OpenCon 2018: Open Space for Critical Discussion

As part of Open Access Week, the University Libraries and the Graduate School offered a travel scholarship to OpenCon 2018, a conference for early career researchers on open access, open data, and open educational resources. From a pool of many strong essay applications, we chose Diana M. Franco Duran, a Ph.D. candidate in Civil Engineering in the Construction Engineering and Management program. Diana attended the conference in Toronto, Canada on November 2-4, and sent the report below. Be sure to check out the OpenCon 2018 highlights.

Diana M. Franco Duran writes:

Diana M. Franco Duran
Diana M. Franco Duran

OpenCon is a community with a culture of openness that seeks everyone who can participate. It promotes an open, safe, and diverse space in which ideas are respected. This year, OpenCon focused the discussion on two main topics: 1) community as the foundation for culture change, and 2) diversity, equity, and inclusion in open research and education. The conference’s goal was to motivate the attendees to change the culture towards a more open research and educational system with diversity, inclusion, and equity.

Open research and open education are about more than sharing the work. Open research and open education are about people. There is no way to make research and education open if we do not know the community. The community must be engaged into the discussion, so we can discover how openness can help them do what they want to do. Openness as a problem solution must work in the context of the community.

During the workshops, two of the topics for discussion were 1) how to motivate students to incorporate open access in research related activities, and 2) how to reward open research and education in higher education institutions.  It is important to communicate open access, open data, and open education to students as well as faculty, and to develop program policies/ strategies to incorporate any form of open access as an objective in the research of graduate students.

Do-a-thon at OpenCon 2018
Do-a-thon at OpenCon 2018

From my point of view, open access, open data, and open research have become significant in higher education in the last few years. However, open education has not reached that status yet. There is still the misconception that open education is only sharing educational resources. Open education is the collaborative development of educational resources to provide everyone access to high-quality resources and experiences. As a younger generation, we live surrounded by technology and unlimited resources provided by the internet. Therefore, we have all the tools to make the academic environment relevant to others by giving them access to education and knowledge.

At OpenCon, the voices and stories of all attendees are heard. I personally connected to the story of one of the panelists, Adbullah Alghurabi, a master’s student in Canada, who developed educational resources for his community in Yemen. He translated scholarship opportunities into Arabic to help students find these opportunities. He also provided students with educational materials they needed to prepare for the TOEFL and IELTS exams that did not require internet access, since students in Yemen often lack an internet connection. Undoubtedly, these stories connect to others.

Thanks to this opportunity, I am now part of the team organizing the OpenCon Latin America 2019 which will be held in Colombia. We want to focus on open education and how it is related to open access and open data, highlighting the Latin American context.

Organizers of OpenCon Latin America 2019
Organizing team for OpenCon Latin America 2019

I am thankful that I had the opportunity to attend OpenCon 2018 and represent Virginia Tech. This is a space where I had the chance to get to know people from all over the world but also I had the opportunity to know how open data, open research, and open education are helping the community. Through the workshops, story circles, open reflections, do-a-thons, and unconferences, OpenCon offers a space to work together and shape ideas to contribute the community by considering openness as an inclusive solution.

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About Philip Young

Philip Young is the repository manager of VTechWorks, which provides global access to Virginia Tech scholarship. He also provides outreach to the university on open access, ORCiD, and Perma.cc.
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