Two professors from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine are part of the team behind the first international medical “unconference” planned for this spring.
First international medical education ‘unconference’ spearheaded by two OUWB professors
Unconference Organizers
Stefanie Attardi, Ph.D. (left), and Victoria Roach, Ph.D., both assistant professors in OUWB’s Department of Foundational Medical Studies, are part of the team behind the first international medical “unconference” planned for this spring.

Two professors from Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine are part of the team behind the first international medical education “unconference” planned for this spring.

The 2020 Anatomy Education Research Unconference will be held June 6 in Toronto. OUWB is sponsoring the event, along with the American Association for Anatomy and University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine.

In short, an “unconference” strips away the formality and structure of a traditional conference, where research is typically presented in finished form. Instead, research is discussed in earlier stages and in an informal, participant-driven setting.

The idea for “unconference” came from Stefanie Attardi, Ph.D., and Victoria Roach, Ph.D., both assistant professors in OUWB’s Department of Foundational Medical Studies. In developing the idea, they worked with University of Toronto’s Kristina Lisk, Ph.D., and Danielle Bentley, Ph.D.

Roach said they were at a conference last year and “ruminating about the fact that most of the talks are very polished and there’s little opportunity for growth.”

“When people ask questions about improvements…oftentimes the project is complete and it’s difficult to go back and revise,” she said. “That got us thinking about different presentation strategies for work and making the opportunity for people to present work that is not yet finished, or even started.”

Attardi said the opportunities for such discussions are limited in a traditional conference setting.

“It’s great to go to a conference and see people’s polished work, but we felt like a lot of our ideas moving forward could be generated in an informal, social setting,” Attardi said. “We thought there should just be a conference or meeting where all you do is the informal part.”

In this context, Attardi said that means attendees can wear comfortable clothes, and that there won’t be a hierarchy where there is one expert standing on a stage and leading a discussion.

“We want it to be very informal,” she said. “We want everybody to feel like they can learn from each other, no matter what stage of training they’re at.”

Roach said the unconference is being held in Toronto because of its location in relation to many different parts of the U.S. and Canada, as well as the city’s status as a top tourist destination. It’s being held in June to avoid conflict with any of the other anatomy conferences.

The day will start with a keynote address by Nicole Woods, Ph.D., senior director, education and research integration and scientific director at The Institute for Education Research, and scientist and associate director of The Wilson Centre at University Health Network.

The group — expected to consist of about 45 people — will then determine by vote what the breakout sessions will look like for the rest of the day. Lunch will be provided.

The day will wrap with Harvard Macy Institute Step-Back Consultations, which is an emerging model used to gather group feedback.

“The idea is you’re in a small group and you tell them about your project…and then you have to be quiet for a certain amount of time and the group basically takes ownership of the project and starts discussing it as if it were their own,” Attardi said.

Roach said the overall intent of the unconference is to create a “multi-directional discourse.”

“Everybody has expertise in something, but oftentimes we don’t know that in a formal setting,” she said.

At the end of the day, Roach said the hope is that attendees have “improved networking opportunities” and “more perspective on their experimental design.”

Attardi and Roach also plan to write a paper on the impact of the unconference with hopes that other disciplines can possibly benefit from their experience in creating the first one.

“As far as we know, this is the first international unconference,” Roach said.

There is no cost to attend the unconference. More details, including a link for how to apply to attend the unconference, can be found at https://www.anatedunconference.com/

For more information, contact Andrew Dietderich, marketing writer, OUWB, at adietderich@oakland.edu

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