It isn’t like researching and writing so don’t think that I was physically working on it all that time, but thinking about it also occupied the sewing time. Also talking with fellow quilters to get problems solved quicker.

Rebecca Albury, email to me


I’m steering an underinsured rental car around a parked truck in a back alley in Dublin, and Bon Stewart is peering at two different digital maps, offering advice. Driving in new country is always like this: turns come upon you unexpectedly. It’s a hope and a prayer on most corners. “It’s OK,” we say to each other, as we have all the way from Galway’s one way streets to the Cliffs of Moher to Sligo to Dublin. “We’ll go around again.”

This is how I’ve learned and taught, my whole professional life. It’s how I learned as a child, it’s how I think my way now through strategy and governance. What is, is in motion. Systems are never fixed or final, even when they feel defeating and the walls close in. There is a space for you, or you can turn. We make the road by following our instincts, and by going around again.

I’m thinking about this learning by doing again as I’m reflecting on #OER19, what I learned about myself and the road I was on all along, without knowing. I followed the directions that others called out to me, and there was space for me.

Jim Luke has just written about why he feels so at home at this conference:

These are my people. I feel connection with them. The fact that they are often from the far corners of the earth just reinforces that feeling for me.  These people are trying to do what am I trying to do. They’re trying to make the world better, but not by planning and engineering some panacea or utopia. Rather they’re doing it the only way that really works: focus on education and learning, build human connections, build networks, keep a critical eye open, include everyone. It’s people before organizations. It’s ideas in service of people. It’s technology in service of people.

Jim Luke, ‘Prepare for Re-Exit

This was also my experience.


At the conference, I had the privilege of sharing images and the story of a quilt made by my friend, feminist activist and former Associate Dean of Education in our faculty, Rebecca Albury. I’ve stood in the presence of this beautiful quilt, Expanded Universe, and every time I look at it, a new detail shows up. How many stars do you see? More than you might notice at first.

Detail, Expanded Universe, by Rebecca Albury

For me, OER19 as a community and a conference was attuned to the politics of small details, of choosing what to notice and choosing what to think about. I’ve re-thought my reaction to the #shoetweets that anthropologist Donna Lanclos writes about. I have colleagues who think deeply about their shoes (you know who you are), but I just wear the exact same shoes every day, unless I change them for the same boots. Yet even with my limited footwear, I know about the breathtaking cost and social exclusion performed by shoes of all kinds. So I’ve wondered: what are people at education conferences doing tweeting pictures of these expensive shoes?

Here’s the thing. Re-reading Donna’s post on #shoetweets, I realise I’ve been focusing on the wrong thing. It’s not about the shoes, or what they cost, but about the way we choose to value human time that is spent in the presence of others. It’s whatever you notice, whatever you mark.

#Shoetweets can mark the moment when people, hitherto only known to each other via digital connections, became embodied to each other, became holistic people, and the pictures of their shoes together proves that physical co-presence to themselves and to others.

Donna Lanclos, ‘The Sociality of #shoetweet: On Latour-ing sandals and webinar boots

So this was also my experience.


OER19 as a whole was pieced together by Catherine Cronin, Laura Czerniewicz and Maren Deepwell. Catherine described this as the work of “many hands”, and we saw those hands at work. Martin Hawksey, more than assisted by wing-footed Harry Lamb with roving microphone, worked patiently to assemble the conference livestream and recording. Panel chairs managed time on everyone’s behalf without fuss. Participants brought their whole selves, listening, sitting on the floor, sharing scissors, asking good questions, sharing outwards to their networks, sketchnoting. Volunteer communities #femedtech and @vconnecting contributed planning, labour and time.

And so the Twitter timeline for #OER19 is really worth a browse, as it has been in previous years when that’s how I’ve participated in this conference by listening. It’s a timeline of many, many hands, most of whom will never meet; but notice that this digital human chain of appreciative curation is something we have quietly learned how to do.

