An Unconference Model for University Educational Technologists: Edcamp+

Introduction

This is the final post for the EDTC 6103! This week the reflection is slightly different focus, but follows the same structure (triggering questions, exploration, integration from cohort, and resolution). This post will incorporate thoughts about ISTE Standards for Teachers 5 and ISTE Standards for Coaches 2. I appreciate any feedback you might have. I invite you to comment on the post itself or find me on Twitter. If this is your first time stopping by, I hope you poke around the site and read some of the past posts to get an idea of my progress–where I have been and where I am going.

ISTE Standards for Teachers 5: Engage in Professional Growth and Leadership and ISTE Standard for Coaches 2: Teaching, Learning, and Assessments

The final standard for teachers incorporates recommendations about how to gain personal experience and become involved in professional learning opportunities to expand one’s knowledge and expertise. ISTE for coaches 2 compliments the standard for teachers by encouraging coaches of teachers to use proper teaching and learning techniques to equip educators in their professional development. As an educator who works with other educators who teach students, my focus is on how to best use methods, such as differentiation, to coach other educators. Therefore, this post is of a more personal nature as I reflect on my experience and current role.

Problem

How can teachers continuously improve their professional practice, model lifelong learning, and exhibit leadership in their school and professional community by promoting and demonstrating the effective use of digital tools and resources?

Triggering Question

How can I connect with other educational technologists serving in the higher ed context to share knowledge, ask questions, and collaborate for professional development? What should the format be and how might it be designed so it doesn’t require a significant amount of funding commonly required for conferences?

Exploration

This week my question is, “How can I connect with other educational technologists serving in the higher ed context to share knowledge, ask questions, and collaborate for professional development?” For my exploration phase I turned inward on my own personal actions. While I explore resources and interact with readings I reflect on my own actions and build on personal endeavors in this area. Put differently, this is a topic I have already thought much about, but now I have the opportunity to formally reflect on it and seek feedback.

For the past few months I’ve been reflecting on how to create or be part of an training/professional development experience for other educational technologists from higher education. I am part of a number of various professional development organizations that offer conferences including NWACC Instructional Technology Roundtable, CCCU Commission on Technology, NW/MET, and EDUCAUSE Connect. However, all of these opportunities (and others I didn’t mentioned) usually require 2-4 days away from the office, travel, and lodging. While my experience at these annual events is usually favorable, lengthy absences from the office, cost of travel, conference fees, and the typical “sage on the stage” conference format are not always appealing. How might I participate in creating a lightweight learning opportunity for university-level educational technologists in the greater Tacoma, Seattle, Everett area?

Personal learning communities/networks are important professional development opportunities. They create dialogue partners, promote learning, provide space for brainstorming, offer problem-solving opportunities, and allow others to spark and build relationships with peers. Miriam Clifford (2013) offers a helpful perspective of the importance and goals of personal learning networks. She writes, “Learning networks are based on the theory of connectivism, or learning from diverse social webs. Connectivism implies that learning relies on communicating ideas with others. PLNs facilitate learning through meaningful interactions.” In 2011 the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology submitted a report promoting the benefits of online communities of practice for educational technologists and offers practical suggestions for creating online communities. In their own words, the report “makes the case for broadening educators’ access to and participation in online communities of practice, which show strong potential to support professional learning and collaboration” (p. 1). The report promotes four core pillars for online communities of practice: [1] providing participants access to knowledge; [2] building on the first point, the second is about sharing knowledge among the participants (i.e., building a community of knowledge sharing); [3] participants come together to create shared knowledge as a community; [4] communities of practice offer a place for collaboration, relationship building, and identity formation (pg. 6).

There is no doubt in my mind about the importance of collaboration, knowledge creation and sharing, and community. Many resources focus on using Twitter as helpful tool for such collaboration that doesn’t require a significant amount of dedicated time. However, there are benefits to gathering together in digital or analog spaces.

A couple years ago I attended my first Edcamp. The experience was hosted by a colleague of mine, so I helped with some of the behind the scenes needs and also participated. Edcamps are informal gatherings of teachers and educators. They are based on the unconference model where participants come up with topics for sessions the day of and people vote (usually before the first session kicks off) for which sessions should happen. Edcamps are often a one day affair–usually a Saturday–and do not leave participants with red in their bank accounts (i.e., aside from travel costs and maybe lunch there are no fees). The Edcamp model is a flexible, low maintenance, low overhead, participant-as-contributor model that provides personal learning network support. This past fall I attended my second Edcamp. There were significantly more participants, a sponsored continental breakfast, sponsored always flowing coffee–a must in Seattle–and a variety of sessions suggested and selected by participants. By all counts the Edcamp was a success, but I left early feeling discouraged. Based on my experiences, the two Edcamps, while not limited to K-12 educators, were heavily attended and focused on the K-12 setting and not as applicable to my higher education environment.

A couple months ago I met with a colleague to discuss how we might start an Edcamp for higher education. I left the conversation excited and slightly overwhelmed and currently the project is buried in my Evernote collection of ideas. However, the week’s ISTE 5 for teachers and ISTE 2 for coaches focus caused me to reopen the note and think about what it might look like to develop something based on the Edcamp model, but offer something a little more.

