Professional Learning

Putting Together a Virtual Conference (Ep. 238)

As we move into the fall, it is time for state conference season. A great time for art teachers to connect, collaborate, and spend time with their art teaching colleagues from across their state. But how can that happen in the midst of a pandemic? Today, Tim talks to three teachers from Wisconsin about how they have developed a virtual conference in concurrence with ten other states.   Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.

Fall is the time that almost everybody loves. It’s a great season. It’s a great time of year. And as our teachers, it holds kind of a special place for us because of our state conferences. It’s a great time for learning, a great time for professional development. Just a chance at your state conference to learn and connect and collaborate with all kinds of teachers from throughout your state. For a lot of us, it’s like a big party for all of your art teaching friends that you only see once a year. But unfortunately, a lot of those conferences are not happening this fall and if they are happening, they’re going to look a little bit different. It may be an online conference for you. It may be that you have no conference at all. And this is frustrating because it just kind of compounds with everything else that’s going on in teaching and in the world.

And for those of us that missed NAEA in the spring, we missed that chance to connect and to learn and to collaborate. And so I think, it’s worthwhile for all of us to look for opportunities where we can find them here, this fall, to connect with art teachers, maybe not within our own state, if that’s not possible, but from other states and see what other teachers are doing, what other associations are doing, because in some states they’re doing great things.

And today we’re going to talk to three people from the Wisconsin Art Education Association about the conference that they are putting together. Devon Calvert, Leah Keller and Ellen Scharfenberg are here. And the conference they’ve put together is an online conference that is going to be spectacular. They are leading the way with a consortium of about 10 states and they have put together an amazing conference with teachers from all over the country, contributing hundreds of presentations, dozens of hours of recorded content and a couple of really impressive live keynotes to go with it. It’s really good stuff. And it’s open to everyone so if you like what you hear from them in the interview today, I would encourage you to go sign up for their conference, especially if you don’t have your own conference happening this fall. Let me bring on all three guests and we will start to hear about the conference that they have put together.

All right. I have three guests with me here tonight. Leah, we’ll start with you. How are you?

Leah: I am great. How are you?

Tim: I’m doing great. I’m excited to have a four-person interview for this podcast. We’ll see how that goes. Devon, how are you doing?

Devon: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me.

Tim: Excellent. We are glad you’re here. And Ellen, how are you?

Ellen: I’m good.

Tim: Good. Glad to hear it. We have a lot to talk about tonight. Devon, I guess I’ll start with you. Can we start by talking about, I guess what you would usually be doing with your conference? If we didn’t have a pandemic at the moment, what would your state conference look like in a normal year? And what’s going to be different this year? What’s it going to look like this year?

Devon: Typically in Wisconsin, we have a two-day conference and our conference typically travels around the state. We try not to just do it in the same location each year. That way we kind of hit different populations around the state so not everybody’s always traveling every year. Typically we do awards. We have a huge award show where we also give out our fellows too, those contributors to our state association who have made lifelong impacts. We honor them each year as well. We have a makers market. That’s something that Leah actually set up a couple years ago that’s been a huge success. We do that the first night after we get done with the awards where we have a bunch of art teachers like us that sell their goods and the things they make, which is pretty cool. It’s a great way to socialize too.

We also do a social hour the night before the conference because a lot of times people are coming into town from all over the state so we usually all get together and have some drinks and talk. And we usually have some hors d’oeuvres that we have for everybody. Lots of hands-on activities throughout the whole conference. And then yeah, we have loads of awesome sessions too. We always provide lunch for everybody. As far as how it’s going to look this year, other than being online, actually our biggest goal is that we wanted it to be as close to what the actual conference is. We are doing pretty much all of those things except providing lunch for everybody. We are still honoring our awards and fellows. We’re still doing some demonstrations. We’re still doing a makers market. We’re having our membership exhibit online. Really, our biggest goal is we wanted it to be as close to the actual conference as we could make it.

Tim: Okay. That sounds good. And I’ll ask you a little bit more about that soon, but Leah, I wanted to get your experience of kind of how this all came about. When did you realize that this was going to need to be a virtual conference? And what did some of those discussions look like as you made that decision?

