We built it, but not many came… How do we reinvigorate Teachers Unplugged?

0170cd4fb6e7a3edb5790bf13b769ab060dff49002This is the fourth year that I have helped to organize the Teachers Unplugged session at NAISAC. This is a participant driven session in which the attendees propose and vote on topics for discussion and then we sit at round tables and have two 20 minute discussions about the most popular topics. It takes some explaining as people enter, but every year we have heard the same thing from people as they leave the session, “This is the best session I have attended at this conference.”

unpluggedpic2 unpluggedpic3

I think this has to do with the fact that the sessions are interactive and participatory. The fact that NAISAC brings together independent school folks from all over the country who are grappling with the same questions, makes the unplugged session a unique opportunity to hear and learn from the other attendees at the conference (not just the experts). We even “sketchnoted” during the discussions – putting into direct practice the Doodling message we had heard from Sunni Brown’s talk the day before.

unpluggedroundtablewithsketchnotingThis year we had about 30 people attend the Teachers Unplugged session (about 50 people attended the Administrators Unplugged session the day before). Not only is this a valuable experience for the participants, but you can easily bring this back to your own faculty as an approach to Professional Development. My question is why so few? And how do we get more people to attend?

I think part of the problem is our title – people don’t “get” what an unplugged session is until they get to it. It is a hard concept to explain. How can we rebrand this session to better communicate its value and its benefits? I really don’t want this session to die. NAIS has generously given us large rooms with big tables. I fear if we can’t get the numbers, NAIS won’t be able to justify the space they give us.

Please help! What can we do to help reinvigorate the interest in this session? Do you have an idea for a new session title? Something that would attract more people to give it a chance? I welcome your suggestions!!

Thanks! @lizbdavis

Crossposted at The Power of Educational Technology

6 thoughts on “We built it, but not many came… How do we reinvigorate Teachers Unplugged?”

  1. This issue resonates with me for a few reasons. First, I have found these kinds of peer discussions at other conferences/gatherings to be incredibly valuable and, often, the *most* valuable aspect of those conferences. Second, I wish these opportunitites existed at NAIS and did not realize that they did, and last, I agree that the name is a big factor in my not realizing.

    Would “Teachers’ Roundtable” and “Administrators’ Roundtable” work? That seems to be what they are…roundtable discussions.

    I hope you are successful in sustaining the opportunity. Don’t lose sight of the fact that even if 30 was a low turnout it was certainly worth it for those 30.


    1. Thanks so much for your thoughts! I like the idea of using the term “roundtable” rather than “unplugged.” I really do believe with a better title we can get more people.

      I also recognize that it doesn’t matter how many people there are (in fact sometimes smaller is better). But I worry that NAIS might not continue to see it that way.


  2. Hi Liz, I am glad you wrote about this to explain how these session worked. I looked at both of the “Unplugged” sessions, was intrigued, but decided not to go because I didn’t understand how the topics were decided. Session selection can be hard — trying to find that magic blend of relevance, cool stuff you’d never even thought about. I am sorry I missed this! – Rebecca (Moore)


    1. Rebecca – Thanks for your comment! Session selection is definitely a challenge at any conference. I know I have a hard time myself. And we were up against a lot of great options! -Liz


  3. Liz,
    These sessions are so wonderful, and the attendees always rave about them. I agree with the idea about possibly changing the name. That may help.
    A few other ideas:
    1) Create a video, like this edcamp video (i.e. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j7kBnudi_8I) so everyone can see how it works. Maybe this could be shown at the opening session?
    2) Encourage the rule of ‘two feet’ as modeled at edcamps. I have to admit, I don’t feel comfortable leaving a session when I find it doesn’t meet my needs because I don’t want to offend the presenter. However, if we want to get the most out of the time and resources provided by our schools, this should be encouraged and valued.
    3) It might be an effective model to have a ‘roundtable’ room available all day long. Then, anytime throughout the day, if a session does not meet your needs, you have a place to go where you can comfortably ‘drop in’ and ‘drop out’ and still learn!
    4) Share some quotes from past attendees to help explain why they liked it so much.
    5) Share some of the topics discussed in previous years, as examples, while making it clear that the participants of THIS event will determine the topics for THIS year.
    6) Ask attendees prior to the conference if there are any burning topics not covered anywhere in the program. These possible topics could be shared to encourage participation.
    7) Advertise a giveaway for people who bring a friend or come in groups.

    Great questions, Liz! I look forward to hearing many ideas.


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