TechStockIn last May’s  Review, NJEA members Frank Pileiro and Kevin Jarrett wrote an article about a new trend in professional development: unconferences.

As Pileiro and Jarrett explained, an unconference is simply, “a participant-driven meeting.” This means:

  • The session schedule is determined by attendees, usually on the day of the event.
  • Anyone can propose--and lead--a session (which is more of a conversation than a presentation).
  • Participants obey the “law of two feet”: if a session isn’t meeting their needs, for any reason, they are encouraged to find another.

The result? A professional development experience focused on you and your needs, where you are in charge of your own learning and where you are recognized for your expertise.

You’re either on the bus or off the bus

On Wednesday, July 16, NJEA will hold its first unconference, Techstock 2014. The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey will host the event, which is co-sponsored by the Southern Regional Institute and Educational Technology Training Center (SRI&ETTC), and the Richard Stockton College Master of Arts in Instructional Technology (MAIT) program.

The program begins with continental breakfast and registration from 8-9:30 a.m. followed by four one-hour sessions. Lunch will also be served.

The registration fee is $35, but the fee for early-bird registration, which runs from Jan. 6 through April 30, is $25. The final registration deadline is June 27. Registration is limited to the first 200 participants. Attendees will receive four hours of professional development credit.

Techstock 2014 features online registration only. If you wish to use ETTC professional hours, use the SRI&ETTC link to register at www.ettc.net.

Be sure to bring your own device!  NJEA will not provide any computers, tablets, etc.

Don’t let the man keep you down

Techstock isn’t about someone else telling you what workshops to take. It’s the attendees who decide what they want to learn about.

Watching an unconference come together is fascinating. Organizers start the day with an empty grid that is the size of a standard chalkboard (or two). Along the left axis are the time slots for each session (usually one hour); across the right axis are room numbers. Over breakfast, attendees decide what they want to talk--and learn--about. Then they fill out “session cards” with details such as the title of the session and their Twitter name (if available) and place the cards on the grid. As the grid fills up, the information is transferred to a Google Doc that participants access on their mobile devices. Approximately one hour of time is devoted to the registration/breakfast/agenda-building process. Unconference topics can be anything relating to K-12 education but often have a particular focus, such as technology integration.

If you post a session card, you become the facilitator of that session. All that really means, however, is that you get the discussion started and allow the exchange of ideas to flow freely. On occasion, “virtual presenters” are arranged in advance to address a specific topic. In that case, the organizers will block off a time slot and arrange for the necessary technology in one of the classrooms for the long-distance presentation.

To be sure the most popular topics are held in the largest rooms, attendees are given stickers and asked to place them on the session cards they plan to attend.

Give Techstock a chance

Every teacher has been to a workshop that was too expensive and you felt like you knew the topic better than the presenter did. Perhaps you had difficulty finding a session topic that appealed to you, or worse, a session you participated in was nothing like its description. Meanwhile, you met amazing colleagues--between sessions or maybe at lunch--and you learned more in your conversations with them than you did the rest of the day. An unconference is the solution to all of these problems!

It’s time to give Techstock a chance. Create the professional development experience that you want at NJEA’s first unconference on July 16. It sure to be outtasight!

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