Our Unconferences

After attending Learning 2.010 in September, I really wanted to incorporate the the learning environments that were used at the conference at my school.

In November, for our schoolwide in-service day, I informally pushed the cohort model and got teachers creating artifacts to showcase their learning for the day.

And on January 12, two days after our winter holidays came to an end, the MSHS teachers created and facilitated their own unconferences. Here’s how we did it:

  • Before the winter holiday, I created and distributed a promo video for the unconference. Most of our teachers had no previous experience with an unconference so it was a way to introduce them to the idea and to outline the process.
  • On Monday morning, I loaded up the staffroom with “Topic/Facilitator” forms, markers and Blu-Tack. I also added the first possible session title (“Creating Better Wikis”) but left the facilitator blank.
  • Over the next two days, teachers slowly began adding session titles. Most of them were without facilitators but that didn’t bother me too much.
  • I sent out an email reminder every day encouraging teachers to create sessions and to vote for those that interested them.
  • On Wednesday afternoon, I took down all the session titles and tallied the votes. We ended up with 10 sessions 1 in total, divided into 2 groups of 5. Most of these sessions were without specified facilitators.
  • I sent an email to all MSHS teachers with topics and room allocations and left them to learning!

Some observations:

  • As a first go, the whole thing went relatively smoothly. It was nice to see the vast majority of teachers taking responsibility for their own learning.
  • I was hoping for a wider variety of possible topics. I’m used to participating in unconferences a tech conferences, so there are always plenty of ‘experts’. Planting the seeds of presenting with some teachers I know are doing great things is going to be key.
  • There needs to be more voting! This is something for me to stress in the future.
  • It was my intention to not lead a session but because of numbers I needed to. Unfortunately, my session was somewhat heavily attended when my focus was on giving others the opportunity to present and lead.
  • Even though most sessions (8 out of 10) didn’t have an identified facilitator, I think the teachers got a good sense of others who are interested in learning about the same things; a truly organic PLC.
  • This was the easiest PD session ever to organize!

Now that the groundwork has been laid, it would be great to be able to run an unconference (as one teacher said later, it doesn’t need to be about technology but just about sharing good teaching!) every 6 or 8 weeks. This would give teachers a chance to share, learn and celebrate on a regular basis. Is this something you can incorporate at your school? Any other ideas on how to improve it?


  1. Session Topics:
    • Film/Video Clip Editing (Movie Maker?) (5)
    • OneNote Tips for Improvement (2)
    • Google Docs/Forms – Survey Learning and Help with Planning (6)
    • Setting Up Digital Portfolios (6)
    • Saving Time with Digital Marking (16)
    • Digital Storytelling with Film (11)
    • Formative Assessment and Technology/Tablets (3)
    • How to Design a Webquest (5)
    • Using Discussion Boards on the Portal (2)
    • Creating Better Wikis (6)

4 thoughts on “Our Unconferences

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  • January 27, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Hey Clint,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience with ‘unconferencing’. I, too, was at Learning 2.010 and have been preparing for our Professional Learning Days that will focus on Technology in April.

    Working with the other teachers from NIST (New International School of Thailand) who went to Shanghai, we have been trying to capture the energy of Learning 2.010 while balancing it with a bit of structure. To this end, we have invited a Keynote speaker/workshop leader named Robyn Treyvaud to speak about Cyberbullying, being a responsible digicitizens, and learning in a Web 2.0 world. We are hoping that she will encourage participants to thing more deeply about these issues and, perhaps, to get them to provide new topics for sessions.

    At a staff meeting two days ago, I introduced the Professional Learning Days (now known as NISTech 2011) to the staff to help them get a focus for the weekend (yes, NISTech is on a Saturday and Sunday…before a two week break). Part of that presentation spoke to the process of creating sessions. As you know, it is a cycle involving five tasks; Idea Generation, Voting, Selecting, Assigning & Choosing, Participating…Idea Generation, Vote…

    The first Idea Generation session was part of the staff meeting. After the introduction to NISTech 2011, the staff were given instruction to create 2 to 3 ideas, an idea being a Descriptive Title (and in parantheses, a single sentence explaining the actions/ideas/focus of the discussion or skill training). In table groups, using EtherPad, they were to post their session ideas, weed out duplicate topics, and clarify the ideas that remained. What was left were dozens of ideas for sessions. Here is the link to one of the ten EtherPads: http://ietherpad.com/lMGYTv7GfW

    I am not in the process of collating the ideas from this meeting and prepare titles for voting. Like your unconference, prior to the NISTech, teachers will be asked to vote on the sessions they find interesting. At this point I will try to support those who are enthusiastic about a topic or skill and encourage them to facilitate. Support might take the form of locating an article from a newspaper that will help spark discussion or list an outline of an introduction to set of skills that an application might support.

    These ‘Planned Sessions’ are meant to give people some idea of what they might expect from the weekend. We also intend to have approximately half of the sessions be ‘Unplanned Sessions’ so that if someone is inspired with an idea as they are participating in a session, they can start a new one during NISTech.

    As you can see our intention is to balance the flexibility of the ‘unconference’ idea with some stability of some pre-thought sessions. We are not exactly sure how this will unfold, but are confident that the energy and ingenuity of the staff will help make it a success.

    Your post on the UNIS Unconference was informative and inspiring. Love the video promo and will consider doing something similar. Your observations and list of topics were also helpful. One of our goals is to try and make the topics more skills focused instead of application centred. For example, many of our students need guidance on how to make a good presentation. A topic title might be ‘Getting Students to Communicate Clearly using Prezi’. The session would then focus on good communication skills followed by a ‘how-to’ on the Prezi application.

    Thanks for posting about your Unconference experience at UNIS. The information is invaluable and has already helped and encouraged me as we prepare for our version of the ‘unconference’ at NIST.


    Technology Integration Specialist
    New International School of Thailand

  • January 27, 2011 at 11:04 am

    @Ivan Beeckmans Thanks for sharing what you are doing at NIST! It sounds like you are creating an entirely in-house, NIST-specific tech conference, and it sounds AWESOME! It’s also interesting to see that the ideas on that EtherPad are, in some respects, almost identical to ideas that I hear on my campus.

    I think it is important to encourage facilitation, as you plan to do, in order to 1) raise the profile of those teachers who are doing great things, 2) get some fresh faces doing the talking, and 3) give teachers a chance to present to their peers. It is probably the one aspect that I will do differently next time. I forgot that, at a conference like Learning 2.010, there are lots of eager and able people who are used to presenting back at their own schools. In a closed system like UNIS or NIST, that’s not always the case!

    I’d love to hear how Robyn Treyvaud goes. Hers is a name we’ve brought up to bring in as an expert/keynote. And if you need an outside observer, let me know! BKK is only a short Air Asia flight away! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Clint recently posted..Planning for Passion

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