Hosting the Symposium in a Brave New (Virtual) World

Posted:13 October 2020

Author: Pat Halewich, Community Learning Network

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Comments: 1

Recommendations: 0


Literacy & Learning Symposium 2020 (Virtual) Theme: Lenses on Learning

I, and I’m sure most of you, long for the day that we can meet in-person again, that we can wake up one morning and that Covid-19 is no longer part of our everyday life. In the meantime, we live and work in a brave new (virtual) world.

What did Symposium 2020 (Virtual) look like?

When I was researching converting an in-person Symposium to a virtual Symposium, I heard that it could be done in 8 weeks. Well, our team at the Community Learning Network had exactly 8 weeks and 3 days and we did it! I also heard that, "It's going to take everything and..." and I truly believe it did.

I want to extend a huge THANK YOU to everyone involved:

  • To our Attendees for joining us on this new virtual PD & Training adventure.
  • To our Presenters for their patience and understanding through the periods of being ‘on hold’ and then ‘on standby’ and then ‘moving forward’ and for sharing their content with us virtually.
  • To our Adult Learner Speakers for so generously sharing their learning journeys with us.
  • To our Award Ceremony VIPs and Recipients for joining us from across Alberta.
  • To the FMAV team who helped us convert to online, provided studio space, guidance and tech support.
  • To our CLN Board and Staff ­for their dedication and commitment to moving to a virtual format, and for so confidently and thoughtfully facilitating in the new virtual format. With a shout out to our gracious hosts, Doray Veno, CLN Board Chair and Lisa Dickner, CLN Executive Director.
  •  And of course to our funder and supporter, the CALP Team at Alberta Advanced Education, who supported us wholeheartedly and allowed us to pivot to a virtual format when the time came to do so. Also thank you to Ben Hartt for his opening speech and his thoughtful words of support and wisdom for the CALP system.

We learned, we adapted and we changed. We ventured in to a brave new (virtual) world. I know that during the past 7 months or so, (since March 16th, 2020) I had a lot of personal growth and development and I continue to learn and grow.

Lessons learned – adapt quickly and adapt again – as you learn more and know more, do better. Based on the quote:

Maya Quote

I am proud of where we dared to go and what we accomplished! Did our new virtual Symposium happen without a few technical glitches, I dare say it probably did not, but we came through it and now our first-ever virtual Symposium 2020 is a memory. One day we can all say that, ‘Once upon a time, there was this thing called Covid-19 and it spun the world as we knew it in all sorts of new and different ways like an unimaginable fantastical world’ – who could ever have imagined this at the start of 2020? It all feels a bit like…

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There… a 1871 novel by Lewis Carroll and the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Alice again enters a fantastical world, this time by climbing through a mirror into the world that she can see beyond it. There she finds that, just like a reflection, everything is reversed, including logic (e.g. running helps you remain stationary, walking away from something brings you towards it, chessmen are alive, nursery rhyme characters exist, etc.). (Source: Wikipedia)

I believe that we accomplished what at times we may have thought wasn’t possible, too new, too out of this world, too brave.

And what I appreciated most from you, our Symposium Attendees, was your positive attitude and your unwavering dedication to making the most of the online professional development and training that we planned for you. Thanks for braving the new (virtual) world with us to make our first ever virtual Symposium the best it could be. And through it all we will indeed have new ‘Lenses on Learning’!

