June 28, 2008

Edubloggercon's not an unconference: here's why

Taking_the_mic Me, taking the 'mic' out of a conference-y intervention from Pearson at the unconference. Urgh. Pic: Will.

Within five minutes of arriving at Edubloggercon I've heard nothing innovative, I've had an advertisement from Pearson (surely the anti-Christ of unconferencing) who are here to make recordings of these incredibly innovative teachers for their own R&D. I'm just hoping that someone got a whole wad of cash from them to do that.

I've always been narked by the affirmation that Edubloggercon was the first unconference of its kind, when clearly we've been doing them since 2005 in Scotland. But it's not even that. I've shared what makes an unconference great before, but here are the cardinal rules that I think we're missing in San Antonio today:

  • Voting on sessions
    The physical space should try to respect the online space: there are no limits on time or space, so just hold all of the sessions, let people choose.
  • There is no time limit
    Sessions which are strung out to an hour where 7 minutes would have done, or which last an hour when three would have been better... that's a conference. Unconferences should know no limits.
  • Advertising
    No-one gets to advertise, even if they did give you a load of cash. They don't even have the right to present unless it's about stuff going on in classrooms here and now.
  • Rows
    We don't do rows. Round tables, no tables. People need to circulate easily, which precludes rows and trying to hop over Sheryl Nussaum-Beach's flowing robes ;-)
  • Free beer
    Pearson should've paid for that. Well, we should have started off with some muffins and coffee, paid for by them.
  • Get it started without anything conference-y.
    Within no more than five minutes we should be hearing from someone's innovation. The people need to speak. Don't make us wait 43 minutes to go through admin.

Comments

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Fantastic. Thanks.

Not only a very critical commentary on unconferences and conferences but also how you have used all aspects of (new) media to share this.

Ewan,

Reasonable critique!

You're being too modest. Pearson isn't just the antichrist of unconferencing. Their powers of destruction are much more substantial. This is a company that made billions on the backs of school children by actively promoting No Child Left Behind and selling the unimaginative curricula, text books and testing required to impose it. Did I mention that they are one of the world's leading purveyors of standardized testing and integrated "learning" systems?

Are we now to believe that they have seen the light and are committed to classroom creativity, collaboration and innovation?

Amen! I am in agreement that there are enough people (2 is enough) to start a sound conversation on a topic during EBC. Thanks for sharing your opinion. Maybe others will pick up on it. Nice to meet you this morning, BTW. See ya at the RibFest.

Ewan,
I have to say I was very sad that I was going to miss EduBloggerCon but now I am happy I had an extra day at home. I hope there is some enjoyment in the day for you!

See you sometime over the next few days.
MaryAnn

Some of the comments you make are due to the fact that EBC has grown so much. It was much more participative and unconference with fewer people. Ideal group sizes are more like 10-20, rather than 50+.

I agree that the official inclusion of Pearson in this event was a supremely bad call.

Still, the energy here is good; I have heard some good thinking and discussions; and it is a great group to be a part of.

Hi Ewan,
looks like you are taking the opportunity of failure to make some great points. The Scots TeachMeets remain highlights of my CPD. The things that made them work for me were:
Free Beer- helps with a bit of relaxation
Random speakers - adds to the serendipity
7 minute limits - adds to the spread
You also need a fronts-person who can keep all the balls in the air.

It seems to me that part of Shirky's point is that even large groups can be effective without formal organization. I think people and in particularly teachers are not comfortable with unstructied environments. They don't trust the process.

Hi Karen,
The size one is an interesting one, but not quite right. I regularly run these things for 200+ people and haven't lost that small subversive feel. It just means breaking it all up, rather than making it feel quite so BIG.

I, for one, learned a great deal yesterday at Edubloggercon. The best part was meeting people. Did you know that the Inspector of Education for all of Lesothu was there? Just listening to lots of smart people bouncing ideas off of each other is exciting. I don't feel the need to talk, but if I did I would.

The Pearson issue is a big one. If we let Pearson do it what about others who ask? Also, it is totally against the spirit of this group. I am hoping that just good things come out of it and I think that is possible... but let's not do it again.

Janice

I got out of EBCon that way too many people are pondering why 'other' teachers don't [insert] and thought that more focus should go to 'here are the demonstrated benefits I can show using [insert]. I was hoping or less tool-gazing and more learning 'has' shifted stuff. But that seemed to be happening in the smaller un-con un-con groups that formed. It was a great day ... but only because I got to extend conversations I had only glimpsed in Twitter previously. A fair review Ewan.

