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2020 Unconference: Collaboration + Adaptation

Sketch of responses to the question, "Where do you see the most potential for leveraging tech for positive human impacts?"


ShapingEDU 2020 Unconference, March 11-13, 2020

The ASU ShapingEDU Unconference is the one time each year when community members gather in person to dream, do and drive the future of learning in the digital age. With no fixed program, this Unconference is all about flexible, community-driven co-creation. This year, we took it one step further: pivoting in-the-moment from the planned in-person format to a hybrid in-person + online modality and then to a fully online experience for the final day. As the situation and protocol around the global pandemic unfolded in real-time, we had to keep pace and quickly pivot.

The annual Unconference convenes educators, students, technologists, leaders and industry partners to design actionable outputs and set the priorities for the ShapingEDU community in the coming year. This work is guided by our 10 Actions -- guiding priorities for community work -- and this year’s event theme: The Intersection of Technology and Humanity.  This theme proved to be especially timely as we adapted in the face of the unfolding COVID-19, leveraging digital collaboration tools to facilitate human- and learner-centric conversation.

The 2020 Unconference coincided with growing global awareness around the then-emerging COVID-19 situation. Students were largely still in school or on spring break. Some companies and organizations were beginning to restrict travel. Institutions, including ASU, were actively designing education continuity plans. ShapingEDU initially proceeded with plans for an in-person event, but a couple of days before the Unconference, we rapidly reimagined the Unconference as a hybrid in-person and online experience to allow those who could not travel to participate.

Photo of panelists and moderators sitting in a row

As always, the collaborative work of the Unconference began ahead of time with a pre-activity. This year, community members submitted questions that they would like to ask students. A selection of these questions were carried forward to the Unconference Student Panel, viewable online by remote attendees (watch the recording). Inspired by this panel, participants self-selected into joint online and in-person working sessions around the topics that resonated with their experience and energy. 


"My colleague Kim Flintoff (working from Australia) and a session that extended from our room in Tempe all the way to Kim’s home on the other side of the world—and also drew in a couple of other onsite facilitators and a few online participants into the same highly productive completely blended session."  - Paul Signorelli, Paul Signorelli & Associates Blog

Photo of in-person and online participants collaborating

Working sessions merged and reimagined themselves on the fly. With the support of graphic facilitation by Karina Branson and Laura Geringer, and online collaboration tools, each group focused their topic and explored action-oriented responses. At the end of the day, online and in-person Dreamer-Doer-Drivers reconveneded in plenary to share their progress.

Over the course of the day, community members devoted themselves to this collaborative work while, as appropriate, staying current on the unfolding COVID-19 situation and their institution’s continuity work. The incredible fluidity between present and future, the interplay between continuity response and driving innovation, and the humanity with which participants approached collaboration led to a unique and powerful atmosphere. Taking into account new information -- and with the health and safety of participants in mind -- ShapingEDU pivoted to an all-online modality for the final day of the Unconference. 

“Without missing a beat, this remarkable group kept co-creating together – we weren’t going to lose the opportunity!" - Karina Branson, Conversketch Blog

Friday morning Arizona Time, U.S., participants from around the globe gathered online to recommend actionable priorities for ShapingEDU in the coming year. Using Zoom breakout rooms, working sessions reconvened to build on the previous day’s work and center around a core output to recommend. The 2020 Unconference concluded with a virtual Town Hall where participants shared their outputs and celebrated the incredible collaboration, flexibility, and passion of the ShapingEDU community.

Screenshot of participants waving during the Virtual Town Hall video call


Recommended Outputs:

  • A toolkit with strategies and guidelines to help meet the basic human needs of students and provide tools for peer mentoring

  • A 3-faceted vision of higher education purposes, strategies for vision-led action and alignment and a series of challenges to foster systems thinking about education futures

  • A toolkit for storytelling and student agency in XR

  • A pitch for a new university, The Institute for Advanced Play, and a case study of the antifragile design and community thinking process used to design it

  • Storybank: an online resource to humanizing learning + teaching practice by sharing lived experiences

  • A student-owned document/manifesto describing what students need and expect from higher education

  • Version 2 of a webpage about collecting, protecting and leveraging student data for student benefit


The ShapingEDU Community is currently voting on the outputs to collectively prioritize over the next year. In addition to these recommendations, the Unconference inspired a new cohort of community leaders including returning and first-time ShapingEDU Mayors who will lead changemaking efforts in the coming year.

ShapingEDU is incredibly grateful to our Unconference Co-Conveners for their support and leadership.

Logos for the 2020 Unconference Co-convening organizations