OpenCraft in Boston and Bogotá
OpenCraft in Boston and Bogotá
OpenCraft in Boston and Bogotá

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28 March - 8 April 2023

After an unforgettable Open edX 2022 conference and co-working retreat last year in Lisbon, Portugal, we were eager to see what our 2023 trip had in store!

As our team is 100% remote, these two weeks of the year are a great way to connect, catch-up, and meet new team members. Sadly, not everyone was able to join in the fun, but we still had representatives from Australia, Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and Africa. Here’s the lowdown on the two weeks we spent together.

Week 1: Open edX Conference 2023

This year, Open edX went back to its roots and hosted its annual conference at MIT, the birthplace of the Open edX project. In fact, the conference was held in the very same building in which the first lines of code were written for the platform. Sitting there 12 years later, you couldn't help but think how much the platform has grown and how far we've come as a community over the years. 

MIT Dome

As some of Open edX's biggest fans and most active contributors, the OpenCraft team makes an effort to attend the conference whenever we can. It's a wonderful opportunity for us to reunite with the people we work with during the year - both within our own team and the community at large. Also, because our team members are often selected as speakers at the conference, we get the opportunity to show off what we've been working on and share our ideas with the community. In turn, we get the chance to learn about what others have been working on. We often leave a lecture hall feeling inspired by the efforts of other community members and brimming with new ideas! 

This year's conference branding was created by our UX and UI designers

Four OpenCraft team members presented a talk this year. Xavier Antoviaque spoke about "Building Collaborative Courses" by involving learners in the course creation process. Braden MacDonald joined other members of the Product Development team to introduce the Modular Learning Initiative to the community and discuss how community input helps shape product development. Jillian Vogel joined Brian Mesick to share the progress of the OARS (Open Analytics Reference System) project: an ambitious effort to improve the analytics of the Open edX platform. Lastly, Piotr Surowiec discussed the work that went into migrating a comprehensive theme from a legacy frontend to the MFE. He outlined the key differences between the theming options in the comprehensive theme and the MFE.

Every year, the welcome address and keynote talks are some of the main highlights of the conference. For those of you who couldn’t make it to Boston this year, we’ve linked to the videos of these talks below:

When not presenting talks, participating in workshops, or meeting with our clients, the OpenCraft team managed to sneak in some good old-fashioned fun! We beat the cold by visiting the Cambridge Brewing Company (who, by the way, serve delicious fried Brussel sprouts that even devout haters of the vegetable would enjoy!). We embarked on a self-guided tour through the MIT grounds where we marveled at the Biomimetic Robotics lab, got chased out of the library, and walked the campus grounds alongside a group of Canadian geese. On Wednesday night, we attended the conference reception where we wined and dined within the walls of the MIT Museum. And on the last day, just to throw in a little bit of culture, we visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum where we found each display to be more interesting and opulent than the last. 

The conference went by in a flash, but we certainly managed to make the most of our time! Not only were we able to interact with the community in a way that remote collaboration doesn't always allow, but we also got the chance to strengthen our bond as a team - something money just can't buy! Once the 2023 conference had drawn to a close, we headed back to our Airbnbs to prepare for our next adventure: an OpenCraft co-working week in Bogotá, Colombia!

Week 2: Co-working week!

We arrived around the 1st of April, ready to have fun in the vibrant city of Bogotá. The Colombian capital is a whopping 2,625 meters (8,660 feet) above sea-level. We were warned that the city’s dizzying heights can give you a touch of soroche, or altitude sickness. So we made sure to take it easy the first few days after we’d landed.

Some OpenCrafters exploring the gardens of Bogotá

One week is definitely not enough to catch all the sights of Bogotá. The city sprawls as far as the eyes can see, cradled between the chilly peaks of the Andes mountains. We experienced four seasons in one day. Sun, rain, wind, hail - you name it. We never knew what to expect. Thank goodness for our cozy co-working space at CO+LABORA in Usaquén. The area oozes cool. Trendy restaurants and bars adorn cobblestone streets, while storefronts are painted with bright patterns and colors. 

When we travel as a team, you never go hungry. Everyone is eager to try everything! This time it was arepas, empanadas, pescado frito, ceviche, bunuelos, arequipe, and, of course, coffee! 

While we do work a bit and the face-to-face interactions are invaluable, we also play a lot. Our team has an amazing adventurous spirit. But there’s also no pressure if a proposed activity is not your jam. For example, only a few of us decided to tackle the mountain of Monserrate. It sits 3,152 m (10,341 feet) above sea level, and it dominates the center of Bogotá. At the top of the mountain rests a church with a shrine, devoted to El Señor Caído. We set out, and it was testing. But in the words of our intrepid leader, Xavier Antoviaque, “This mountain isn’t going to hike itself!” And it didn’t. We used every muscle and every breath to make it to the top. The steep rise in altitude is what makes the hike a beast. The route is scenic and peppered with colorful vendors and their canine friends.

Hike up Monserrate

We stopped multiple times, not just to take in the majestic views, but to also catch our breath. But, we did it in the end! And it was worth it. Magnificent gardens lie at the foot of the church. The views are so good that no picture can really do them justice. 

Views from the top of Monserrate
Fearless OpenCraft hikers

Other highlights of the trip included visiting and working at the awesome EduNext offices. We’re so lucky to have such wonderful friends and colleagues like you!

OpenCraft and EduNext team working together!

We also visited the beating heart of Bogotá, La Candelaria. The neighborhood‘s narrow streets are adorned with out-of-this-world graffiti, shops selling emeralds, handcrafts, religious artifacts, crystals, and sacred herbs for smudging. This melting pot of culture leads to hotspots like the Gold Museum and Museo Botero. Both showcase absolutely amazing collections. Not to be missed!

Now back to food. Every year we end our week with a special team dinner. Our team dinner this year was nothing short of spectacular. We were treated to course after course at Humo Negro. The chef presented us with his preferred menu. He was full of passion and it just added to the beauty of the experience. The dishes were beyond original, and praised local ingredients. Think “salad” that comes in the form of a ball that pops in your mouth, grilled oysters with burnt cream and seaweed, sea urchin mousse, crispy sea snail with pumpkin seed puree and pickled guatila, chawanmushi with pirarucu, scallops and spirulina, and arracacha with grilled wild berries and yogurt. I would never have been so daring if the food hadn’t been set down in front of me. And man, it’ll remain one of the best memories of food I’ll ever have. Our team laughed and bonded over these strange, surreal dishes. Well done, Humo Negro. Well done, OpenCraft!

On the last night, we had a festive night in. We sat around the fireplace at Xavier, Jill, and Piotr’s Airbnb. Kshitj cooked us a delicious curry and we tried a variety of native Colombian fruits. Some were more palatable than others 😂. Watching everyone pull a variety of faces was priceless.

I can’t believe another conference and co-working week has come and gone. I’ll forever be grateful to be part of this kind, wonderful team and community.  

Until next year…

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