Month: April 2018 (Page 1 of 2)

Conversations not Presentations

Last week, I was at OLC Innovate at Opryland in Nashville, Tennessee. One of the innovations at this year’s conference was a presentation format called Conversations, not Presentations. This format drew on the idea that when one person is talking to an audience, you miss out on the latent capacity and knowledge of the audience. At OLC, we had 1200 smart, well-informed people coming together, and the best use of our time was probably conversations around a topic rather than lectures. I have always felt that I get more out of conversations and hanging out than I do from the presentations at conferences, so I loved this idea of building sessions around discussion and distributed knowledge.

In addition to leading three(!) sessions in the Conversations format, I was also the Engagement Committee co-chair with Kirstin Riddick. Many months ago, when Angela Gunder and Jess Knott asked if I wanted to be co-chair, I said sure without having any idea what that meant. Now, I’m fairly confidant that our main responsibility was inviting people into the conversations at the conference. Through the work of a lot of volunteers, we ran a bunch of initiatives to welcome new comers into the fold and amplify as many voices as possible.


We borrowed Clark Shah-Nelson’s Field Guide idea from OLC Accelerate to get volunteers to serve as guides or “Rangers” for the conference. Focusing on first year attendees of the conference, we recruited people to volunteer to give directions and help out for an hour or two. In exchange, these Rangers received a wonderful lunch from OLC and a chance to come together as a cohort with Clark and Kirstin as mentors.

Campfire Evenings

The Engagement Committee also introduced something we called “Campfire Evenings.” Each night we hosted an event from 9-10pm to give people a space to hangout with something to do. The first night of the conference, we had a crafts night with knitting, crocheting, and friendship bracelets. This played into the “Camp” theme of the conference, but also gave us an opportunity to think about how and why crafting has been left out of “making” and “maker spaces.” While everyone was thinking about gender, equity, and innovation, we also fed them s’mores.

On Wednesday, we had a game night with board games, card games, and video games. I invited people to bring their favorite games to share and think about how games can improve our teaching practices. I’m not sure how much analysis and intellectual conversation was had, but I know that we did have fun playing Tickets to Ride, Happy Salmon, and Nintendo Switch. OLC supplied us with a candy buffet, so there were also plenty of Swedish Fish, M&Ms, and Pixie Sticks to go around.

Thursday night, we hosted a diversity and inclusivity event to raise money for scholarships for women in higher education leadership. This is a tradition at OLC Innovate, but I was really happy that we could give it a slight twist with the Camp theme of the year.

OLC Live

I’ve already written a good bit about OLC Live (both before and after the conference), but it too was about bringing people into our conversations. I collaborated with Autumm Caines, Dave Goodrich, and Kelvin Thompson to host a Zoom room as an online space for the conference. Over the three days of the conference, we brought in presenters from the conference for interviews, gave a tour of the conference center, and also brought our viewers into the Innovation Lab at the conference. We drew heavily from the format and precedence built by Virtually Connecting, and I hope that we can blend our efforts together next year. I’m really proud of how we tried to open up the conference for anyone interested in joining the conversation, and I hope that this initiative will carry on in both OLC Accelerate and the next Innovate.

Innovation Lab

The Innovation Lab has been a central piece of OLC Innovate for the last few years and is mirrored by the Test Kitchen at OLC Accelerate. This year the Lab was run by Keegan Long Wheeler and his legion of volunteer Lab Techs. The lab featured a storytelling station, where people could share their own narratives around the conference themes of failing forward and campfire stories. The lab also had a game station, where people talk about game based learning, gamification, gameful learning, and just playing their favorite games.

Two stations were built around the idea of design thinking. Participants were encouraged to come in with questions or challenges from their work, and talk their way through the design process.

The last station was a pop-up, unoffice hours hosted by Kate Sonka and Maddie Shellgren. Sharing space with Patrice Torcivia’s Design Summit station, Kate and Maddie came into the lab several times throughout the conference to answer questions and lead discussions around diversity, inclusivity, universal design, and accessibility in higher education. Kate and the rest of the newly instituted Diversity Committee improved this conference and led discussion around how to create a more inclusive conference and educational environment in the future.

The lab was also host to both Rick Franklin and the “Who’s Design is it Anyway” challenge. Rick is both an educator and a wonderful singer/songwriter, and his music was one of the biggest draws of the conference. Rick’s music provided a frame for “Who’s Design,” an improv activity that Ben Scragg started last year and continued this year. You can see a good bit of this dynamic in the video from OLC Live above.

