SCASL allowed my committee (the Information Technology Committee) to sponsor a Learning Commons at conference. We took it upon ourselves to advertise, solicit volunteers for presentations, and make it a go. We wanted to loosely base it off the one I had seen and experienced first hand at AASL in Minneapolis, MN in October. I had a framework to build it from, and so the idea was born, fed, and developed. I was pleased as punch when Conference Planning Chair (and president elect) Heather Loy gave me the okay to pull this together. I also received a checklist that was easy compared to many others on the conference planning committee, so set out to focus on the Learning Commons, my biggest assignment.
Conference Have Changed!
Over the years ed-conferences I attend and present at have begun to provide things like screens, projectors, and even sound in the room if it is needed. This has been a nice progression, as in the last few years all I’ve had to show up and do is connect my laptop and present.
It’s in the back….in the corner.
The SCASL12 Learning Commons was planned for the back corner of the exhibit hall. It was scheduled to be opened any time the exhibit hall was open, but there was a rough schedule for Thursday from 1:00-5:30PM up on a google doc for those wishing to contribute. They simply needed to visit and add their name for a scheduled time. I put it out there using the communication avenues we had access to (Regional Network communications, our email listserv, our website, a webinar, the Facebook Page, Twitter) and solicited teacher librarians all around who planned to attend to make a contribution to the Learning Commons. The scheduled portion was broken into twenty minute sessions, and folks could pick a time that suited their planned agendas for conference. I had already decided I would fill in any gaps left myself, which is why I appear mutiple times.
Setting up the LC
Upon arriving, I was pleased with the layout. We had about eight large tables that included table cloths and seating for eight to ten per table. At least two of the tables had taped down (translated OSHA approved and not a tripping hazard) power strips available for presenters and attendees to plug in and recharge. I saw MANY attendees take advantage of the opportunity to recharge various devices.
The actual day of scheduled sessions in the LC presented its own challenges. I needed to get over there and set up the equipment I brought:
- portable screen
- portable wireless microphone (handheld) and speaker
- two pretty long surge protectors (8ft)
- a long drop cord (15ft)
- flip cameras (2)
- cables of all kids (to connect whatever kind of device my LC presenters needed to connect to the projector)
- laptop speakers
- three tripods and three display boards (okay so two tripods and two boards were for the Exploratorium sessions that stayed up the entire conference, but though it wasn’t used in the LC, it was still part of what all I lugged in.)
Made for a crazy day
That Thursday morning I arrived to attend one breakout session at 8:30, my sole opportunity to hear Donalyn Miller since I had opted out of her midday keynote to keep the LC open. Then there was the first general session with Bob Berkowitz and the SCASL Business meeting. Following that was the author signings, immediately followed by our Awards Banquet (Media Specialist of the Year, etc.) I did not get a ticket to attend the banquet because I figured I would be in the LC finalizing set up. I hunkered down in the LC and ate my bagged lunch from home. Part of my committee’s responsibilities was to take photos of the authors at the signing, and confession–from the pictures posted it looks like I was the ONLY one to snap a photo, and it was just one. I had asked my committee to please take on some of the “roving reporter” responsibilities that included interviewing attendee and taking photos or shooting various videos. We have very little to show for these responsibilities, which I find disappointing. Most of the pictures that were posted were done by me and committee member Susan Myers. But Susan Myers is also the Public Awareness committee, so the picture taking part kind of fell to her as well–sort of like a shared responsibility. I didn’t even take a decent camera-just used my camera on my phone. Needless to say, getting all the equipment I brought pulled out and set up, I barely had thirty minutes to wolf down my lunch before launching the LC. I did my very best to drum up interest, announcing each session so as to draw attendees away from the exhibitors and to the commons–with mixed results. There were times when we had quite a crowd, and other times where I had myself as the audience to a lone presenter. Even my own first contribution was myself and one friend (Fran Bullington.) Thursday from 1PM to 5:30 was the planned/scheduled portion of the learning commons, with yours truly hosting. I had asked my committee to serve as facilitators so I would not have to stay the whole time, but for some reason, I felt the need to stay even if my volunteer facilitators showed up. I wanted to make sure everything went well.
Not a single “no-show”
Everyone that signed up to give a session showed up!! I filled in empty slots as best I could, but I have to confess, sometimes they broke down into chatting sessions and were very informal. But that’s okay because that is the beauty of the LC.
How to improve? What would I do differently?
- Let go. I was so determined to make this work that I sacrificed an invitation to sit at the head table for the Donalyn Miller Keynote in the second general session with SCASL Board members, giving up essentially what could be considered the best seat in the house. It was my only chance to sit at the head table at conference (not really a deal breaker to me) but listening to my friends talk about the keynote told me I missed a wonderful and inspiring message. Action Items for next year:
- Do not run “scheduled” LC session during the keynotes. (Not only did I miss it, but those who signed to present missed it too. And that was a time of our poorest attendance at the LC.)
- Ask for and set expectations that the group will help make it successful. I missed a portion of the conference while I manned the LC.
- Have some of the committee members shoulder the responsibility of bringing equipment we can’t get provided by the venue.
- Ask that some equipment be secured by the conference planning committee (Speakers, screens, and projectors come to mind as something that may have been provided at the conference–perhaps some of the other equipment too.) If our organization liked the LC concept enough, then they should shoulder some of the responsibility of making it successful. I have given a solid overview at my own physical and mental expense to show what it is and how it works. If it was valued, then for next time, some additional resources in planning and equipment should be forthcoming–at least I would hope so.)
Advertise! I had many tell me they were completely unaware of our SCASL 12 Learning Commons going on. Apparently our committees (Information Tech and Public Awareness) did not advertise enough. I almost felt we were beginning to sound like a broken record, but we did not meet enough ears. Action Items:
- Make additional signs to display around the conference center–in the areas where people congregate (registration area, exhibit hall entrance, keynotes, etc.)
- Make fliers to stick in the bags. People actually look at the contents of the bag right when they get them.
- Have announcements made at genreal sessions either by SCASL Leadership or committee members reminding attendees of the Learning Commons. Other than my lone sign displayed in front of the Learning Commons, I’m not sure I saw or heard any other reference to it.
I want to thank all the Learning Commons presenters who shared expertise, ideas, and challenged our traditional thinking with their impromptu, informal sessions. Some of these have been shared in the digital handouts section of the conference resources at SCASL.net. If you missed any part of the Learning Commons, here are the ones that were shared digitally. (* indicates SCASL IT committee members that presented in the LC.)
- Fran Bullington – Jazz Up Monthly Reports*
- Susan Dicey – Injecting Life (& 21st Century Skills) Into Book Reports with Book Trailers
- Liz Hood – Learning Commons Library*
- Julianne Kaye – Blabberize Biography*
- Susan Myers – How to be Loquacious: Constant Talk about Your Library Impact*
- Cathy Nelson – Web Evaluation*
- Konni Shier – Literary Mapping from A to Geek*
Was the SCASL Learning Commons a failure? No, I think not. But there certainly is room for improvement. If leadership decides it’s not worth the worry for next conference, I won’t be devastated. I tried to bring a different element to our conference experience, and provide those who have material to share but don’t want an hour long session a perfect venue for that content. It was an experiment that still has me processing its overall effect. This reflection is a good start on deciding that overall effectiveness.
View all the pictures from conference tagged LC: