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ShapingEDU 2021 Unconference: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Paul Signorelli

— December 3, 2021

It’s clear as I look back at the fourth annual ShapingEDU Unconference (July 20-23, 2021), during which participants explored a set of 10 wicked challenges in contemporary learning—with an eye toward framing them within a newly-created structure of five calls to action that would guide our work over the next 12 months—that ShapingEDU consistently lives up to its commitment to being as community of “dreamer-doer-drivers” doing whatever they/we can to help reshape the future of learning in the digital age,

Unconference Day 1 Group Report Out

As I have been noting in a set of reflections on my personal blog, ShapingEDU is a community that knows how to gather—and to share its expertise with others; a community whose members are increasingly accepting the role of activist in the work they do around teaching-training-learning, particularly in promoting universal broadband access throughout the United States for work and learning; and a community whose members see conferences/unconferences and other onsite and online gatherings as part of an ongoing, integrated, dynamic series of discussions and planning sessions designed to produce positive transformations within the communities they serve.

Readers of the Reshaping Learning blog already know of some of the successes that the “Connecting Work and Learning” initiative is producing. You also know that some of us left the 2021 Unconference excited about the possibility of continuing our conversations and work in the months following that unconference.

Original Graphic for 365+ Days Later Project -- by Karina Branson/ConverSketch

Graphic by Karina Branson/ConverSketch

What you may not have seen—yet—is how a small group of participants in the “365+ Days Later: Post-Pandemic Best Practices” discussions has continued to meet online in biweekly one-hour dreaming-doing-driving sessions to carry those discussions forward into a series of proposed actions. 

Recently adopting a new name for the “365+ Days” project— “Are We There Yet? (Capturing the Evolving New Now in Learning),” participants in the ever-expanding group are taking a playful approach. As I noted on my Building Creative Bridges blog, our newly-adopted name covers a lot of ground. It recognizes that we are stepping away from the idea that we are somehow savvy enough to have identified “best practices” when what we are really doing is documenting what seems to be working for now among our brightest, most creative colleagues; the approach here is descriptive rather than prescriptive. It recognizes that we are far from having reached an end-point in our explorations; this really is a situation and a challenge that is continually evolving in the way that all wicked problems continually evolve (which is part of what makes them so wicked). And, most importantly, by asking “are we there yet?”, we are tacitly admitting that we don’t ever completely expect to “get there” in terms of having definitively established a “new now” in learning; the evolving nature of what we face in pandemic-era conditions and beyond suggests that we will be working together for a good long time. And should we ever actually “get there” and recognize that our work in response to this challenge is finished, we probably, in the best traditions of ShapingEDU, will identify a new challenge in teaching-training-learning to pursue together. 

We have big plans and huge aspirations. We want to reach out to the global community of teacher-trainer-learners that is innovatively responding to our changing landscape so we can build a coalition that engages in research through studies, with real-time support in how to respond to challenges. We want to draw upon our colleagues and resources at Arizona State University to build this coalition/project. We want to look for opportunities (synchronous and asynchronous; online and onsite; through webinars and workshops) to pair stories with lessons learned and facilitate discussions to broadly disseminate what we are observing and documenting. And we want to continue working at a global level to find ways to integrate the various stories we have with those we find through our efforts.  

Tom Haymes' "Learn at Your Own Risk"--book cover

Among the earliest activities we are pursuing are creating an online site, before the end of December 2021, for teacher-trainer-learners to submit stories about how they have successfully adapted their work to pandemic conditions; a highly-interactive online workshop to help participants create their stories about pandemic-era learning successes (possibly in January or February 2022); and an online mini-conference (in March or April) to bring teacher-trainer-learners together to find ways to document and share our learning-success stories. We are also working to call attention to first-rate resources, including the recently-published book Learn at Your Own Risk: 9 Strategies for Thriving in a Pandemic and Beyond, by ShapingEDU Storyteller in Residence and Are We There Yet? team member Tom Haymes

We want you to be involved because there is plenty to do, and we can’t do it all without you. If this interests you, please indicate your interest in being part of the project—which you can do by contacting those of us listed as team leaders on the project page. And bring friends. Lots of them. We can’t do this without you.

Paul Signorelli

Paul Signorelli, one of several contributors to the Reshaping Learning blog, served as one of three ShapingEDU Storytellers in Residence from July 2020-June 2021. He also blogs at Building Creative Bridges and can be reached at paul@paulsignorelli.com.