This past Friday and Saturday we held the first ever "Classroom 2.0 LIVE" workshop in San Francisco, California. I've been trying to make as many notes as I can about this event because I think the format of a collaboratively-built workshop around the topic of Web 2.0 in education has such potential, and I am anxious to do more of these and to keep improving them. I apologize in advance for the length of the post--for those of you who are interested, the detail may be worth it, but what it really does is to give me the chance to record and process the event in a way that will help to improve what we did. I've got eleven potential dates and/or venues for holding a similar workshop in different locations around the US in 2008, which you can see (or add to) at http://www.classroom20wiki.com/Local+Workshops.
Whether you were at the workshop or not, I hope you will contribute to this discussion!
What Went Well:
- I think the workshop did a good job of mirroring the collaborative nature of Web 2.0. We used a wiki to organize the topics and discussions, and involved the participants as much as we could in giving the sessions. I think
that's significant as well since so many who might come to this kind of workshop will have limited experience and might feel intimidated to participate--so hopefully we were inviting without requiring participation. As you can see from this photo by Derrall Garrison, the more natural seating arrangement for collaborative sessions ended up being a circle. I really like the idea of "unconferences," where your conference sessions actually get created at the start of the conference, but I think that would be hard to sell to both prospective participants and vendor sponsors alike. And since I ran group tours for some years after college, I also believe it's important to have some structure so that you can relax within that structure. So I've been calling what we did a "collaborative conference," which I think is a good name for an event where participants play an active role in developing the conference in advance, and then are active participants during the event. A really great example of how this worked was the XO (One Laptop Per Child) demonstration by the amazing Jane Krauss and a member of the local XO user group in SF (who heard about what we were doing and offered to come and help!).
- Keeping the workshop inexpensive. By having vendor sponsors, and keeping everything on the cheap, we were able to hold a workshop that didn't cost participants to attend. (Of
course, while the actual workshop was no-charge, taking the time off and getting to SF had a "cost" to everyone, but we wanted our part to be free.) It really, really helped to have Wikispaces make the arrangements for the venue, since their discovery of the Hotel Whitcomb really made this possible. Imagine--a beautiful hotel with an amazing history (was used as San Francisco's City Hall for a period of time), located centrally on Market Street, with free high-speed wireless Internet, and that didn't care if we brought in our own food. I'm really at a loss to explain this hotel--I mean, it wasn't a 5-star facility by any means, but the rooms were clean and neat, and for downtown San Francisco, were an absolute bargain at $89/night. It was interesting to me that almost all of the other guests in the hotel that I met appeared to be college-aged (from other countries?). The only thing I would change is that I think sharing the grand ballroom between two groups for most sessions made it very hard to hear sometimes.
- I also think that we succeeded in the delicate balance of involving vendors as collaborative participants. We sought sponsorship specifically from companies that were willing to come and participate as community members, not to "hawk" their
products. In fact, I kept feeling in my communications that I would end up talking organizations out of sponsoring, but to their credit, most seemed to understand and appreciate the model. I had developed it while running the Open Source Pavilions at the CUE and NECC shows, where it was important the vendors agree that promoting Open Source Software was more important than just talking about their own products, and I wanted the same to be true here with regard to Web 2.0. So, while vendors were welcome to sign up to present, and there wasn't even any direct connection between presenting and sponsoring (some presented without sponsoring), I think we had an amazingly gracious team of sponsors who were able to fund and be at an event that cost very little to put on.
- We did a good job of building in free time for collaboration and individual connecting. This idea came from something I read about the TED Conference, and I first implemented in EduBloggerCon Atlanta last year: make sure you have time for conversations in between sessions, and they may be the most important part of the
conference. I know for myself that jumping from session to session over two or three days at a conference leaves me too wound up and fatigued--and not likely to really process or remember the things of significance that I might want to try. Kind of a "less is more" philosophy, and recognizing that it's the discussions in the hallways, usually, that are more significant learning opportunities than the lecture has been. Now, in the "improvement" section you'll see that while we built the time for this, I wasn't good about keeping it free...
