Many conferences I’ve attended are like all you can eat buffets. Participants move through a line and choose from an overwhelming array of familiar workshop topics. At the all you can eat buffet conference you take your chances on quality, and in the end you usually leave plenty on the plate. It is often difficult to remember what you had, and you are often charged with bringing leftovers or desserts home to share with people who couldn’t join in. The result – there is a lot of food, but not everyone can eat.
Big Ideas Fest 2015 (BIF2015) was different from many conferences I’ve attend. It was more like a summer camp where master chefs engaged participants in exploration of the process and theory of nourishing people. The conference experience was designed using ISKME’s Action Collab Process to help participants apply the design principles in ways that could result in new recipes to feed constituents back home. The result – the ideal that no one goes hungry.
This year’s Big Ideas Fest (2015), like those in past years, applied the Action Collab Process to this year’s theme: Disrupting the School to Prison Pipeline. Outstanding innovators, educators, and entrepreneurs told their stories as well as interacted in the Action Collab Process along with conference participants. As storytellers they served to help groups identify and gather thinking about the theme. And, the lineup was incredible – every speaker and panelist– amazing! When panelists were not speaking, they were in groups working alongside other participants in the Action Collab Process. One cool thing about the process is that it isn’t a one size fits all approach. I was able to focus my interactions on issues that were were important to me. For example, Luis von Ahn, CEO of Duoling spoke directly to questions I had about using technology to help non-literate adult students. Tyson Amir Mustafa, teacher at Five Keys Charter School brought me to tears with his spoken word piece “OUT”, calling me to reflect on the power of a single word. After talking with Erin McKean from Worknik and hearing Douglas Gayeton founder of the Lexicon Of Sustainability, I had new ideas about how vocabulary study in my educational setting could be transformative. Jackie Sanderlin, of Compton USD not only blew me away with the partnerships she has created in her district, on a personal level her hugs and greetings told me clearly I belonged, a message everyone needs to hear, a founding principle of partnership — that, and don’t ask for money! Jackie’s energy and approach to partnering sent me back to Portland Community College with new approaches to a problem we have sustaining a civics oriented student activity at my campus called Conversation Cafe.
Another way that BIF 2015 differs from other conferences I’ve attended is that most activities and interaction happened in the center of the conference, a large ballroom. This approach modeled, valued, and demonstrated inclusion and kept the focus on the design process as well as the conference theme. All participants were called to engage in the process together, to tell their stories: from the opening activity in which each participant shared personal “opportunities and insights” and broke the ice by making an ornament containing a personal insight, to the final gallery walk, a person to person accounting of changes that the two and a half day process made on an individual level.
When I set off for San Jose and the Big Ideas Fest, I was most interested in solving logistical and technical challenges about how to create and distribute Open Educational Resources (OER). The managers and developers of ISKME’s OER Commons (www.oercommons.org) helped me realize that OER is a both a “noun and a verb”. Sharing resources openly with creative commons licenses is an active process (a verb) and the resources we share are shape shifting OER (nouns). While this might sound like a simple realization, it has helped me understand why it is challenging for me to share OER. The OER Commons platform is a valuable tool to support both the act of OER and the product. It is encouraging that the OER Commons team is gathering user input to address OER sharing challenges, and the Big Ideas Fest supported that interaction.
While some of my questions were not directly tied to the theme of the school to prison pipeline, the conference schedule facilitated one-on-one time with people who had answers to my somewhat sketchy questions. I’m very grateful to Erin McKean of www.wordnik.com and to Ben Batschelet from www.codeup.com for breakfast conversations about Git and Github. These conversations shed light on the dim sections of my geeky inclinations and led to illumination I had not expected. Wordnik has me thinking more about how English language learners interact with words and dictionary references. What if students in Portland Community College’s ESOL Program developed vocabulary using social media dimension and other associations like those on Wordnik? Coding is a career pathway. Where does it exist at my college? What would happen if we could develop and distribute apps to teach basic literacy to adults?
In the all you can eat buffet style of conference, I doubt that I would have been really satisfied. But, as a result of the Big Ideas Fest, I’m charged up and ready to get cooking. Hooray for Big Ideas Fest! www.bigideasfest.org