A Tale of 2 PDs

Posted on October 20, 2017 by Christalee
Tags: Christalee, making, programming, education

Recently I attended two professional development events nominally aimed at “maker educators.” They ended up being pretty different experiences, though!

One event was held at a university, lead by a faculty member who (with colleagues) has developed well-known tools and pedagogy for the pursuit of creative technology. Like most PD for teachers, it was structured as a lecture with projected visuals and some live-demos. Since only half a dozen were in attendance, we did have some chances to bring our own experiences and questions to the group, but this was insufficient critical mass to really get a discussion going.

The other event was held online, organized by researchers at another respected university program focused on learning with technology. I had signed up only a few hours before, so I didn’t realize the team was using an unconference format. I tossed an idea into the nomination pool on a whim, hoping to spark some conversation at a more abstract level than swapping standards-aligned lesson plans. (Nothing against lesson plans, but it’s not why I came!)

Surprisingly, my session proposal quickly got traction, mostly due to a catchy title. When the voting was over, I found myself chatting with half a dozen educators about challenges they’ve faced getting maker programs off the ground in their schools. Several others popped into the chat over the next 45 minutes, although technology issues made it tough to promptly invite them to speak. We used an Etherpad to summarize the discussion and collect resource recommendations.

I did my best to facilitate the discussion, which did not go in the direction I had in mind when I proposed it. But that’s the double-edged nature of unconferences - you never know which perspectives are coming to the table. I enjoyed it, although I wasn’t expecting to talk so much - that was a bit stressful. Next time I’ll come prepared! And I would’ve liked to pop into other sessions that sounded interesting; luckily the organizers sent out all the session notes afterwards. The event attracted ~50 attendees, many of whom seemed to already know each other, but we all introduced ourselves in chat and had a channel to swap contact info.

I love observing educators in the student/audience role - do they react the way their students would? What are the goals of the organizers? attendees? How are those goals served by the format of the event? Was the event as-advertised, or did it go another way?

Teacher PD is often organized in a fairly traditional lecture/slides format - odd, when so many educators have moved away from that model in their own classrooms. The outcome is relatively predictable, though, compared to an event that depends on everyone’s participation. Do you have thoughts on what makes a PD session more or less effective? Have you attended an unconference, or presented at a conference session? Would you rather do all your PD online, or is the networking/facetime important to you?