A debrief about organizing OpenEd Jam

Now that OpenEd Jam has officially happened. I’m going to take some time to reflect on what led up to the event, people’s reaction to the event, and my plans (as of only this moment) for the future of OpenEd Jam. Until now, I haven’t mentioned much about OpenEd Jam on my blog. I figure now that the first event has happened, I can barely start to reflect on it. The following is a short debrief on how I went about organizing it including some sticky situations and general lack of understanding on my part.

Planning and executing OpenEd Jam was an experience I never imagined having. It all started from a message I sent out to friends. I just wanted to sit and discuss ideas about freely licensed software/hardware with some friends. Well, that turned into something much larger. Someone offered the idea of making a confe rence on this theme. Before I knew it, I was planning a full blown conference on freely licensed educational materials. And this was in the middle of December, in the midst of the holidays, basically six months before the event took place.

Crazy.

Since I had never done anything like this before, I think it was a little easier for me to go with the flow about it. Throughout the initial weeks I would think things like, “We probably need a logo. One of my friends is a designer…maybe they’d like to help out with a logo. I’ll have to remember to ask him next time I see him.” I asked people I knew for help, reached out to different communities through email to try to connect with people who might like to speak at the event, created a Twitter account, tweeted from the account, helped create a fully freely licensed website for the event, set up “Planning Committee Meetings”.

And sure enough, people were responsive. I saw this as a good sign that this idea of bringing together the community surrounding freely licensed education materials was actually doable and wanted.

The first few months, I really was just stumbling upon different ideas and going with them. I saw that Open Education Week was in March so I figured I’d tweet a bunch about OpenEd Jam and host an Open Education Week event in San Antonio to try to gain momemtum and hopefully get people in San Antonio aware of the Open Education movement. I think this worked well. People started engaging with me online about the event and asking questions. People’s curiousity about the event kept the idea alive.

Then, I started to feel overwhelmed. Having never done this before, I didn’t really have systems in place to handle all of the communication with people and had to make lots of stuff up as I went along. Thank goodness for the internet and friends. I would’ve failed miserably without them. I had little to no clue about about project management, writing a press release, determining an appropriate location, fundraising generally, and “how the heck are we going to funnel the money?” ‘Fiscal sponsor, duh.’ The world of non-profit event planning eluded me.

It still does.

Anyway, people started submitting session proposals in April. That was such an awesome feeling. All of these amazing people were interested in coming to this event to meet people who were interested and doing things in the Open Education field. I couldn’t believe the amount of proposals we got.

I had initially said we would try to fund travel scholarships for people who couldn’t afford the trip (being an AmeriCorps VISTA, I know all about that). Unfortunately though, I quickly realized that we would simply not have enough funding the first time around. This was quite a disappointing thing for me. I wish I could’ve raised more funds, so people who were genuinely amazing could come to the event without killing their wallets. San Antonio is a hard place to travel to.

Hopefully, the next OpenEd Jam will be able to fund some travel scholarships for these exemplary people.

I will leave this post as it is now. I’m mostly covering logisitics in this post to get it out of the way, so I can focus more on what happened at the event and how it can be improved for next year in my next posts. I hope this post gives you a first glimpse into my process for organizing the event, failures and successes all.

Too-da-loo!

 

On OpenEd Jam – two weeks to go!

It’s a conference that will be happening in less than two weeks here in San Antonio. I’ve been a bit quiet about this, I suppose.

For the past couple of years, I’ve been researching free licensing within education systems. There has been an increasing trend to create and use freely licensed material on an international scale. There have been a multitude of small and large organizations that have taken on these principles and adopted them for their libraries, schools, musuems, etc. The topic of freely licensed material is gaining positive reinforcement in some sectors of the the corporate and political worlds.

Communities like these understand the value of freely licensed resources and intertwine in such a fascinating way. The desire to learn new information, create and modify artifacts and expand on previous thought drives these communities. What better way to foster that desire than with freely licensed resources?

By gathering this community of hackers, makers, educators and librarians, I hope that people will not only see their similarities in the way to approach licensing in education, but also amplify their work on this topic in an effective way.

So, I decided to go for it. I’m quite excited about the line up of speakers and all of the sessions that have been confirmed so far.

Assembling the Matchbox Puzzle Box Pt. 1

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take on puzzle boxes. So, I found kits designed by Bruce Viney and bought a pre-cut one from Myer’s Crafts.

Since I have very little experience with puzzle bIMAG0044oxes, I figured assembling one might be a good way to learn how they are designed. As I’m moving from place to place right now, I also don’t have normal access to tools for wood cutting. This is another reason why this kit is a nifty way to learn about puzzle boxes. Not tools necessary! Well, almost…I didn’t realize how necessary sand paper would be.

To the left, you can see the puzzle box pieces after I dumped them on the table and the design instructions on my laptop.

IMAG0046

What I like about the puzzle kits designed by Bruce Viney is how simple he makes them. These kits seem to be a low-barrier way for someone to enter the mechanical wooden puzzle world. On the right, you can see the wooden pieces layed out with the outlines that indicate how to glue them together.

