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Our first PSLA/MU Unconference

I am a big fan of the unconference/edcamp movements and of open space planning.    

And though I’ve personally been lucky to attend a number of local, regional, and national edcamps and unconfs, I’ve wanted to share my excitement about these participant-driven events with my TL colleagues in Pennsylvania.  Our traditional PSLA state conference is pretty darn fabulous, but I’ve long wondered if we could make it a little more open, spontaneous, inclusive.  

Turns out, the stars aligned.  Everyone was totally willing to experiment.

What we accomplished in PA is replicable, totally.

It didn’t take long to form a team.

My colleagues at Mansfield University School Library & Information Technologies Online Program immediately jumped at the opportunity to sponsor and participate. Program Director Cindy Keller and instructor Stephanie Brame and I formed the core planning team. PSLA Tech Committee co-chairs Karen Hornberger and Mary Schwander joined the team enthusiastically.

The PSLA leadership, President Eileen Kern and Vice President/President Elect Michael Nailor found us late-night time –two hours after the final Thursday night session.

We started with the Unconference poster. My student interns–Jordi and Amber–developed the branding.

Stephanie took over marketing.

Vendor friends from Gale, Shmoop, Apple, Abrams and Son, and Follett helped with prizes. The Health Sciences Libraries Consortium helped fund refreshments.

With only two hours, rather than a full day, we had to condense our little Unconference to present a valuable mini-experience that served as a proof-of-concept.

We divided the event into four main sections. The Unconference Wiki, shares our behind-the-scenes planning, but roughly, the two-hour session actually looked like this (with door prizes distributed throughout)

  • Cindy’s welcome
  • Joyce’s introduction to the philosophy of participant-driven professional development
  • Stephanie read the Smackdown rules
  • strand of seven participant-driven conversations
  • stinks/rocks mini-debate session on TL issues
  • strand of seven participant-driven conversations
  • culminating Smackdown
  • solicitation of biggest takeaways from the participants

We heard from new voices, from shy voices, from voices who would never have completed a proposal a year in advance, but were eager to share a new tool or instructional strategy or discuss an issue.  Discussion was lively.  Everyone seemed engaged.  The feedback was fabulous.

Our little team has not yet debriefed, but we’re already planning for next year.

I’d love to add an ignite or Pecha Kucha session, and possible introduce some new conversation protocols.

Next time around I will actually promote the Padlet wall we set up for a back channel.  We’ll make sure the topics for the conference are available online as well as on our wall chart.

We will suggest that some conversations move chairs out into the lobby to cut down on the noise in our large room, although the noise was a clear sign that we were doing something right.

Here’s what it looked like.

MU Unconference team







Marketing wiz, Stephanie Brame

Encouraging convo sign-ups

Deb copies topics/locations to announce

Does ditching Dewey stink or rock?

Stinks/Rocks argument

One of the many lively conversations

(Photos by Sara Kelly Johns)

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Bitsy Galaska says:

    It was an incredibly charged event. The buzz of ideas floating around the room was electrifying. The open forum allowed people to engage in conversations that they were interested in, which provided opportunities for growth and learning. I’m looking forward to it next year, except I won’t have a crown and sash 🙁

  2. Deb Svec says:

    Thank you for this excellent model to follow. Your colleagues here in Florida in FAME are going to take the plunge this July! We will keep you informed.

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