Another Successful WebWise Conference

Once again this year, RRCHNM collaborated with the Institute of Museum and Library Services to plan and produce the agency’s signature WebWise conference,, held March 6-8, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland. Due to the Center’s experience with unconference formats, RRCHNM’s WebWise team— Sheila Brennan, Sharon Leon, Lisa Rhody, and Tom Scheinfeldt— was asked to reorient WebWise toward a more participatory format, one that allowed conference participants more opportunities to ask questions, to engage with potential collaborators, to learn new skills, and to develop more fully early-stage project ideas.

To meet the challenge, WebWise2013 modeled in its format the conference’s theme: “Putting the Learner at the Center” by engaging conference participants at every planning stage. The WebWise 2013 committee eliminated traditional plenary sessions in favor of more workshops; expanded upon the exchange of new ideas through project demonstrations; and facilitated working groups where participants could develop new collaborations and initiatives, and revise existing ones. To bring the conference theme full circle, RRCHNM recruited keynote speaker Audrey Watters, who asked the crowd: “Whose learning is it anyway?”

The more hands-on format of WebWise 2013 is most evident in the number of opportunities this year’s participants had to learn a new skill, to connect with other IMLS grantees, to share their ongoing work, and to receive feedback and constructive comments on new project ideas. For example, WebWise offered:

  • 10 workshops (one was canceled due to storm-related travel) covering topics that participants identified as most desirable. Through online social idea polling, the WebWise committee ascertained topics that conference goers felt were most desirable, and recruited leaders for workshops on topics such as: designing maker spaces, STEM in video game design, engaging visitors with social project evaluation, project management, and digital preservation.
  • 9 project demonstrations that offered more time for questions and answers. Converting the project demonstrations from short, coffee break presentations to longer sessions afforded participants more opportunities to listen, to ask questions, and to learn from the challenges and successes from current and exemplary IMLS-funded projects.
  • 25 lunchtime lightning talks offered attendees time to present their projects to new audiences. By signing up in advance and by submitting three slides for a three-minute presentation, participants were able to spread the news of their project’s successes, challenges, and innovations.
  • 26 project incubator working groups, facilitated by leaders from libraries, museums, and historical societies. Sharing their experience developing and implementing projects, the incubation group facilitators guided conference participants through the process of developing an emerging project idea into an actionable project plan, which could later be shared with the rest of the conference’s participants.

Building on the WebWise 2013 theme, Friday’s keynote speaker, Hack Education’s Audrey Watters, asked participants to think carefully about who controls data that is collected about our daily activity and how institutions collect and store education-related data. Watters insists that if students truly are at the “center” of today’s learning, they should also be the primary curators of their own learning data. As more education technologies are built that capture and store and analyze learners’ data, Watters asks, how do we preserve that data in such a way that it is not simply extracted from the learner or from the community, trapped in a technological silo, and mined simply for corporate profit. How do we keep the learner at the center of his or her own learning?

If you missed her talk, you may read Ms. Watters’s notes and slides.

WebWise2013 may have ended, but the conference’s web site, will extend the learning beyond Baltimore. In the coming weeks, we will post project incubator materials, audio recordings of the small group reporting, photographs from the conference, while also seeking detailed feedback about this year’s conference. We will analyze all of that data, and use it to plan for next year.

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