Saturday, 8 April 2017

OER17 and Virtually Connecting #OER17VC

I attended #OER17 in London just for the day, having been invited to co-present with Maha Bali (who was also the keynote) and friends about Virtually Connecting. Having been an onsite VC buddy and participant I was really excited to contribute to this talk and share my own experiences of how Virtually Connecting has extended my learning experiences and my network. It was my first time at an OER conference, an event focusing on open education. I was not disappointed and had the opportunity to meet old friends and new, some of these I've known through Twitter but not previously had the chance to meet in person. 

The theme for this year's conference was 'The Politics of Open'. OER17 was billed as presenting an opportunity for open practitioners, activists, educators and policy makers to come together as a community to reflect on ‘The Politics of Open’. What are our current key challenges and strengths – locally, nationally, and  internationally? What are our priorities – in terms of political governance, organisational and personal politics? What are the changes that we want to effect together? 

Our presentation was titled 'Breaking the Physical Barrier: Virtually Connecting as an approach to open, inclusive conferences'. 

Authors: Maha Bali, Sue Beckingham, Mia Zamora, Autumm Caines, Rebecca Hogue, and Martin Weller


Academic conferences are sites of power and privilege. There are multiple ways in which privilege and social capital are reproduced in these events. Choices of location, speakers, reviewers, formats and topics are political and have potential to influence disciplines in particular directions. Virtually Connecting (VC) is one attempt to challenge the ways in which conferences privilege particular voices to be heard, while marginalizing others from learning and from speaking. Caines (2016) calls VC a “movement of digital educators subverting time and space to come together for informal conversations at these formal gatherings of knowledge sharing”. She reminds us that “we have to use our privilege to create the spaces for those lesser heard voices”.

Volunteers doing VC continually question the alternative kinds of power our initiative produces and how well it succeeds in subverting the status quo as we strive towards more equitable access to conferences and more participatory, inclusive professional development.

As described in Bali, Caines, DeWaard & Hogue (in press), VC “was created to engage individuals and groups in  virtual participation at  academic conferences thus widening access for those who cannot be physically present. VC is a grassroots connected and connectivist learning movement powered by a team of volunteers”. In this session, we will highlight the ways VC embodies open, connected learning practice, but also focus on how our practice addresses the first two items in VC’s manifesto:

  • VC’s motivation is “a desire to improve the virtual conference experience for those who cannot be present at conferences for financial, logistical, social or health reasons” (Virtually Connecting, undated)
  • VC strives for inclusion even while knowing it is elusive.

VC can be seen as an example of an open education practice, by going beyond simply streaming conferences, and allowing remote participants to engage with online participants constructing an authentic dialogue. As conferences seek to accommodate the political dimensions of inclusivity, VC can act as a meaningful way to broaden the range of voices that participate at events, promoting more equitable access to professional development, and enriching both the onsite and virtual experiences while also promoting digital literacies of participants and especially volunteers.

Using feedback from a 2016 survey and from social media, we will explore the ways VC’s practice has been inclusive and invite the audience to recommend possible solutions for aspects we have identified as wanting, ones we strive towards but have not yet resolved/reached. We will discuss this in terms of VC’s internal and external processes addressing onsite guests, virtual participants and conference organizers. We will will share our hopes for the future of VC as an approach to opening up conferences.


Bali, M., Caines, A., DeWaard, H. J., & Hogue, R. J. (in press). Ethos and Practice of a Connected Learning Movement: Interpreting Virtually Connecting Through Alignment with Theory and Survey Results. Online Learning Journal. (due out December 2016).

Caines, A. (2016, August). The praxis of Virtually Connecting. Digital Pedagogy Lab. Retrieved from

Virtually Connected Manifesto. (n.d.) [website]. Retrieved from

Below is the fun promo video for OER17 in London, England. Created by Virtually Connecting volunteer video producers.

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