Photograph of Angela Gunder and Kelvin Thompson in conversation at the OLC Acclerate 18 Conference

Conversations not Presentations at OLC

I’m not a huge fan of monologues. The traditional conference paper, someone reading to me for 20 minutes and often failing to leave time for Q&A, has always seemed wasteful. Either publishing work-in-progress papers or recording and sharing videos would disseminate the work at a fraction of the economic and ecological cost of a conference. 

If we are going to bring people together for a conference, it should be to talk to rather than at one-another. The first time I actually participated in such a conference was OLC Innovate in 2016. Having just left OLC Accelerate 18, I am still struck by how well these conferences facilitate conversation.

In stark contrast to the single author paper of the history conference, all of the session that I saw at OLC Accelerate were presented by multiple people. In the panel presentations, these presenters were in conversation with each other and provided their varied experiences on the ideation and implementation of their projects at different schools. The panel that I saw on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning provided perspectives from R1s, SLACs, and for-profit schools. Because of this, the presenters were able to answer questions form the audience from relevant experience.

One conference format, the express workshop, pushed this conversational format even further by having panel members sit with the audience at round tables and  lead conversations. I was one of six presenters on a panel about academic podcasting that Ryan Straight organized, and I loved it. I partnered up with Jonathan Pizzo from UCF, and we talked with attendees about the technical process of posting podcasts to the web. Jon asked everyone we talked to what they currently do, and then we talked with rather than at them about how to take the next step. Rather than presenting papers on our experiences with podcasting, we drew on that experience to actually help the attendees plan their own pods.

With any rule there are exceptions. I don’t generally like keynotes, because they fit into the category of monologues. However, I’ve so enjoyed Jane McGonigal’s work, that I was genuinely excited for her keynote. 

Jane provided a glimpse into one possible future of education taking us to the year 2028. In this not-to-distant future, peer-to-peer education, micro-credentialing, and block chain ledgers have democratized education to the point that all skill-related experiences can be recorded in your personal education transcripts. She talked about how various games, like Pokemon Go, serve as previews of this future. Augmented reality games provide motivation for people to do and record activities in the real world. The peer-to-peer, just-in-time training available for these games on YouTube and Twitch are a model for entertaining educational content that people seek and watch voraciously. 

Jane’s provocation was interesting and had the desired effect of starting conversations on the pros and cons of such a future. However, what I was particularly excited about was that we were able to engage Jane in conversation around her work in OLCLive!

Starting at OLC Innovate 18 and continuing into Accelerate, I’ve been part of a team (Autumm Caines, Dave Goodrich, and Kelvin Thompson) that has been hosting conversations online as OLCLive! Originally modeled on the great work of Virtually Connecting, we have been able to bring the keynote and featured speakers in for interviews that anyone can join online.

YouTube playlist of OLCLive interviews for OLC Accelerate

This year, I got to talk to Jane McGonigal right before her keynote. In her keynote, Jane came across as a techno-determinist. While she was trying to provoke critical discussion, you could get the impression she thought technology would solve all our educational problems (a position that almost no educational technologist holds). In conversation, we got much more into the importance of ethics and the unintended consequences of all technologies. We talked about the biases of programmers and the importance of context in design. We will be uploading the interview on the OLC site and YouTube in the next couple of days.

One of the other really great experiences for me at Accelerate was the Escape Room designed by Maddie Shellgren. Maddie was nice enough to let us stream our attempted escape for OLCLive! Clark Shah-Nelson, Taylor Kendal and I got one of the last slots before the room’s were broken down, so that we could share the whole experience with the online audience.

This experience was so different than a delivered paper, but it served the same purpose of providing an educational experience. Maddie built her rooms around the importance of accessibility and Universal Design. The frustrations that we experienced in the room mirrored the challenges facing faculty in making their courses accessible. My engagement with these challenges, my memory of the experience, and my enjoyment of negotiating the game in collaboration with friends were transformed by the format. Getting to debrief with Maddie (and my daughter who was mocking our failed attempt) provided another layer of context for both me and anyone watching the conversation via OLCLive! We were even able to dive into some of the ideation and iteration that brought the Escape Room into existence.

In this tweet from Maddie Shellgren, you can find a link to a Flipgrid with participant reflections on the escape room.

Looking back at OLC Accelerate 18, what I am most excited about are the conversations. From the multi-presenter, conversation-centered presentations, to the online conversations in OLCLive!, to the great experiential learning in the Escape Room and Technology Test Kitchen more broadly, OLC has built this conference around conversation rather than monologues. I appreciate how Christine Hinkley and Katie Fife Schuster have allowed the many volunteers to take ownership of these spaces and how they/we have sought to use that license to create conversations around online education.

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