Using Drupal In Education Unconference in Portland - Save the Date

3 min read

At DrupalCon Denver, we had an extremely successful Education Unconference and we're planning to do it again in Portland. The planning for this event is in the very early stages; we have nailed down a date - Monday, May 20, 2013 - and are in the process of securing a venue. The event will take place in Portland, Oregon, and as soon as we finalize the location, we will update the announcement page with details. One thing to note at the outset, though, is that we want to make this event an opportunity for people familiar with Drupal and people familiar with education to come together and discuss common issues. If you work in either one of these areas, please come - we all have a lot to learn from one another, and with one another.

Based on discussions in Denver (and within the Drupal community over the years), several general areas of interest continue to emerge. Some likely topics could include:

  • Large scale deployments, and how to balance the needs of individuals/units within an organization against maintaining a reasonably standardized platform;
  • Responsive web design;
  • Strategies for mobile web applications;
  • Ensuring accessibility within web sites;
  • Supporting communities of practice;
  • Drupal as a traditional LMS;
  • Using Drupal to support informal and inquiry-driven learning.

Admission is free of charge; just register here! The event will follow an unconference format, so if there is something you want to talk about, propose a topic, find some like-minded individuals, and let the conversation start.

As with the Denver unconference, we have similar high-level goals:

  • Facilitate connections between people working in the education space who would not have the opportunity to interact within the larger venue of DrupalCon;
  • Generate conversations among people working in different areas of education; in this way, K12 folks could talk to Higher Ed, people working in Libraries could talk to other stakeholders, etc - while there are many differences in what we do, there are also similarities, and it would be good to see some opportunities for collaboration materialize;
  • Set the stage for more focused BoFs at DrupalCon - rather than spend the first BoF of DrupalCon figuring out who wants to talk about what, we could lay the groundwork at the unconference for ongoing conversations throughout DrupalCon;
  • Discuss development methodologies and best practices that are making our lives easier, and more productive;
  • Demonstrate and discuss example sites, and talk about how we built great sites that help people learn more effectively;
  • Your idea here:

So, mark May 20, 2013, on your calendars. The second Using Drupal in Education Unconference is on! We look forward to seeing you there.

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Drupal in Education Unconference 2012

3 min read

On Monday, March 19th, at Del Pueblo School in Denver, Colorado, around 75 Drupalists and educators met for a day of sessions focused on the needs of people working in education, and how Drupal can help.

Sessions ran all day, and some of the topics included how to manage hundreds of sites within an organization, responsive design best practices, how to use distributions within education, and how to ensure that sites are accessible.

One of our goals in planning this event was to carve out the space and time for people working within education to have substantive conversations with other practitioners, and to increase the communication between people working in different areas of educational systems. At a technical level, there are overlaps between some of the core issues people are addressing, regardless of whether they work in K12, Higher Ed, Government, in the classroom, or as part of administrative support. Philosophically, if we look at education as a process that unfolds continuously across people's lives, people within different levels of education can benefit from knowing more about how their counterparts are solving problems, and the rationales behind the systems they put in place. One of the things that struck me yesterday, as I talked with different people at the event, was the skill, talent, and focus of the people who came. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to sit in a room full of smart, talented people and listen to how they are doing their work.

In the conversations, there was also also a common thread of education as a social justice issue. The notion that a user interface should be evaluated from the perspective of how it empowers people to the need for multilingual translations (and how to best achieve them) were a couple of the ideas that I'll be thinking about for a while.

I'd like to thank the participants who came and made the day happen. And, if you were at the event and want to keep in touch with the other participants, please add your name to the wiki.

As mentioned earlier, the event was held at Del Pueblo School, and the space was generously made available to us by the Denver Public School System. Michael Wacker and Glenn Moses were instrumental in making this connection.

Also, get ready to mark your calendars. We will be organizing this event next year; we will announce the dates for the next event shortly after the dates for DrupalCon 2013 are announced.

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Solving Problems and Finding Solutions in Education: A Panel Discussion at the Drupal in Education Unconference

2 min read

As part of our preparations for the upcoming Education Unconference taking place on March 19th in Denver we are happy to give an update on the panel discussion.

Register for Drupal in Education Unconference in Denver, CO on Eventbrite

The participants will include:

  • Jason Hoekstra - Jason is the Technology Solutions Advisor at the US Department of Education. As part of his work in the Department, Jason is working on the Learning Registry, a system to support improved sharing and collaboration among people creating and using online content for learning.
  • Bud Hunt - Bud is an Instructional Technology Coordinator for the St. Vrain Valley School District in northern Colorado. Prior to becoming an Instructional Technologist, Bud taught English. He has been blogging about technology, writing, learning, and learning online since before there was an internet.
  • Bryan Ollendyke - Bryan works in the e-Learning Institute at Penn State as an Instructional Web Technologist. Bryan has been a leading advocate for Drupal within higher education, and is the main developer of ELMS, a Drupal-based learning and instructional design platform.
  • Glenn Moses - Glenn is the Director of Blended Learning at Denver Public Schools. Glenn has spent over a decade designing and working in blended learning environments, and helped build the largest blended learning program in the state of Nevada.
  • Michael Wacker - Michael is the Online Professional Development Coordinator at Denver Public Schools. Michael designs and facilitates online learning spaces for educators to inquire, share, reflect, and connect.

