A Possible Alternative?

It’s been a LONG while since I have blogged anything and part of me feels ashamed – I aim to make amends to this! In the last few months I have been appointed as Subject Leader for Media Studies at a school in the south of England, therefore have been very busy getting to grips with a new curriculum, a new school, a new location etc. In October 2010 I attended the Media Literacy Conference that was held in London and have subsequently been asked to write an article for the Media Education Association journal POV. During the conference I had quite a few concerns which are expressed in the article below:



Like so many other educationalists, the concept of a conference centred on the theme of Media Literacy was enticing to say the least. Upon its initial announcement where the workshops appeared to be focused on what was happening in classrooms, where good practice would be shared amongst those in attendance, and where there would be a sense of conviviality, attendance at the Media Literacy Conference was a must. However, as the months passed before the conference it was clear that there was a burgeoning emphasis on Research Panels, where PhD students and other academics would share (or read out?) their current projects with the cohort. During the conference, I was one of several “tweeters” who publically voiced their concerns about the shift in emphasis away from sharing innovative and practical classroom knowledge (something that I believe has been what the MEA is about) towards a celebration of academic research. Although I firmly believe in the worth and merit of this field of research and also how it often helps to inform classroom practice, I felt that the conference left me a little short changed. Therefore I propose two alternatives that may be considered to work alongside or within MLC2011.

Over the years, I have found that the most meaningful dialogue at a conference occurs during the coffee breaks, or if it is a residential, in the bar during the evening. It is within these spaces that connections are made, ideas are exchanged, and often changes are made. Over the past few years there has been an increase in the number of TeachMeets occurring throughout the UK and also internationally. These events are not modelled on conventional conference structures but are based around the more informal model of an unconference. They often take place during the evening, where teachers, educationalists, and other interested parties are not taken away from their day jobs; therefore they are open for all to attend. The premise for a TeachMeet style event is in the words of Ewan Macintosh “about being engaged and inspired by our immediate colleagues and get some ideas from the grassroots” and where the guidelines are:

•    7 minute presentations
•    2 minute nano-presentations
•    Anyone can speak; there are no keynotes or spotlight talks
•    Speakers are chosen at random; there is no pecking order
•    Presentations cannot use PowerPoint; find another way
•    Presentations must talk about teaching and learning going on now, in a classroom.
•    No sales pitches
•    Everyone is a participant, not a bystander. The venue should be conducive to getting up and having a chat in the corner at any time, not just in the breaks. The first TeachMeet was held in a pub and then a restaurant. Others have been held in ballrooms.
•    The provision of drinks helps break down the notion that people are ‘in conference’ or ‘at work’.
•    If you need a sponsor to get a venue, set up PA, bring in drinks and nibbles, then make sure you’re not held to one sponsor.
•    Sponsors are privileged to sponsor TeachMeet – not the other way around. ‘No sales pitches’ goes for them, too.
•    TeachMeet is not about freebees. It’s about teachers talking about teaching and learning.

Personally, the benefits of a TeachMeet style of unconference is that it is about building a community where ideas are shared and where everyone is valued equally, and they have been highly successful because of this. Having a keynote speaker at a conference has its benefits, but ultimately the dialogue is finished once that speaker has closed their presentation.

In June 2009 I co-organised an unconference style event on the Isle of Islay centred around the theme of what education might look like in the year 2020, focusing on these areas: assessment, future spaces,  relevance of skills, and learning for all. There was to be no keynote speaker, no presentations by individual attendees, instead it was an open, very informal, and possibly anarchic(!) event where the emphasis was on creating a dialogue, sharing ideas, and exchanging viewpoints. Despite being held on a Scottish island where the ferry journey time to the mainland was 2.5 hours, over 50 people attended coming from all corners of the UK. I might add that we held it in Bowmore Distillery, therefore there was the added incentive of a few free drams! As the vast majority of people came from afar, local hotels were open to negotiation to deals for the attendees and the unconference continued into the early hours of the morning. Everyone left with a sense that something was achieved and that a journey had been begun. Moreover, there was no cost for the event for the attendees (apart from the obvious travel and accommodation costs) and sponsorship for the cost of the venue was obtained from one source. Therefore for an event to take place where teachers can meet to converse and exchange does not need to cost an awful lot of money – there are always alternatives.

These are just two examples of what could possibly happen at the forthcoming Media Literacy Conference and hopefully will spark some debate on the MEA forum. Perhaps a TeachMeet style event could be held in a local brewery or the backroom of a pub? It is important that teachers of Media (in all its forms) are provided with an opportunity to meet and to share ideas, especially when one thinks of the coalition Government’s proposals regarding the future of education where Media is not even mentioned. Grand buildings, free goodie bags of promotional materials, and sparkling silverware are not necessary when it comes to discussing ideas and proposals of change!


2 thoughts on “A Possible Alternative?

  1. I know nothing about the world of media, but have become
    increasingly concerned, since starting to work in education 5 years
    ago, at the extent of the disconnect between the surprisingly large
    “conference circuit” and the world of classroom teachers. Events
    that take place during the working day, are held in grand buildings
    and offer goodie bags are simply not accessible to teachers, so
    cannot have much classroom impact, despite marketing claims. I hope
    your suggestions receive proper attention in the right places. As
    one of those who was privileged to take part in the Islay event, I
    know it was a significant milestone in the development of
    Scotland’s education system.

  2. Andy I dropped out of bloggnig 2003 -2006 when I arrived at
    SQA . There was too much on my plate and too many politcal
    challenges to keep going. David The ‘academic’ education world is
    built around conferences and publications .. those who build
    followings here are not necessarily those with any practical
    solutions to the challenges that classroom teachers face .. nor I
    might add the challenges that national assessment systems face.
    Teacher attendees at events of this kind need to be much more
    merciless in their on-line commentary on events of this kind. The
    good thing about technology is that it makes it easier for change
    to come from grassroots .. but it still takes courage to challenge
    the ‘experts’ Keep pushing All the best Joe

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