizers ALT-C takes, it feels grass roots, so its more like a community gathering than an ego preening fest.

Hardly a quantitative diagnosis, but that’s how they have felt to me.

The Key Keynotes

I’m sure the 18 preceding #OER24 blog posts have covered the two fabulous keynotes, and I am a bit biased in knowing both presenters as long time colleagues and friends. What I do want to point out, is how humanly and in an engaging manner, gave more than a presentation, but something to be experienced. Something more than the presentation slides.

For the opening, Rajiv Jhangiani wrapped his usually well-crafted big picture messages in a warm bit of storytelling. In “Betwixt fairy tales and dystopian futures” he riffed with the flavor of the local scene, but more than that, provided a powerful storytelling practice of leading us along and then catching us in a turn that ran counter to our expectations, unwinding the original story to dig deeper. It was brilliant, and even. more so being in the room.

I was fortunate to chat with Rajiv before and he hinted at how he recasted the presentation a few days before while visiting Tom Farrelly, the joy of making a video on Tom’s kitchen table with an iPhone and some rigged lights.

No Sora needed for storytelling.

Also, it was typical Rajiv to open with a heartfelt dedication to our friend Irwin Devries.

Not that there is any topping, but the one/two combo of OEER24 keynotes with Catherine Cronin and Laura Czernowicz on day two was another high point of this conference.

Their opening (follow in the slides) grabbed us with their (adorable) childhood photos from the 1960s, then mid adult years in the 1990s, and jumping to today, with what they were doing paired with what the world was doing. An unexpected small bit that stayed with me was how they charted the latter with world population in 1960 of 3 billion and CO2 levels in the low 317ppm to today where the world has 8.1 billion humans and CO2 levels of 442ppm.

That is jarring, making clear in more detail, the polycrisis state.

What I appreciate in their keynote was that we in the audience were part of it, not just to be shown slides. I love the 3 people thought reflection in the beginning (a nod to Kate Bowles), the calls for responses to questions, and the asking of the audience to dwell on What could we do right now?

Kudos too for their being more to the presentation- in Catherine’s followup blog post, you have access to the slides, the essay version of the keynote, the video to rewatch, an editable resource list as an invitation to add more, plus a synthesis of the audience responses for the what could we do right now question.

This was, for me, a fantastic demonstration of a presentation being something to experience and participate in, not just a slideshow, and something that has a coda or more to interact with after.

The Spaces in Between Schedule Slots

I so appreciate having the generous times between sessions, including lunches, for not only conversation, but information conversation. Yes, in my first conferences I was too much of a nervous kid to talk to people I did not know, or ask questions, but that’s a powerful part of the experience, and OER24 provided this well.

Just saying hello to the person behind you waiting for coffee or saying hello to a person you do not know opens opportunity, more than just hanging out with the colleagues you work with. The first morning I wanted just to say hello to Lawrie Phipps, who was standing by the entrance, not knowing that he was actually doing a bit of welcoming and guiding for people entering the refreshment space. It turned out a great way to meet all the people Lawrie knew as well.

Another opportunity that the conference presented, that I appreciate, was being on the campus of Munster Technological University (MTU). Conferences can grow to force them to be at convention centers, but you cannot beat the influence of being on a real campus. Hardly anything is memorable about a conference center, but that feel of the open courtyard and being in classrooms for sessions, and walking down hallways seeing learning spaces, makes a difference.

And then there was the time spent walking through that campus from the large session venue to other buildings- walking is such a great way to meet people, learn about projects. I’ve been influenced on the writing by Dominik Lukes about the affordances of physical conference spaces such as hallways that we do not often think about when doing events online.

In the last block of the schedule, I was delayed getting to a workshop, and peeking in the door, I saw it was likely not something I could jump into. That became an opportunity to for coffee and casual conversation with Maren Deepwell and Meredith Fiero where we hatched a future idea that (shhhh) involves radio, and a wild conversation with Bryan Mathers where we debated the upside down (or was it inverted) conference session format.

You might aim to maximize a conference experience but stuffing yourself in as many presentations as you can, but siotting one out for open conversation (not reading email) is extremely valuable.

I recall after one session on the walk to lunch, being so caught up in talking to the presenter of a session that I forgot to put my hood up and got to lunch all wet. That is what conversation should be like.

OER24 also provided a balance of after conference options, one night a hosted reception but there was in other nights the times for individual reflection, group dinners, and activities like the pub night honoring for Martin Weller.

Social time is also connection time.

Hello Back Channels

In another era there was a healthy set of ongoing conversations, session sharing, with both conference attendees and people not there. I forgot the tool, it had some kind of bird icon 😉 There’s still a healthy, distributed amount in multiple places (I know people lament the lost one, but hey, I had a suggestion, but who listens to me?).

A lot happens in messaging apps.

The conference did offer Slack as a “backchannel”- there was a good amount of introductions and hellos, but I have to grumble that 90% of it was presenters offering links to their slides. There was not a whole lot of conversation.