The panel will be moderated by Bill Fitzgerald; Bill worked in K12 education for 16 years prior to starting FunnyMonkey, an open source development shop that works primarily with education and non-profit organizations.

The panel discussion will start by focusing on the professional needs of people working at different levels within different types of educational systems, and what tools have helped them meet those needs.

The Unconference is free, and takes place on March 19th, in Denver, Colorado. See you there!

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Drupal in Education Unconference

2 min read

On Monday, March 19th, we are organizing a Drupal in Education unconference in Denver; the event will be held at Del Pueblo School. This meetup will follow an unconference format, so if there is something you want to talk about, propose a topic, find some like-minded individuals, and let the conversation start.

The event is free, and attendance at the event is capped at 150 people. To attend the unconference, please sign up here. If we get more than 150 attendees, we will start a waiting list. Please sign up only if you are certain you will be attending.

Register for Drupal in Education Unconference in Denver, CO  on Eventbrite

I'd like to thank and recognize Michael Wacker and the Denver Public School System for allowing us to hold the conference in their space. Also, Melissa Anderson has provided invaluable organizational work to help get this unconference moving.


  • 9:30 to 10: Arrive, brainstorm sessions
  • 10 to 11:30: Session 1
  • 11:30 to 1: Lunch/Ongoing Conversations There are several good food options near Del Pueblo. We are also seeing if we can arrange to have a food cart come to the school to provide another option for people to buy lunch.
  • 1 to 2: Session 2: Panel Discussion (see details below)
  • 2 to 3: Session 3

We have set up a wiki page on for session ideas; if there is a subject you want to discuss, put it on the wiki.

Additionally, if there is interest, we can reconvene at a restaurant/bar later in the day. Location TBD.

Panel Info

The panel brings together people working at different levels within educational systems. The panel includes practioners working in K12, Higher Ed, and the US Department of Education. Within the panel discussion, the focus will range from what the needs are (described in a technology-agnostic way) and what technological developments have proven most useful at meeting these needs.

We are still finalizing the participants of the panel; look for a follow-up announcement to be coming within the next couple days!

Getting There

For those people driving, on-site parking is limited.

Once you get to the venue, please enter through the West side Galapago doors. Other doors to the building are generally locked.

Unconferences! For All My Friends! Or, Putting the You in Unconference

8 min read

Unconferences, peer-driven professional development, and teacher-centered professional development are all things I would like to see become more widely adopted. With the process of meeting and having an unconference becoming more familiar, and with EdCamp, a new flavor of unconference gaining visibility in the space, I've been thinking about ways that unconferences could become more prevalent as a recognized, even mainstream, form of professional development.


As luck would have it, I tend to think when I cook, and this last weekend was prime grilling weather. So, here are some reasonably well-charred thoughts about how I would love to see K12-focused unconferences grow and develop.

Reach out to union leaders and district officials

EdCamp appears to be more popular among the educators already active on Twitter or other social networks, and they occur largely outside the structure of the organizations in which the participants work. As part of an excellent broader post, Dan Callahan provides a brief explanation of the thought process:

[E]arly on in the planning process, we made some serious decisions in support of our vision of what Edcamp is and should be. Foremost among those was the decision to not pursue PD credits for Edcamp. In these early stages that we’re working in, Edcamp needs the high-energy, hungry for participation crowd. Without those kinds of participants, Edcamp falls flat on its face.

While I understand some of the concerns here, I disagree with the conclusions for an unconference at this stage. To start, the "high energy, hungry for participation crowd" will come regardless, because they want what the camp offers. For the first EdCamp Philadelphia, pursuing PD credits would have been premature, as the nature and value of the event were unproven. However, now that there have been two of these events in Philadelphia, and people can articulate the value of the event, it is time to rethink the value of PD credits.

PD credits would help get more teachers into the mix, and if we have confidence in the model we need to welcome other voices with different viewpoints, and different concerns and needs. If what we want is a face to face meeting of people we know via twitter, then PD credits aren't needed - let's just have a tweetup and call it a day. If, however, we want to move beyond a small portion of professional educators, PD credits would help.

Having PD credits available for unconference-style events creates some additional opportunities that would not exist otherwise. As just one example, if an EdCamp was available to teachers within selected districts on a district-wide teacher professional development workday, teachers could opt to attend the EdCamp as one of several choices.

