In January 2020, Matt Holley (@LcisdMatt), the event chair for an EdTech conference held in Lubbock-Cooper ISD Texas (@lubbockcooper), was putting the finishing touches on Confluence. Confluence is an event that marries curriculum, instruction, and EdTech. Building off of the event’s previous two years of success and growth, Holley booked Carl Hooker, Brett Salakas, and me to be the three featured speakers. But in March, as education changed due to the global pandemic, and events across the country were canceled or moved to a remote option, Confluence was forced to pivot.
On June 4th, 2020, Confluence made news, not because it, too, was canceling, but because it hosted the first hybrid event since the pandemic. In mid-may, Holley met with Lubbock-Cooper superintendent Keith Bryant (@Buck_Bryant) and Director of Technology, Jacque Fewin, @fewinabunch, to develop a safety and logistical plan to hold the event using a hybrid model. Planning included making the event FREE to all educators, including those outside of Lubbock-Cooper.
A hybrid event is one that combines live, in-person elements with digital, online components. For Confluence, this meant both Hooker and I traveled to Lubbock to give keynotes and present sessions. Additionally, Holley assembled a team of other educators who would be giving presentations of their own. Unfortunately, Salakas, being from Australia, could not make the journey due to out of country travel restrictions. All presentations were onsite with a small group of attendees and live-streamed to a virtual audience. Because Confluence was a hybrid event, it went beyond the physical space, making it easy for educators to engage.
There were many concerns to overcome to launch this event. First and foremost was the safety of presenters and participants. The Lubbock-Cooper team created one-way entrances, rented a sanitizer sprayer, spread chairs to a designated spot in the breakout rooms, and had hand sanitizers at every turn.
The technical aspects of live-streaming the event came next. Zoom links, Zoom facilitators, iPads, sound for at-home participation, and a robust website to have central information were all prepared ahead of the day’s event.
Once it was announced that Confluence would offer virtual participation, Superintendent Bryant, Holley, and Fewin wondered if offering online access to participants would encourage all people to stay home instead of attending in person? But on June 4th, the event opened its doors, and educators came in and tuned in. At any point in the day, upwards of 400 people were participating; over 175 educators showed up in person. The online collaboration took off as well, with robust conversations in the chat and new connections made, Confluence offered a unique opportunity to easily and seamlessly reach audiences from around the world.
For a typical event, the marketing strategy and profit revolve around getting attendees to register and travel to the event. Hybrid events, like Confluence, have the potential to transform events’ reachability by opening up new possibilities and options because geography is no longer a deterrent. Virtual participants expressed that engaging in the event digitally was a special experience; you found yourself engaging in the same content with other educators from all over the country (or world).
But for as successful as Confluence was in being the first hybrid conference since COVID, nothing beats the power of a physical encounter. Hybrid events still need to have more in-person activities than the online viewer can be a part of to engage physical attendance. To incentivize attending the event, Confluence had lunchtime entertainment: SPiVEY, played live music for an hour, and there was a Science Spectrum FabLab. The in-person lab showcased an all-new, hands-on STEAM education program that makes the world of technology accessible through creativity in a mobile Maker-space.
Two additional aspects of Confluence that made the hybrid learning impactful were:
- A clear theme: It is easier to attract participants with an appealing subject. Choose a clear theme and build your event around it. Having a clear, appealing theme will increase in-person attendance and attract viewers who are not yet familiar with your event or conference
- A facilitator for online viewers: Participants can ask questions and interact with the in-person presenter through a facilitator. This will value the virtual participant’s presence and input and give them the true feeling of a session.
An additional benefit of a hybrid event is the ability to record session content and have ongoing learning for those who could not attend the event at all. Content can be made available online to foster further discussions after the event is over.
As is the case with all in-person events, Confluence’s draw is the energy of the in-person experience. However, with the success of this new hybrid event, Holley and his team are looking at bigger and more innovative ideas for Confluence 21. As other events like Tech and Learning Live, ISTE, ASCD, and FETC plan for the future, they can learn from Confluence as the model for creating engaging learning opportunities for more educators around the country while keeping the excitement of an in-person event alive.
Click here for Confluence Website
Opening Keynote, delivered by Dr. Matthew X. Joseph
- Topic: Making an Impact on Education.
Mid Day special event: What’s Hot in EdTech
- Five participants ate a hot pepper and then shared a hot Edtech tool/idea. A fun way to provide learning and humor (and a little heat) into the event.
Closing Keynote delivered by Carl Hooker
- Topic: Rebooting Education in 2020.
Carl Hooker, Matthew X Joseph, Rebecca Beardain, Tyler Trammel, Micaela Brown, Wendy Staffen, Jacque Fewin, Macalee Taylor, Julie Ray, Kortney Avila, Tana Williamson, Clay Kennedy, Megan Fuller, Victoria Johnston, Brooke Garth, Kerry Johnston, Shay Troutman, Dawn Cox, Tammy McLain
- Tools to Transform Learning in (and out) of your Classroom
- Making Virtual Reality a Reality
- Moving From Consumption to Creation
- Be the Storyteller in Chief
- Educational Escape Rooms
- Your Most Awesomest Essential Guide to Using Google Slides
- CSI: Cultivating Scientific Inquiry
- Classcraft: Gamification in the Classroom
- Student Leaders: Techsperts & Tutors
- Using Trello in the Secondary Classroom
- Activity Boards in Seesaw
- Digital Literature Circles and Podcasts
- Stop the Insanity! Practical and effective tools to address issues in the classroom
- Math, Science, Art and Numbers!
- Digital Notebooking
- Educational Escape Room
- It All Starts With Relationships
- New Year, New Tools, New You: Bringing the best of distance learning back to the classroom!
- Clips to support intervention
- Math Talk Matters!
- Cooking it up with Google Classroom