Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The "Unconference" Conference Concept

I have been intrigued about the concept of an "unconference" since I first learned about #THATcamp last spring on Twitter. The term "unconference" is not entirely accurate as conferences that follow these concepts are still a conference. However, it is a large departure from traditional conference experiences we are all used to attending in that the topics and schedule are largely participant-generated. The concept is explained in this article from Academe Today: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Unconference-Technology/65651/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

So while I have been interested in this concept, I had not had the opportunity to participate in such an event until I was able to experience a similar approach in a meeting last week. At the end of our academic year, our school hosts a Faculty Development Day. This had been planned similar to a workshop with some featured speakers, maybe some small group discussions, and perhaps some faculty presentations. While it could be an informative day, the schedule was set by the planning committee and led to a fairly structured day.

This year, a consultant was hired to facilitate our Faculty Development Day and she utilized the Open Space Technology method. http://www.openspaceworld.org/cgi/wiki.cgi?AboutOpenSpace

As soon as I understood this approach, I thought it was very similar to the unconference approach. Essentially, the day began with a large board that was divided into six columns for separate groups and rows of one-hour blocks for the day, with time provided for lunch and wrap-up. The group (about 50 faculty and department chairs) was instructed to place on the board any topic they wanted to discuss as part of the day. Participants quickly began generating ideas and announcing their topic as they placed a sheet of paper with the topic on the board. Another group column was added to accommodate all of the ideas, but the 28 slots (7 discussion groups, one-hour blocks of time) filled rather quickly.

Discussion topics reflected the wide variety of interest and expertise of the group and included areas such as collaborative research efforts, interprofessional courses, managing with ongoing budget changes, utilization of staff for increased efficiency, and managing expectations of students. As participants, we were free to attend any of the group sessions that appealed to us, and were given permission to leave and move to another group if a discussion did not appeal to us. The "convener" of the discussion was responsible for starting off the discussion, but then it was the group's responsibility to carry out the discussion. A note-taker captured the main points of each discussion and the notes were submitted to a staff person at the end of each discussion. The staff person typed the notes and organizational plans will be developed from the notes of each discussion.

By the end of the day, all of the participants verbalized an appreciation for the process and genuine surprise and how well it worked. Many even commented that it was the best Faculty Development Day we had ever experienced.

All of this makes me wonder how this approach would apply to occupational therapy conferences. Group size would be an important consideration. THATCamp limits its participants to 100 people. Open Space Technology says the approach can accommodate over 2000 participants. Otherwise, the idea of this organic approach to conference planning is very interesting. Participant-generated topics and discussion should naturally lead to important connections and innovative discussions.

But what happens if no topics are suggested, or if the meeting or conference heads in a direction that planners aren't intending? Proponents of this approach are confident that topics will always be provided as this approach taps into participants' true interests and the things they are passionate about discussing. As far as heading in unplanned directions, it seems that the very foundation of this approach is that the ideas and activities will head only in the direction the participants want it to, so how could it ever be a wrong direction?

Undoubtedly, success of this approach relies on planners willingness to implement a much less "structured" approach to conferences. Furthermore, it places a greater responsibility on the participants. Participants may claim to dislike sitting through hours of sessions listening to a multitude of presenters, but it is easy on the participants. No engagement in the process is usually required. This alternative approach demands that participants be fully engaged in the process and that does take more effort and resonsibility for the process.

So, do you see this approach being an viable alternative to any OT conferences you attend? Why or why not?

Friday, May 21, 2010

Words in a Row

It is hard to believe it is Friday already! This week has absolutely flown by too quickly!!! In addition to regular work stuff, we had our annual Faculty Development Day on Wednesday and graduation rehearsal on Thursday. However, it has been a good and relatively productive week.
I am making reasonable progress on my first article for the summer. The journal to which I plan to submit it has a category for reflective essays, so I have written the material with that type of submission in mind.

