As many of you following me (and this blog) know, last week was the second Student Affairs Technology Unconference in Boston. Its something I had been working on since we completed last year’s event and I’m excited to share with you all today that it was a success, but not for obvious reasons. This post is a recap of what happened at Boston University last week, some tips on how you can integrate the unconference model into your upcoming training sessions with staff and students, and what is next for #satechBOS!
“So, how did it go?” (RECAP)
Overall, the Unconference went very well! While no blog post can accurately capture what happened in Boston, I will do my best to share highlights. Based on what took place at the first Unconference in 2011, I decided to make a few adjustments:
1. Move to a 2-day Format: Last year, we spent 6 hours learning together (minus the lunch break) and while I thought the discussion went very well, one day simply wasn’t enough to synthesize all the conversation. By adding a pre-unconference, meals on your own, and a DreamUp, we gave participants more time to be together and learn from each other.
2. Create Smaller Groups: Last year, we spent the entire event in one large 75-person group. This format allowed to us to process a lot of great topics together, but didn’t allow for small group discussion. This year, we kept the large group together for big picture things (welcome, voting on topics and projects, keynote conversations and talks) but intentionally decided to create 4-5 smaller groups for unconference learning and creating.
3. Lack of Facilitators: Last year, I served as “facilitator” for the day’s conversations. This year, initially, I had thought about putting facilitators in each of the breakout rooms. After the first round of unconference conversations, it became clear to me that after the first few moments of awkward silence , someone or some people would step up to get the conversation going. With no one at the “front” of room, everyone becomes a teacher and a learner.
4. Creation Stations: One frustration about traditional conference learning is the lack of opportunity to create something. As Student Affairs practitioners, isn’t it obvious to us that some of the best learning happens outside the classroom? Why not apply that commonly known mantra to our unconference learning? This year, one of the unconference blocks was titled “Creation Stations” where groups would come together and build something based on their shared interests and combined with something they learned in one of previous unconference sessions.
(side story) At 4:30pm last Thursday, something very cool happened. After bringing the large group together after just 3 hours of unconference learning, I simply asked them, “What would you like to build together?” At first, the group looked at me with blank faces and certainly my confidence wavered. But suddenly, one person raised their hand saying, “I want to build …” Soon after, another said the same thing. Then another… and another… and another, until we had EIGHT projects on the screen waiting to be voted on. Looking out into the audience, I KNEW at that moment, that they understood the concept and were excited to get started on building something. By 6:45pm that night, five projects were created and ready to be presented the next day.
5. Presentations: Day two gave our unconference participants a chance to share what they built with one another, while answering questions and garnering feedback from each other (watch recorded video here). The projects included a blog to share ideas about social media application examples (SATechShare | Twitter); a website to stay connected to share talents & ideas beyond the event (satechBOS Connect); a technology training seminar for staff and students (Google Doc); a rubric for technology competency (Google Doc); and an open platform for student event planning (Campus BrainStorm). I was extremely proud of all they had accomplished in less than 24 hours, when many of them didn’t know what to expect upon their arrival.
6. Keynotes/Interviews: While the core of the learning would be traditional unconference format, I did sprinkle in a formal welcome talk from Dean Elmore, a video interview with Sarah Evans (video), which kicked off the new Student Affairs Live , and an inspirational closing keynote from Tom Krieglstein (video). I’m glad I did, as it rounded out the event’s education nicely.
7. Videographers/Photographers: At the end of last year’s event, I wished I had taken more photos and videos of the experience so I could properly tell the story of what took place. This year, I would leave nothing to chance, bringing in some Bridgewater State alumni who had worked with me before (Sasso Studios for video and Nicole Riley Photography for photos and headshots from some of our participants.) I also brought in Higher Ed Live (thanks to Seth Odell) to help broadcast most of Friday’s content so folks could be part of excitement live.
Once this media content is processed later this week,Check out all the media content on the satechBOS website!
“This is so cool! How do I integrate this type of learning model into my trainings?”
