Thoughts on a BrewEd in Lockdown
Earlier in the academic year, which now seems like more than a lifetime ago, I wrote a blog about BrewEdEY http://assure.education/blog/thoughts-on-a-brewed.
If you’re not familiar with the concept of BrewEd, where have you been? It’s a unique type of educational event which takes place in a pub or café, the brainchild of Ed Finch and Daryn Simon, who were named as two of the most influential people in education in 2019 by TES https://www.tes.com/news/revealed-tes-10-most-influential-people-2019
It’s an intimate affair with numbers usually kept below 50. Speakers give their time for free and usually speak for around 15 to 20 minutes, with 10-15 minutes for questions and discussion, the cost is kept to a minimum to make the event as accessible as possible.
Since it’s inception in the back room of The Greystones pub in Sheffield in November 2017 BrewEds have been popping up all over the country. Anyone can organise them, you can read a bit more about the concept here https://www.tes.com/news/meet-men-bringing-pub-based-cpd-nation
No prizes for guessing who the person talking about Bold Beginnings in the article is!
It’s a rare weekend which doesn’t have at least one BrewEd taking place, and on some weekends there are several happening at once. They’ve been a roaring success. New friendships have been forged, ideas have been shared, connections made, assumptions challenged, thousands of pounds have been raised for charity and more than one teacher has cited a BrewEd at the right time as the reason they are still in the profession. So far, so impressive.
I have attended and spoken at more of these events than I can remember now. Each one is unique and special but if I had to put my finger on what makes them so successful I would say it is the intimate atmosphere which is created by being in a small space, with a relatively small number of people all listening to the same messages and sharing ideas together. BrewEd is not a conference, there is a real feeling that everyone’s voice can and should be heard. So, when BrewEdIsolation was mentioned I was both excited and nervous. Anyone who knows me well will know how much I love a BrewEd, so my initial response was, “Fantastic, I’m up for that!” quickly followed by, “How will that work?” and then, “Will that work?” As Ed said so eloquently in his opening talk, “The important people in the room aren’t the speakers, the important people are the audience.” BrewEd is all about connections! How would that work in the virtual world?
A call was put out on Twitter and lots of people, myself included, responded. BrewEdIsolation was born. Organizing a BrewEd in a pub takes a bit of work, you have to find a venue, work out the costs, find some speakers and then advertise your event. The running order, the obligatory quiz, the prizes, the admin side of things all take a bit of time and effort. Organizing an online version takes a mind-blowing amount of skill, ICT knowledge and ingenuity. Thanks to the genius and skill of Graham Andre’ with some amazing support from Ed Finch, Colin Grimes and Mark Anderson amongst others, they made it work brilliantly.
Just like any other event, there will be bumps in the road. The call was made for speakers and people responded, but when the running order was announced it became apparent that the range of speakers involved could be more diverse. Thanks to Pran Patel for pointing this out. It’s so important that a range of voices are heard and once the lack of diversity was raised, Graham and the team worked hard to rectify this. The line up for the event was varied and interesting, and the beauty of a BrewEd online is that we can all go back and revisit the presentations, so if something was of particular interest, or family life got in the way for a few minutes, the whole day is still available here https://www.pscp.tv/w/1OwxWQdRvRwGQ
What you will find here is an incredible resource; teachers and educators working in HE, FE, secondary, primary, EY, poets, artists, mathematicians, musicians, IT whizzes, teachers, leaders, lecturers and consultants. I know I am going to go back during the week and look at some of the things I missed, and to revisit some of the presentations to further my thinking.
You’ll also find a good deal of silliness. I’m not sure what my neighbours thought of Graham’s pub singing during the quiz as I was listening out in the garden!
If you missed it, or missed parts of it, why not revisit it this week? Thanks to Gaz Needle you can find the exact timing of the presentation you’d like to see, using this document.
So, did it work? Did it feel like a BrewEd? Absolutely it did. At times there were more than 200 people in the room, which is a bit larger than a BrewEd but it still remained true to the BrewEd spirit. The live chat running alongside helped people to comment and pose questions so what it lacked in the intimacy of a face to face discussion, it gained in the immediacy of the feedback. The IT meant that it was possible to see comments instantly from everyone who was watching in real-time. Lots of presenters were really skilled at incorporating this into their presentations. So, the BrewEd spirit of open dialogue was very much retained.
Our lives have changed beyond recognition in these last few weeks. For some of us, all the technology that was required to make this happen is new, and we’re still navigating the possibilities. Eight weeks ago I had never used zoom, now I’m running a daily virtual staffroom and looking at Microsoft teams, Padlets, Loom and Vimeo. The extraordinary has become the new normal. So, it was reassuring to take part in something which, though different, felt very familiar. The Firm Foundations team has already been inspired by the day and we’re thinking about taking our next conference online. I’m pretty sure other people will be similarly inspired.
Right at the beginning of the day, Ed talked about how special BrewEd is, and what makes it special. It was really moving to hear him talk about the friendships forged on that first day in Sheffield and at subsequent events. What makes BrewEd special is the people, the community. What Graham and the team showed us yesterday is that although we are in isolation and scattered all over the world, the education community is very much together and united in these troubling times. Thank you, everyone, you were awesome!