January 25, 2008

A Simple Change of Conference Format

This post was last updated on September 5th, 2011 at 11:05 am

I had breakfast with Steve Dembo and met Rushton Hurley, founder of Next Vista. Among the range of conversations we had was specifically about conferences since we are indeed attending one. I was reminded Steve of his podcast from about two years ago when he shared his experience with open conferencing. From that podcast I was able to run my own open conference and incorporate its principles several times since then.

While I have no illusions that mainstream conferences such as FETC will go so far as to engage in the controlled chaos of an open conference, there are some simple things that would make much more sense and provide participants with a much better experience and allow them to do more than simply come away with one good idea.

Most conferences have pre-conference workshops which are designed to provide an in depth opportunity to explore some concepts or develop skill in a particular area. The main conference offers concurrent sessions or keynotes that are meant to challenge and/or provide awareness of these ideas. This seems backwards. Here’s the idea I shared with Steve and Rushton.

I recently attended a 2 day First Nations conference where I went to a session on the second day on a documentary highlighting the work of 10 schools doing exemplary work with First Nations students.  Each segment was about 5-7 minutes showcasing the various schools. It was a great documentary and I immediately wanted to know more about some of these schools. I realized after that several of these schools hosted sessions on day one. I didn’t know that or make the connection.  Had the documentary been shown at the beginning of the conference I’d have definitely checked out those school’s sessions to find out more, ask questions and solidify my learning.

Thursday, I went to Alan November’ssession on Cultivating a World Class Ethic. In it he refers to RSS, Custom Searches, Skype and a host of other tools and ideas. Alan is acompelling speaker, I’ve heard him many times and know the impact he has on his audience. But I’m sure they left with more questions than answers. I think that’s good thing. But where’s the follow up? Howlasting is this? What if during his presentation he was able to refer to upcoming workshops at the end of the conference that would help them understand more about RSS, custom searches and Skype? What if the conference committee began with finding great speakers like Alan and then based on the content of his talk, found follow-up workshops that would support and deepen their learning? I’m know conference committees attempt to categorize and try and find balance in presentations but most participants don’t easily make these connections and have the opportunity for more just in time learning. Open conferences are designed to do just that; meet the needs of learners right now.

So that’s my idea. Not a radical shift but one that I feel might help transform conferences from being hit and miss efforts.

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