If you are ready to try something new with your staff and/or students, here are some tips to get you started:
1. Be comfortable with the uncomfortable: Remember that part of the unconference model is the uncomfortable feeling people may have with the lack of structure. This is normal and expected. These feelings should challenge your participants to step outside their comfort zones and embrace their new found role as teacher & learner. Try not to “facilitate” things at the first sign of quiet. Let the peer-peer learning process run its course.
2. Allow participants to vote on topics ONE WEEK prior to the event: Ask your audience what topics they most want to learn about. Then, use an online system like Twtpoll to encourage voting. Based on the number of breakout spaces you have, assign your top voted choices to those rooms and have participants go to the topic they most want to talk about.
3. Tech or no tech?: Depending on the topic of your unconference, you may want to encourage or limit access to technology and focus on in-person interactions. Certainly, you might need a note taker or an internet enabled device to do some quick research, but try to make the event about the people present. On the other hand, if you are like me, you may want to infuse your event with technology Should you do so, have enough bandwidth in your wireless system to accomodate all participants and enough charging stations and power cords spread throughout your space to keep everyone going. Consider also having large screens, projectors, and amplified sound so all in attendance can see and hear clearly.
4. Make sure to move on: Once a topic has run its course, encourage folks to get up and move to another room. Explain to folks that getting up and walking in on other unconference sessions is fine, and expected. If a room wants to deviate from a topic together, let that happen as well.
“So, now what’s the next Student Affairs Technology event/program? Will there be an #satechBOS in 2013?”
A professional development revolution in Higher Education has begun. What started last year at satechBOS 2011, has grown into a Confab at BU and Confab at NASPA Region V, the Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference, and this year’s satechBOS event. I’m proud to be part of it and will continue to do my part by planning this event again next year, provided that Boston University is again a partner In truth, its thanks to Kenn Elmore’s generous donations of space and resources along with Kat Cornetta’s amazing work on event details and operations that these last two unconferences successfully happened. If you’re grateful for anything you learned in person or online from the unconference, please make sure you thank them!
In closing, I mentioned in the opening of this post that I thought the event was successful, but not for reasons that were obvious. Yes, we had an increase in attendance from last year to this year (75 to 97). Yes, we successfully created five different projects together. Yes, we learned a lot from each other in a peer-peer environment. To me though, our collective success became evident over the weekend, when the community started writing and sharing about their experiences at the event, including:
“Technology and Higher Ed: A Recap of the satechBOS Unconference” by Gather Education
“#satechBOS unconference” by Kayley Robsham, University of Rhode Island
“Establishing a Digital Identity” by Brianne McDonough, Salem State University
“Extremely Humbling Experience at #satechBOS” by Tom Krieglstein, AlumniChoose & Swift Kick
“SATechBOS Unconference” by Rich Fox (started a new blog!), Boston University
“Putting Ideas Into Action from #satechBOS” (Video) by Kevin O’Connell, Rutgers University
“#satechBOS-Pay It Forward” by Colleen Bunn, Connecticut College
“Structuring the Unstructured – My First #satechBOS Reflection” by Lisa Endersby, University of Ontario Insitutue of Technology (UOIT)
“#satechBOS & Me” by Thomas A. Kelley, Rhode Island College
“#SAtechBOS Reflections” by P. Max Quinn, Bridgewater State University
… and I am sure there are many more to come
My sincerest thanks again to my friends at Boston University (Kenn Elmore, Kat Cornetta, & Dan Solworth), Lisa Endersby and Mike Hamilton for ALL their help and support in pulling this together. I could not have done it all with you. Shall we start talking about #satechBOS 2013?
Until the next event, please join me on Higher Ed Live as I take over as the new host of Student Affairs Live in September! I’m excited to have Mike Hamilton join me as we evolve our #sa30 Live Video Interviews into ones for #SAlive! Together we will continue these conversations and take digital professional development to the next level.
What were your thoughts about #satechBOS and/or the unconference model? Could this model be incorporated into our campus trainings?