According to Bill Thompson, “An UnConference, if you have never come across the term, is a relatively new, and increasingly popular, way of getting together to discuss topics of mutual interest with low barriers to participation and a high degree of spontaneity. Essentially, people come together under a broad rubric (like “Reading and Writing at WIU”) and then propose topics they are interested in talking about. The idea is, interest generates discussion. A vote is taken and the most popular topics are those that get discussed. Participants break up into small groups according to the topic they are interested in—and ideas get shared and generated.”

Thompson organized an UnConference this fall on reading and writing, and faculty from across the university came to discuss issues and share their experiences. In one of the first sessions, participants discussed the problems and difficulties faculty see where students are not actively engaged. Bradley Dilger from English and Journalism observed, “what is so difficult to get students to see is that their own interests are what should drive them along. That if they concentrate on their own passions, the whole of their education will improve.”

Breakout group at 2014 Unconference

Breakout group at 2014 Unconference

One of the best things about the UnConference format is that it allows faculty from across the campus, who might not otherwise meet, to engage in conversation, breaking down disciplinary boundaries for a few hours. Attendees included Larry Andrew from Computer Science, Erin Taylor from Political Science, and Courtney Blankenship from the School of Music. At the Unconference, a small but energetic group discussed professional development issues, encouraging student intellectual culture outside the classroom, students’ sense of the ownership of their writing, and other like topics. As a result, as you surely noticed, the world changed—and for the better.

See notes and other materials from this year on the Unconference site, and  look for future Unconferences in Fall 2014.