Oh Yes, Presentations

Of course, there were presentations. Wrestling with which ones to pick from tracks.

My conference goal is to learn what I do not know and from people I may not know. I often try a method of picking a session in a topic that seems of least interest from people I do not know. I always get something unexpected out of that strategy.

OER24 has a format for breakout sessions with blocks of four fifteen minutes presentations with an extra fifteen minutes for q&a for all sessions. The conference venue of classrooms with long tight rows turned out to be a positive feature, as it was not really feasible to session hop, so it ended up encouraging at least most of us it seemed, to stay in a room for all four sessions.

The last discussion round was mostly dynamic in the sessions I picked, and I saw at least two or three times that some presentations that seemed like they might not have overlap actually did, and it manifested itself in the discussions.

These Slides Are Dangerous
These Slides Are Dangerous flickr photo by cogdogblog shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

I do have to harp a bit about presentations. A lot of presenters did not make good use of that short window. I saw way way way too many dense word slides and read scripts. What ever happened to the ideas of Presentation Zen? I have to wonder about all this effort to travel for a conference, and what gets communicated in a slide talk is something I could read in a blog post.

As I saw in the keynotes, and yes, they get to be keynotes by developing effective communications skills, a presentation should be an experience. As an audience member, what am I getting out of being in the same room as the presenter, if I am getting just spoken information? It’s not about being a performer or showpersonship, but how do you use the presence (presenter and audience in the room?).

I reach back for Kathy Sierra (blog long gone) writing in Presentation Skills Considered Harmful her approach of crafting a presentation as a user experience for the audience.

When you design for a user experience, you quit focusing on your skills and start focusing on their skills. What experience can you help them have? Can you give them a more powerful perspective? Can you give them a new idea with immediate implementation steps they can’t wait to work on? Can you give them a clear way to finally explain something to others that they’ve been feeling but could not articulate? Can you give them a new tip or trick that has such a high-payoff it feels like a superpower? Can you give them knowledge and insight into a tough topic, so they can have more interesting, high-resolution conversations in the hallway?

And now we’re truly at the heart of what matters most in a presentation. Look at the previous paragraph of experiences you can help them have. What’s the common thread? It’s not really about the user experience they have during your presentation. Like your presentation, their experience of it is also just the enabler for something bigger. Because what matters most is NOT the UX but the POST-UX UX. What happens after and as a result of the user experience? The best software and product designers know this. The best game designers know this. The best authors know this. The best filmmakers know this. What happens after what happens happens? 

When they walk away from the user experience, then what? Are they different? Are they a little smarter? Are they a little more energized? Are they a little more capable? Are they a little more likely to talk to others about it?

That’s certainly what Catherine and Laura did in their keynote

I look for the hook at the start, and not a bullet list of objectives. I want to be drawn in, I want to be riled or revved up, I want to join your cause, or take your course, or try your software. So if you are presenting about a project you did, a vide you produced, a course you created, my simple advice (once called by someone Levine’s Law) — Start with the &#*#ing Demo! Don’t spend time on your vita or the history of your department, or the timeline– show me something! Please!

Maybe my expectations are out of alignment or unrealistic, but please, SHOW more than you TELL. Like Rajiv’s keynote, create an arc for your story, it’s not just information to push out on people.

I have to say I saw more than I’d like to see of underwhelming slideshows… but most at least made up for that in the 15 minute of time for conversation.

For me, I’d rather have the time spent on conversation and the time spent on talking over word slide to be inverted.

As if I have any say.

I must credit OER24 and being on the home turf for Tom Farrelly that the Gasta sessions are a fantastic lift for the last slot. I’m not going to talk about my silliness on Gasta, but I encourage anyone if they have a chance to sign up to do one. I encourage you to use it as an opportunity to break out of the normal slide talk mode.

Conferences: Everything But the Presentations

Hey, is anyone still reading? I have a bit of a rationale to this long whinge post. Maybe. I wanted to indicate that there is so much that is valuable in the OER24 conference experience that is outside of the presenting slides to people trapped in chairs. I attempted a bit of Venn-splanation, that likely fails on many fronts

Slapped together with Classtools Venn Diagram maker

If it needs a caption, I am suggesting what most I think would agree, the conferences are much more than presentations– what is that much more that intersects?

Why am I asking? Well, the planning is in works for the OE Global Conference, November 2024 in Brisbane Australia. My first year working for OEGlobal, 2020, there was this pandemic thing, so the conference, like all others, was forced online. A huge takeaway for me was hearing from how many people it was the first time they were able to be part of this conference. And in 2021 there was an online version followed by in 2022 an in person counterpart held in Nantes, France. As it turned out I was one of many who could not travel due to COVID.

