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Demystifying the 'Unconference'

While I've seen signs for "unconference" sessions at some of the large organizations' annual conventions, I have never attended one. In fact, I admit that I wasn't even sure what an unconference entailed until reading this illuminating post by Monique Flickinger, a director of instructional technology for schools in Fort Collins, Colo.

Turns out an unconference is a democratic and informal affair—a sort of counter to the banquet hall presentations by ed-celebrities at regular conferences. On Edutopia's Technology Integration blog, Flickinger explains that the first unconference she attended began with attendees writing potential discussion topics on a poster board and putting checkmarks next to the suggestions they were most interested in. Her recommendation—Teaching Teachers about Technology—was one of several selected and five minutes later she was asked to stand up and moderate the discussion.

While that kind of quick turnaround may seem unnerving, it's not much different than running into a last-minute scheduling change at school and having to teach a class on the fly. So really, teachers may be better-suited than most for this kind of extemporaneous presenting and discussing. Plus, the topic-brainstorming process presumably ensures that teachers get what they want and need out of PD, which is not always the case at conferences with fixed sessions (or most other forms of PD, for that matter).

That said, preparation for lessons is a hallmark of good teaching, even for teachers who know the content inside and out. So maybe teachers would actually learn more if the presentations were pre-planned—that is, like at regular conference.

In any case, there's one facet of the SocialEdCon unconference Flickinger attended that, to me, is particularly appealing, and it's listed on the wiki page as such:

Apply the "Rule of Two Feet:" If a discussion is not of interest to you, or you don't feel you can contribute in a way that could help others, you are welcome (encouraged) to leave and find another session. No one's feelings will be hurt. This day is for you, make the best of it.

Would be nice if all PD was like that, right?

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