IMAG0047I mentioned earlier how I didn’t realize how necessary sand paper would be. This is another reason I will have to wait until tomorrow to complete the box.

I tried attaching the sliding panels to no avail (not pictured here). They didn’t quite fit due to variance. Then, I decided with all of my wonderful wisdom to try to sand the pieces down with a plastic knife. Don’t try that one at home. You just end up being frustrated with the plastic knife….and yourself.

I’ve worked on the Matchbox for about an hour. I was able to glue the base together as well as the sliding panels. I am going to wait for the pieces to dry completely and continue to work on the puzzle box tomorrow.

[sorry about lack of photo quality]

Serving with a community center

For the past six months, I have been working with a local community center in San Antonio. What an experience! When I first reached out to the local area community leaders, I had really no idea what I was getting myself into….as with most endeavours of mine.

The community leaders were excited about the idea of having a mock competition for the community center kids since the registration deadline had already passed for First Lego League. We thought it would be a great way to get the kids’ hands dirty and feet wet with robotics.

So, I went on a quest for resources. Luckily, one of people who is also serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with FIRST, Clare, was interested in helping with the project. Without her, I would not have been able to see it through. I thought I could and quickly realized I was out of my mind to think I could single handedly start 12 robotics teams in the community center.

Once Clare was on board with the project, we were able to gather resources more effectively and efficiently as well as communicate with the different people and organizations involved. Together, we’ve been able to secure so many in-kind donations and volunteers.

The kids at the community center are ecstatic about the robotics teams we’ve built with them. Some kids had never heard of robotics, let alone though they could do it. With the help of some amazing volunteers from the University of Incarnate Word and local middle school students, the kids at the community center have built some top notch robots for their upcoming competition. They will be competing against themselves, as there are three solid teams that have formed from these efforts.

The mock competition will be happening on May 3rd at a local high school. It should be quite the event! I’ll post some photos and a wrap-up once it’s all over.

So this is happening….

I‘m coordinating a 3-day event called OpenEd Jam (www.openedjam.org)

One night I was incredibly bored. I decided to send a message to some of my friends to see if they’d like to meet up and talk about free software and hardware in education. Little did I know that the meeting would turn into something much bigger than sitting in a circle talking about education freedom with friends.

Somehow we managed to find a whiteboard that was completely covered in dry erase marker. I mean, the kind of dry erase marker that’s been sitting on a whiteboard for at least weeks, probably more than several months. Naturally, there was no other way to get the markings off the whiteboard without another dry erase marker and carefully going over the markings then quickly erasing them… This was somewhat effective, though time consuming. It ended up being smudged anyway. I wish I had a picture of the white board… I actually don’t think anyone has used it since then… Hmm….

Anyway, somehow I ended up writing ideas down for an event and everyone at the meet up was starting to contribute to this mess of a whiteboard. A free and open education meet up in San Antonio ended up becoming a 3-day international event. I suppose everything is bigger in Texas.

3 months as a FIRST AmeriCorps VISTA

This has been quite a year for me.

Currently, I’m serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA with FIRST, an international nonprofit aimed to inspire students in science and technology through robotics competitions. I started serving at the end of August. This is a one-year experience in which I have the opportunity to create and sustain robotics teams in underserved communities. I am serving alongide two wonderful women, Clare and Nickita. Our site supervisor is also an exceptional example of what is means to be a supportive site supervisor.

The VISTA year is said to be long and hard. My experience has been no exception to this rule. That said, I am gaining so much experience with community organizing and capacity-building. I’m actually planning a mock robotics competition that should kickoff in the next couple of months. This is an exciting project that I’ve undertaken with the help of staff at the Eastside Promise Neighborhood. I can’t say enough good things about the people I have been working with at EPN.

So far, I have had my ups and downs. Luckily, the support I receive from FIRST has been phenomenal. However, being a community organizer for FIRST (which largely supports the use of proprietary software/hardware) has been difficult for me. It is a good way for me gain exposure to the types of STEM programs that currently exist in the U.S., but I constantly wonder how these programs can be improved in terms of expanding their use of free (open) educational resources.

For now, I’ll keep planning for this mock competition and experience everything as it unfolds. Look out for another AmeriCorps update in a few months!

Workshop at Stanford’s FabLearn Conference

I recently had the pleasure of presenting a workshop entitled “Designing with Empathy: Explore Perspectives with MaKey MaKey” with Mark Barnett and Don Davis. Here is a link to the workshop description: http://fablearn.stanford.edu/2013/workshops/designing-with-empathy/

Also, here is a picture of the three of us after our workshop:

Mariah, Mark and Don

We received great feedback overall. It seemed like everyone who attended our workshop was engaged. We broke everyone up into teams and took them through the design thinking process while they created a prototype for a game controller. It was great to see educators from around the U.S. figuring out how they could implement a similar workshop in their schools, makerspaces, libraries, out-of-school programs etc.

I would  not have had this opportunity without Mark and Don. They are particularly awesome people to work with. Mark is actually the Captian of the Geekbus and Don is getting his PhD at UTSA.