Also, to be clear: the main reason I am advocating for increased outreach to unions and district administrators is not because their approval or sanction is critical to running a successful K12 centered unconference, or even for current models of K12 unconferences to gain increased popularity. The main reason that union leaders and district admins need to get included into the conversation is to educate them about how unconferences work, and how they are an effective form of professional development. A smart union leader would do well to look at the unconference model, as it provides a clear way for more people to understand the value of an experienced teacher. Veteran teachers have a wealth of experience to share, and the unconference format is an ideal way to do it.

And, if reaching out to district admins and unions can save just one school from the drive-by intellectual mugging of a Willard Daggett, then our work is done.

Encourage more sharing of immediately usable knowledge

Gerald Aungst sums it up nicely:

I seem to be missing the steak, and I’ve been wondering why. It got me thinking about why edcamp still feels powerful and important to me, even though I walk away from many sessions feeling as though nothing of substance actually took place.

Given that unconferences are driven by the needs and desires of the participants, this is an easy one to address: if you want to learn about something, run a session on it. Use the session as an excuse to push your own mastery and exploration of a topic you want to know better. A session designed for teachers to share insights on how they structure their classrooms would be incredibly useful, and it would be made more useful by having students join the conversation.

Another way to help get more immediately useful information would be to give every participant a piece of paper on the way in with the question, "What is the single most useful classroom technique you have ever used?" The sheets could be collected after lunch, and conference organizers could collate and blog the responses. At the risk of stating the obvious, if you want different information, ask a different question.

Or, teachers could just blog about the techniques that they have used in the class, with no EdCamp necessary. If EdCamp attendees interested in gleaning practical tips made a point of asking fellow attendees about ideas and tools that could be implemented immediately - and then blogging these ideas - a body of classroom-tested practices would emerge out of an unconference format.

And, of course, if you are in a session and are at a loss about how to connect the abstract to the practical, ask the room to help you do just that. And then blog about it, so other people can share the knowledge.

Don't drink your own kool aid

People are excited about EdCamp, and that's great, but let's not get carried away.

[T]he edcamp philly crew met at a similar venue, Barcamp Philly. I can not say that I directly learned a single usable thing at that conference but going changed my life. It was meeting Dan, MaryBeth, Kevin, Hadley, Kim, Kristen, Rob and introducing them to my sister Chrissi and Collegaue Nicolae that spawned a international movement in education (emphasis added).

As I said earlier, I'm really glad to see people using the unconference model within education. These concepts have been developed and honed within open source, blogging, design, and software development communities, and they receive continual use within these communities because they work. People within education can learn from this pre-existing practice. The EdCamp organizers reference Barcamp as an inspiration, but current barcamps borrow liberally from practices used in Lightning Talks, Pecha Kucha, Ignite, and Birds of a Feather sessions, to name a few. And this is all good, as we all benefit from using different ways of working and communicating with our peers. But it would be myopic to imagine that unconferences would be as accepted within the education world if these other types of unconferences hadn't been happening in other areas.

It's also worth noting that education-related unconferences are nothing new either. Bloggercon, in 2003,">addressed education and">included a full unconference day. Since at least 2003, the open source labs and meetups that Paul Nelson, Jeff Elkner, Paul Flint, and (starting in 2006) Steve Hargadon, ran at NECC were unconference-like, with the potential for people to engage in inquiry-driven/peer-driven learning. The EduBloggerCons that Steve Hargadon started running - beginning in Atlanta in 2007, and continuing in different forms to the present day - are education-focused unconferences. It's also worth noting that the National Writing Project has been doing unconference-like professional development since the late 70's. Northern Voice has been running strong since 2005.

In short, there's a lot of prior art here. It's all - including EdCamp - good work. But branding something that is both relatively new on the scene, and relatively similar to past and present endeavors an "international movement" is the type of hyperbolic overreach we can do without. Education doesn't need Don King or Don Trump; we need smart people doing good work. Leave the marketing copy for the people who don't have real skills.

Overblown claims diminish credibility. Let the work speak for itself.

Strive for jargon-free zones

I recognize that this is a tall order, but we need to move away from jargon when we describe what we do. We don't need to talk about how we collaborate within our PLN's; we need to describe how we connect and learn from people in informal settings. Retreating into jargon obscures the work and the process that makes the experience valuable.

Along these same lines, any discussion of tools (I love site X or software Y! It's shiny!) needs to be grounded in specific learning opportunities that wouldn't be possible (or as accessible) otherwise. Chasing the horizon is fun, but the run needs to be worth it.

Eliminating jargon and eliminating an initial focus on the tools acts as a sanity check. This also helps make the ideas we are discussing more accessible to a broader audience.


Unconferences will continue to increase in popularity for two simple reasons: they work, and more people are getting comfortable participating within them. With small, targeted adjustments, the current reach of education-focused unconferences can be extended. But, given that the power of the unconference is within the participants, we all have a role and responsibility here. If there is something you want to see happen, step up.

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