This week I rediscovered the value of "words in a row." I don't know why I was even surprised by this, but in writing, it is really "words in a row" that is the key to accomplishing writing goals. I learned this mantra from a colleague when I was working on my dissertation. It worked for me then, so I knew I needed to revisit this approach.

You see, my natural approach to writing seemed to be something like this...

1. Think about the topic
2. Develop an outline - probably for the 10th time
3. Think some more about the topic
4. Review the submission criteria (again!)
5. Think about how much writing I would get done if I had a cabin where I could work
6. Look at the submission criteria of other journals (again!)
7. Think about the topic some more
8. Read something that may (or may not) be related to the topic area
8. Revise the outline
9. Clear off my desk
10. Think about how much writing I would get done if I had a condo at the coast where I could work
11. Think how painful it will be to get editorial comments back and possible rejection
12. Thinks some more about the topic
13. Look up some references -- again!

Yes...I am beginning to see the problem and perhaps the reason my progress in writing has been less than admirable! I tended to spend so much time THINKING about what it is I want to write that I procrastinated on getting anything actually written.

So this week, I really focused on returning to that fundamental principle of "words in a row." And guess what??? It really worked!!!!!! Once I could just overcome the inertia and start putting words on paper (or, quite literally, on the screen) the process started to unfold rather comfortably. I did not spend time to put look up exact citations or years of references, but rather put "XX" as placeholders. I worried less about the smoothness of what I was writing and just continued to put words in a row. As my dissertation chair used to say, it is far easier to edit than to write. And as I wrote, more ideas for the article came. The organization changed somewhat from my initial outline as I saw how it was fitting together a little differently than I envisioned. Perhaps most importantly, as I was writing, I wanted to keep writing! There was one day I continuously wrote for about 4 hours! That signified real progress to me!

Whereas I still have a lot more to write, I am pleased with what I was able to get done this week. And surprisingly, it all happened within the confines of my office or at my dining room table, not at a condo at the coast!

Friday, May 14, 2010

'Tis the Summer o' Productivity

As the semester is officially coming to a close, I have shifted my thinking this week to how I will organize my summer time to get some specific goals accomplished. I feel really good about being able to accomplish quite a bit this summer. Thinking back to last summer, I spent a lot of time to prep for the conference presentations I did in 2009/2010. This was necessary, but it seemed as if that was the only thing I really was able to focus on and accomplish. Also, as I remember it, I was very tired going into last summer. It was the end of my first full academic teaching year and I taught two new courses for the first time. So I am not sure I was extremely productive in the summer as I was so tired from the year. However, this year, while still VERY busy, felt more manageable as I was in a better routine. Consequently, I do feel more energetic going into this summer than I did last year.

My publication activities is definitely the area where I am lagging behind in the most compared to other areas. There are some specific projects I intend to complete this summer. So what better way to help myself stay on track than to publicly declare what it is I plan to do! Per the academic structure, I have divided my planned activities into three categories:


- Technically, I am teaching two courses this Summer but the courses involve supervising and mentoring studetns as opposed to a set class schedule.
- For the student's community project course, I will need to follow up as needed with the students, particularly for the ones that I do not hear from regulalry. Especially as it nears time for them to finalize their proposals. All of the students seem to be on target at this point, and I will look forward to hearing their final project proposals in July.
- Since this is the first time we are offering the international service learning course to Belize, there is a lot of prep work that still needs to be done. But I am really excited about this course. We had such a great experience visiting Belize last summer to plan the course, I can only imagine how great it will be with the students!
- Plan for Fall 2010. There are some additional changes I want to make in the OT process course. I would like to use Camtasia to create audio files for the student to use for class prep. The feedbackfrom them this Spring on the audio modules was very postitive, so I do think it is a good way to move some of the foundational material out of class time and to use the class time for more applied activities.


