As a Psychology Professor at a public post-secondary institution with an open admissions policy, I care a great deal about Article 26 of the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights—the one that asserts that “higher education shall be equally accessible to all”. This is doubly true when you consider that my university is located in Canada's fastest growing city, one that is ethnically diverse and home to the largest number of refugees in British Columbia. But while higher education is a vehicle for economic and social mobility, I confess that the closer I look, the more I see how higher education is structured to replicate existing power structures.
But then this should hardly surprise anyone. After all, this is the Matrix, where publicly-funded research remains inaccessible to the public, the scientific community continues to incentivize publishing non-replicable but sexy findings over more rigorous, cumulative research, and students are routinely assigned “required” textbooks that they cannot afford. And while these realities are evident to those of us who work in the academy, what is equally evident is that even those who would dearly love to challenge the status quo are beholden to the rules and norms dictated by existing power structures—editors-in-chief, department chairs, and tenure and promotion committees who equate open access journals with vanity or predatory publications, who label open science advocates as the “replication police,” and who are so tethered to the commercial industry that they cannot imagine how a freely available resource could possibly be of high quality.
"But while higher education is a vehicle for economic and social mobility, I confess that the closer I look, the more I see how higher education is structured to replicate existing power structures."
This is precisely why OpenCon offers hope. Something akin to the annual meeting of the Resistance, OpenCon brings together early career change makers who are not content with education and scholarship advancing one retirement at a time. Focused squarely on action, these emerging leaders are already making a difference in their contexts. Through OpenCon, they further develop the knowledge, skills, and network to implement systemic change.
As a vocal advocate for Open Education, over the years I have had the good fortune of crossing paths several times with Nicole Allen and Nick Shockey from SPARC, both of whom encouraged me to apply to attend OpenCon. So while I followed OpenCon 2015 at a distance, I first attended OpenCon only last year, when over 3 unforgettable days in Washington, DC my knowledge of the Open Education, Open Access, and Open Data movements (as well as their many points of overlap) widened and deepened. Even more importantly, I forged many new wonderful relationships with talented colleagues across the world. I recall specifically being struck by the humility and sense of purpose carried by the many accomplished young leaders at the conference. Their energy and enthusiasm was truly infectious. It was clear that everyone was there to learn and grow, but also to support one another. It is the opportunity to join this community that in my mind is the biggest attraction of OpenCon.
"Over 3 unforgettable days in Washington, DC my knowledge of the Open Education, Open Access, and Open Data movements (as well as their many points of overlap) widened and deepened."
And what a strong sense of community this group has. When my Open Access edited book about the Open movements was published earlier this year, the OpenCon community help spread the word (including Chealsye Bowley, who has since become the Community Manager for Ubiquity Press). But it hasn't stopped there. In the months since I have had the opportunity to collaborate with Josh Bollick (U of Kansas) to help advocate for OER, liaise with Zoe Wake Hyde (Rebus Community) on an open ancillary resource project, contribute a chapter to Andrew Wesolek’s (Clemson U) upcoming handbook for librarians about Open Education, strategize and co-present with Brady Yano (SPARC), provide some assistance to Erin McKiernan (National Autonomous University of Mexico) and Juan Pablo Alperin (Simon Fraser U) for a research project, join the OOO Canada Research Network (which includes OpenCon16 alums Haley Kragness, Juan Pablo Alperin, Lorraine Chuen, Olga Perkovic, Alicia Lunz, Rachel Harding, Bruno Grande, Brady Yano, Erin Hogg, Michael Galang, and Zoe Wake Hyde), and will soon also teach and learn alongside Penny Andrews (U of Sheffield) at Digital Pedagogy Lab Vancouver. I even enjoyed a couple of unforgettable road trips (and more than a couple of karaoke sessions) with Nicole Allen (SPARC), Beck Pitt (Open U), and Michelle Reed (U of Texas at Arlington). Come to think of it, even when a metal pole struck my forehead at the CC Global Summit in Toronto earlier this year, it was Roshan Karn (Open Access Nepal) and Ahmed Ogunlaja (Open Access Nigeria) who rushed forward to assist me!
Road Tripping at Stone Henge with Nicole, Michelle, and Beck
But of course a shared sense of purpose and community is not the only wonderful way in which OpenCon stands apart. Indeed, as an advocate for open education, I am acutely aware of just how easy it is for well meaning people to replicate existing power structures. And this is precisely why I love OpenCon, a model for how a conference ought to be organized, especially one that emphasizes social justice as much as this one does. For a glimpse into the conference’s systemic commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, take a look at their recently-released report. While we have a lot to learn and can always improve, it is heartening to see critical self-examination at the heart of their planning process.
Attending OpenCon has opened doors for me and enabled me to go further than I would have been able to by myself. As I embark on a new role as the Open Education Advisor at BCcampus, supporting open education initiatives across our province, I will look to draw on the wisdom, strength, and experience of this extraordinary community.
I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend OpenCon and cannot recommend it more highly. It really is an experience like no other, one that is humbling, inspiring, and invigorating. Please consider this an invitation to join our community.
Applications to attend OpenCon 2017 in Berlin this November close on August 1st. Visit opencon2017.org/apply to submit your application today!
Rajiv Jhangiani is the University Teaching Fellow in Open Studies and a Psychology Professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver, BC, where he conducts research in open education and the scholarship of teaching and learning. He currently serves as the Senior Open Education Advocacy and Research Fellow with BCcampus and an Associate Editor of Psychology Learning and Teaching. His most recent book is titled Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science (2017, Ubiquity Press, CC-BY). You can find him online at @thatpsychprof or thatpsychprof.com