Participation in social media whether it be via Facebook, Twitter, sharing photos through Flickr or one of the many other forms of online collaboration, has provided new opportunities for meeting, learning and sharing professionally. As online collaboration develops, we see it beginning to influence our learning behaviours. A new vocabulary and model of socialised professional learning is emerging. Words such as unconference and meetup are becoming common terms when discussing professional learning. But what do they mean?
Delegates at the recent SLAV conference had the opportunity to participate in the trial of an unconference style workshop. An unconference can generally be described as a professional learning day (or part day) where people meet with the intention of learning together. The content of the day is relatively unstructured but is driven by the participants who nominate what they would like to learn about, or alternatively, offer to share their own knowledge on a topic. While there may be an overall theme, the schedule for the day is loose and is determined by those attending on the day.
Here’s how it happened at the recent SLAV conference:
- At the conclusion of the morning session delegates were invited to write on a post-it note, a topic they would like to know more about.
- Over lunch the notes were sorted into categories such as: ebooks, library management, team building, makerspaces and others.
- At the time of the session, delegates moved into their interest group to discuss and share ideas.
- Each group was chaired by an experienced librarian or teacher librarian who supported the discussion.
Informality and openness are the key features of an unconference. While each group has a leader, everyone is encouraged to contribute to the discussion. Ideally notes are taken and shared via social media e.g. Twitter.
One significant benefit of an unconference session or day is the opportunity to network more closely with colleagues. The lecture model of traditional conferences is evolving into a more participatory experience.
Teachmeets are another popular form of ‘ground up’ professional learning. They particularly relate to educators and are also supported by social media. Many groups have adopted the meetup model as you can see by visiting the site Meetup. Celia Coffa wrote a comprehensive post What is a Teachmeet last year. She is one of the driving forces behind Teachmeet Melbourne, a very successful local learning group.
Teachmeets differ from unconferences in that participants nominate to make a presentation of either 2 or 7 minutes. It may be the sharing of proven classroom practice or perhaps a favourite learning and teaching tool. Timing is precise and has the effect of building excitement and tension. Dug Hall explains all about Teachmeet.
We are seeing the sociability of human nature emerge to take advantage of social media as increasing numbers of teachers and other professionals move from the digital social media to arrange to meet in person around a common interest in education, or some other topic. The strength of the concept is that teachers learn from each other within a self organised environment.
Both the Teachmeet and Unconference model are an excellent way to build your professional learning network. They can be successfully applied to inschool training or subject association branch meetings and have the appeal of giving people a voice and tapping into talent that often remains hidden.