- I am on the board of two state associations so service activities will revolve mostly around these.
-For TSAHP, I will need to collect the incoming student scholarship applications and organize them for the selection committee.
-For TOTA, I will need to prepare the review of the supervision guidelines according to TBOTE prior to our Fall board meeting.


- I have four projects in the works right now of various sizes and at various stages. This is probably one project too many to have occurring simultaneously, but I applied for several things last year that mostly materialized so it will work out with some planning.
-Project #1 is a relatively large, ongoing data analysis project. I have had quite a few barriers with this project, but it will get there eventually. I do have a presentation in June to the funding agency for this project, so I will need to present some preliminary findings as well as my revised timeline.
- Project #2 is a project with a colleague. We have presented initial findings from the data, but need to do some additional analysis. I anticipate we will be able to complete one publication this summer based on the data analysis, with probably two more publications to follow.
- Project #3 is a smaller, ongoing project. I need to complete some resources - perhaps a wiki- surrounding this project and one publication.
- Project #4 is actually related to Project #3. It is still in progress and will require some concentrated effort this summer. I plan to create a project wiki, plan for a symposium, and should be ready to develop at least one publication later in the Fall on the project.
-Finally, I have another article that I would like to get done this summer that is essentially a concept paper. I have been stuck on the lit review but with some focused effort, should be able to complete something.

So, I think the Summer Activity List looks like this:
1. Prep content changes for OT Process course.
2. Mentor students on Community Projects.
3. Prep activities for Belize course in August.
4. Complete scholarship review process for TSAHP.
5. Prepare review of supervision guidelines for TOTA.
6. Continue data analysis on Project #1.
7. Present preliminary data on Project #1.
8. Complete data analysis for Project #2.
9. Write first article (with colleague) for Project #2.
10. Complete Project #3 wiki.
11. Write article for Project #3.
12. Continue work on Project #4.
13. Complete Project #4 wiki.
14. Prepare Project #4 materials for Fall symposium.
15. Write concept paper.
16. Last but not least...keeping up with this blog!!!!!

We will see how I did in the Summer o' Productivity come August!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Endings and Beginnings

Like other ceremonies, graduations probably make most of us reflect on things completed and things yet to come - endings and beginnings. Our graduation is next weekend, and I find myself thinking about changes that have occurred since I graduated from OT school.

- This graduating class - the Class of 2010 - began in the Summer of 2007. This is also when I became a full-time faculty member. It is hard to believe that three years have passed! So in many ways, I feel as if this class and I have truly learned and grown together. It has been a wonderful thing to observe them grow into becoming OTs and well as to watch them change personally.

- I love the fact that teach at the department where I went to OT school. I really am filled with pride when students realize that I am an alumni of our school. I loved being a student here and I love teaching here even more!

- Watching our new graduates prepare to begin their first jobs as new OTs makes me think about how much things have changed since I graduated. I look at some of the students now and really admire their confidence in themselves. While I don't think I was insecure when I graduated, I certainly was not as bold in my early 20s as they collectively are today. While I know this gives "Gen Y" a negative stereotype at times, I believe they will use their confidence to accomplish good things for the benefit of others.

- I also think about how much the landscape of OT has changed since I was a new grad, particularly in the United States. As a fieldwork student, we were required to do three rotations, including a required one in a psychosocial setting. Some years after I graduated, this requirement was changed as there were no longer enough psychosocial settings in which to place students. While I never worked in this setting, I am sure the skills I gained from that experience supported my ability to interact with a wide array of patients and family members in my clinical career. While it is unfortunate that students no longer have this opportunity, it is a much graver concern to realize the continued decrease in mental health services.

My first job was at a large, a state-of-the art physical rehabilitation hospital. It contained a huge rehabilitation gym where patients with a range of orthopedic and neurological diagnoses were treated, all of the newest equipment, dozens of therapists, and a full census and nearly unlimited lengths of stays if patients were making documented progress. Things have changed! Now rehabilitation and skilled nursing facilities abound, patients are directed to certain facility types based on diagnosis, and patients' length of stays are a fraction of what we would have considered possible 15 years ago!

