What is an Unconference?

What is an unconference and how does it work?

A typical conference may last over a weekend, or perhaps as long as a week. It usually has a set agenda, guest speakers, presenters and opportunities for forum discussions. If you attend such a conference, unless you’re presenting, your primary role is to listen to lectures or watch presentations, and perhaps participate in some discussion surrounding the focus of the conference or specific lectures and presentations. Evenings at conferences tend to be devoted to socializing, giving time for people to meet with other like-minded folk in a much more free-form way.

This conference method greatly differs from the unconference, a term used first in 1998 for an XML developers gathering that would take a vastly different form.  Instead of having a specific agenda, attendees at an unconference are expected to much more actively engage in the event. Although we will organize the unconference into groups, the participants must set the agenda, be ready to make presentations, discuss or defend their ideas, or work on creating things.  We'll post proposals and responses to our unconference ahead of time on this site as a way to guide or 'seed' discussions during the unconference panels.  While many people claim that after using unconference methods, you’ll never want to attend a traditional conference again, we would suggest a more balanced approach, such that both the tradition conference and the unconference serve very useful and fulfilling ends.

Who should attend?

Anyone who has been accepted to the Sloan-C Blended Learning Conference and Workshop is welcome to submit a proposal.  We will be looking to congregate a diverse group of stakeholders from all backgrounds and disciplines. Registration is limited to 75 persons. Use the Proposal Form to talk about why you'd like to attend!

Why unconference? 

Unconference sessions don’t need a room full of attendees listening to a single person a presenter or even a so-called expert to be successful. Two people could get together during a session and have the most important conversation of the meeting, or one person could sit in a corner and write down his thoughts, then submit them via a Twitter post or follow-up to this event. 

There are certain rules associated unconferences. Among these is the very common Law of Two Feet. Essentially this rule states that people not learning or contributing to discussion must find a discussion they can learn from by taking their “two feet” elsewhere. There are other terms associated with unconferences. For example, bumble bees or cross-pollinators may flit from group to group spreading discussion ideas as they go.

Many unconferences adopt what is called open space technology (OST) to run conferences. Technology is a little misleading and it simply means a method for running a free-form conference. OST begins with the Law of Two Feet and ends on more Buddhist principles. For instance, people accept that attendees are exactly who should attend, that anything that happens in a conference is what should have happened, that the unconferences starts at the right time, which is whenever it starts, and also ends at the right time, when it is over. When people adopt OST attitudes a free-flowing openness occurs which is meant to help people be their best and brightest selves.