- There were three very late "idea" additions to the program that ended up working very well. The first was the idea of holding 5-minute "lightning" round presentations, given by participants to showcase a tool they use or an idea for teaching, or by vendors to showcase their products. The idea for these came from the TeachMeet unconferences
held in the UK that have seven-minute "micropresentations" and two-minute "nano-presentations." I'm not even sure if we followed their format very closely, but it was just the idea of short presentations that appealed to me: they don't require so much preparation as to put people off, they allow for bite-sized good ideas to be presented, and they aren't so long as to feel badly if you watch one that doesn't 't grab you. I think the participants in San Francisco felt the same way, and my reading was that they really liked the "speed" or "lightning" round sessions, and I plan to do a lot more of them in the future. They have the added benefit of involving more people (very Web 2.0-ish!). I think for them to be helpful, you really have to have time afterwards for individual tutoring and questions, and to try new tools or ideas out. So again, free time is so important.
- The second late addition to the program I called "What's In Your Bag?" At EduBloggerCon Atlanta I did an "introductions" activity where each person interviewed someone they didn't know and then wrote up some
information about that person for the wiki, and also told the group about them in an introductory session. For some reason I didn't want to do that in the CR 2.0 LIVE workshop, but by the beginning of the second day it became apparent that I should have done something. I didn't want to take the time for the interview process, but I wanted some fun and easy way for people to introduce themselves, so I invented "What's in Your Bag?" In this game, and I went first, you had to give your name and then tell us some thing(s) in your bag that you depend on. I showed my tattered and as-of-yet-still-unread copy of Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind, my great Olympus voice recorder for podcasting, and my inexpensive MP3 player that has a direct USB connection for pulling over podcast files directly from the computer. It was really fun to see what other people came up with--including a few with traditional paper notebooks for journaling.
- The third late addition to the workshop was to use Skype to do two-way video-conferencing. I'm going to end up apologizing for this several times, I'm sure, but the only way to squeeze these in was to do them during what was supposed to be "free" and lunch time, and I'd make them a more formal part of the
conference in the future. I wasn't sure the technology would work well, and that was also part of my excuse for not formalizing them in case they didn't! But I think the technology worked quite well. Using my regular PC and Skype, I hooked up my family's iPod "boombox," my personal digital video camera, the projector we were using for the sessions, and an inexpensive remote microphone I bought for this purpose from Radio Shack... and presto: instant group video conferencing. I emailed some edubloggers a couple of days before and asked if they would come on and talk with the group, and we had some great conversations: Sylvia Martinez, Darren Draper, Elizabeth Davis, Arthus, Ben Wilkoff, and Dean Shareski. But the tour-de-force for me was the kids in Vicki Davis's classroom, talking about their experiences with the Flat Classroom project and their collaboration with kids in the Middle East. It was so fun to hear from such articulate students about such ground-breaking educational work. (Vicki is, in a word, amazing.) Combined with Twitter, you could do something really fun with these interviews. You could even have smaller groups interview different people, then report back to the main group what they had learned (always thinking participatory!).
- I had us finish each day at 3:30pm, so people could go do some things in San Francisco, or get home at a reasonable hour. Of course, this reduced how much we could cover each
day, but I kind of think it's another case of "less is more." At the end of each day we had a "best things learned today" session that was very helpful to me.
- As kind of a summary statement, the most amazing aspect to me of the workshop was the incredible and tangible degree to which the success of the two days was a reflection of those who came and participated. At one point while looking at the attendees, I was struck by the idea that in a year, I expect that many of them will be part of the new
generation of pioneers in the use of Web 2.0 in education, and some of them will be as well-known as the ones we talked with in our Skype interviews. I wanted to do some UStream.tv video streaming, but could not do that and everything else--but guess what? Derrall Garrison just started doing it and Twittered out and even had an audience. (Look at this photo of Derrall's computer Ustreaming the live Skype interviews--talk about a bandwidth hogging activity!) I would have loved to have been more active in taking notes on the wiki, but it was Gail Desler and Alice Mercer who did the heavy lifting there. We needed someone to present on Google tools, and Melinda Holt volunteered. I can't wait to see what Margaret Campbell does with her "Team 2.0" idea. She even helped with wrapping up the power cords each day. What great people!