Reflection on my work at the makerspace

First things first, I am still incredibly passionate about free software in education. To add to this passion, I have realized through different experiences that the use of free hardware is equally important.

Now for a short reflection…..

This summer I had the pleasure of working at a makerspace here in San Antonio as a part of the Maker Corps through the Maker Education Initiative. What an opportunity this was to gain first hand experience of the impact that making and free/open-source software/hardware has in the educational realm. The makerspace had a different group of students ranging from ages 6-12 years old. Many of the students we worked with this summer had little access to modern technology resources at home like a computer or internet connection. This was quite an experience for them to create and explore several tools such as Scratch, the MaKeyMaKey, etc.

Specifically, I remember two students who designed the most complex game in Scratch I had seen all summer. These two kids had no previous programming experience and extremely limited access to a computer at home. It was bittersweet to see how involved and creative the students became with Scratch, knowing that their experience with it would potentially be brief. Looking back, I wish we had provided flash drives with all of the software we were using and the work they created, so they could take it home to tinker with it once they finished the weeklong camp.

This summer was definitely a learning experience for me. The most immediate problem with the camp is that it is just that, a week long summer camp. It sparked interest in many of the students, who wanted to continue learning about the tools at the makerspace after their camp experience. Some of them would tell us that they wished they could come to the makerspace to learn instead of going to school.

I would like to explore that notion further. I am becoming increasingly interested in out of school and home school programs as a result of the makerspace experience. I wonder what people are doing in these programs that may relate to the general maker movement.

 

That’s all for now.

 

Be engaged with NOWCastSA

If you haven’t heard of NOWCastSA and you’re in San Antonio, then you should definitely check it out. I had only seen glimpses and an occasional retweet of NOWCastSA for the past few months, but only until about two months ago did I fully realize the amount of coverage NOWCast is doing in San Antonio.

And, I’ve got to say, it is absolutely heart warming to know that there is a small group of people dedicated “to promote and facilitate an inclusive civic conversation”, especially with the recent rise in national media attention on San Antonio. NOWCastSA does not simply post videos of events. In real time, they video capture physical moments of civic engagement at a variety of community events and complement those live streams with blogs, tweets, a virtual conversation.

Fortunately, I had the pleasure of meeting NOWCastSA’s managing director, Charlotte-Anne Lucas, the last night of 3 Day Startup hosted at Geekdom. After a whirlwind weekend of tweeting and retweeting, Charlotte-Anne and I finally were face-to-face. At this point, I admittedly was not entirely aware of the scope of NOWCast’s outreach or what exactly they did for the community as a whole. I knew they had live-streamed a few Geekdom events, but that was basically the extent of my knowledge.

When I finally met Charlotte-Anne, she reminded me of one of my great mentors at UNCFSP last summer, a great-hearted firecracker. Right then, I knew I would be reading anything and everything under the sun about what she is doing with NOWCast. To say the least, I was excited.

I spent the next couple of weeks delving deep into the site and taking opportunities to be part of the process, watching the live streams and putting out a tweet or two about an event they were filming. Nothing major, but I felt like I was participating, even if minimally, in my community. And what a wonderful feeling that is!

Two events in particular stand out to me because of my bias towards all things education. I watched the live streams of College Signing Day at St. Mary’s University (my alma mater) and a dialogue per the Department of Education’s Together for Tomorrow initiative at CafeCollege. Being able to watch these events with the potential of an online community dialogue truly inspires me.

I imagine that parents, teachers, students and even policymakers alike are interested in watching these events. While watching these live streams, I found myself wanting to engage with all of these different stakeholders. However, the engagement was relatively low. I felt like a virtual bystander when I had hoped to be a virtual participant.

Of course, that’s the age old question and the most challenging part: engagement. And not just engagement, thoughtful engagement. I’m guilty of simply retweeting a link to the live streams without commenting on the dialogue occurring at the event. Within the past year, I’ve noticed that Twitter in particular has become a safe haven for everyone who is fed up with Facebook. The ramifications of this have altered the types of conversations taking place on Twitter, which I still think is a useful tool for community dialogue. Regardless though, I have been pondering how NOWCast can foster and perpetuate the dialogue online.

For now, I recommend anyone reading this to go to their site and become involved. My summary of what is taking place with NOWCast does not do it justice. See it, read it, hear it with your own eyes and ears. In a city that has one of the best economies and highest drop out rates during this social media boom and political polarization, it is absolutely necessary to become civically engaged. If you’re in San Antonio, do so via NOWCastSA. If you’re not, either come to this great city or be engaged with your own community.

Engage with @NOWCastSA. Be involved.

It’s March.

I’m alive and well.

For my last semester of undergrad, I decided to take a full 18 hours of core classes. It has been the bane of my existence. Luckily, I have an internship doing some web development and content writing, so I’m kept mildly sane.

I’m participating in the MIT Media Lab’s Learning Creative Learning Course. I’ll probably blog each week about what I’m reading/watching/doing for it and all of that fun jazz.

 

Side note: It’s been over a year since I began my journey in the Southern Cone. I’ve taken a large chunk of time to reflect on this.