A How-To; or Not-To; of Flipped and Blended Learning Conferences

--Originally published at FLN – matthewtmoore

The maddening, worrying, exciting, disappointing, creative, joyful, and frustrating parts of putting on a quality flipped and blended learning conference.

Like every large endeavor in life, hosting and planning a flipped and blended learning conference is both the best idea and worst idea you have ever had all at the same time. As I write it has been six weeks or so since two veteran flippers and I launched the Illinois Flipped and Blended Learning Conference (#ILFABN) that will take place on June 15th and 16th this summer.  In that time, there have been more ups, downs, twists, and turns than I can recount, but I am going to give it a try.

The Good

One of the most encouraging and exciting parts about planning thus far is how the flipped community supports and rallies around ideas.

  • We had only been talking for about doing a conference for about a week before we  had two great presenters volunteer and I am so very grateful to David Walsh (@collsphysistry) and David Prindle (@dprindle) for helping be the seed to grow this event.
  • As we started coalescing ideas for the conference I contacted the Flipped Learning Network (FLN)#slack and found great ideas and welcome assistance.  Since the initial contacts I have talked repeatedly with Kelly Walsh, Ken Bauer and others about how FLN can help get the word out.
  • Right from the start EdPuzzle ilfabn-good2has been open to discussions about how they can inform, help, support, and promote the flipped and blended community as we are some of their most committed users.  EdPuzzle is the Friday lunch sponsor for ILFABN, and there will be an in-depth training session during the pre-conference and on conference day.
  • One of our key areas of focus is pre-service teachers or those looking to expand their pedagogy with flipped and blended learning.  One of the most exciting collaborations is with Northern Illinois University (NIU) who is sending a presenter with potential for graduate hours for those interested. (More details on this soon.)
  • When we sent out a call for presenters, many great flip and blenders responded with enthusiasm and we quickly filled most of the presentation roster. You can check out the full list of presenters thus far at this link. Also check out our ILFABN newsletters, podcasts, and videos introducing some of our presenters and information about ILFABN (man, Gerry and Kevin rock!)

The Bad

  • Trying to start a conference means you have no structure, no name recognition, and no followers on social media. I described in a previous blog on The Flipped Learning Network Hub the process of getting paperwork in order. As for recognition, the FLN has been generous in helping, but ILFABN co-founder Gerry Marchand is a social machine. Gerry already had a large group of contacts and enjoys the social side of teaching and PLCs.  Having a person like Gerry on the team is key to getting the work out.  I am newer to the social side of professional networking and do it because it is intriguing, Gerry eats it four meals a day.
  • Not only do people not recognize you, they have no frame of expectation of what your organization or event will look like.  To be honest, when starting from scratch we had a basic idea, but what the conference is shaping up to be will be wonderfully different than our initial expectations.
  • Don Wettrick (@DonWettrick), author of the book Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation, is our keynote and that is AWESOME!.  Like name recognition, being a startup means trying to find the right fit for a keynote. There are so many great names and speakers out there but matching needs, style, expectations, content, etc. is a real challenge.  Kevin, Gerry, and I did not heed Brian Bennett’s (@bennettscience) suggestion that edcamp style might be the way to go over traditional conference because it did not fit our expectations, but I can now definitely see how it plays into the decision.

And The Ugly

  • Okay full disclosure, I like the two guys I am planning this conference with better now than when we started.  I liked them before, but that was as acquaintances, kind of like summer camp friends you miss for like two weeks then move on, no offense fellas. However, there is something to be said for going to battle with someone or having a unified vision to steel a team into a well-honed unit.  We have a long way to go but the farther we get into this the more thankful I am that I have these guys because with the wrong temperaments or personal agendas everything becomes miserable at best, and impossible and costly at worst.
  • Now for the real ugly, money.  Everything takes money. Again, @bennettscience was wise in his warning to nail down things like facility costs, food costs, travel reimbursement, etc.  We have had a mixed bag of unexpected windfalls and disappointments, but regardless “the money” can suck the joy out of a well meaning endeavor faster than any other factor.  For me, I have justified to my wife that I will simply be paying out of my pocket to offset some costs and I will chalk it up to “what I would have spent going to a summer conference”.  To be honest, at this point, I will be paying for a VERY nice conference somewhere.  In my mind, like my grandpa said, “well failing down is how you pay for your education”. Our goal for the conference is to make it as absolutely affordable as possible for everyone.
  • Finally, education is a business.  Limiting our view to our classroom we can say otherwise, but when we look at the education/industrial complex we see money to be spent, expenses to reimburse, and products to sell and it is ugly.  To be clear, ugly does not equal bad, It just means that this side of education can get messy and uncomfortable.  On the other hand, I get paid for teaching every two weeks, vendors provide services and resources we rely on to do our jobs, and intellectual products have value and an expectation of compensation is not wrong.  What it does highlight is how priceless shared contributions to the greater good become.  It highlights the value of volunteers, supporters, and donors.  When we as teachers choose not to look at the business of education we miss the tremendous gifts that educators and creators, both paid and unpaid, bring to the process of education, to the classroom, and to Chicago to a startup conference this summer.

So that is the good, the bad, and the ugly to this point.  I am sure that everyone who has walked this road before and reads this is cringing at my naivete.  I am equally as sure when I read this in late June I will cringe, but by stretching myself and others I believe there is opportunity for learning.  I have already developed relationships with other educators I would never have been in contact with.  I already have a deeper appreciation and respect for those who have gone before me and whose chicken salad lunch I have complained about.  I am still going to be a nervous wreck until this is over.  I am still going to be the voice of restraint for my two colleagues who are eternal optimists, but that is my part of the puzzle.  Stay tuned for the next installment of thrills, chills, and spills in the continuing saga of “Three Men and a Baby Flip Conference”.

Oh Yeah…

If you are within driving or flying distance of Chicago this summer and have $50 for 2 days or less for just one day, join us at the Illinois Flipped and Blended Conference June 15th and 16th.

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