Co-organizing the Learning Journey of Our Dreams #MYFest22

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 27 seconds

This post is about how I got together with a group of people (Mia, Rissa, Rebecca, Sukaina, Heather, Felicia, George, Anne-Marie, Brenna, Remi, Nate, Alan, Laura) who share my values and hopes to co-organize a learning journey that we hope will be a nourishing, community-building space, an “equitable, emergent, creative caring community” (our tagline) – #MYFest22!

For many years, those of us in the Virtually Connecting community would discuss the possibility of creating our own conference. Since Virtually Connecting was all about conversations and not presentations, challenging academic gatekeeping at conferences, bringing people together in community, and practicing Intentionally Equitable Hospitality, we were really imagining something that looked nothing like any conference we had ever seen. Certainly none of the virtual conferences we experienced during the height of the pandemic. Some conferences had some fun sessions. Some conferences had some good conversations. Some were free and challenged academic gatekeeping that way. Some learning experiences had some sense of community, of course. I don’t think anything had everything I would have wanted. Another thing: Virtually Connecting, people used to tell us, was a cure for FOMO. Those of us who could rarely attend conferences in person often had Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and VConnecting helped with that. So many online conferences are on a particular timezone and have parallel sessions and stuff that makes it really difficult to participate in all you want to. And it is so hard to fit all that into your schedule when you have work (how many days off can you take so you can be at a virtual conference? How many times can you do that in a year?).

And so over the past two years, I have keynoted a huge number of conferences, I have lost count. I have enjoyed subverting what people expect in a keynote and making it interactive and conversational to whatever extent I can within the platforms the organizers give me (always asking for more interactivity where possible) and working to bring in the audience with me as participants in how the keynote goes. I almost never was able to participate in the rest of the conferences beyond my own keynote. Maybe one or two sessions a day or something – there simply was no time. Not at all what I would have done in person, but I only ever attended one or two max in person when I could travel. Also, attempts at conversational sessions rarely satisfied me the way vconnecting sessions did.

In the meantime, what nourished me and kept me going in the past two years was the Equity Unbound community. Equity Unbound started in 2017 by Mia Zamora, Catherine Cronin and me (with other educators coming in and out over time) as something small that evolved into an emergent space for proactively creating whatever our community needed at the time. At first it was an “equity-focused, open, connected, intercultural learning experience” for our students across borders, but we soon realized it became a nourishing space for educators. Just as COVID-19 started to become a serious concern, we launched “Continuity with Care” and from the few sessions we held with educators and learners, we formed a private Twitter DM, initially meant as an invite to one live session, which became our community backchannel for two years. In June 2020, the increasing devastating violence against African Americans by police, the centering of #BlackLivesMatter even more especially the murder of George Floyd compelled us to ask “what can we do about this?” and from a conversation with my local colleague Kim Fox, emerged the idea for Equity Unbound to organize Socially Just Academia (a follow up after our initial event on Inclusive Citation). Not all of our events were publicly announced and recorded, so the digital footprint is less visible, but we had a few really meaningful conversations with like-minded educators.

In August 2020, we recognized a need many educators had: they were heading into a fully online semester and had no idea how to build community online. We knew how, and we knew many people who knew how, so we embarked on a partnership with OneHE and built an open resource full of community building activities contributed by many in our network (including Virtually Connecting folks) and an open invitation to anyone else who wanted to contribute!

(read this paper for more on Equity Unbound and its praxis).

Throughout the pandemic period, we kept organizing Equity Unbound events using the Virtually Connecting YouTube account (for reasons!) and now we have officially renamed it the Virtually Connecting and Equity Unbound YouTube account 😀

Most recently, some of us came together to imagine and create #MYFest22. It’s been two grueling pandemic years, more damaging for some of us than others, and we all needed some sort of “renewal and recharge” experience. We needed to create the thing we wanted to see, and this is what we came up with. A “choose your own learning journey”, “pay what you can” (zero included!) experience. We haven’t finalized the schedule and registration yet, but you can express interest now here: https://bit.ly/myfest22 and we will keep you posted as we update our site. Themes include open education, digital literacies, critical pedagogy and social justice, community building and reflection, wellbeing and joy. We’ll have some workshoppy things, some hallway/watercooler conversational things, some asynchronous things, and some multi-session tracks if you wanted a more focused dose of learning on a particular theme. We hope to have “no FOMO” with no overlapping sessions (I hope we can manage it) and with a team from different timezones, hopefully we can offer timezone-diverse sessions too.

These things don’t come out of nowhere. In a recent reunion of some of us at Virtually Connecting, we discussed the question: what does our community (and the world) need right now that we have a unique set of capabilities to offer? We didn’t know at the time exactly what it might be. But it soon made itself obvious to us: many in our community of social justice minded educators need a nourishing learning experience, they need a safe/brave space, where they have agency to learn what they want and a way to fit it into busy schedules.

So we have plans. Some of them are written in Google docs and will emerge on our website soon inshallah. Some are still hanging in conversations between us. And we are also trying to imagine ways of creating space for emergence coming from participant suggestions, contributions, needs, etc. We hope you’ll join us inshallah!

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