Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Where we may be going wrong

Imagine fronting up to your standard event coordinator and asking them to organise an open space conference? They might respond with, "I understood the conference bit..."

When you consider that everything that is traditionally involved in coordinating such an event; funding, promotions and publicity, printed fliers, participation.. it is all geared towards the standard conference - being key note speakers, sponsorship, lectures, workshops and booths.

So when a couple of deep south educational developers decide to sniff out interest and organise an open space conference in multiple locations, you might expect that along the way, actually all the way, they'd encounter difficulties in remaining true to open space conference. Those things that are necessary in coordinating and promoting the event each play their part in clawing things back into a standard conference of celebrities, lectures and mute audiences.

It was through a rather important if brief exchange I had with Derek Chirnside yesterday that I came to realise this with more clarity. Derek has instinctively understood the intent and direction of this conference, and so it was through discussing with him the difficulties of organising and promoting this event that I began to realise the shape of problem, and felt the need to reaffirm the objective of this event.

The objective of this event is to initiate and strengthen new connections and thereby changes in the New Zealand education sector. The key to meeting this objective is through open participation.

To some extent that objective is already being met. The new connections and discussions currently taking place both locally and internationally is encouraging, something a face to face meeting will help to strengthen.

We have invited several people from other regions of the world to take part. This is to bring wider perspectives and connections into the open space conference. It is important that their involvement is complimentary to local New Zealand participation, and it is here that I realise we risk affecting the open space most of all.

Due to the complexity of coordinating the international participation in this event it is easy to see how it dominates the preparations and possibly overshadows the overall event. Our guests are here to see New Zealand, some for the first time, to hear about and see our work, to show us their work, and to join in a discussion and make new connections. So in the final 2 weeks leading up to the Dunedin meeting we should follow John Eyles lead and add more New Zealand based profiles to the wiki.

I hope by doing this we can start to balance and refocus of the event, back to being an exchange of ideas and experiences in as nearer thing to open space conference as we can possibly get.

2 comments:

Stanley said...

Hi Leigh
I think that you (through your exchange with Derek) have highlighted a
key issue for those of us who are contributing $ towards this
'conference' and at the same time trying to align it with the
'true open space' ethos. In my understanding this is:

"In Open Space meetings, events and organizations, participants
create and manage their own agenda of parallel working sessions around
a central theme of strategic importance, such as: What is the strategy,
group, organization or community that all stakeholders can support and
work together to create?"
http://www.openspaceworld.org/cgi/wiki.cgi?AboutOpenSpace

You have suggested that the objective (the strategic theme ?) is "
The objective of this event is to initiate and strengthen new
connections and thereby changes in the New Zealand education sector.
The key to meeting this objective is through open participation."

IMHO - it's a bit naïve to imagine that 'changes' (what kind
of change?) can be brought about simply through the initiation of new
connections ... Wish it were that easy ! :) Real educational change
requires action on many levels - political, economic, institutional,
curriculum, theory, practice, epistemology, ontology, oops forgot
technology, etc - ie. it's a systemic process (eg. Michael Fullan
for more on this ... )

So the key issue for me is - I think we all need to be very clear about
who the stakeholders are, what kinds of changes in the education sector
are being envisaged by you and the FLNW group (ie. let's get really
specific about the strategic theme/s), and what kinds of outcomes can
those who are contributing $ reasonably expect ?

I would suggest that the key stakeholders are those institutions and
others who are contributing (mainly NZ public $) towards the
conference...
In my own case, I am responsible for $ contributions towards the FLNW
event from 2 sources of NZ public funds - the CeLDD (
http://celdd.ose.org.nz )and FLLinNZ ( http://www.fllinnz.ac.nz/
- awaiting update for 2006/07) projects funded by the eLearning
Collaborative Development Fund.

As I've stated on this list - CeLDD is a new qualification in NZ
that grapples with the question 'how to structure a qualification in
e-learning design (for tertiary and secondary teachers,
instructional/learning designers, technical staff, etc) that embraces
emerging learning 2.0 tools and ideas.' CeLDD is an important point
of departure for our institution, as the emerging themes of learning
2.0 hold much promise for networked and distributed learning in our
region. For the Friday 22 Sep sessions, I have asked for the FLNW
group to provide some input on their thoughts and propose some
suggestions for topics - OK, that was not exactly 'open space'
stuff, but I'm essentially proposing that the strategic theme for
that day is 'e-learning in Northland: implications for change' .
I'm sure that specific agenda/s will emerge and the staff of NorthTec
and members of the wider community who attend will participate - but
it would be good to see some advance thinking on this - just to
reassure me that the FLNW guests are on the same page (we've heard
lots about baa-camps and the weather but almost nothing about how FLNW
can contribute towards 'changes in the NZ education sector' :). My
expectations are that the day will create new connections and local
participants will come away with a deeper understanding of how emerging
tools and educational approaches can enhance and improve their
practice.....

On Sat 23rd as stated- the strategic theme is for the FLNW group to act
as an international reference group and provide detailed feedback on
the CeLDD programme. My expectations are that the FLNW group will
participate in this spirit and provide a level of international
'benchmarking' while at the same time continuing with the theme of
'change in the NZ sector' (CeLDD is a bit different from existing
quals in e-learning in NZ :)

I am also trying to set up a workshop with representatives from the
FLLinNZ group - this will have the strategic theme of "FLLinNZ and
the Future of Networked Learning: Strategies for international
collaboration" which will utilise the expertise of the visiting group
to workshop with FLLinNZers to explore how can we foster international
linkages in the spirit of our vision "building collective capacity in
distributed networks". There will be more on this once the event has
been confirmed....

I'm personally quite happy that these kinds of contributions to the
conference coffers are appropriate uses of public funds - but I do
think we need some more substance on the overall strategic themes and
how each leg of the journey contributes to that. There will be scrutiny
and we need more than T-shirts in terms of outcomes :) - even if this
kind of rebalancing and refocusing does pose some slight risk to the
'true open space' ethos....

Cheers
Stanley

PS - I will provide more about me in terms of a profile when I get a
chance - just a bit hectic at the moment trying to persuade my
stakeholders that 'open space' is actually 'productive' and not
just a cool sightseeing trip :)

Last One Blogging said...

(cross posted from bulletin board)

Hi Stanley

Thanks for sharing your expectations with us. As the Northland host it's good to hear you articulate some of the issues, agendas and strategically important themes that are likely to emerge during the Northland leg of the trip. In particular I share your hope that " ...the day will create new connections and local participants will come away with a deeper understanding of how emerging tools and educational approaches can enhance and improve their practice..... ". I'm sure that everyone involved on every leg of the journey has the same realistic expectation of personal and professional enrichment.

Your goal: "On Sat 23rd as stated- the strategic theme is for the FLNW group to act as an international reference group and provide detailed feedback on the CeLDD programme. My expectations are that the FLNW group will participate in this spirit and provide a level of international 'benchmarking' while at the same time continuing with the theme of 'change in the NZ sector '" is, in my opinion, a more ambitious one. (But then, I don't believe in "benchmarking" per se in a field where the goal posts keep moving and anyone working in the area can only ever be working at the edges of what's known). Where I believe you'll get "bang for your buck" is in the collective creativity of the group (including your staff) in looking at assumptions, listening, asking the "dumb" questions, sharing stories about similar programs and courses, thinking "what if?", looking at specific scenarios and so on, rather than specifically acting as a panel providing "feedback on a course" as such. (For instance I'm reminded of a content-less course run by TAFE NSW a few years ago called FAME that was, by all accounts, fabulous. The idea of a content-free course is probably counter intuitive to most educators but the strength in the FAME course was that each "course" (where the content was developed by the learners) ended up being tailored to the needs of each specific student cohort, was always up to date, reusable as a model and so on. And if you look at web 2.0, there's a similar sort of underlying "design" as there was in FAME it's just there wasn't a word for it back then. But anyway, I'm only speaking for myself here - there may be others in the group who are much more comfortable with the idea of presenting themselves as "experts" in the field.

Essentially I don't see a problem with anything you've said in terms of the parts of the trip you're sponsoring. Each agenda will be in the hands of the group, including the virtual groups from other parts of the world who will be "dropping in" throughout the trip - there's no reason why you can't start populating the wikipage with your ideas and inviting your staff to add their topics. Perhaps that will then generate the sort of response you are wanting in terms of identified themes, outcomes and activities prior to the Northland event.

On a more personal note, I'm a bit stung by your comment about "baaa" camp and my asking about the weather. I thought *I* was being polite when I didn't publicly splutter at Bronwyn's description of 16-20 as "balmy" (balmy?!? geez Bronwyn! :-)). To me the baaa camp idea is the text equivalent of the wizard graphic you have on the front page of your grad cert course - a digital version of something informal in the absence of more commonly recognised mammalian gestures. Especially in the context of a community gathering such as FLNW where there'll be lots of old and new friends meeting up in real time to do something creative and enjoyable together. Perhaps I should have had these conversations in the TALO google list given that the baaa camp related to our 2006 swapmeet which is where this whole unconference started (and in fact will start this year as the first event in the FLNW program). So apologies for mixing the metaphoric environments... Won't do THAT again, eh? :-)

And the little kid in me looks at statements like "but I do think we need some more substance on the overall strategic themes and how each leg of the journey contributes to that. There will be scrutiny and we need more than T-shirts in terms of outcomes :)" and curls up into a small ball (baaa camp t-shirt'n'all! :-))). Mostly cos it starts to sound like "how we've always done things" rather than trying something else. Who says there has to be an overall strategic theme? And if so, great. Every stakeholder here is also a participant so instead of scrutinising from afar, maybe they could update the wiki, join a conversation, test their ideas. Unconference doesn't equate to unsubstantial. It just means that you don't predict everything in advance or attempt to impose a structure on it, trusting the group to form their own goals, agendas and so on and following the themes that have genuine intrinsic value and energy. And if it doesn't work, fine. We've learned something. But at least we gave it a shot and will be able to describe why it didn't work.

In fact, anyone "scrutinising" this event for evidence of fluffiness or lack of underlying value should be forced to come along. They'll be exhausted by end of it, I'll wager. And as for the sightseeing junket idea, it's a bit offensive to think that some of the sponsors might see us as freeloaders or whatever. Surely that's not what you're saying!? :-/

I'm visiting your country in a spirit of openness, curiosity, excitement and great anticipation. Mostly as a learner but also someone who's happy to share what I know, think, believe and feel. But mostly as a learner. I'd feel like an imposter if I attended under any other "label". (I just needed to say that so that I can enjoy my excitement instead of feeling the dread of performance anxiety/weight of other people's expectations).

Sincerely

rose "12 more sleeps!" g :o)