Thinking about unmeetings

Stefanie Butland has been writing about unconferences.

In November, she shared six tips for running a successful unconference.

An ‘unconference’ has no schedule set before the event. Participants discuss project ideas online in advance and projects are selected by participant-voting at the start.

Stefanie’s six tips are:

  • Have a code of conduct.
  • Host online discussion of project ideas before the unconference.
  • Have a pre-unconference video-chat with first-time participants
  • Run an effective ice breaker
  • Have a plan to capture content
  • Care about other people’s success

Stefanie notes that Aidan Budd and his colleagues (2015) have a list of ten rules for organising an unconference.

In a second post in December, Stefanie wrote about the value of welcome in preparing new community members for an unconference.

An unconference of 70 participants had 45 people attending their first unconference. Stephanie wrote an introductory email to these 45:

Stephanie used the free Calendly tool to schedule meetings. She sent some questions in advance of the online conversations ( and used a Google Form questionnaire to compile responses (individually and collectively).

The online conversations enabled Stephanie “to prime people to connect on day-one of the unconference with others with similar interests or from related work sectors”.  She noticed that: immediately after our conversation, first-time participants would join the online discussion of existing project ideas, or they themselves proposed new ideas. My conversations with two first-time participants led directly to their proposing community-focussed projects – a group discussion and a new blog series of interviews!

She added:

An unexpected benefit was that questions people asked me during the video chats led to actions I could take to improve the unconference. For example, when someone wanted to know what previous participants wished they knew beforehand, I asked for and shared example resources. One wise person asked me what my plan was for having project teams report out at the end of the unconference and this led directly to a streamlined plan (See Six tips for running a successful unconference).

I think Stephanie’s posts are great resources for anyone contemplating an unconference or hackathon. Earlier this year, I was involved in a hackathon in Ireland (#abbotsthon17). One of the issues that did arise then was how to connect a community that was emerging.

Stephanie’s introductory, welcome email resonates strongly with my interest in first-in-family initiatives in higher education. It resonates too with Nancy White’s stewardship practices.

From each of these inspirations, I am very clear about the importance of inducting people into a community and supporting them once they have made the decision to engage (or even participate peripherally).

Photo Credits

Stefanie Butland (Twitter)

P1580274 (David Haberthür, CC BY-NC 2.0)

A four decade journey in performance analysis and analytics

The end of a calendar year is a good time to reflect on learning journeys. This December, I have been thinking back over four decades.

My fascination with performance analysis and analytics started with my role as a teacher of physical education and as a young coach in the 1970s. In 1977, I started to take responsibility for coaching club rugby union. My role models were Tony Gray, Jim Greenwood, Ray Williams and John Dawes. I think my roots in applied performance analysis were set then. Thereafter, whatever work I did in analysis was focussed on supporting coaches and athletes.

A decade later, in 1987, I was starting the write up of my part-time PhD at the University of Surrey. I had spent three years observing the teaching of physical education in two schools and was immersed in the ethnographic literature. My supervisor introduced me to the work of Miller Mair and from that time I have been keen to explore performance analysis and analytics as storytelling and story sharing.

These are the kinds of things I learned from Miller:

Our worlds are structured in metaphor and images. We can only tell stories from conjured images of what we suppose we are and what we suppose we know, within the language and assumptions of our place and time.

Every telling (whether in psychotherapy, science, the market place or the lovers bed) is a composition with personal intentions. Every telling is partial, suffused with personal interest.

Every telling has to be in some manner and style. Even when we seek to be plain and blunt we are using stylistic devices for signifying plainness and bluntness.

Science has tried to be ‘the story to end all stories’, or a story trying its hardest not to seem like a story at all, but the way things are. Every group has its own sanctioned ways of telling for different purposes and contexts, its ways of listening, ways of evaluating. The ‘hard’ approaches to science have their own ways of telling set up in such a way as to seem and claim to be above and separate from mere telling, beyond any contamination in the telling itself.

But stories are partial and political. We all have vested interests in our psychological and other tellings.

My thesis ended up being a collection of stories. Two of them are:

Do people who have lost their voice have to do it?

Anush and basketball fever

I had started doing some hand notations of rugby and lacrosse whilst I was at St Mary’s College at Strawberry Hill (1978-1986) and had been using VHS video recordings of performance. By the time my PhD was submitted, I had written a book about the use of video in sport.

