What an unconference is not

Unconferences, by their very nature, are changing and unorganized at the systemic level. Meaning, there is no definitive standard by which something can be called unconference. There has been a commercial educational company that has been setting up a business and calling it an unconference that really rubs me the wrong way. I have planned, helped plan, or am in the process of planning 5 unconferences, the most notable of which are TeachMeet Nashville (April 2010), the online Reform Symposium (this weekend), and TeachMeet NJ (date yet to be determined). All of the unconferences that I have been to share some similarities. First, no one gets paid to present. I did cover my keynote speakers’ travel cost through sponsor donations, but no one ever made a monetary profit. Second, no one pays to attend. This, like Twitter, levels the educational landscape so all can learn freely. Third, there is flexibility in what will be presented.

The business model that is being promoted heavily on Twitter and other places, which will go unnamed out of respect, is calling itself an unconference. I have no doubt that the people behind it do care about education, but it shares none of the similarities mentioned above. It is a series of pre-recorded videos on professional development topics. They claim to have over 500 hours of on-demand professional development videos. Some of them look quite interesting actually and several are mad by people I consider friends. Since they are calling their businesss an unconference, all teachers can freely access the material, right? No, it costs $200. That does not sound like it shares the unconference philosophy of helping everyone to learn freely.

Second, I know from one of their blog posts, that several people got paid. I have no problem with people being paid for training or for conferences. I am being paid to speak in Las Vegas next week and am trying to start my own educational consulting firm. However, paying speakers defeats the point of an unconference. They are about educators coming together to share and support each other. The idea of payment in this situation, similar to the discussions I’ve been having recently about grades, takes the focus off of helping people learn and onto how to maximize one’s pay.

Third, what spontaneity and flexibility can there be with watching pre-recorded videos? Yes, there is value. But, when topics have to be approved and are selectively chosen by a small group, that severely limits the options of what can be learned about.

This is admittedly a bit of a rant. I just feel that this “unconference” is an insult to everyone who has worked so hard to help the educational community. This slanders the name of those who have spent so much of their time planning TeachMeets, EdCamps, BarCamps, NTCamp, etc…

  • http://www.faffcon.com Amy

    Watching pre-recorded presentations sure isn’t an unconference! They’re supposed to be participant lead with a dynamic agenda, created on the fly by attendees.

    But, just for the record, not all unconferences are free. Nor should they be. Food, meeting space, a professional facilitator, etc. all cost money. Kaliya Hamlin says it well in this article: http://www.unconference.net/on-unconferences-and-money/

  • http://jasontbedell.com Jason Bedell

    Thanks Amy. I do believe unconferences should be free, but it takes a lot of time and effort to keep them free. When I hosted TeachMeet Nashville, I raised around $4000 in funds and close to $1000 in other prizes. I was able to pay $1000 for the venue, $2000 for lunch for 2 days for 100 people, and had over $3000 in prizes. No one ever had to pay a dime.
    Jason Bedell´s last blog post ..What an unconference is not

  • http://educationontheplate.wordpress.com Deven Black

    Conferences are organized with pre-determined content and schedule. They cost money to attend.

    Unconferences have a place and time. The specific content and specific schedule are determined by volunteer presenters on the day and at the site of the unconference. Unconferences are free and should be free.

    Presrecorded PD that one must pay to access, no matter how good it might be and whether or not it is presented on a specific schedule, is neither a conference nor an unconference. Calling it one or the either is a deliberate attempt to mislead.

    I am sure that the unidentified education company to which you refer certainly would not like its name associated with a fraud and I strongly urge it to call what it provides what it is: paid PD. Calling an unconference or calling it a gorilla does not make it one or the other.
    Deven Black´s last blog post ..Doing the Right Thing Because It Is Right- Not Expedient