The Free, Global, Online Homeschool Conference 2013

The online Homeschool Conference was a surprising development for me this summer; Steve Hargadon and I spoke about doing it for several months and it didn’t seem like it would happen, but during the summer we had the opportunity to make it happen quickly and we grabbed it. Steve and I wanted to see what happens when homeschoolers get to use a technological platform reserved for university-level courses (Blackboard Collaborate) to co-create a free, online, nonsectarian homeschooling event. The results speak for themselves: in our short startup time we got 52 presenters and 1600 joined as conference members.

Our conference strands show the depth and variety of challenges and concerns that face homeschoolers, as well as the innovative practices they create to help children learn. I posted these recordings of the keynotes and distinguished speakers to YouTube and gathered them on this page of the HoltGWS site to give you a flavor for this unique event. You can see and listen to the entire list of conference recordings at the Homeschool Conference Recordings page.

The technological challenges of presenting online are still a bit rough; we couldn’t get the software to work with some speakers, so those presentations have a still photograph that remains in place while the audio track plays. There are some gaps and silences on the recordings as various glitches get fixed during the sessions, but everything that was presented in August 2014 is available.

I’m still listening to this incredible trove of homeschooling/unschooling wisdom and, in doing so, I also learned a few things about presenting in this format that I will incorporate the next time I use the Blackboard Collaborate platform. For instance, I am struck at how easily Meredith Collins and Carlo Ricci use Blackboard to increase feedback and connections with their workshop participants. I hope to leverage more of these tools in my online presentations.

Note, too, that Sorina Oprean’s talk “Unschooling, Distance Schools, and How to Use Teaching Materials” is delivered in Romanian, not English. This is another aspect of online conferencing we want to exploit: the ability to talk to other cultures about alternatives to school in their native languages.

Since you probably know many of the keynote presenters, I want to highlight one of our Distinguished Speakers who you might not know. Meredith Collins gave a refreshing talk, “Humor and Lightness in the Face of Struggle,” that I recommend to you. She provides her research about brain processes that are related to humor and learning, as well as personal stories about how humor and a light touch with subject matter and people guide her work and create a more relaxed environment. Meredith notes that it is most often the adults who set the tone for the environments that children are placed in and, too often, the adults set too serious a tone and focus on adult expectations so much that they ignore the possibilities for using humor and lightness. Meredith gives examples of how she and other adults recognize opportunities to add humor and lightness to a situation, and then she asks her audience for their own stories. Meredith helps them see what they did well in those situations, and what could be done better. I think every adult, whether they interact with children or not, should be aware of how easily they can change the tone of a situation with a light comment or a smile. Meredith explains how humor, particularly around children, is more setting a tone rather than telling jokes, so you don’t have to be Jerry Seinfeld to get value from her talk.

You'll find Meredith's talk about halfway down the conference page, under Distinguised Speakers. Here’s a list of all the Keynotes and Distinguished Speakers that you can watch on the [Homeschool Conference 2013 page.


The Legacy of John Holt by Patrick Farenga

Free to Learn by Dr. Peter Gray

Learning Disabled or Learns Differently? by Cindy Gaddis

The Average Giraffe Sleeps 4.6 Hours a Day by David Albert

Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich

The Global Movement for Learner-Centered Alternatives by Jerry Mintz

The Homeschooling Movement as a Political, Economic, and Social Force for Change. How Homeschooling Can Save Our Country by Yale Wishnick

How to Increase Student Engagement by Focusing on Student Expectations by Elliot Washor

Distinguished Speakers

Home Education in England and Wales by Leslie Barson

SelfDesign: Unfolding Our Infinite Wisdom Within by Monica Cochran

Humor and Lightness in the Face of Struggle by Meredith Collins

The Willed Curriculum: A Learner-Centered Democratic Worldview by Carlo Ricci

Homeschooling UK Comparisons of 4 to 5 Year Olds In and Out of School by Dr. Paula Rothermel

Self-Directed Learning and The Roots of Success by Jamie McMillan

Unschooling, Distance Schools, and How to Use Teaching Materials by Sorina Oprean NOTE: This presentation is delivered in Romanian, not English.