Leah: April is the short answer. We really started thinking about it in April, but Ellen and I had had Zoom meetings with the conference venue and we had that all set and ready to go. And we chatted with him a little bit and of course he was working from home because they weren’t open at all. And we had conversations about, well, what if we can’t get together? Maybe we’ll be able to leave our district, but maybe gatherings will be limited to 25. Maybe they’d be limited to 50, how was that going to look?

We actually came up with a date with the venue that by such and such a date, we need to decide if we’re going to have it virtually or not. And they were really flexible in working with us and rescheduling the date. And so I think Ellen and I really first started talking in terms of, we really should kind of plan both of these together. We should plan for a regular conference, but maybe tell presenters that they should be prepared to videotape their session. At first we were kind of thinking, well, we’ll just kind of go down two tracks at once and see how that goes. And then the first weekend in May, we had our board retreat and we thought, well, let’s bring it up to the board and see what they have to say. And the board said, “Let’s just do virtual.” We said, “Okay, well that makes that decision easy.”

Tim: Yeah, easy enough. Ellen, I know you were in charge of getting the presenter lineup together and it’s a huge lineup. It’s an impressive lineup, but I wanted to ask you, what made you decide to go so big? Get so many different states and so many presenters involved, get all that together and how were you able to get so many people to participate in this?

Ellen: We had originally sent out our presenter proposal form for Wisconsin in February and they were due in June. In May we decided, well, this should be virtual so we had contacted all the presenters who had turned stuff in for Wisconsin and said, “Hey, this is what we’re doing. Do you still want to present?” And then we thought, we’re not the only people who are now probably not going to have an in person conference so let’s ask some of the states in our region who we know are newer or who have a smaller membership that maybe they would want to join us. I know we reached out to, we are Wisconsin, to Minnesota and the Dakotas. And they were like, “Yeah, we’re in.”

We already had so much planned already that it was really just, “Hey, do you want to join us? We’ll give you a kickback for your members that come so you’re still making money and you don’t actually have to be a member to go.” Anyone can go. We had gone state by state asking the newer states that would join, “Hey, can you make sure you push this out to your members?” And then we had made a list of people that all of us, whoever we could think of from around the US, do you want to present? Do you want to present? Do you want to present? Come present with us.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. And yeah, you had a great reception it sounds like. Devon, I wanted to ask you, I know you put together the website and everything that kind of goes along with that. With these hundreds of presentations and resources and all that, can you just talk about what it’s been like to organize all of that and put all that together?

Devon: It was very daunting at first. I kind of knew I wanted to go the route of using Weebly to start off with and just making an entirely separate website just for the conference. I had experience using Weebly. The big thing was that I knew that Weebly could create hidden pages, but I didn’t know how to give people access to that after they had paid, which luckily somebody had already created an add on that we just paid for and now anytime somebody registers for the conference, it automatically lets them set up a password, which is really the hardest thing that I had to figure out.

And ever since then, it’s just been trying to be really organized, on top of everything. We’re very clear and specific with what we wanted from our presentations. We created a Google form that everybody submitted their videos to as well as their resources. That just dumps everything right into my Google Drive so I know exactly where to look for everything. If I do delete something on accident, I still have access to it on Google. Really it’s just been thinking it through and being very organized and over planning for all the questions that I knew I was going to get.

Tim: Right. Right. But it came out great. I got a sneak preview of the website and it looks spectacular. I was just really, really impressed with it. Kudos to you.

Devon: Thanks.

Tim: For putting all that together. And then I wanted to ask all three of you, just what parts of the conference are you looking forward to? What do you think highlights will be? What do you think people will really be drawn to? Leah, can we start with you? What are some things that either you’re looking forward to or you think other people might be looking forward to?

Leah: Well, I’m definitely looking forward to the live sessions and I love the idea that people are going to have access to these sessions until the end of the year. We’re leaving it open until December 31st. Honestly, somebody could hear through the grapevine, “Oh, this was such a good conference,” and they could sign up for it two weeks later and still get to see everything if they really wanted to. That’s really exciting. And then I’m hoping that through the different live events and through, we have a Facebook page set up too, I’m hoping that we’re going to have interaction where people from other states are just becoming friends, meeting and finding camaraderie and getting to know people that they wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise.

