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High Risk (With Hope For) High Reward: Lessons Learned from Planning and Hosting an Unconference

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2019 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity


Crystal City, Virginia

Publication Date

April 14, 2019

Start Date

April 14, 2019

End Date

April 22, 2019

Conference Session

Track: Learning Spaces, Pedagogy, & Curriculum Design Technical Session 6

Tagged Topics

Diversity and Learning Spaces, Pedagogy & Curriculum Design

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Paper Authors


Adam Stark Masters Virginia Tech

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Adam S. Masters is a doctoral student and Graduate Research Assistant at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. They received a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from University of Delaware and are currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Engineering Education at Virginia Tech. Adam's research interests include access, equity and social justice in engineering.

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Lisa D. McNair Virginia Tech

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Lisa D. McNair is a Professor of Engineering Education at Virginia Tech, where she also serves as Director of the Center for Research in SEAD Education at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT). Her research interests include interdisciplinary collaboration, design education, communication studies, identity theory and reflective practice. Projects supported by the National Science Foundation include exploring disciplines as cultures, liberatory maker spaces, and a RED grant to increase pathways in ECE for the professional formation of engineers.

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Donna M. Riley Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Donna Riley is Kamyar Haghighi Head of the School of Engineering Education and Professor of Engineering Education at Purdue University.

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CoNECD Track: Gender CoNECD Keywords: Race/Ethnicity, Gender, Disability, LGBTQIA+

Often in diversity and inclusion research, the goal is to represent the perspectives of those who are ‘not at the table,’ but seldom do research methods provide the participants an actual seat ‘at the table.’ Informed by a participatory action research approach, we partnered with study participants, positioning them as our co-researchers. Together, we employed an unconference (also known as an Open Space Technology workshop) as a research method in order to elevate the voices of study participants, provide space for them to create a meaningful network, and maximize their collective expertise. Unconferences are gatherings that have no pre-set agenda; instead participants are convened around a central theme and the agenda is collaboratively designed by the attendees. This open-ended structure allows participants to initiate sessions on topics that matter to them; engage in inquiry, reflection, and learning; and develop plans, recommendations, and a record of the proceedings as the process unfolds.

In the context of a research study, an unconference poses a high risk, high reward situation. The researcher/facilitator has very little control over the direction of the event and the types of data produced (i.e., high risk), whereas giving participants ownership and control generates insights that may be impossible to gather using other research methods (i.e., high reward). In June 2018, we held the ‘Unconference on Making Liberatory Spaces,’ bringing together representatives from diverse, inclusive, liberatory maker spaces from around the country to share their organizations’ stories and exchange best practices regarding inclusion of diverse populations in maker spaces. In this paper, we will share our planning process and the lessons we learned through planning and hosting our unconference — including event planning decisions, recruitment of participants, facilitation techniques, data collection methods, and IRB procedures — and discuss how an unconference could be employed by other researchers, especially those exploring emerging topics.

Masters, A. S., & McNair, L. D., & Riley, D. M. (2019, April), High Risk (With Hope For) High Reward: Lessons Learned from Planning and Hosting an Unconference Paper presented at 2019 CoNECD - The Collaborative Network for Engineering and Computing Diversity , Crystal City, Virginia. 10.18260/1-2--31768

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