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Unposters and unconferences

In far too much online learning, we over-architecture engagement, reducing it to a series of tasks with point values, rather than leaving enough breathing room for organic and intrinsically-motivated community to develop.

Jesse Stommel


Ellis, B., & Rowe, M. (n.d.). Reflections on WCPT and the Unposter (No. 13). Retrieved 30 September 2020, from

In this episode Ben and I talk about our experiences at WCPT, as well as the massive success of the Unposter and what this means for the future of conferences. Not really. But this conversation certainly influenced how we think about conferences in general and, to be honest, it made us question whether or not the “international conference” is something that we’ll be planning around in the future. We think that there are other, cheaper, more effective, and less environmentally damaging ways to meet interesting people. This is also another example of how having an in-depth conversation about a topic has changed our thinking around it.


Budd, A., Dinkel, H., Corpas, M., Fuller, J. C., Rubinat, L., Devos, D. P., Khoueiry, P. H., Förstner, K. U., Georgatos, F., Rowland, F., Sharan, M., Binder, J. X., Grace, T., Traphagen, K., Gristwood, A., & Wood, N. T. (2015). Ten Simple Rules for Organizing an Unconference. PLOS Computational Biology, 11(1), e1003905.

Unlike traditional conferences, an unconference is a participant-oriented meeting where the attendees decide on the agenda, discussion topics, workshops, and, often, even the time and venues. The informal and flexible program allows participants to suggest topics of their own interest and choose sessions accordingly. The format provides an excellent opportunity for researchers from diverse disciplines to work collaboratively on topics of common interest. The overarching goal for most unconferences is to prioritize conversation over presentation. In other words, the content for a session does not come from a select number of individuals at the front of the room, but is generated by all the attendees within the room, and, as such, every participant has an important role.

I especially liked this article because it was crowdsourced from people who had attended a variety of different unconferences. See the last page for a short description of how the authors did it.


Host your own Unconference

Seriously. It’s dead simple. Here’s a list of everything you need:

  1. A few people who are reasonably interested in the topic.

That’s it. That’s all you need. The website, mailing lists, Google Docs, video conferencing, etc. are all just supporting mechanisms that facilitate the coming together of a small community of people who like the idea of sitting around and chatting for a few hours.

Here are some basic principles to get you started:

  • Whoever shows up are the right people.
  • Whatever happens is fine.
  • Whenever it starts is the right time.
  • It is over when it’s over.

Let us know how your unconference goes. Good luck!

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