Letting Go: Skepticism + Surprising Success @ EduSoCal 2014

Let me begin by saying that I enjoy presenting at conferences. We are doing so many innovative and creative initiatives about pedagogy and eLearning at Otis that any opportunity I have to share with my professional colleagues I will take. I am the Instructional Designer for the college and have the pleasure of being able to facilitate and support many of these initiatives. So it was with great anticipation that I submitted my proposal to this year’s EduSoCal conference. Little did I realize that I was about to take part in a grand experiment . . .

The theme of this year’s EduSoCal conference was “Reinventing Learning.” I should have been prepared. The title was a clue! I talked with my colleague at Otis, Maggie Light, with whom I would be co-presenting.  We met to outline our session. Like many professionals, we planned on a more formal presentation structure. We discussed ways we could increase interactivity or engage with our attendees, namely Nearpod, a tool that we are both fans of and use in our classes. All seemed clear and standard, dare I say, maybe even safe?

Then we received confirmation that our proposal was accepted, but wait, we would be combining with two other individuals from different institutions. In addition, we were encouraged not to structure our session in standard presentation PowerPoint format, in other words, divide our 60 minutes into nice even 15-minute chunks with 15 minutes in the end for general questions – a structure I immediately gravitated toward upon hearing my co-presenters increased by two. Oh! This suddenly became a lot more complicated. It was also the end of the semester (the conference was yesterday, May 14th). Final grades were due the day before, commencement was the weekend before, and summer school is starting this upcoming Monday. What had I signed up for? Not this. I wanted to take the easy route, the familiar route, do my 15-minute presentation, control my portion, and be done with it. Thank goodness that didn’t happen!

I am an organizer by instinct, a schedule fanatic, and a task list guru. I immediately went into email, reached out to my colleagues to schedule our virtual meeting. We needed a session title and a description ASAP. I must take a moment to say collaborating virtually is difficult. I’ve used various platforms for video chat from Google Hangouts to Webex, Adobe Connects, Tiny Chat – you name it and I’ve tried it with varying degrees of success. I was skeptical that we would even be able to pull off a meeting to talk about our session. I didn’t know what to expect in my fellow co-presenters. Who were they and what were they like? Would they hold up their end? I did do a little professional snooping on their campus websites to at least get and idea of their role at their respective institutions. I hit that invitation to join the hangout with a shaking index finger.

A few Google tones later we were all connected. We talked and my fear manifested . . . they wanted to abandon the idea of each of us splitting the time, doing our own thing. Rather, there was the suggestion to actually have our audience do something with web-tools at the conference, split them into groups, do a speed-dating type of share and then collaborate and create something. We would not be presenters, but more facilitators. I’m up for challenges, but this was so unspecific and unclear. I held my tongue and said okay. We were reinventing, trying at least. We shared a Google doc with each other and started putting together our ideas. We were all over the place, but one of the co-presenters had a vision. I had to let go. I had to trust we could do this. I had to trust in my co-presenters after only one hour long virtual conversation. We could make this work. It was hard for me not to know exactly what was going to happen. I wanted the session to go well. I was representing myself and my institution.

Our title: “Technology Speed-Dating: Learn, Create, Share.”

Our description: Have you ever wanted to know what it would be like to let your students use their mobile devices in your class for learning? Are you an experienced facilitator of active learning in your courses? Please join us for an interactive session where you will participate in active learning first hand. Bring your devices!

We met once more virtually two days before the conference to confirm our agenda for our session.

5 min Introductions
10 min Learn Something
5 min Give Challenge!
20-30 min – Create Something!
10 min – Share Something!

We had a handout – my component of traditional conferencing experiences – that piece of paper – that takeaway was my safety net. If everything exploded, if we crashed and burned, at least attendees had a really cool handout listing over thirty web-based tools.

We met face-to-face a half hour before our presentation. We mapped out our talking order a little more, who would transition between activities, our time keeper, and we moved the chairs and desks into 5 unit pods. We had 21 people enter our room . . . Deep breath!

It worked! No one was more surprised than I was. It not only worked, but it was met with enthusiasm and praise from our attendees. Our loosely structured and fluid idea for a session came together in the end.

What is my lesson from this whole experience? I had already experienced the benefits of “letting go” when it comes to my courses. I advocate “blending” and “flipping” and student-centered learning. However, clearly as a professional I hadn’t allowed myself to let go, not even a little until now. Certainly, I was lucky to be with a group of professionals who were equally committed to the success of this presentation and cared about what we were doing. That might not ever happen again, but what I did realize is that sometimes the unexpected works. I let go of my control, my need to present my ideas and only mine at this conference, and in so doing I had a great collaborative experience. Next time, I don’t think I will cringe when I’m assigned to co-present with strangers.