As with my collaborators, my feelings on the whole thing were mixed. It was a worthy experiment, but I’m not sure it really took flight, though it did get better as it went along. I know that I have little desire to listen to the recorded audio (posted on Stephen’s site) and relive the experience.
The unstructured approach was less effective here than at the Salon and the Hootenanny at Northern Voice. I can think of three reasons why… The crowd and room was bigger, obviously, but actually I think this was a minor factor. Second, the audience had no idea what was coming, so they had no way of preparing themselves for something other than a standard keynote. You could tell some people were freaked, and the minor technical problems at the beginning fed into a sense of things going off the rails. Finally, I think we left the range of topics too open. If we had tried a little harder to steer discussion to the suggested topics on the UnKeynote wiki (still quite a broad range) I think it would have worked better. As it turned out, for the first 20 minutes the group talked about distance ed funding models for K-12 in BC — a worthy topic, but politically loaded, and neither Stephen, D’Arcy, nor myself had much to add on the subject. It’s one thing to be a “guide on the side,” but even that more open approach implies some degree of expertise for the facillitator.
Having said that, it was big time fun and a genuine honour to be able to share time and space with Stephen, D’Arcy and the other attendees. The beer session afterward was a great pleasure. And this event was a lot more enjoyable to prepare for than the usual PowerPoint shuffle via email that apparently is standard procedure.
On a related note, I was having a discussion with some colleagues today about clickers, contrasting their effectiveness with something less structured like the chat tool that D’Arcy set up for the session. I’ve always had a knee-jerk aversion to clickers, in part due to a bad experience ten years ago — I associate them with the worst qualities of large scale lecture halls. (I recognise I’m mostly ignorant of contemporary practice.) But at the very least, with clickers there is some mechanism in place to account for all of the student feedback. The chat, on the other hand, was mostly not referenced during the discussion. I did note that some familiar names (like Scott and Darren) were taking part in the session remotely. I found their presence oddly reassuring at the time, even though I felt unable to engage them properly given what was going on in the room. I gave the chat log a quick read later on, and was pleasantly surprised at how good some of the comments were. If I use live chat during a session again in the future, and I think I will, some additional thought will be required on how to channel it into the F2F discussion.