I sought to institute an “AND” conference approach, not a hybrid one that tries to make it an online conference, but providing other ways of participating if you were “Not in Nantes” (live web streams from Nantes, a few Twitter Spaces live audio chats, asynchronous activities in our online community). The community space offered info on the sessions in Nantes, a place for “Not in Nantes” Unconference style activities, and the Interaction Zone as a middle space.

I have been trying always to interject some means of remote participation into in-person events. What I often find is when I say “ways to participate if you cannot be in person” many people almost always go to the problems of doing presentations online.

I too believe that online presentations are not always viable, you do not have the audience capture in those small rooms like we were in at Cork. When you are “home” for a conference, your attention is spread to all the other work, family, home activities. When your employer sends you to another country for a conference, you are going to be present because you are almost constrained to the physical space.

I keep asking- aren’t there more ways to participate in or experience a conference then having an audience listen to you talk over slides? That’s what I tried to outline above- that my conference experience at OER24 was more than about the presentations.

Help me out- how do I get more people on board with thinking of online activities that are not presenting? Is that always at the center?

Feature Image: My photo, nothing was generated except for displaying the light that fell on my camera sensor. Bring Your Presentations! flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

Exterior of a building entrance, the front glass door has plywood over it. The name in large text above is "Presentation Centre"
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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as


  1. @topdog

    24 now (you are not the only tardy one, I only added mine the other day, yep it's an age thing wrapped in a reflective thing), some just mention #oer24 briefly, some discuss in detail – and some like this, ask good questions about good conferencing in general – I'll jot a comment down at the end of yours now (before I forget).

    & yes, very yes, to the importance of "sitting one out" during the conference, either to look about the place or to really get into the conversations that count

  2. Is what you’re wondering the same as lecturers wondering about for a lecture? Won’t the same ideas apply then? Thinking of all the “audience response” approaches (ever tried the engagement content types on, flipped “teaching” (yeah, more difficult if people need to prepare and the conference doesn’t support this), classic “think-pair-share”, etc.?

    Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte are not that “teaching” specific in their books on presentations, but both are good reads about that subject in general.

    1. Very much the same, as what happens in conferences is just a reification of the lecture, right? Is the best means for communicating, a person in the front of a room orating while standing in front of slides with text?

      Absolutely audience responses are one way. I’d be happy with more conference activities that were more “do” then “talk at me” , e.g. unconference stuff, what it looks like happened at OERcamp.

  3. about imaginative ways to allow people to participate in a conference they can’t reach, I like what the Snap!Con folk have done … 1. leave a space open in that is designated corridor, beach camp, whatever, and that’s open after hours to log into and have a virtual coffee / beer / stroll with whoever turns up. No moderation, no constraints, just space; 2. Build-in an unconference hour each day called Birds of a Feather, bofs, where lots of breakout spaces are provided and anyone call name a room and invite folk to chat. Nothing in-person is scheduled against to these two, which makes for strange sights at the physical conference as folks sit about talking to their computers. 3 have the conference in two places at once (berkely & heidelberg, joining into each other across the day and evening, that was too tiring, for me any online joining has to be from the comfort of home
    I also like Maha Bali’s semi-formal v-connect format.

    1. V-Connect ?, even if it’s just to informally check-in with a cohort live in the venue. A bit of comradery and reflection, sharing of enthusiasm is always good.

    2. It can be done, of course. I was a part of Virtually Connecting for it’s run, it did fade with pandemic but also people being drawn elsewhere. The basic idea is there- I tried at our OEGlobal conference in Edmonton to do with live webcasts during the break, more me shouting at people as they strolled by my table when they really wanted coffee 😉

      Frankly I think the biggest problem with hybrid / dual modality is not appreciating the affordance differences. When you are at a conference, you are committing to be in a space for a large chunk of time (several hours over multiple days). When yo are connecting from home, you are still managing all the other things in your day- work, family, making dionner. The expectation that as an online participant you will be attentive for long chunks of time is not realistic. And who while amongst the bustle of a face to face event is going to sit and listen to an online presentation?

      The experience is so different. I know it has been done well in some cases, but it’s easier to do poorly.

  4. Coding the Medieval World was a fab online conference, with much more than presentations: we kicked off with some presentations with Q&A and then had workshops where we played around with how to solve/approach problems in games. It was very enlightening to see how developers and historians could all bring something to the (virtual) table. A total blast.

    The platform Gather Town was pretty neat to use, and encouraged chance encounters in the ‘hallways’. There even were a few plants to water, nice little touches the organiser had added!

    1. Good to know of a valuable experience! I cannot assume to know them all 😉

      I’ve been in some of those types of environments (I think it was Gather town), sometimes it works, but other times it feels clunky and a bit too much distraction. I do not think its the platform itself, much hinges on the audience and the facilitators. I made fantastic and miserable conference like experiences long ago in Second Life- its it ever really the platform that’s the key factor?

  5. It’s not always do-able, I know, but I agree, makes a huge difference. Conference Centers are cold and artificial! Thanks Eric, I am really checking that replies from my blog go back to mastodon.

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