OK, now on to the "need to improve" list. (Hey, without this list, we'd never get better, right?)
- As hard as this is for me, I think the workshops should be one-day events. I can't even imagine how we would cover all of the amazing resources available, but I think it's really hard for people to take two days out. Maybe one way to make this feasible
will be to record sessions from other events, so that there is a good library of material available to look at for those who want to delve further into different programs. Or holding some live on-line equivalents of what we did. There is something magical about physically getting together, though--after a long phone conversation with one of the participants before the conference, she said to me, "Sorry, this hasn't been very Web 2.0 of me to call and talk to you on the phone." I told her: this is exactly what Web 2.0 is about--having conversations.
- I would really like to have had a better method for "back-channel" chatting so that there is a way for folks to make notes to each other or communicate during the workshop and during actual sessions. I had set
up some forums at PIBB.com, but you have to establish a log-in to use the service, and I didn't do a good job of letting people know that in advance, or modeling the use of the forum channels myself. In retrospect, I think I would set up only one channel--one way to do it would be to create a Skypecast or Skype conference. I would really appreciate suggestions in this area.
- I'm really mad at myself for not taking advantage of an amazing Web 2.0 opportunity by being at the Hotel Whitcomb. The hotel has an amazing history, including having the city jail in its basement for some years, and from
what I can tell there is no Wikipedia entry for the hotel. Wouldn't that have been a fun project to have initiated with the group? If we hold another workshop there (and it would be a great place), I really want to remember to do that.
- I really blew it on the photo side of things. I know how helpful it is to have photos of everyone who has been to a workshop, especially for remembering and connecting later
on. I asked participants to add their photo to the wiki, but that's not necessarily a beginner task, and I didn't want to walk the group through doing it since it would have meant everyone editing one page at the same time--and you know how that can be! What I should have done was to ask someone to take a picture of each person and put the pictures in the wiki for them. Darn! I'm really mad at myself about this one, too. And we never did a group photo, which would have been fun as well.
- We need to figure out the attendance issue. Originally, I had said that we were going to charge a small amount to attend the workshop because I was worried that people would sign up and
then not feel any obligation, making it hard to plan on a set number of folks. But then when our vendor sponsorships started coming through, I determined that I really wanted the workshop to be free. We had some 77 people signed up by the workshop dates, but maybe only 50 or so actually showed up. And worse than that, some presenters didn't show up. Now, "flexibility" was the name of the game, and everything turned out OK, but we definitely would benefit from some more formal sign-up process and commitment level. On the other hand, I really like giving people the chance to use a wiki for signing up, and I think it starts things on a good Web 2.0 / collaborative foot...
- I broke my own rules about free time. I got so excited by the Skype interviews that the only place to put them was during what was supposed to be free time for connecting and
collaborating. In retrospect, I think I might have done less of them in order to make sure the group had more time together... :(
- We had a number of Web 2.0 programs that people were seeing for the first time, and just signing up to get accounts for those programs takes time. If we gave people a list of websites to get signed up on before they came, I wonder if that would help or just be
intimidating? We could give a list of links on the wiki, and people could do it during the conference when they were bored... :) Any ideas?
- I think it might have made sense to do a wiki session early on, and then ask a greater number of people to contribute notes to the wiki.
OK, now is your turn to let me know what you think went well or could have been improved. Maybe you were actually there and have some thoughts. Or maybe (which would be amazing) you weren't and actually read through this post and have some ideas! Either way, I hope you'll comment or email me.
(Most photos courtesy of Derrall Garrison
, some by me. :)