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Attending Unconferences for Professional Development

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Any successful teaching career requires professional development for educators. Teachers must keep pace not only with developments in their respective subjects but also with innovations in instruction and student engagement. However, not all teachers can afford the time and money it takes to attend professional conferences.

Fortunately, a new opportunity, the “unconference,” offers professional development via low-cost (often free) events wherein teachers swap ideas, learn new techniques and develop professional networks. For students in an online master’s degree in education program, the unconference provides an opportunity to network without the burden of travel.

What Is an Unconference?

According to unconference organizer Brian Croxall, the simplest definition of an unconference is “a highly informal conference.” He goes on to outline two major differences between unconferences and traditional professional conferences. First, an unconference program “isn’t set: it’s created on the first day with the help of all the participants rather than beforehand by a program committee” and “second, at an unconference, there are no presentations — all participants in an unconference are expected to talk and work with fellow participants in every session.” Participants themselves organize unconference programming and then take part in each session. As such, traditional time-consuming lectures are uncommon.

Advantages of an Unconference

Rather than occurring annually or biannually in a specific city, unconferences occur throughout the year in a variety of locations. For students in an online master’s degree in education program, this means that an unconference could take place nearby soon. The unconference offers affordable, local professional development, which benefits working educators.

As educator Jennifer Gonzales points out, there is another reason unconferences offer worthwhile professional development for educators: “an unconference is a fantastic gateway to the tech world, partly because you’ll get to see a lot of neat things in action, but more importantly, because you’ll see mistakes.” Seeing others’ technological mistakes can remind unconference participants that they are not alone in the learning process.

Relaxed Development

Rather than concentrating on polished, practiced presentations, unconferences encourage messy interactive development in a relaxed environment. At an unconference, no one is trying to impress a potential employer or some respected guru in the field. Instead, Gonzales writes, “people just got up and talked, then did quick demonstrations of how something worked.”

Unconferences also welcome students. Professional development for educators can sometimes consume valuable class time, so why not bring your classes with you? At the unconference Gonzales attended, “Two different groups — one middle school and one high school — came as representatives of their student technology club, and they actually presented.” Field trips that include professional development for educators are rare, but unconferences are both welcoming and informal.

Finally, they work. Rebecca O. Bagley, writing for Forbes, explains why: “Unconferences are about empowering attendees to share their expertise. They give participants the opportunity to have an unfiltered exchange of innovative ideas.” In this crucible of innovation, shared ideas thrive. Unconferences may be the remedy for boring, lecture-driven professional conferences, and they offer professional development for educators who need to save time and money.

Learn about University of Texas Rio Grande Valley online M.Ed. in Special Education degree program.


Forbes: How ‘Unconferences’ Unleash Innovative Ideas

A Digital Pedagogy Unconference

Why Every Teacher Should Attend an Unconference

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