The next decade took me into the digital era but strongly connected to storytelling (Are we all performance analysts? (1998)). I was fortunate to spend this decade at the Cardiff Institute of Higher Education (later UWIC and subsequently Cardiff Met).

I was a guest at the Sports Coach conference in Melbourne in November 1998.

I took with me  one of the first digital cameras and an early example of a portable analysis system that had been developed by Tony Kirkbride. My presentation to the conference is archived on Slideshare.

These are two of slides I shared at the conference:


I provided an example of my own use of digital stills in coaching as I tried out the new technology.

A decade later, I was at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) in Canberra. I rode the wave of digital technologies and was part of a decade that saw the full-fledged software as a service era and the emergence of a video repository for online and near line access on demand. In 2005, I had the opportunity to develop a proposal for funding for three analytics positions. We were also using Australia’s supercomputers and high speed infrastructure to share large amounts of swimming video and data (up to 1tb). By 2007, we had started a data analytics project for the Beijing Olympics that contributed to a gold medal performance and had developed a stable machine learning approach to support cricket coaches in the Ashes Series.

The opportunities I had at the AIS gave me wonderful freedom to explore and champion disruption in the support an institute could offer to the daily training and competition environments.  I was fortunate that my line managers were able to see beyond the narrow limits of videography and coding and embrace a digital age that celebrated knowledge discovery in databases.

Much of my work in the decade following the AIS innovations has been spent exploring open access sharing. In 2017, my focus has been to use the plethora of online education platforms to continue my own learning and to share resources with others in a world that now sees the sharing, aggregating and curating of digital artifacts as a normal activity.

My most recent learning experiences have been with R and ggplot 2.

Reflecting on this four decade journey from analogue to digital experiences has been a fascinating experience. It was helped by a presentation I gave in Ireland earlier this year, Are We There Yet?

What excites me is how present day researchers are using technologies and creating innovative communities of practice that are accelerating our understanding of performance.

When I started my learning journey in the 1970s, it was possible to aspire to be a polymath in performance analysis and analytics. Four decades on the flourishing of all forms of enquiry make that much more difficult.

I am relishing the next decade and am wondering what my experience will be when I look back from 2027.

I am hopeful it will be more like:


Photo Credits

Interesting sidelines (scsmith4, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Miller Mair (Constructivist Psychology)

2008 McLaren Park CX Tilt Shift (Steven Woo, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Geen hulp voor Giusto Cerutti (Nationaal Archief, no known copyright restrictions)

Social practices and intersubjective acceptance

A photograph of notes made by Mara Averick and shared by her on Twitter.

Last week, I was introduced to Matthew Rampley’s exploration of visual culture. In his discussion of architecture, Matthew observed:

Architecture needs to be thought of less as a set of special material products and rather more as range of social and professional practices that sometimes, but by no means always, lead to building. (2005) (My emphasis.)

His mention of practices caught my attention, particularly as I was thinking about how we use space and place in convivial ways.

Two other papers this week have focused my attention on social practices and intersubjectivity.

The first is written by Daniel Dominguez (2017) and discusses web skill acquisition in open learning environments in the context of learner autonomy. Daniel considers “the heuristics and linking the practices of individuals using the web and the skills they develop from these practices” (2017:103). He observes “the new competencies the web offers for people to be active in constructing new pathways for social participation and, especially, learning”.

The second paper is written by Gary Schaal, Roxanna Kath and Sebastian Dumm (2016) on the topic of interpreting data visualisations. They present a hermeneutic methodology “for interpreting visualizations that aims at intersubjective acceptance”. Their paper is in German. My limited technical German led me to reflect on the points they made about the visualisation process:

  • Data sampling
  • Algorithmic analysis of the sampled data
  • Choice of visualisation for the algorithmic analysis
  • Hermeneutic interpretation of the chosen visualisation

Their own learning journey has been enriched by the work of Don Ihde, part of which has focused on science’s way of seeing that can be explored by visual hermeneutics.

Matthew, Daniel, Gary, Roxanna and Sebastian raise some very important issues for me as I continue my journey of open sharing in digital habitats. They remind me that as we share our work and induct students into digital connections, we can (and must) take a reflexive approach to what we are doing about our occupational social practices.

Photo Credit

Mara Averick’s notes (Twitter)