If the Shmoo fits…. How Hackers Create Amazing Learning Spaces at Conferences

Shmoocon 2015 Logo

I waited to blog until today…. despite the fact that I met a handful of amazing new colleagues equally as interested in pedagogy and games… I waited. Just downstairs from the APSA TLC this year was an internet security conference called ShmooCon

I waited to blog until today because I was warned…. that it was probably best to leave my electronics unconnected to the hotel internet…. lest some mischievous lurker find their way into my system.

Instead, however…. I decided to infiltrate their conference to learn what there was to learn about being a ‘hacker’ at a conference with other hackers. And what I found….

Hacker conferences are designed with tacit active learning methods beneath them! Everywhere I went, everyone was asking questions, interacting, playing, pushing boundaries, and generally smiling. This in stunning contrast to our own national political science conferences. So… in no particular order….

this year’s shmooball was red

Stuff That Happens at Hacker Conferences That Engages and Encourages Learning

1. The Shmoo Ball…. looks like a red stress ball. In fact…. everyone at the conference has one. When the presenter(s) begins to make claims that are contestable… go ahead… throw it… throw that ball right up on stage! The sage on stage is openly questioned…Shock horror, fantastic!

2. Games games games everywhere… you can’t walk three feet in any direction at that conference and someone isn’t actively engaging their skills in active puzzle play. Hacker Fortress, Ghost in the Shell, all sorts of challenges for people to try and showcase their capabilities.

3. Active conversation, open critique, debate, and curiosity. Attendees were curious about each other, worked hard to listen, and teach each other!!!! It wasn’t just the speakers that had the monopoly on teaching…everyone taught everyone else.

4. Ethical behavior requirements? Never hurts to be clear: ” ShmooCon supports the free and open exchange of information. We are proud to have attendees with unique and diverse viewpoints on just about any topic. We want to foster the exchange of ideas among attendees and think the community benefits from inclusiveness. To that end, we are committed to providing a friendly, lively, and welcoming environment for all. For your part, please be awesome to one another.”  –read… you get thrown out for being a jerk.

I found myself saying the same things over and over again…. THIS IS A LEARNING ENVIRONMENT…. a conference as a learning environment!… TLC is good but I see we have much to aspire to…. Well done shmoo…. well done!

On the downside however? in a brief emergency I did end up flipping on my phone’s hotspot to download a file…. and now whenever I type “hahaha” into my google hangout screen an animated fox and chicken pop up and laugh at me. Touche….