#SAtechKC Unconference

June 10th, 2013

On Friday, I played host to the fourth in a national series of unconferences called the #SAtech Unconferences. The one I hosted was, of course, #SAtechKC. I wanted to share a little about the experience – both through this blog and some of the tweets from the event.

As we started the day, the turnout was a bit lower than I had expected/hoped, but it was a solid group, and they were ready to learn. Ed Cabellon was our opening keynote, and he did a spectacular job sharing about the unconference movement and how it came about in student affairs. He then went on to break the group into smaller workgroups and started them on some projects teaching each other and learning about social media tools, as much of the topics selected focused on that. People set up Twitter accounts that had never tweeted before, people were learning about Facebook ads and how to use analytics, there were even several people setting up WordPress accounts and blogging for the first time. I stepped away from my laptop for just a moment to see how things were going, and when I came back, it was being blasted with notifications from all the new tweets and Facebook likes from the attendees. Minutes into our unconference, and I was getting messages from attendees about how they were already learning a ton.

One of the most difficult things for me to learn about this unconference model is how to let go. I talk a good game about changing up the conference model – and I believe it, don’t get me wrong – but it’s much harder to let go of the control we like to have when we plan an event as student affairs professionals. We want to make sure our participants are getting something out of the event, that everything runs smoothly, that the evaluations all come back with gold stars. Letting go of that control is counter to our instincts, and it has been a bit like pulling teeth at times with me, I would imagine. And yet. When it came down to it, let go I did, and the participants stepped up – just as Ed predicted. (Not that I ever doubted Ed, of course – who would be crazy enough to do that?)

Our session discussions ranged from discussion of individual social media tools to how to use different tools for academic advising and more wide-ranging social media management; from using social media for retention to using it for engagement; and a few more topics found their way into the discussion from time to time, too.

By the end of the day, I think we were all a little worn out from working so hard during the rest of the day, but I was able to finish us up with what I think was a pretty decent talk on the state of technology in student affairs and where we’re headed (aptly titled “Becoming Tech Superheroes,” of course).

I think everyone was able to take at least one thing away from this experience – even if it was just an appreciation for the unconference model. I look forward to seeing the evaluations to learn a little more about what people learned, too. For me, this experience was about taking a risk, stepping outside of my comfort zone in many ways and seeing what happened. It may not have gone exactly as I hoped, but I learned so much from the experience that it’s definitely been worth it – and possibly a sign of future things to come. My comfort zone was getting kind-of boring anyways.

  • Kim Fath

    Thanks for the description – I’m attending the VATech unconference in August and wasn’t sure what to expect about how the day might work – feeling less anxious about it now.

  • Kelly Schaefer

    Thank you for posting about your hosting experience. We are preparing to host #SAtechCHI at Northwestern and I am grateful to read your post about the experience.