After months and months and months of planning, the Learning2Build/Building2Learn Unconference has just ended. Reflective learner and practitioner that I am, I can’t help but immediately want to evaluate and assess to what extent we achieved our objectives as event organizers. And, true to life, I find that in some ways it was a (and hear Borat in your head, please) Greeeeeeat success! and in other ways it was a complete and epic failure. In order to address this question, we have to know what our objectives are. In this case, we had several:
- Create a space in which K-12 and college/ university educators can collaborate.
- Gather change agents working in education, especially, but not exclusively, those in the Rochester area.
- Empower learners to take ownership of their own learning.
- Utilize a presentation method in which the medium is imperative to the message.
Our first and second objectives were absolutely met. K-12 and college/ university educators did indeed gather at RIT on a frigid Saturday morning to discuss how we can help students create more content than they consume, the barriers that keep us from shifting the create/consume balance, and successful methods for tearing down those barriers. There were scheduled sessions which included presentations, lectures, and demonstrations that were somehow related to this topic. There is a Facebook group, a Google+ community, YouTube Videos and a flood of #l2bb2l tweets that allow this fledgling community to remain in touch. It’s easy to see that the first two objectives were achieved.
The third and fourth objectives are much harder for me to evaluate. In reality, the event was far more conference than un.
This was especially disappointing because I know that a few participants had specifically committed to supporting this local unconference event over a mere one-hour-away edcamp in Buffalo. We had a total of 3 proposed sessions via Post-Its (one was my model) in a possible 12 time/location slots on the session board; to be entirely honest, I didn’t even take a picture of the board. And, being no strangers to introducing a paradigm shift in deeply entrenched institutions, the other founding organizers and I had planned ahead to try to support this change. We recognized the local educational community’s inexperience with anything much like an unconference, despite RIT’s hosting hack-a-thons and BarCamps on the reg; so, we decided to offer both a traditional “anchor session” track and a “spontaneous session” track. Baby steps, we figured, both for the participants and for the planning committee. We provided materials (post-its and gold stars), created time and space (the first hour and a half, an edcamp-style session board, available rooms), and direct instruction (via introductory remarks) to try to facilitate break-out sessions. Despite the direct instruction, the access to time and materials, and several invitations to move about, propose a session idea, and individuals or partners moving into nearby spaces in which they could converse, no sessions that were proposed actually ran. I can now recognize that I had arbitrarily imposed the idea that success would manifest itself in a very narrow and particular manner. I was expecting something like an edcamp to occur alongside a traditionally structured conference, and for individuals to join in a synchronous conversation via Google+ while we met in person in Rochester. I had fallen into Teacher Trap #1: mistaking an activity – an edcamp-style track with a rich session board and thriving G+ chatter based on the live feed – for an objective.
In writing this post, however, I recognize that we did have a couple of really interesting not-on-the-session-board breakout sessions that did seem to meet objectives 3-4. For example, after Andy Phelps‘ excellent keynote, he hosted an open lab session in the MAGIC lab, which was in an adjoining room. Basically, those who wanted to chat more with him about the ideas and frustrations his speech highlighted joined him while Dr. Ferat Sahim spoke about robotics and their use with kids in RIT’s summer programs. My co-presenter and Padawan, Ellie, said she was going to Andy’s lab and, being both curious about the session and trusting Ellie’s instincts, I followed. A very lively conversation took off with Andy; David – an articulate advocate of LARPing to learn and another faculty member of IGM; myself; John – an RIT student who last week won a business competition related to his educational iPad app; Ellie -a future music teacher, current high school junior and, former student in my fully flipped, paperlite language and literature class; Tony – an instructional technology coordinator at a very well-respected independent school in the area; Amy – an art teacher and future maker-space facilitator at the same school; Cara – a complete rockstar teacher in an excellent rural district with unfortunately shrinking enrollment; and several other individuals who came and went. While we were chatting, several of the game design students showed up to use the space too: true to form for what Andy had been describing about the department’s culture, he waved at them, they nodded at us, and then clustered together at a computer to collaborate on their work.
Similarly as to what occurred after Andy’s keynote, after Dr. Sahim’s anchor session about robotics, he led a handful of people including my colleague and friend, Leslie, to his lab where I am sure equally engaging conversations with diverse audiences took place. While a huge list of content proposed on a session board and synchronous online conversations certainly did not occur; learner-directed conversations did. The activity I had thought the learners would want to use by which to achieve the objectives was not utilized; the objective was met.
Now, that’s not to say that I didn’t immediately want to discuss why loosely structured sessions (follow me to the lab) ran while fully spontaneous sessions did not occur. Reflecting with Tony and Amy and Jeremiah after the event was really helpful to me in considering what we could have done differently to encourage more participants to propose to facilitate a session and/or to actually employ the rule of two feet to move into a new space and strike up a conversation. Plans are already in the works, now that we know at least 40 people in the area are of our ilk, to host a full unconference, format TBD, this summer at a K-12 venue in the area, also TBD.
In the end, the Open Space principle that whatever happened is the only thing that could have is another reminder that while the un- didn’t look exactly like I had predicted it would, today’s conference was a good introduction into taking ownership of learning. It’s also worth remembering that whoever comes is the right people: we were successfully able to gather innovative educators so that we are now connected and able to continue collaborating into the future. There was a palpable interest in joining Jon Schull and the very active G+ Community with something like e-nable. While I won’t characterize the event as a complete success, I do think it was successful in laying a groundwork for continued collaboration and an increased awareness of specific strategies we can use to help push students into the role of a creator more often than that of a consumer, and always then a critical consumer.