Live from OLC

One of the new features that we introduced at OLC Innovate this year was an online live stream that we called OLC Live. Through the magic of Zoom, we conducted more than twenty interviews and gave tours of the conference. You can see the YouTube playlist here:

We were inspired in large part by the excellent work of Virtually Connecting. VC organizes Google Hangouts at dozens of conferences every year in an attempt to open the conference up to people who couldn’t attend in person. VC was active at OLC Innovate this year, hosting four sessions, and the leader on the ground of that effort, Autumm Caines, was also part of our OLC Live team.

Along with Autumm, Dave Goodrich, Kelvin Thompson and I collaborated to line up and conduct interviews and engage our online audience. I had not anticipated how much Zoom would support us, providing both the equipment for the broadcast and the help of the wonderful Paul Carmack, who became our producers for the 3-day long experiment.

Looking back on the experiment, I thought that the interview format worked really well. All of the interviews were great, including several sessions that were switched from discussions to interviews (e.g. Ken Bauer and Laura Gibbs). The interview-on-the-street sessions were also stellar. Dave and Autumm brought us into the Innovation Lab and Innovation Installation, and I think people got a good sense of  both of those spaces. 

The main shortcoming was that I did not do enough advertising and recruiting for online participation. We didn’t know how much organic participation we would get, which left us waiting until the conference started to see what happened. I wish we would have stuck with Virtually Connecting’s strategy of recruiting a list of participants for each discussion section. While this would have limited the size of the participant group, it would have also insured us against not having a participant group. I hope to replace the discussion sections next year with VC sections, if we can convince them to do 1 or 2 a day.

For next year, I would like to integrate OLC Live more into some of the other stuff going on at OLC Innovate. The most obvious place to do this would be to collaborate with the HBCU Summit and the Community College Summit. I would love if they hosted a couple hours each from their space to bring people into those conversations. I don’t know if those sessions take the form of interviews, VC sessions, man-on-the-street, or something new. We would likely still need to support these sessions from a production level.

I was nervous about having dead-air this year, but we ended up adopting a format where we cut away at the end of each segment to encapsulate pieces for YouTube. This worked really well and allowed us to have natural breaks in-between sessions. I would plan at least 10-15 minute breaks in between sessions next year, and would go off air completely during lunch, keynotes, and other events that are being streamed.


Kelvin Thompson kicked off the first session and was a fantastic anchor for OLC Live throughout the first day of the conference. One of the most surprising conversations of OLC Live came in the first 20 minutes of the broadcast, when we were joined by Jim Gareth from Lakewood College. Jim was unfamiliar with OLC and the Innovate conference, but joined OLC Live, because of a tweet from Kelvin. This conversation gave Kelvin a chance to explain what our conference and our Live broadcast were about.

The next clip comes from one of Dave and Autumm’s tours of the conference. In this clip, Dave and Autumm walk us through the OLC Innovation Lab, helmed this year by the effervescent Keegan Long Wheeler.

One of the most important interviews of the conference was Autumm’s conversation with Kate Sonka and Michael Berman. They, along with Chris Gilliard, were co-chairs of the new Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

I conducted the last two interviews of the conference. The first of these was with one of the conference keynote speakers, Jordan Shapiro. Jordan gave a provocative talk about how time is a construct, and we should rethink the routinized daily schedules of school.

The last interview was with Jess Knott, Angela Gunder, and Cathy Russell. Most of our conversation focused on their presentation about applying Joseph Campbell’s concept of the monomyth to learning design. Jess and Angela were conference co-chairs, so we also talked about their experience of the conference and their hopes for next year.

OLC Live Preview

My favorite part of any conference is talking to people. Catching up with friends, chatting with people after a good presentation, and drinking in the excitement in the hallways fill me with ideas to take back home.

For OLC Innovate 18, I wanted to bring this knowledge sharing into the digital space. OLC Live is an attempt to create the space for you and everyone else following the conference from home to join in the conversation.

Starting Wednesday morning, I will be partnering with Autumm Caines, Dave Goodrich, and Kelvin Thompson to host an online conference room. Using a room provided by, we will interview many of the conference organizers and presenters. These guests will share their work and talk with you.

In addition to interviews, we will also host open discussions around the key themes of the conference. Based on the program we’ve picked out a few of those themes and invited experts to lead the discussions. We are also leaving plenty of time open so that you can lead the discussion.

On Thursday, at 11am, we will open the room for an Innovate Unconference. We will gather topics on Wednesday and Thursday, and then use Zoom’s breakout rooms to set up round table discussions. Participants can join whatever conversation they want, and share their questions and experiences. I hope we can lure some of the on-site conference participants away from the sessions in Nashville to join in as guests in the unconference you create.

OLC Live is about innovating a pathway to bring virtual participants from the back conference room to instead lead the conversation in their own space. I can’t wait to see you there.

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