Tim: Yeah. Those connections are just so important. I think that’s something that we’re missing out on right now. It’s not the same if we’re doing it virtually, but I do think it’s something that will be a worthwhile goal there. Ellen, what about you? What are some highlights that you’re looking forward to? Or what do you think other people might be drawn to?

Ellen: Well, after putting together the brochure, I’m just excited to watch people talk about all these things that I’ve typed in a million times. And I’m like, oh yeah, I want to watch this one and I want to watch this one. Which I should do because I’m already registered as the Copper chair but I’m super excited for the anti-racist art teachers live Q and A session. I’m from the Minneapolis area and I was quarantining just outside of Minneapolis during the George Floyd riots and having been downtown after all of this and volunteering at a school, that has never been more important to be teaching anti-racism in all classrooms, in the art room, in the homeroom. I’m super excited for that.

Tim: Yeah. I think you’re exactly right about that. I think that will be something that’s really powerful and yeah if we can bring that to more of an audience then I think that’ll be incredibly worthwhile. Devon, what about you? What’s on tap for you that you’re excited about?

Devon: I’m kind of a social butterfly so I really like connecting with people. I like seeing all my friends that I only could see once or twice a year and then I love meeting new people and hearing what they have to think about the conference and things that we could work on and things that they thought were great that we could carry into next year. I really like that. I’m also really excited about this makers market. Usually I’m pretty busy that night, because I’m dealing with other things so I’ve never actually really gotten to go on and enjoy it. I’m kind of excited that it’s going to be online and get to check that out.

Tim: All right. That’s really cool. I think that’s definitely something to look forward to. And then finally, just last question for you all to wrap it up, Leah, I guess I’ll ask you, is everybody welcome to this? And if they are interested and they can come, how do they register? Where do they go to put everything together and be part of this conference?

Leah: Okay. Anybody in the entire United States or anywhere, anyone can come, anyone can attend. They can register at the website which is Kind of like Ellen, I feel like I have typed that out so many times. I have it written here just in case but I feel like I’ve typed it so many times. And when you do go on that site, we have our nine now states that we’re collaborating with. And so if you are a member from one of those states, there’s actually a button for you to shop from your state. If you’re an Oklahoma resident, you’re going to find the button that says Oklahoma and you’re going to register that way. If you were somebody from New Mexico, let’s say, there would be a button for other. You’re either from one of those 10 states that are collaborating together or you are in other, but you are welcome to come and play in the sandbox with us and we will be happy to have you.

Tim: All right. That sounds fantastic. I wish you all the best of luck with this. I know you’ve put a ton of work into it and I think we all appreciate the fact that teachers from all over can come together, be a part of it and hopefully make some connections. Good luck with that and thank you all for your time tonight.

Leah: Thank you.

Devon: Thank you.

Ellen: Thank you.

Tim: All right. Thank you to all three of our guests for coming on. And as they said, the conference that they’re putting on is open to everyone. I would encourage you to go sign up for their conference if you have the money and if you have the time to do that. Especially if you don’t have your own state conference happening this fall and we will make sure we put links in the show notes where you can find the Wisconsin Conference and you can get signed up.

And of course, I also want to tell you, before we go, about the Art of Education University and everything that we are offering right now, especially if you’re a pro or flex member, we have libraries full of resources that work for any teaching situation that you might be in. And new packs, new lessons coming out every month that are responsive to what’s happening right now. Recent packs that we published include understanding the logistics of teaching online and managing working from home during an extended school closure. If you don’t have pro or you don’t have flex, don’t worry, there’s still thousands of resources on the AOEU website that are waiting for you for free. Check out the website, check out the return to learn page on the site. And we have so many organized resources for you no matter what your teaching situation is. No matter what you need, you should be able to find something there.

All right, thank you again to Ellen, Devon, and Leah, and I hope their conference and everyone’s conferences this fall are successful.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you for listening and we will talk to you next week.

Magazine articles and podcasts are opinions of professional education contributors and do not necessarily represent the position of the Art of Education University (AOEU) or its academic offerings. Contributors use terms in the way they are most often talked about in the scope of their educational experiences.