This post isn’t so much about a resource I found to support my exploration, but more about my exploration of how I might respond to ISTE 5 for teachers and ISTE 2 for coaches. To that end, here is an idea I hope to develop over the next few months (incorporating feedback from this post and others).

As mentioned before, conferences can be expensive in two priceless currencies of time and money. When you launch a conference there are speaker costs, event rental fees, and food (and coffee!) costs. The participant is often required to pay for a hotel, travel, conference fees, and more. What if we created an unconference+ based on Edcamp’s model, but with a little more? Call it Edcamp+!

Idea

A one-day conference in the Seattle area for university professors and educational technologists to come together for a day to participate in sharing knowledge, creating new knowledge in an incubator, and building relationships. Content would be driven largely by participants–following the Edcamp model–but there would be a core theme for the day. Furthermore, at least 1-2 sessions would be pre-planned by a group of people in the area. I think this model could save some time when selecting topics, but also provide a little more structure than the free for all.

Another piece that would be added is the online component. The Edcamp+ would create an online space using a number of social web 2.0 tools to invite participants to communicate digitally with each other during the gap between unconference meetings. Furthermore, participants will be encouraged to meet ad-hoc based on certain topics throughout the year in an analog space (such as a community space, restaurant, or pub) and invite others to join digitally if unable to attend. the ad-hoc meetings would be topic based and offered based on interest.

Why?

I want be part of something that encourages ongoing collaboration, relationship building (realizing the importance of connecting not just as professionals, but also as humans (i.e., maybe relationships will be formed where you are involved in non-work activities), the creation and sharing of new knowledge in creative places, a focus on the higher education context, and the lightweight Edcamp unconference model as a foundation with strategic enhancements for specific topics/conversations when needed.

Concerns

My personal time is always a factor to help create something like this. Another concern is the time of others. What is the benefit to going to a one-day conference that may interfere with weekend plans when there is more prestige offered in presenting at the traditional conference?

Integration

My cohort offered great support and encouragement for launching an Edcamp+ for higher education people. Annie recommended reaching out to individuals in the area with personal invitations and starting on small projects together. Marsha eased my concern of timing and commitment, especially during the weekend. Marsha commented that people will make time for such an opportunity if they are interested in learning, “If people are excited about learning something new, they will sacrifice their time to attend. It is the desire and motivation to learn and to connect with others in their profession, that brings them to a Saturday event.” Becky reminded me of the benefits of connecting with others on listservs, of which I have 5000 unread messages right now…, as a way to stay connected beyond face-to-face learning opportunities. Finally, Cheryl, my professor, encraouged me to dream big and look into Standford’s d.school for ideas.

Resolution

My cohort offered some helpful and inspiring feedback. When I first starting thinking about this idea months ago I was overwhelmed and discouraged. However, I have a renewed sense of desire to pursue developing an Edcamp focused on higher education with extra ongoing asynchronous opportunities to build community and share ideas. There are two main things I am most excited about for next steps.

  1. Annie suggested making connections with “innovators” in the field as a way to build the community at first. I really like this idea of starting small, but intentionally.
  2. I recently heard about Unhangout from David Wicks, M.Ed. DEL Chair. This could be a fantastic way to continue the conversation after an analog Edcamp meeting or a way to encourage those that are geographically restricted to participate. Unhangout is from MIT and is built on the Google Hangouts platform. They describe it as, “an open source platform for running large-scale, unconferences online. We use Google Hangouts to create as many small breakout sessions as needed, and help users find others with shared interests.”

References

Edcamp Foundation

Clifford, Miriam. (2013, January 3). 20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network. Retrieved from http://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/features/20-tips-for-creating-a-professional-learning-network/

Connect and Inspire: Online Communities of Practice in Education. (2011, March 9). U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology. Retrieved from http://connectededucators.org/report/files/2011/03/0143_OCOP-Main-report.pdf

Unhangout

  3 comments for “An Unconference Model for University Educational Technologists: Edcamp+

  1. June 8, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Nice job, Ryan! You’ve been a busy guy this week! A great post and a super successful collaborative presentation! I think you’re on the verge of something amazing here, as well. I foresee you developing this idea and it taking off like wild fire, much like the EdCamps have for K-12. I can’t wait to see where this goes!

  2. June 8, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    I think we seem to support the “unconference”model because we’ve seen firsthand how collegiality, collaboration and, even some informality, works within our own program to inspire learning. You are clearly poised to start some great new initiatives, especially given your thoughtful perspective. I also appreciate that you already arrive to this reflection with the viewpoint of a coach in many ways. If you build it, they (and I) will come! I can’t wait to try an UnHangout…let me know if you ever want another participant from a K-12 background in your higher ed mix.

  3. Marsha Scott
    June 9, 2015 at 6:17 am

    The Unhangout would be a great tool for students in higher ed as a way to support participants after an EdCamp type session. I find it a challenge to keep the new learning or strategy going after attending a highly-motivating event. So by using the unhangout as a follow up, this would continue the conversations and benefit the participants. Enjoyed reading your post, Ryan!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

css.php