I’ll keep this short, as both D’Arcy (great discussion in the comments) and Stephen have posted substantive follow-ups to the UnKeynote.
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.
Brian, thanks for putting your thoughts online. Have to agree with you about the “ambush” feeling. They weren’t prepared (but, really, could they be?)
After a few days of percolation, I think it was actually a pretty good session. Definitely not what the attendees were expecting, but on one level that’s a Good Thing™
If you’d have asked me if I’d ever do something like this again, my answer would have been different depending on when I was asked. If asked during or shortly after the session, it would have been an unequivocal “Hell, no! Never again!”, but as the hours/days passed, I’m pretty sure I’d do it again. With a couple of caveats.
1. Refine the scope.
2. Warn the attendees.
3. Get microphones that WORK! #@$@%! that was frustrating!
4. Perhaps – limit the scale (fewer attendees/smaller room? perhaps a large room could work, but we’d need more facilitators…)
Regardless, it was a blast (esp. now that the adrenaline is gone and the fight-or-flight response has dissipated). Any chance to hang out with Blamb and/or Stephen is easily worth anything! 🙂
It was unfortunate that it started the way it did. For a group promoted to be some of the most Tech Savy educators you are likely to find (according to the Vancouver Sun) it was one step removed from so-and-so stole my lunch money. But it did get better. This sense that control flows top down is a little too well rooted to be easily moved.
I thought the ‘just do it’ and ‘content in the hands of students’ were good messages that got lost in the noise.
If you don’t try new things, you won’t learn what works better than the status quo. And if you do, sometimes they won’t work out.
That said, I listened to the audio the other day and while the sound quality wasn’t ideal, the content was generally pretty interesting. Enough that I want to listen to it again.
The mantra that I’ve been using for the last several years is along the lines of “If you never fail, you aren’t trying hard enough”. A corollary would be “If you only do things you know will succeed, you aren’t trying hard enough.”
Either way, I love that we took a shot, and actually had a positive impact on at least some of the attendees.
Bill — I was pretty impressed by the attendees I spoke with at the event overall. That closing graveyard slot is hard on everyone, and we were asking them to contribute a lot of energy. I’m glad you also thought it got better as it went along, and was glad you were there.
Steve — I appreciate the feedback. Maybe it was because we had to work so hard, and the early tech problems so frustrating — but perhaps I was too hard on the content. You actually make me want to check that audio out… sometime.
And I agree with the common theme here that it’s preferable to take a chance than just go through the motions. I don’t think a standard presentation would have been better. I’d work with these guys again in a heartbeat, and I know we’d do it better.
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