For the past six months I have had the pleasure of working with Sarah Bratt, Mia Breitkopf, and Stephanie Prato to create an Unconference which launched on February 26th. Mia has created a blog post about the event itself. What I am interested in reflecting upon is how as an organizer and participant, the Unconference on Spaces and Places has impacted my learning experience, and how this knowledge can be transitioned into other learning spaces.
Theory, Practice, Ownership and Motivation
A difficult conundrum facing academics is the extent to which theories learned in the academy can be applied in professional situations. Collaboration, having a digital presence, and reaching as broad an audience as possible are all seen in a very positive light in theory. Yet, organizing the logistics to have a meeting of four people, or a conference of fifty people is difficult to coordinate. What strain is applied to relationships by asking them to attend events, alter their schedules, and generally make your agenda more important than their own? Coordinating egos, and recognizing different learning styles are brought up in pedagogy, but actually having an opportunity to work in this environment is a tremendous opportunity while still a student.
In the information age and particularly in an information school, the question is not will a project have a digital presence, but instead what digital avenue are you going to forget to use? Twitter, Facebook, blogs, email and a wiki were all utilized in this project, but where the true learning occurred was in many of the conversations we had about how to use these technologies. Navigating between being informative, reaching a broad audience and becoming background noise was discussed. Considering whether to use a wiki or website, and cost concerns versus ownership concerns through using iSchool resources were debated. Ultimately, feasibility took precedence and a wiki from the iSchool including their name in the URL was used. Yet, making sure we were in control of the site and that non-students could participate were areas where philosophy was more important than the technical ease. Another lesson learned was in understanding the difference between someone RSVPing to an event and actually attending. While we had a great turnout (between forty and fifty attendants throughout the morning), those who RSVPed was closer to sixty-five. As planners, we needed to both have the flexibility to find a space that could accept seventy or more attendees, and create a format that did not depend on perfect attendance.
Perhaps one of our greatest goals in the Unconference was to move outside of our program in regards to attendees. In one regard this was a tremendous success: a number of professional librarians were able to attend and provided both credibility and value to the conference. However, it was difficult to bring in many professionals or students from outside of librarianship. We were excited to see professionals from Gaylord, but our attempts to reach those from an architecture background were less successful. Reaching “non-users,” those with less of a natural inclination to attend an event, is an incredible problem within the library profession. Overcoming some of this siloing was a great accomplishment of the event, but realizing our limitations was another valuable lesson.
Motivation is the final facet I would like to consider. One aspect of this is dealt with in the previous section, in that perhaps we as organizers did not create sufficient motivation to bring in as wide an audience as we had hoped for. However, within the event we were able to motivate participants by providing them with a sense of ownership of the conversations. In researching the event, there seemed to be concern that conversations would get bogged down and that there was a need for active facilitation. Perhaps because of the audience or perhaps because we were very up-front about their ownership and responsibility of the event this was not a problem. I can only speak in regards to the sessions I attended, but in both listening to what was said and from examining body language, there seemed to be a high level of engagement that is hard to maintain in many classroom settings. Are there ways that this excitement can be transferred to instruction or library programming? Is there a way that these sorts of activities can become a more apparent aspect of the curriculum while still retaining this heightened level of engagement? Focused on information studies and information presentation, I believe these are valuable ideas to consider, and I am thankful to have learned a piece of this through my participation in the Unconference.
If you’re a novice event planner, what do you wish you knew when you got started? What insights have you gained? Please share in the comments.