Who Would Go To A University Unconference?

I’m catching a break right now during the day of the Ryerson Business Forum, and thinking of the potential of running a continuous unconference series at Ryerson. The group I’m a part of, SIFE Ryerson, is pretty ahead of the ball in terms of engaging students, and late last month I came up with the idea of what’s now called the Mind Fusion unconference series to try and grow interest in entrepreneurship from a different way than has been tried before at our school.

But modeling our unconferences in the traditional way by using a do-it-yourself wiki system, seemed to me would be difficult when trying to attract new students because for one instance of how they don’t already have a strong interest for the topic. When people typically sign up for unconference events, first of all they are usually doing it as already being part of that community or they already have a strong interest in the field. For people, seeing the sign up sheet with all the names of well known people, with all the links to their businesses or to their personal blogs, the prospect of meeting those people is exciting. Seeing recognizable names in your industry in the sign up sheet for an unconference also gives a good idea of the level of conversation that you’ll get to be a part of at the event as well. It’s well known that a lot of really insightful people who charge great sums of money have a tendency to sometimes do the same freely at an unconference.

At university though, trying to market a way of thinking to young people from different faculties, who have dispersed interests, who have no real experience, or who are entirely too used to the lecture format of the class room, is a real challenge, and creating that same excitement needs to be done in a different way. To be successful in an environment like this, you’d maybe have to do it in almost an entirely different way because those benefits that come from the intrinsic features of the unconference are no longer adding to that excitement factor. I don’t even know how much having a wiki sign up system would affect unconference sign-ups at my university. Sometimes the attitude towards doing things in a new and different way is even worse at a progressive university, which we’re apparently known as, then one would think.

Back to our own effort at doing this. Our first Mind Fusion held last night had a pretty mediocre turn out. But given a bunch of different factors, there’s a lot of reason to expect the next seminar be a much greater success. Tough it’s easy enough to manage to get a lot of people to show up or to get some good discussions happening. The challenge is to have a substantial influence on the way people are thinking about things. Starting to change the attitude of students from different faculties about specific topics like entrepreneurship, technology, or collaboration would be a huge leap. Even greater than that though would to have an influence on their thinking process, or their attitude towards real serious issues like education and showing them where the real value of university is coming to them from. The two key words there I would say are interaction and conversation.

Already 90% of the population (students and faculty) in my tech/business related program are not aware of these current discussions that are taking place. They’re also not aware of how these things are changing what the landscape will look like in the coming years. It’s clear to me that if nobody knows what a BarCamp is, or that our school even hosts one, then the chances are that we are still in an environment where the old ways of thinking and the old influences still have strong influences and that they will continue to be the norm.

What we need is to see is movement from all levels of the school, on a continual basis, to push these new ideas in an open manner. Faculty, professors, and students, need to work together as a community and take advantage of the new toolbox available to us, (Blogs, Wikis, Social-Bookmarking, Micro-Blogging, Podcasts, etc..) to achieve together something substantial, longterm, and forward looking that benefits us, and the next groups to come.

As a side note: Mitch Joel (I’m just going to link directly to his blog, it’s where the real value is.) was the keynote speaker of the event today, and I had a quick chance to introduce myself to him today at the breakfast event. I really do think that students need to focus much more of their time and energy following key industry people much like him in order to really develop themselves and learn what’s really important and exciting in today world.

4 replies on “Who Would Go To A University Unconference?”

I like the notion of Ryerson having issues doing things in a radical fashion, when it is considered a radical school.

That’s pretty great

For the mind fusion, I think instead of people posting their job title it would suffice to post your major/minor and what sort of experience they have and specific interests.

As a student, if I see lots of varied points of view, I will be interested to see what they have to say. It would also be nice if we could get some ‘ringers’ in to spark conversation within different groups. for example invite the profs that are actually interested in talking with students about their ventures.

Intimate and Interactive, if this were Much music 😛

I feel that in terms of engaging students, there needs to be as much “social proof” around it as possible.

Having the President endorse us, the Dean, hell, the President of RCS mentioning us. You have enough people in positions of power and influence, the “sheep” (students) will come flocking so-to-speak.

But I guess things won’t *really* start picking up if we don’t bring home some hardware (awards) that will create that buz necessary to build that awareness that becoming involved with SIFE CAN and WILL be able to empower you as a student and self-actualizing member of society.

I agree that more universities need to get out of this “old way” of thinking. Part of the problem is that there isn’t much of a need for some of today’s technologies, or, they are not aware of how it can benefit them. If they saw a 37signals version of Blackboard, they would probably be more on intrigued.

Oh, and you actually introduced yourself to Mitch? Wow! He should host a monthly Web 2.5 conference at every university to get them up to speed.

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