#TCEA | UnConferencing Professional Learning Conferences

Cori Coburn
Increasingly education conference attendees are getting a say in the time, place, path and pace of their learning. As these educators change the way they receive information, conferences must become more dynamic in the way they deliver learning opportunities.
Professional organizations need to “meet members where they are” by providing multiple mediums for engaging professional learners. The enthusiasm of sharing knowledge is fueled by the passion for improving experiences for students. Conferences may house the body of an organization, but learning and sharing are the heart and spirit.
If conferences are going to remain valuable in the landscape of professional learning, they must embrace conversations and collaboration outside of the walls of a conference center as TCEA has.
The Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) Convention in Austin, Texas, is one of the nation’s largest educational technology conferences in the United States. Featuring five days of professional learning for Pre-Kindergarten to higher education, over 900 concurrent sessions, 10 academies, and 450+ exhibitors. This is the second largest convention gathering in Texas’ capital city, next to SXSW. From day one of this conference, you can see an evolution in how professional learning is received and is changing.
Texas is home to many outstanding and prolific professional trainers in the education and arena. Spontaneous conversations about learning are occurring in area outside of planned sessions among these education leaders. Anyone can contribute, and the participants are openly passionate about improving educational experiences. TCEA has been proactive in encouraging these valuable conversations. This year, there is even a online radio station with member created content, evolving minute by minute based on the interest and suggestions of conference attendees.

Anyone not attending the physical conference can still access presenter handouts from the TCEA website, and the organization encourages engagement of those who are present via various social media outlets with the tag #TCEA16. TCEA also features several social areas where collaborative conversations are encouraged by TCEA volunteers, such as the Connected Lounge and Digital Square.
Dean Shareski, Community Manager for Discovery Education, spoke in the Connected Lounge on Collaborative Sharing for educators.
“Sometimes we fail students by sending a msg that learning is this finite thing that only happens when we were together, instead of thinking I’m going to help my students to connect beyond this so if they are interested in learning more, they have ways.”
People are Periscoping, tweeting, blogging, Vox-ing, hanging-out on Google+ and the newest trend Blab-ing. This free social medium is a hybrid of recordable, open seat video conferencing for 2 – 4 people, and audience driven topical chat.

Social sharing of information is driving blended learning at conferences. Changing professional development is starting to mirror what can be seen in our classrooms. Educators no longer have to sit in a brick and mortar conference centers to be a part of the conversations.
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Cori Coburn is a Digital Learning Coach at Georgetown Independent School District near Austin, TX. Follow Cori on Twitter, @CoburnCori.

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