Designing PD Experiences: Can You RELATe?

This afternoon, second year students in MSU’s Master of Arts in Educational Technology presented a conference – in person and virtually – for their teaching colleagues: RELATe (Rouen Educational Leadership and Technology Conference, #relate11). This conference comes in the middle of the 4 week summer program, and is one of the main projects for Year 2 students. As one of the instructors for the course, and a mentor to them during the planning process, I have asked them to reflect on the process of creating this conference, so I also want to add a few thoughts to the conversation about technology, leadership, inquiry, and learning.

  • Planning – I have coordinated about half a dozen conferences, numerous summer institutes, countless workshops, and more than a few online events. Given that the focus of this event was for the teachers themselves to plan the event, it was difficult to step back from the planning in many ways, yet I still offered my informed opinion and helped scaffold a discussion about the conference by having them talk about effective PD, analyze past conference schedules (and lack of materials online), think about back-channeling and  archiving, and the overall presentation/hands-on balance within the conference. For the most part, I think that they did a good job planning an effective day, although I do wonder if the kiosk/hands-on times worked in the way they thought (as a combination passing time and opportunity to work one-to-one with presenters). It seemed like most of the sessions either ran over into that kiosk time, or people left because they weren’t quite sure what to do during the kiosk time.
  • Thematic, not technological, approaches to organizing sessions – rather than highlighting specific technologies in session titles and descriptions, as had been done in years past, the group took a more thematic approach to designing the sessions. I think that this worked well, as it really helped them focus on the content and pedagogy aspects of TPACK (not that technology was excluded by any means, but it certainly was not the star of the show). I hope that this thematic approach guides the MAET students as they approach PD plans in their own schools.
  • Social media – there was a team for social media (as well as for other aspects of the planning) and they did a great job producing a series of viral videos, sharing the hashtag, and tweeting/back-channeling during the conference. This has helped me really think about how we can, conscientiously, work with conference planners and attendees before, during, and after conferences to enhance their experience. As one MAET teacher mentioned to me — I’ve been to conferences before, but I never realized how much work goes into planning and promoting it. This is amplified even more in an age of social media. Given that many of the professionals we target for writing project and other literacy PD are still on the fringes of heavy social media use — and it was still tough to get everyone from our very techie group involved today — I wonder how we can more effectively employ social media for groups like MRA, NWP, and NCTE.
  • Web streaming – I was genuinely surprised when, a week ago, I asked if anyone in the group had been a part of a webinar before and found out that no one had. Leigh did a great job setting up the Adobe Breeze rooms, and most of the actual connections worked well during the conference. One link from the Weebly site had an extra two spaces at the end and, in turn, directed people to the wrong “room” on the MSU server. Once we figured out that the spaces needed to be deleted, we were back in business. Also, we realized quickly that presenters were not advancing slides in the Connect rooms, so the virtual visitors were not on the same slide. Also, one presenter used Prezi, and the Flash interface wouldn’t play in Breeze. Then, it was tough to monitor the in-room and Twitter backchannels both at once.
  • Virtual keynotes - fortunately, we had the keynoters record their sessions before hand and just join in for a Q/A session. The first one went fine, but we lost the Breeze connection on the closing keynote. So, being sure to have a back-up plan for that is important, too.

All in all, I feel that the RELATe conference was a success, both for the participants and, more importantly, for the Year 2 students who led it. I look forward to reviewing and discussing the evaluation data with them, as well as thinking about how they can transfer what they have learned about technology, inquiry, and leadership back into their own teaching contexts.


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