Our Attendees:Central Socks

  • # of Attendees: 308
  • % of CALPS in Attendance: 91%

What Some Attendees Had to Say:

  • “I found the Symposium both beneficial and interesting. The technical work that must have gone into it by the technicians and the facilitators blew my mind. So impressive”
  • “I am finding the symposium very informative, relevant, and interesting this year. I enjoyed the conflict-resolution session and the session dealing with the subject of why learners leave. Whoever chose the speakers did a great job.”
  • “I quite enjoyed Symposium. While attending a conference in person is exciting, there are advantages to the online format, too. Participants still get to see each other and to have personal interactions, if desired. In large addresses, nobody is sitting at the back of the room where they can't see or hear the presenter. The breakout function is suitable for meeting in small groups and keeping people on time (whether they like it or not!) But regardless of the format, what I took away most from Symposium is that the CLN is everywhere and is well connected with the education and social services communities. There is a single, though very broad, purpose in all of the agencies, and that is to provide opportunities for all Albertans to be comfortable and to feel fulfilled. It's a very holistic attitude that we will all do better together. I like that!”
  • “Symposium was great. It was high class, very professional, and very high quality (other than the keynote issues at the very end – which were handled very well).”
  • “How easy the site was to navigate and how quickly “I” felt at ease in the virtual environment. Gold star to the online production!”
  • “…your team did an incredible job on the Literacy Symposium. I was beyond impressed!!! Congratulations on achieving a super successful event. Much appreciated.”
  • “The learner story was amazing this afternoon, she deserves a standing ovation. I also thinking the first one this week was also very well done!...I have so many organizations that need to hear this. Especially some of the board members who say "In this day and age there can't be people who can't read" 
  • “Thank you and the CALP team, that put this wonderful technical Symposium ‘together’. Grateful to be exposed to knowledgeable ‘presenters’, who certainly gave me food for thought.”
  • “Thanks to everyone who worked on the virtual Symposium. We probably all wanted to be at the Symposium in person; however, it was a great event virtually!
    I was so impressed with the virtual effort that I would attend virtually again. It was great! and, thank you for the socks, there is a cold winter ahead.”
  • Re: Attendee Packages: “It brings the feel of Symposium right into my office.”
  • Re: Door Prizes: “Thank you so much… What a wonderful topping for an already great event! Thank you and your team for all your hard work in making the symposium a success in these different times.”

Attendee Highlights - In no particular order, attendees indicated how much they appreciated:

  • The user friendly Chime Live site
  • Speakers and topics - Great sessions, very informative and relevant
  • Adult Learner Speakers
  • Symposium Attendee packages – the socks, the lens, the treats
  • Participant engagement (draw prizes and golden tickets)
  • Breakout rooms in Regional Connections Sessions - Chance to connect in small groups at the Regional Meeting was highlighted often
  • Commute
  • Lots of positive feedback on the whole experience, and appreciation to the CLN team for all the hard work to make it happen

What Some Attendees Missed:

  • Connecting (in particular personal connections)
  • Congratulating the Adult Learner Speakers
  • Interactive sessions (some feedback that the webinars were more challenging to engage with)
  • Symposium focus (lots of multitasking last week for staff either from the home or office, missed the getaway and singular focus that face to face symposium provides)

What Presenters Had to Say:

  • “Huge thanks again for your great and important work with the Symposium. Congrats to you and the CLN team. Well done adapting to this new world and keeping the ship steady. Here's to an in-person event next year in AB! I always look forward to this event.” 
  • “Thank you so much for the opportunity to speak at the Literacy and Learning Symposium. It went really well and we had a lot of great questions asked throughout the two days.”
  • “Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to this year’s symposium! The audience seemed to be engaged and very interested in the content we were able to share.”
  • “Thanks so much for the opportunity to be a part of it.”
  • “It was such a great week - thank you for leading us through it all with calm, optimism and efficiency!”
  • “Thank-you so much again for inviting me to speak (virtually!!). It was great fun- loved your attendees. It was also such a sincere pleasure working with you and your team!”
  • “It was such a delight to be part of your event!”

Doray with screensaver

 What will Symposium 2021 look like?

Looking to the future, I wonder what's in store for us leading into Symposium 2021?

What will we bring with us from before?

What will we leave behind?

What new ways of working and leading will we keep?

What will we do differently, value more, and care more deeply about as we move forward?

What will our brave new world look like when we meet again at Symposium 2021...?

Pat Halewich
CLN Events Specialist (Symposium Event Lead)

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