Professional learning networks (PLNs) provide answers to questions, solutions for problems, ideas for innovation and a lifeboat off our “Educator Island.” Today, PLNs often include colleagues across many social media platforms and virtual groups, making it challenging to meet face to face. An organized meetup provides an opportunity for your PLN to play, hack and learn in a fun and engaging atmosphere.
Those are some of the reasons the Connecticut Educators Computer Association (CECA) held its first ever meetup last October as a warm-up to our annual conference. There, 130 educators explored, played and shared innovative ideas, strategies and tools.
Here are some tips to guide other ISTE affiliates in creating meetups:
Make a plan. While meeting virtually is valuable, the benefits of meeting in person are priceless. Gather some ideas for innovative meeting spaces: museums, technology centers, libraries or makerspaces that are welcoming, cost-effective and helpful in getting those creative juices flowing. Ask people what they’re curious about, struggling with or do for fun. These questions promote a think-tank atmosphere, help integrate hot topics and create value for the meetup.
Start promoting. Social media is your best friend here. An informational email should be sent to your membership, but you should also use social media platforms to spread the word. Tweet to people in your PLN who have responded to polls and ask them to spread the word when they register. Tag vendors whose products will be topics of discussions to see if they can join you, either virtually or face to face, at the event. Promote the location, food, fun and especially the learning and sharing that will happen there.
Focus on content. Organizing innovation and creativity isn’t always easy, but you can design a successful meetup by focusing on creating great content. Use your PLN to brainstorm some hack sessions. What problems are people having that a collective mind could help solve? We talked about lessons learned from setting up a makerspace with Laura Fleming, and about Breakout EDU with Kristina Holzweiss (both participated via Google Hangout).
Reach out to vendors to see what cutting-edge technology, educational resources or interactive games could be set up as a STEAM playground. We had 18 activities and a “speed geeking” activity where participants rotated through six fast-paced presentations by tech leaders in our state.
Contact inspiring educators and edtech leaders who might be willing to come to the event or participate via videoconference. We reached out to Kathy Schrock and Steve Dembo, two featured speakers at the CECA conference, and asked them to come to the meetup. They were both thrilled to network with us in person.
Meetups are amazing meetings of the mind. Plan one soon so your colleagues can share their struggles, gain strength from others’ success stories, play with new technology and explore learning opportunities with their peers. It will be an event your PLN will talk about for a long while afterward, and something they’ll want to save the date for the following year!
Barbara Johnson is a library media specialist at Jack Jackter Intermediate School and a member of the Connecticut Educators Computer Association board.