Ewan: I certainly could be wrong about this, but I'm thinking it was a compliment that Pearson was there and wanted to record and share ideas from the edubloggers present. If we want our ideas to go more mainstream, then I think amplification by traditional publishers and media sources not only is going to happen, it NEEDS to happen. It remains to be seen what will actually be done with the video that was taken by Pearson on Friday at the event, but based on my conversation today with Elaine Roberts of Pearson it sounds like they are going to use the footage in courses they are developing for graduate as well as PD credit.

When I talked to Elaine today, I was struck by several things, but one of them was that the course developers for Pearson are not even attending NECC. Yet because of the recording they did at EduBloggerCon, those course developers are going to be influenced by and connected with many of the ideas and thoughts we had and shared. That, to me, is a good thing.

I don't think we should categorically demonize all textbook publishers as evil and seek to exclude them from our conversations. Quite the opposite, if we seek to change the world, we do it one conversation at a time and we cannot change those with whom we cannot converse.

If Pearson turns around and uses the faces, names, and ideas of edubloggers present on Friday to market a new online testing program, then I think we'll have something big to complain about. What I understand at this point, however, is that their presence marked a significant turning point in the blogosphere in terms of traditional media outlets paying formal attention to the ideas of edubloggers.

All of that said, I do agree with you wholeheartedly that the structure of the day and the rooms should have been different. No sessions should have been cancelled: If one person wanted to teach on something and one person wanted to learn, then the "unconference" should absolutely facilitate that learning opportunity. Smaller rooms are needed, and larger groups should be broken up into smaller ones if possible. Wireless mics were needed so in larger rooms, presenters could go around and facilitate conversations-- or at least pass the mic.

In many ways we're slow learners here in the states-- just look at our national leadership and their positions on education! What you told me tonight about Scotland's governmental vision for learning was really inspirational-- it's clear we've got a lot to learn and a lot to improve on. It IS great that you were here for EduBloggerCon and ARE here, and can share both your experiences and perspectives. We're all learning, and I'm confident the NEXT edubloggercon can be even better if we apply what we've learned at this one in collaborative ways.

Hi Ewan, yesterday's marketing approaches used in today's world. Crass. If the delegates and atmosphere are anything like a TeachMeet then I would guess that Pearson have done themselves more harm than good.

@Wes you are being naive in thinking that Pearson has seen the light or thinks that the edubloggers are an important voice to be shared. They are thinking this is an important voice to be CO-OPTED, and regurgitated into a marketing campaign.

Be prepared to see your words and others re-incarnated in Pearson marketing campaigns that simply sell old product in a new way - NOT in creating new products. Maybe it won't be literally your face, but your ideas about how students and teachers can collaborate in freer, more open ways will become some tag line for a product that blocks exactly those hopes and dreams, and sucks money out of schools budgets that could be used for authentic technology use.

It is NOT a compliment, it is Marketing 1.0 and Pearson is very good at it.

I'm afraid that I agree with Sylvia's outlook - this was nothing more than a marketing material splurge and, if indeed the material does form part of the courses that Pearson is creating, then they should have - unasked - contributed significantly in $$$s to make the conference more enjoyable for participants. Coffee, muffins... it doesn't cost a lot but would have sweetened the affair. It's called a trade. There was no trade here, Wes. It's ALL one way.

Generally agree, except "No advertising", which is a matter of taste or philosophy or politics I won't get into, but coupled with "Free Beer" paid for by sponsors? Either that is advertising, or it's a waste of money for the sponsor.

There's NOTHING wrong with advertising provided that it's a fair swap at a fair price for the perceived benefit of BOTH parties. Free beer is generally well accepted by teachers on my side of the pond. The only advertising is a mention at the beginning and at the end. For five seconds of time, it's a good deal :-)

I am surprised you all didn't walk out. I think I could have found a better way to spend my day.

Aside from the Pearson issue, and given that most of you are influential, inspirational professionals, why did you just sit by passively when you felt the sessions and activities were not appropriate or did not meet your needs? I think dynamic redirection ought to be added as one of the "cardinal rules" for an unconference. I wouldn't even wait for the Q&A to raise my concerns.

Anon, we didn't sit by passively - we went and dynamically redirected things through in the bloggers' cafe at lunchtime. That was when the conversations eventually began to get more focused.

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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