There’s been a slightly disconnected conversation within/across my learning network/environment about conferences, presentations, etc. At the risk of sending you away, here are some posts I’ve read:
- Dan Meyer blogged and Tweeted from and about ILC and was his usual critical (though I think constructively critical) self.
- Sylvia Martinez, I learned through her comments to Dan, had written a while ago about how conference presenters might be better selected.
- Ben Grey very recently wrote about the power of conferences.
- Then, today, David Warlick wondered if the availability of a Ning site along with pre-conference handouts would stop people from attending conferences.
Most of what I’ve been reading can be pretty well summarized thusly: conferences are important learning opportunities because the f-2-f conversations (especially the informal/unplanned ones) that happen are great, but, for the most part, the presentations suck.
That statement about sums up my experiences as well, especially at “academic” conferences (what a ridiculous distinction, BTW).
So, here I go thinking “out loud” about the sort of conferences I’d like to attend (NOTE: this thinking is mostly related to ed. tech. conferences, but many of the ideas are applicable to any sort of conference). In general terms, if I could have read what you are going to present, I don’t need to hear and see you tell me what you’ve written. Also, if you could have “delivered” your presentation by publishing it on the Web (see e.g. K12Online), you might want to re-think what you’re doing at the conference. More specifically:
*No keynote or featured speaker presentations by anyone who has recently written a book. Along the lines of Dan Meyer’s “cover the stuff I can’t Google,” if I can read the book, I don’t need to sit and listen to you summarize it.
*More moderated panel discussions and/or point/counterpoint sessions. If I have to just sit there and listen, I’m much more inclined to listen to people speaking with each other spontaneously. Wouldn’t you enjoy listening to a point/counterpoint with Gary Stager and…well…anybody and everybody?
*No more large-scale demonstration sessions (especially of the “How I used Google Earth in my classroom!” variety). In addition to the vendor exhibit halls (hey, someone’s gotta fund the conference and give away swag), have a massive project demonstration room. Think Poster Session 2.0. Allow me to walk around from booth to booth and to converse with the folks about their projects and to view their various (digital, print, etc.) project artifacts. All I’d need ahead of time is abstracts of the projects and I’d know which booths I’d want to visit/explore and at least one or two beginning questions. This, BTW, might also be a good place to involve students. If there were students at the booths to talk about their involvement in the projects, I’d love to talk to them about it and I think they’d be more comfortable in the more intimate setting than in front of hundreds of people at once.
*Figure out ways to facilitate discussion/conversations. For example, perhaps offer fewer but longer sessions. Then, IF the person(s) assigned to lead the session choose(s) to make a presentation, he/she/they must leave equal time for discussion about the presentation. Also, configure the rooms so that they are more suitable to discussion/conversations. If I have to stare at the back of people’s heads, you’ve lost me before the session even begins.
Essentially, I think those that organize conferences MUST figure out what they can do that either can’t be done online or that can be done better or differently f-2-f. To that end, it seems to me that the root of the word “conference” is confer. And, according to Dictionary.com, to confer means “to consult together; compare opinions; carry on a discussion or deliberation.” That’s what I want to do at f-2-f conferences. In 2009, I’m headed to Educon 2.1, VSTE, CoSN, AERA, NECC…think I’ll get what I want?
Any other thoughts on how to improve conferences?