Back in May/June this year, over a few beers at Andy Hadfield’s house, I announced my idea for the next GeekRetreat: Geeks in Action. I’ve always been excited about the idea that the best way to know who you like collaborating with is to test out that collaboration in a small project. Since we want to max the collaborative potential of the event, and possibly create some re-usable knowledge outside of the event, I thought it would be fun to experiment with the ‘sprints’ of the free software world (now showing up in other forms in things like Crisis Camp in the US).
The idea is simple: we still focus on our community – all the great people who come to the retreat – but this time, instead of only sharing tips and tricks and experiences as ‘talks’, we come to Stanford Valley under a broad theme, form teams, and work on producing something experimental, fun and engaging during our time there.
In the past few months, I opened up the discussion on the GeekRetreat Fellows list about what people were interested in creating that was a) able to be easily achieved in 3 days b) something related to our broad objective to ‘make the South African Internet better’ by enriching it as a public space in South Africa and c) should be openly licensed under a Creative Commons license so that numerous platforms could host the material.
The Fellows responded with some awesome, some off-the-wall and some great-but-unachievable-in-3-days projects. We started to see a common theme running throughout. Started by Barbs Mallinson’s great idea to produce short videos that teach a specific skill to kids on the Obami network, as well as Tim Lunn’s idea to produce a ‘Bootstrap Secrets’ text on best practices and best services for South African startups, the theme was on building small learning objects, based solidly in the experience and expertise of the GeekRetreat community. Then there was a great, empassioned note from the awesome Paul Furber about his wish to teach kids in South Africa how to code (he has already done a lot of this but wants to make it his full time gig soon) and a fascinating conversation about the value of different learning strategies.
GeekRetreat co-founder, Eve Dmochowska and I met online at 3am in the morning my time about a week ago to talk about our progress and we talked excitedly about the “instructables” theme that ran through many of the projects. I said that perhaps we needed to focus on teams creating learning objects along the instructables line – that way we could easily bring in expertise, equipment, training that supported the framework and let fellows go off and create amazing things from that common framework. Wikipedia is successful in many ways because editors come at the project with a common understanding of what an encyclopaedia page looks like, what it should contain. We’re no Wikipedia, but I think it would be interesting to see how much we can gain from starting out with a core understanding of what the basic frame of this should be.
So, where are we right now?
We have only 40 spaces for the next retreat and it looks like half of those spaces will be filled with fellows, another four or five will be student volunteers, and the rest will be filled by other awesome people throughout South Africa who have shown an interest in contributing and who have incredible experience and skills to bring to this community. We have a few people who are skilled animators and videographers, others who have a keen understanding of learning and student communities, and still others who are great at putting ideas into practice.
Registration will open up in the next few weeks. We’re extending the retreat to three nights instead of two in order to get the most out of our time together, and there will still be the requisite focus on fun, festivities and frivolity.
My ideal agenda would look something like this:
Fellows arrive Thursday evening to the start of a treasure hunt. We gobble down some dinner, hear from team leads on their project ideas, form teams and head to bed.
The next day, we get up bright and early for breakfast, salute to the sun and spend the first part of the morning working out our agenda and hearing from some of the experts on what the best instructables look like, how to use the tech, and how to tell a story. Teams get going on their own steam for the rest of the weekend, interspersed by outings, Survivor-type contests and eating the good food that Cornelli de Villiers always provides for us. We end the weekend with a show-and-tell, and prizes for the weird and wonderful stuff we’ve produced.
I’m not saying it’ll all be there. But again, like we say at the GeekRetreat: it’s only as fun and awesome as you make it.
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