The CyberSalon

Yesterday I drove to Phoenix, about an hour and a half drive, to spend a couple hours withe the Phoenix CyberSalon. The CyberSalon is a group of teachers who have been meeting monthly for several years. There are some administrators, some instructional designers, and K12 and college level folks. They are from different schools and have different skill levels. What they all have in common is a willingness to spend a couple hours a month talking with other teachers about teaching and learning.

It is partly a social event and partly a “look at this” sort of happening. The group also keeps in contact with one another via Google Groups and the “list” mailing it allows. They have a not oft used website, and they have sign up sheet where someone selects a month to be “the host” and find a venue and make reservations for that months event. While there are about 100 or more members of the Google Group, probably less than twenty are really engaged in using it to ask questions or share ideas, and one average about 12 or so folks show up each month for the meetings.

I started a group here in the valley I live in about a year ago. It is similar in some ways. We meet monthly. On average about ten folks show up. We have a website (recently revised due to hack) and we are partly social and partly “here is a tool or topic, lets look at it.” We do not have a google group but we do have a Facebook page. It is pretty active sometimes.

What I love about this “CyberSalon” idea is that it fits well with some learning strategies I am close to. It is informal. Casual and nonthreatening for users. It is inviting in a way that college led workshop are often not. Partly because we meet in a coffee shop, and partly because we sit in a circle, more or less, and we are not “so serious” that folks get anxious. People come to the event on their own time and it is free. Free for everyone. Free professional development! Imagine.

I think that the investment folks have by coming not because they were told to, but because they want to sets up a great environment for openness and willingness to play. I like to play. Often times college led workshops, even when I lead them, seem to be less playful. Is that because I am “being paid” and participants are being paid? I do not know, but there is a difference.

I’ll relate that to how I am working in this class right now. I am here because I want to be and because I enjoy talking and thinking and doing learning. And teaching. I will learn much while I am here.

Anyway, it was only the second time I have been to one of the CyberSalons in the Phoenix area and I am super lucky my boss let me go. I went “on work hours” but paid for everything myself. Was it professional development? What if I would have had the same two hour long conversations about teaching and learning in a college classroom? Would that have been PD?

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8 Responses to The CyberSalon

  1. sandra says:

    I loved your discussion on the cyber salon. I think it is very important to work with others with a similar interest and it is great you are able to get together face to face to do it. I think teaching can be an isolating profession and therefore it is important to meet face to face, to have educational (and some noneducational ones as well) as it stops us all ‘reinventing the wheel’ and it is great to see what others are doings as I find that I just never thought of what they are doing. This course is a great example of being able to connect with others – after all I am in New Zealand!

    As to whether or not it is PD, I think it should be seen as PD. Who says PD has to be a course or a formal meeting. After all, PD stands for Professional Development and we should be able to decide how best to get that professional development. It seems that education in the USA is the same as in NZ – running greatly on teachers’ goodwill and self sacrifise.

    Good luck with future cyber saloons.

  2. Todd Conaway says:

    I agree that this course is a great way to connect! And I really enjoy spending time with teachers so the CyberSalon allows me to do that Face-2-face.

    The “is it PD or not” is an interesting element of the whole thing. The first post I wrote for this blog was about an experience I had last summer. Here it is

    For me, it is interesting that I can often get more people to come to the Salon that I on get into our offices to train them on a specific idea or tool. Why is that?

    I tried early on to have conversations with my colleagues, and my bosses, about using the idea “within the context of my job to train teachers” but I think I have gone away from that and just do it because it works.

    Goodwill is very effective. And I like that.

  3. Cris says:

    Shhhhhhh I think it’s the better sort of PD but let’s not let on, Todd.

    Seems like the informal learning principle is kicking in. If it’s voluntary and fun then it must be something I own and so let me at it!

    I keep trying to “pull this over” on my grad classes but then they remember they’re paying for the course.

    Cybersalon is really cool. That’s why I like synchronicity in online learning.

    • Todd Conaway says:

      This class has an informal feel that I enjoy. Same with the ds106 space. And I work hard at the stuff! The cybersalon is really great for me. It provides a sort of idyllic setting for my ideas.

  4. bonnie K says:

    Hi Todd,
    I have a version of your CyberSalon. It’s a tech team of teachers who meet once a month a user friendly private school loaded with laptops and carpeting.
    We come together on a Saturday morning, 10-12 of us. We aren’t getting paid for being there but there’s something about a sense of community and sharing tech tools and issues with the outside world.
    That’s what I need to take with me online. THis is a great group to practice withal
    Love your photo Todd,
    Bonnie

    • Todd Conaway says:

      That is awesome! The sense of community has a different feel than classes I have been in. It is strange how just being “outside” of the campus creates a different feel.

      I like the image too. The guy on the right has been teaching chemistry (I think it is chemistry)at ASU for like 30 years! Good stuff!

  5. Nancy Lewis says:

    A cyber salon in Phoenix? Wish I had known about that while I was living there.

    I agree with Sandra’s comment: “teaching can be an isolating profession”. It’s really important to be able to knock heads with like-minded individuals, one of the reasons I’m really enjoying this POT class 🙂