Were patient outcomes better when I was a new-grad OT? I don't know the answer to that, but I do know that the service delivery systems the new grads will be entering will require them to effective, efficient, and advocates for their clients. Having worked with them these past three years, I do believe they are well-prepared to assume their roles in the OT profession!

- In a few weeks, the class of new students will begin - the Class of 2013! Undoubtedly, they will walk into the same Gross Anatomy lab that I did 20 years ago this summer with the same mix of anticipation, excitement, and anxiety that I had. They will be excited to begin their education for a career that they are passionate about pursuing, and anxious about all of the work and unknown experiences that are ahead.

I look forward to learning and growing with the new class of students too, but I can't help wonder what changes in the OT world they will experience over the course of their careers. Or just maybe, one of them will be a full-time faculty member in the department 20 years from now!

In what ways has OT changed since you entered the profession?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thoughts from WFOT 2010

Although I have been home for several days now from Chile, I still find myself trying to organize my thoughts from WFOT 2010. In short, it was an amazing experience. In an effort to be succinct, I have tried to reflect on the main points that continue to resonate with me.

1. Chile is beautiful! This was my first trip to South America. Santiago is a very large city and our limited time only allowed us to explore a portion of it. It had a rich and interesting history and the architecture is beautiful. We encountered more language barriers than we expected. Being from South Texas, we anticipated that our limited Spanish would prove to be more beneficial than I think it was! However, our functioning in an environment where English is not the primary language did improve over the time we were there, and it definitely provides evidence of how language immersion programs are the way to learn! Nearly everyone we encountered was extremely friendly. I was impressed by the national pride exhibited by most as it was readily apparent that we were visitors. On several occasions we were asked by others if we were enjoying their country and if we thought their country was beautiful. Given our experiences, it was easy to say yes! Furthermore, the Congress planning team – Team Chile – did an excellent job of creating a dynamic program!

2. The global world of OT is a vibrant and fascinating one! This was my first WFOT Congress and I am not sure that I can adequately communicate the feeling of being there! It was a mixture of awe and pride to be one of the nearly 2000 OTs from over 50 countries in attendance. To hear of the fascinating work, research, and education that is being carried out by OTs from across the world was such a priceless opportunity. The emphasis on human rights, community issues, and societal issues by international OTs expanded my thinking in so many ways. I learned a tremendous amount from talking to others, but I truly learned the most from listening.

3. The world of OT is both large and small! While service delivery issues vary across the world and impact aspects of practice, the fundamental values held by the OT profession are quickly evident, regardless of where or how someone practices. The core belief of the needs and the rights for people to engage in occupations that are meaningful to them and to participate in their communities is truly what binds us together, regardless of country or practice setting.

4. There are exciting opportunities to collaborate with international colleagues! It was so wonderful to meet colleagues from across the world and discuss common interests. With the assistance of technology, it is conceivable to think that the initial contacts made during Congress will develop into collaborative relationships!
Now I only wish that WFOT 2014 to be held in Yokohama, Japan didn’t feel so far in the future!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Recommitting to blogging!

Having just returned from WFOT 2010, I am still trying to organize my thoughts and ideas about the amazing experience. One thing that I did leave with was a excitement about connecting with a group who is committed to the use of technology in OT. Blogging was discussed at the workshop and it made me want to recommit to my blogging efforts.

After finding my password to the blog site I set up at the end of last year, I was pretty impressed to see that my last entry was...January!!!! I knew I had not integrated blogging into my routine, but I hadn't realized I lost track quite that quickly!!

Nonetheless, at the end of the semester, it seems like an ideal time to grow my skills in this area and hopefully continue to connect with the global OT community. As the revised name of the blog suggests, my goals will be to explore various aspects of OT, OT education, and to share useful resources. And to post more than once every four months!!!