We’re about a week and a half away from the fourth annual Exploring Learning Technologies Unconference (ELTU4). This year, we’ve moved the event to the start of the academic year because the spring was becoming crowded with other conferences and events. So, on Friday, October 14, we meet again from 9am to 1:30pm to unconference.
What is an unconference? There are lots of different variations, from Open Space to various camps (FooCamp, Barcamp, Mashup Camp, etc. — see Wikipedia for more.) Our variant resembles a traditional conference in may ways — there are meeting areas for different breakout sessions that begin every hour — but the biggest difference is that none of the content is set in advance of the meeting.
We spend the first half hour with introductions and generating session topics. From there, the group negotiates which topics go in which time slots and we begin. Being a technology-themed unconference, we use some technology to facilitate this process: we project the session grid on screens around the room so everyone can see and participate in the process. We also set up a wiki in advance with one page that lists the schedule and links to one page per session so someone in each session can take notes. (Visit http://go.osu.edu/eltu to see the wikis from the last three unconferences.)
Once organized, the unconference runs a lot like a regular conference, though participants are encouraged to move between sessions as a way of cross-pollinating the various discussions. In fact, we have traditionally hosted the unconference in one big open space or computer lab in order to facilitate this movement.
The beauty of the process is that, if everything works as intended, the discussions are all appealing to those in attendance because they were generated only by those in attendance (instead of presenters who submitted an abstract months in advance and then failed to attend the conference.)
The effect is intentionally a bit like the hallway conversations you have at a traditional conference — when you actually get to talk to someone with similar interests to you instead of just watching a speaker read their PowerPoint slides. By attracting interesting people from across campus and throughout Ohio, the discussion at the unconference is always a good one.
I’d recommend the format to any organization interested in hosting a stimulating conversation. I’d also welcome you to our next unconference on Friday, October 14 from 9am to 1:30pm. Details are available at http://go.osu.edu/eltu and registration is available (and free!) at http://eltu4.crowdvine.com.