The 2013 Esri Education GIS Conference includes some new activities that we’re introducing for the first time this year. Most ambitious of these is an “unconference” track scheduled for 10:30 am until 5:30 pm on Sunday, July 7.
What makes an unconference so different? First and foremost, it’s that participants set the agenda, not the organizers. This approach is consistent with the purpose of the EduC. The main reason we organize it is to strengthen the GIS education community. Feedback from last year’s event tells us that participants want more opportunities for conversation, and to be more involved in setting the agenda. The unconference format makes sense for both of these goals. Besides, we thought it could be fun!
Unconference is not a new approach. It originated in the 1980s with a concept called “Open Space Technology” devised by Harrison Owen. The concept is well documented online. Many variations on the Open Space approach have emerged in recent years, including EdCamps, TeachMeets, BarCamps, and Birds of a Feather sessions. Most of these variants share a few common characteristics:
1) Unconferences begin with no formal agenda, other than an overarching charge or theme.
2) Participants determine the agenda voluntarily and democratically.
3) Sessions report back to the entire group.
Our charge to conference participants is a pair of questions: First, what are the established and emerging best practices in GIS education? And second, what challenges remain to be addressed in GIS education?
Setting the Agenda
The unconference track will begin at 10:30, following a morning plenary session on “Emerging Best Practices in ArcGIS Online for Education” and a coffee break. Participants will gather in the Marina Ballrooms D&E, in the South Tower of the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina. There participants will find seven bulletin boards. Each bulletin board corresponds to one of the seven meeting rooms available to us for unconference sessions.
The boards will be printed with grids that divide the track into five hour-long time slots for unconference sessions beginning at 11:30, 12:30, 1:30, 2:30 and 3:30. As participants enter the Ballrooms to set the agenda, they’ll receive a handout that includes a couple of large post-notes. Those who wish to organize and lead a session will write their name and proposed topic on a post-it, then stick the post-it on a board in the time slot and meeting room they prefer. Those who don’t wish to organize a session can simply stand back and choose which sessions they wish to attend.
In some cases, more than one session will be proposed for the same room and time slot. We’ll resolve such conflicts by combining similar topics or, if need be, asking participants to vote on competing session topics. Members of the Esri Education Team will be standing by to answer questions and resolve conflicts. If there’s no space left in the agenda for a proposed session, proposers are free to set up ad hoc meetings at other spaces, such as the hotel coffee shop, or by the pool, or in the bar.
Sessions will begin at 11:30, after the agenda is. Session leaders will convene their sessions with remarks about how their topic relates to the twin themes of the unconference: emerging best practices and remaining challenges in GIS education. Then the session will proceed with group discussion, presentations, or whatever format the session leader proposed. Between sessions, participants will return to the Ballrooms to review the agendas posted on the bulletin boards and choose their next session.
At the end of each session, the leader(s) will summarize the session in preparation for his or her report back to the entire group.The report may be a post to a social media channel, or a lightning talk session in the San Diego Ballroom starting at 4:30 pm. We hope that a cash bar will contributed to a lighthearted set of three-minute summary presentations.
We hope most EduC attendees will choose to participate in the unconference track. If they do, this this will be an unusually large unconference. Everyone should expect it to seem a bit chaotic at first, until the agenda is set. If you’re unsure what you’re supposed to do at the event, just look for an Education Team member who will be on hand to answer your questions. Meanwhile, think ahead about a burning issue you’d like to propose.
Those who choose not to participate in the creative chaos of the unconference will find plenty to do in EduC Computer Labs or the Expo, which will be open all day in Marina Ballroom F&G in the South Tower.