I was there to talk about noticing the labour of educational crafting, not just the resources that are the result, or the audiences that they’re intended for. We are starting to see the stitches coming apart in education systems that have depended on the dark pact made between labour and love. Loving what you do is becoming toxic for individuals trying to piece together higher education careers, as they are shredded by precarity and overwork. The logical progression of this is that the system has self-infected and is itself now falling to bits. The damage caused by long-term neglect of how humans actually work can no longer be patched up.

Instead it’s time to ask what an ethic of care looks like in education-focused organisations, in resolutely practical ways. What would change about governance, HR, quality assurance, marketing, rankings, policy work and strategy if an ethic of care could be clearly articulated, that had respect for human dignity and sustainability at its heart?

And what would we change about conferences? What would an ethic of care change about their architecture, their assumptions and their privileges?


As one of the event sponsors, Reclaim Hosting team were a warm, creative presence. Lauren Brumfield explained this to me: being at a conference is an intentionally community-facing practice for them, consistent with their vision for reclaimed digital identity for learners and institutions. Showing up, getting stuck in, asking questions, and sharing their work is a world away from the usual vendor self-trumpeting of “see you at Booth 203!” I also learned a tiny detail about their annual hosting renewal, which is opt-in rather than opt-out precisely because they have so many student blogger users, and they don’t want to accidentally roll them over because to a student, every dollar counts.

This really is something to notice: an ethic of care that shows up in the fine print when money is on the table.

So I’ve come away with a Reclaim Hosting t-shirt that I’m really proud to wear, and if you want to know anything at all about why this blog is hosted with them, just ask.


It’s become common to mention on a blog how long it might take to read. I think this is a considerate practice, but what it masks is how long it took to write.

If we are to try to repair the conditions that make open writing sustainable, we need to recognise that writing begins alone in the deep, extended labour of thinking time. But like Rebecca says, there is both thinking time and sewing time, and through all of it, there is the time of talking it over with others. From the moment the idea, or the problem, of writing is shared, writing is inherently for the social. It’s not about reputation, or citation, or status. It’s about the world we make, when we write together.

This is part of an activity led by Bon Stewart, Lawrie Phipps and Dave Cormier at #OER19, asking us to imagine where our own web practice places us.

So this piece of writing is itself a little quilt, the prosocial work of many hands who contributed to my time at OER19. It’s a scrap of practice that makes sense through the labour of others who take time to read it, think about it, share it, ask questions of it, extend it.

If you want to read others, try the #OER19 timeline, or this conference page where some other posts are being kept. The time of joining others in reading what they have written is real work, so maybe make a cup of tea.

But if you have just one minute, “Women come together to stitch the soft-Irish border” is very lovely indeed, and says it all.

Thanks to everyone associated with #OER19.

15 Responses

  • Love this Kate. Magic occurred at #OER19 – at the conference and on the hashtag /virtual participation- and it ripples out. We just need to find ways to sustain and spread the magic.

    • Kate Bowles

      Time is the key. And time is really messed up at the moment. Your beautiful work, and Rebecca’s, is raising issues for me about the way in which the period of our lives spent in paid work is now such a hamster wheel that our actual work, the thing we came here to do, is neglected. This is serious. Because if people who are in paid work have no time to think or write (or sew), they also have no time to care for others, and if they have caring responsibilities then they have absolutely no time at all for self care. We need to pay close attention to what is happening to time.

      • I’m not going to say anything very profound here but I’m intrigued by the link with social e-commerce – there’s a difference between the crafted gift that Rebecca made to you and I made to my brother (gifts of love where labour is freely given) and crafting that is work where people earn a reasonable return for their labour and then there’s the crafting that masquerades as “work” . So there are feelgood sites like where some can make a living but others work for very little.

      • You are right about time. And,as you have written in the past, time is also an issue for students. My quilting is still very much a learning experience, and retirement has given me the luxury of time to learn. Students also need time to learn, just as staff need time to reflect. All need time to relax and to care for themselves and others, as you have said. What can we change to release that time?

