Teaching with Primary Sources Team of SAA’s Reference, Access, and Outreach Section 2016-01-19 17:58:00
The inaugural “unconference” of the Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Subcommittee of SAA’s Reference, Access, and Outreach Section was held in Cleveland on August 19, 2015. Generously supported with contributions of space and funding by the Cleveland Public Library, the unconference welcomed more than 150 participants for a full day of free workshops, sessions, dine-around lunches, all-attendee meetings, and spontaneous conversation centered on improving our collective and individual ability to effectively teach with primary source materials. The unconference was the culmination of a year of planning by more than thirty people who, in many cases, had never met in real life. What Is an “Unconference” Anyway? The unconference format of loosely organized and informal gatherings of participants who share equally in the planning and execution of the day's events grew out of the technology community. From developers and bloggers, the unconference format migrated to THATCamp (The Humanities and Technology Camp), where many archivists got their first taste of these highly flexible, participant-driven teaching and learning experiences. The TPS Unconference Team imposed some structure on the unconference by breaking the day into five morning workshops led by pre-selected participants (many of whom assisted in the unconference planning), and afternoon sessions proposed and voted on by attendees during the unconference. Fully aware that archivists aren't the only people teaching with primary sources, the unconference also was open to our colleagues in museums, libraries, and schools. Knowing that K-12 teachers, museum educators, librarians, and allied professionals might not be attending the SAA conference or even know about SAA’s existence, the Unconference Team sought permission to make the unconference free for all wishing to attend, regardless of whether they had registered for the SAA Annual Meeting or SAA membership status. Cleveland Public Library’s decision to host the unconference made this dream a reality. In the months leading up to the unconference, volunteer publicists reached out to potential participant communities via email and social media. Luckily, two team members worked in museums and were able to identify target organizations. TPS leader Matt Herbison used a Wordpress site (www.teachwithstuff.org) to create publicly accessible documentation for the unconference, including participant lists, a tentative schedule, logistical information, and guidance on what is expected of unconference participants. Also crucial to the unconference’s success, note-taking Google Doc templates connected to the main Wordpress site permitted volunteer reporters to record in real-time what everyone was learning. The Unconference Team also heavily promoted the use of the #SAA15teach social media hashtag in the days leading up to the unconference. How the Day Unfolded Although the initial registration goal was quickly surpassed, most of the unconference participants self-identified as archivists, and the majority of early registrants were affiliated with colleges and universities. However, many Ohio-area archivists spread the word to nonarchivist colleagues, who were welcomed as participants on the day of the event even though they had not registered in advance. The flexible, informal structure of the unconference allows such spontaneous decisions. No one was turned away. The day commenced with Lee Ann Potter, director of educational outreach for the Library of Congress, energizing the assembled with her presentation, “What Can’t Primary Sources Teach?” Through stories illustrated with primary sources, Potter demonstrated that all learners can find meaning from primary sources that resonates across disciplines and educational attainment. The hour-long morning workshops were a hit. The Cleveland Public Library provided free, WiFi-equipped classroom space and semi-private discussion areas across two connected buildings in downtown Cleveland. Self-selected volunteer reporters employed the live notetaking templates to record the proceedings of five workshops, which covered topics ranging from assessment to visual literacy instruction to creating effective exhibitions. These notes are now publicly available through the Wordpress site. Following the workshops, a half hour of organic conference planning transpired in Stokes Auditorium. Using suggestions submitted during online registration as well as topics solicited from the floor, unconference participants collectively mapped out the afternoon’s sessions, vetoing some ideas and modifying others on the fly, while unconference organizers frantically recorded all decisions in a spreadsheet projected onto a screen. We broke for lunch with sixteen afternoon sessions on the agenda. The three fifty-minute unconference session blocks covered a variety of instruction topics, from the practical to the theoretical, including embedded instruction, physically taking materials out of the archives, social justice concerns, outreach strategies, different pedagogical approaches, and teaching paleography to undergraduates. Cleveland Public Library employees invited participants to a session on materials handling in their workroom. Each session was led by a facilitator who, instead of teaching the group, helped promote dialogue among participants. Again, volunteer note-takers were asked to record the sessions, and some of these notes are available on the Wordpress site. The day wound down with unconference participants reconvening in Stokes Auditorium, where a much-depleted group discussed what went right, what could be improved, and how we could make the unconference better. In the interest of democratic self-governance and transparency, these wrap-up notes are available on the Wordpress site, warts and all. Planning for 2016 Invigorated by the energy present in Cleveland, the TPS Unconference Team is already planning the next unconference to be held alongside the Joint Annual Meeting of CoSA and SAA this summer in Atlanta. Finding an institutional collaborator like the Cleveland Public Library is crucial to the future unconference’s success. Here are a few other developments: • Participation: One of our goals is to cultivate diversity and strive for greater inclusivity. We would like to see more educators at the 2016 unconference. Archival Outlook readers are invited to contact the TPS Unconference Team with any outreach suggestions, proposals, or leads. • Technology: A technology failure occurred sometime during lunch, causing the Wordpress site to go down. Consequently, the live note-taking templates were inaccessible for the afternoon unconference sessions. Because we depended solely on volunteer reporters for the live note-taking documents, some sessions went unrecorded. We haven’t relinquished hope that there are unconference participants who can help fill in the documentation gaps! If you are reading this article and took notes privately, please share them with the Unconference Team. • Evalusation: A crack team led by Lori Birrell analyzed data from a survey distributed to all unconference participants, identifying areas of success and where the unconference may have missed the mark. Findings indicate a tension between a desire for more structure and making the unconference more participatory. Because this unconference was a first for many participants, it may be that we need to better communicate and orient unconference participants in how unconferences function, or modify the unconference concept to the preferences of our audience. All communications concerning the 2015 TPS unconference or future TPS unconferences should be directed to TeachWithStuff@gmail.com.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.
This page can be found at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/Structuring+Spontaneity%3A+Organizing+the+Inaugural+SAA+Teaching+with+Primary+Sources+%E2%80%9CUnconference%E2%80%9D/2372245/287695/article.html.