Category: Conferences (Page 1 of 2)

Making Conferences Fun

I am currently helping to organize a couple of conferences and am trying to think about what I have enjoyed about conferences in the past. I don’t typically remember the talks at a conference as much as the un-planned stuff. I met Ben Scragg over dinner at OLC and have considered him my food guru ever since. I remember watching Keegan lure people into playing a Switch game where they milk cows. At InstructureCon, Keegan and I attended a board game night that filled an entirebuilding. My fondest memories are of exploring Washington DC with my future wife and Prague with my friend John Perkins.

Picture of me and my future wife from Washington DC, 2007

With all that in mind here are a couple of ideas I’m pitching for the upcoming conference season. Let me know if these sound good and also what other things you would include in an ideal conference.

1. Healthier food and activities 

I feel like conferences are usually sort of gluttonous with buffet lines and eating out every night and all. Having healthy snacks and lunch options would be good and I remember there being some healthy options last year. Similarly, morning group activities like yoga and runs could be informally organized or we could work with the conference center. Outdoor activities like lawn games could be fun too and give people a way to get moving midday. If they already have an area like this at the conference center, we could flag it in handbooks and encourage people to hang out there.

2. Breakout room type activities

I feel like breakout rooms aren’t quite over yet and might be a good group activity. There are things you can do with boxes rather than actually locking people in a room that make it possible to set this up in any conference space, and there are also digital break out activities that we could run across the conference center.

3. Game night

I’d like to use one of the conference spaces to have a game night with board games and video games. We could also include some online games for the virtual attendees. I think this might help people meet others at the conference and just be a fun thing to do.

4. Craft maker space

A place with rocking chairs and work tables where you can sit and knit or make bracelets or paint or whatever would be a nice relaxation and meeting thing. We could probably even provide some supplies for fairly cheap.

5. Unconference space for hands-on computer coding and tool workshops 

I’m envisioning a small space where 10-12 people could meet at a time. On the outside of the space people could stick up post it notes or write on a glass wall or whiteboards or whatever as to the types of hands on workshops that they want. We could poll people ahead of time using social media to plan the events for the first day. Every hour or so a volunteer would lead people through WordPress, Omeka, Drupal, HTML Coding, Slack, or Canvas LMS training or whatever else they ask for. During the first day as people throw up new ideas, we also try to encourage people to sign up to lead those events and then recruit to fill whatever events need to be filled. 

6. Livestreaming

I’ve got a couple of people in mind who have live streaming / life streaming experience who might be willing to stream their whole conference experience. If they could also do a workshop on the first day on how to do this and how to do light-weight versions of this (taking photos and sharing them on Instagram, Twitter streaming, etc) , we might be able to get other people to join in. This will take up a large amount of bandwidth, so we may need to either find someone willing to use their data, or figure out someway to pay for data.

Visualizing Domains Projects

One of the big challenges in running a Domains project, and part of my feeling of being adrift at sea, is the highlighting of particularly good work from users and the intelligible visualization of the broader activity from all users.

At OU, we have a couple of sites for this purpose. The Activity site shows the most recent blog posts from all sites that are capable of being read by Feeds WordPress. You can get a preview of each blog post and then click on the link to go to that web site. Each week during the school year, we put out our own blog post featuring the top 5 or 6 posts from this weeks Activity feed.

A second project, called Sites, is a filtered list of all of the web apps currently running on all four of the OU servers. This is really nice for finding the links for all sites running Vanilla Forums or dokuwiki or even more commonly used apps like Drupal and Omeka. However, if you filter for WordPress, you still get a simple list of the 3400 or so sites using WordPress.

At Domains17, Marie Selvanadin, Tom Woodward, Yianna Vovides talked about the answer that they are currently developing for Georgetown. Their design starts with a search bar that searches across all blogs. A second piece is called themes. Another option implements the TimelineJS library to visualize posts by a given user or in a given theme along a timeline.

Currently, Tom is running the first iteration of this visualization of the Georgetown domains off of a Google Spreadsheet, as he is want to do. He then generates a front page with the basic metadata and screenshots of the sites. For each of these sites, there is a dynamically generated page with the text of the various posts, word counts, and a charts visualization of the word counts. You can also see the timelineJS by category for each site.

The next phase of research is to dig into the visualization of community sites. How do we include closer analysis of Drupal, Omeka, and other apps along with html sites, rather than just WordPress sites? What types of questions can/should we ask? What are the ethical questions around mining this data?

Opening of #OpenEd16

Last night Adam Croom posted a text-analysis of the abstracts for Open Education Conference 16 noting the ongoing focus of the conference on open textbooks. This morning Gardner Campbell gave a poetic, metaphor-laden opening keynote that challenged the conference attendees to shift away from open textbooks and refocus on open pedagogy.

Gardner’s opening Overture featured Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan as a transitional metaphor. In his talk Gardner urged us to move on from an Open Education that focuses narrowly on pre-formed, scalable courses that race headlong to achieve the learning objectives. Gardner listed the Deadly Mantras of ‘Student Success’:

  • “Students don’t do optional”
  • “Define more pathways”
  • “We need to graduate more students”
  • “Our students are our products”

Moving from the paint by numbers rubrics integrated in both traditional textbooks and open ones, Gardner has instead offered a rubric that prepares our students for ‘insights.’ If Bob Dylan was insightful, it certainly was not because of formalized training nor was it measurable in a one-size fits all rubric.

Gardner’s talk was purposefully challenging and provocative, but at it’s core it was just a reminder that open education, like all education needs to focus on the individual students. We (those working on online education) are often tasked with producing large scale courses that scale well and fit into programmatic curriculums. These courses, just as much as the treasured seminar, must be designed and taught with each individual student in mind. The goal is not just to move students through the university, but rather to challenge them to do new things, to be reflective, and to pursue insight into both the course focus and also the extramural world. We cannot just replicate the stultifying formalism of expensive textbooks and give them away for free and call it a day.

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