  • I’m still trying to remember which 1970s car chase scene we were recreating.

    And I’m chewing over the idea of writing as inherently social. It’s a good chew. I like it. I think you’re onto something. The part of me that’s been doing taxes and reimbursements since I got back can vouch for the fact that those are NOT inherently social…gotta get writing.

    It was so good to be part of your quilted experience of #OER19.

    • Kate Bowles

      It was The Italian Job, with all the Mini Coopers driving even more hair-raisingly than we did. And you too.

  • What is, is in motion. Systems are never fixed or final, even when they feel defeating and the walls close in. There is a space for you, or you can turn. We make the road by following our instincts, and by going around again.

    At this point I should no longer be surprised and how uncannily you sum up succinctly what I can never truly articulate, this sense of motion through the analogy of driving in Ireland (I can related maybe even a little more as a right-sider) to the claims of systemic inevitability for higher ed. I do believe we can make space, and for me the folks at OER19 are trying to define and occupy that space, which is so special to me. Open in education is increasingly equated caring with cost savings through open textbooks or scaling courses economies through massive distributed videos lecture or the data-rich prospecting of learning analytics, but you said no. And I love that. What you brought to this conference was the fact that all those “solutions” ignore the other side of these massive investments in resources for what we misidentify as open and “free things” with a increasingly abject disinvestment in the people who care about the educational experience. That is the troubling side of open for me which you nailed in your talk, and so many of us have seen it again and again at educational institutions and the governments/politics that pretend to fund them. In the US at least, I believe the fanfare around open educational resources is a cost saving measure temporarily ameliorates the lack of any real investment in state and federal educational spending where it matters (tuition, salaries, positions) and open ed has been carrying that water for too long. And it takes a much needed sit down with you for 10 minutes at a plastic banquet table in Galway to help remind me of what I think so many at OER19 are all to aware of—you were the perfect keynote for OER19 and really solidified what direction this community needs to take while lost in the traffic circle of open. Thanks for all you do!

    • Kate Bowles

      Jim, this is an extraordinarily generous comment, and I really want to stop and have a think about what generosity like this does on the prosocial web. It might well be the gold in the kintsugi repair that Su-Ming Khoo spoke about. But the thing I’m really thinking through is that ten minutes at a plastic table, in the context of the ten minutes it takes to write a blog comment. If we could learn how to place really deep value in the time itself, instead of the place, we may be able to extract less cost from the planet of all the flying that we do. So now I’m thinking about your comment as that gift of time you won’t get back in your life — what could be more significant?

  • This is not profound AT ALL but I would like to note that I have cloth napkins in my house that are the very same fabric as the lovely black-background with vivid circles fabric as some of the quilting pieces on that gorgeous quilt you feature in your talk. It just made me smile. Small worlds and all. Someday we will connect f2f.

    • Kate Bowles

      Reading this and Frances’ comment below I realise the only hope is to ask Rebecca. She is a reader of this blog. Yes, small worlds, and lovely to see you in this one.

      • I could not figure out how to post a fabric swatch here 🙂 So I did it on Twitter.

  • @Donna This is even less profound (confessions of a total fabric geek), As soon as I saw the quilt, I knew that the bold fabrics were from Kaffe Fassett, so I checked out the fabric you describe and I think that’s KF too . Am I right? . Fabric is a great connector:)

  • I am taking some time on a Friday evening to catch up with post-OER19 conversations and, wow, I thank you all for this wonderful conversation — from cars to capitalism to education philosophy to fabrics. Kate, when Laura introduced your keynote she mentioned (just) two of your qualities that led us to strike a path to your door when we first started thinking of OER19 keynotes: your unique combination of criticality and compassion. at OER19, not for the first time, you helped many of us to see anew, and thus to think anew about some of the seemingly intractable challenges we face. the conversations continued — over plastic tables, breakfast buffets, and now blog comments. I will not finish this thread, of course (perhaps it will never end) … but as Jim says above: thanks to you all, for all you do.

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