Still reeling from last week’s 13th annual meeting of the Open Education Conference–my second–and feeling at once soothed, eased, relieved as well as encouraged and motivated. The conference had the familiar whirlwind atmosphere of too many sessions that I wanted to attend scheduled at the same time, too little time betwixt them to explore ideas, and so many people I have begun to relate with online and could only pass with nods or glancing handshakes, waves, or embraces. Bittersweet, all of that loosely coupled conferencing. Now, on top of that, I had the burden/benefit of being a local attendee only a 45 minute drive away, which meant I had to depart early some days and forfeit most extra-conference conversations. I find that even after attending dozens of conferences in my professional and academic careers, I’m still trying to refine my conference-going strategies.
BACKGROUND. I think that as a graduate student in the final year of my PhD program, I have been experiencing much of the isolation and alienation that apparently is widely considered part of going deep into your first large-scale research project. For me, this has been manifesting as much higher levels of anxiety in recent months. Some of this I can alleviate with the mantra that it’s “normal”, that being behind schedule in my dissertation proposal and other writing amounts to being “on schedule” for a doctoral program, and that given the juggling act of research, coursework, family, graduate assistantship work, and extra-curricular projects, I’m doing great. Anyone would be stressed out. It’s legitimate. Never mind the short temper. Take a walk. Get another run in. Breath. Meditate. Meanwhile I find my enthusiasm and motivation diminish. Is that supposed to happen?
A great deal of my anxiety had been focused on my presentation, my first formal audience for the theoretical framework for my dissertation. Adopting this framework is a strategic move to foster deeper theoretical development in open education while contesting the imposition of commercial and neoliberal forces in the movement. As one who generally avoids confrontation, I struggle with the position that my critical perspectives often put me in. This was going to be tough. Slide tweaks. Doubts. Edit. Reorder. Is this ready to air? Is now the time? Yes.
ENTER COMMUNITY. Now, one of the reasons for networks like GO-GN and the Open Education Group is to support graduate students conducting research in open education. These organizations recognize the sense of isolation early-career researchers do/will encounter when working in a new and emerging movement. This is why I joined GO-GN, why I participate, and why I urge others to come in. Yet, even with access to these wonderful colleagues, I now can see how I was disheartened by the blank looks and empty nods of the faculty, staff, and students in my immediate environment. My motivation undermined. Buttressing procrastination.
But what unfolded during and after my presentation amounts to a dramatic parting of these clouds. Room B12 was empty just five minutes before my start time. Gulp. But times between sessions was nonexistent, right? Over the next few minutes it filled right up, hell yeah, and Rajiv offered a supportive smirk and a heartfelt embrace. The slides poured out, thoughts mostly coherent, and apparently a smattering of thoughts were pushed out on Twitter.
What a boost. While enjoying the spotlight that comes with taking the stage in presenting at a conference, the boost didn’t come just from there. I also presented with two other brilliant and active students about [the presumedly banal topic of, though didn’t I feel edified by Sarah Goldrick-Rab’s keynote] textbook costs in Virginia, which somehow inspired a room full of policymakers, practitioners, and researchers. I did get to expand on conversations in between sessions I attended, at lunches, on Thursday evening while listening to OpenEders sing and play. For all of the laments I keep hearing and posting about missed connections, there still were conversations abound.
My grandest take away from OpenEd16 is feeling reconnected to the movement. I feel less aloof and propelled to revising my chapters, pinning down methods, defending a proposal and getting this PhD done so that I can share what comes of it and then get right on to the work of open in education. What a relief. What a help. A desperately needed meeting for me. Deepest gratitude for all who came and shared, physically + at a distance + cognitively + emotionally + on + on.