What is an Unconference?

This is the twenty three post in the Professional Development 2.0 series. If you have not already, I would encourage you to start with the first twenty two posts:

The traditional conference model has been around a long time, to say the least. As with any institution, there is a lot of inertia that inhibits change. However, over the last several years, this has not stopped intrepid educators from re-imagining the model of what the conference looks like.

Like many ideas in the new professional development and the rapidly changing world or technology, there are few rules about what define an unconference. There are few defined rules, but there are general ideas that are often consistent.

Traditional Conferences Unconferences
Presenters are seen as givers of knowledge, similar to the traditional model of teaching. Anyone can present. There is choice and community, similar to more progressive teaching models.
Meticulously planned. The itinerary is complete and published in advance. Spontaneity is planned for. There is room to adjust to what attendees want or need.
Presenters are honored above those who attend. Anyone can potentially present, so there is more equality.
Generally, there is a cost to attend. Unconferences are usually free.
Focus is on the sessions; networking is an added benefit. Networking is one of the most important components and is purposefully planned for

There are some educational unconferences that have become quite popular over the last few years.

  • TeachMeet: TeachMeet is an unconference that came from the BarCamp movement. It started in the UK and has also spread to Australia and the US in TN, GA, KY, and NJ. It is often distinguished by very short presentations, such as 2.5 and 7 minute presentations. Some presentations are planned in advance while others are spontaneous.
  • EdCamp: EdCamp also stems from the original BarCamp model. Starting in Philadelphia, EdCamp has spread rapidly to Cincinnati, Kansas City, Birmingham, Charlottesville, and Detroit. Is it often distinguished by its spontaneity in that presenters will sign up to present when they arrive at the conference.
  • New Teacher Camp: New Teacher Camp, or NTCamp, is built on the EdCamp model and has a more structured purpose of helping give new teachers a good foundation, although there is a lot to benefit more experienced teachers as well. It started in Philadelphia and is also moving to Burlington, Massachusetts in 2011.

This is not all inclusive; an unconference does not need to fall into any of these categories. Also, it is not to be understood that unconferences should completely replace traditional conferences; both have their role in supporting education. I encourage you to try to attend an unconference if you have the opportunity; you will not regret it.

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