The spirit of barcamps

clc2013I attended another nice Barcamp, the Corporate Learning Camp 2013 (#CLC13) at the Fachhochschule in Frankfurt, Germany. I’m not the industry and management guy, and feared to find myself out of place there. But to the contrary of my expectations it was a quite inspiring and revealing meeting of people from whom lots of things could be learned. The main reason I wanted to attend however, was that I wanted to see by myself what exactly a barcamp is, and if it could eventually be a communication format that could inspire also a FPU.

But what really is a barcamp, or “un-conference”, as some use to call it? For the precise definition lookup the web, but in my words I would define it as an alternative way with which people could communicate their ideas, projects, dreams. It works as follows. In the beginning all the present people convene in a hall and everyone is allowed to present in a minute his or her session. And “everyone” means just that: everyone. There is no hierarchy of sages, teachers or professors. Also a perfectly unknown could rush in and present a speech. You can propose for instance to discuss with those who like to attend “the future of the MOOCs”, or instead of presenting your own project you might ask for solutions, as “how to find funds to publish a book on hand surgery?”, or discuss how far “didactical and pedagogical optimism is justified?”, and so on. Once you have presented your session, and if among the present there are at least some who rise up their hands showing interest, you get assigned a room at a specific time. The same procedure repeats itself for all those who present a topic. Finally, several sessions have been programmed on the spot, without any previous intervention and or approval by a commission. On a board, in less than a half an hour a huge program of sessions have been set. Then everyone attends those which are considered the most interesting. What follows is not a talk held by the proponent of the session, but only a brief introduction, after which an informal discussion is opened to all the present.

Initially I was a bit skeptic. What I expected barcamps to be was a sort of, very democratic, but messy and out of control public speech where everyone interrupts the other with the risk of the talk degenerating in flames with emotions rising high (London’s ‘speakers corner’ alike). However, nothing alike happened. Quite the contrary, all the session I could attend were interesting, informative, with lots of discussion and exchange of ideas, even occasionally disagreement, but everything in the frame of a politically correct and civilized mood. The only disadvantage of the present barcamp format I could see is that several sessions are programmed at the same time (usually due to a lack of place and/or time), and if you are interested in two which happen to be on plan at the same time, you have to sacrifice one or another. But overall both barcamps I attended so far, were a very pleasing experience, which wanted to be repeated as soon as possible.

I’m wondering if such a form of communication might also work in a FPU? The idea is that the classical seminar format might be occasionally replaced also by an “un-seminar”. The traditional seminar is not going to die, I believe it will continue to play a role. However, in several situations a barcamp styled seminar might be a better solution. Because seminars are used to convey information. Instead an un-seminar can function as a platform to ask for information. One might have an idea of a research project and wants to hear what other students and faculty members might think of it. Another wants to set up a reserach group and looks for members participating. Another just wants to share opinions and impressions on a new discovery, and so on. What I mean, is that the barcamp, un-conference or un-seminar format might be a great tool for communicating among university members about ideas, projects, findings, news, etc. That would also foster a real socialization and eventually group think, which is not forced and imposed from above as it is actually.

Could that work?


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