Accidental Inspiration

I just happened to fall into the last 15 minutes of an online session from AACE’s Spaces of Interaction: An Online Conversation on Improving Traditional Conferences with George Siemens, Alec Couros, Tony Karrer, Dave Cormier and Michelle Lentz, a discussion of how to improve traditional conferences.

I picked up on the same push for change I experienced in the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge class, but this time it was conferences that were bad and behind the times instead of schools. I heard about technology conferences with no wifi or bad wifi (I’ve attended one of these myself), the need for more back-channel chat during sessions, and the desire to make sessions more interactive, both for online and in-person conference settings.

One of the factors preventing conference overhaul, of course, is the need for presenting papers, a tradition which affects the careers of those presenting. Such one-way communication tends to create a passive audience, and thus isn’t in keeping with today’s participatory culture. The result is that some want conferences overhauled all together, while others want things to stay the same for professional reasons, at least until the professions themselves change.

unconference sticky note schedule
cc by jdlasica

As always, my view favors subversive change. You may have heard of “unconferences”, where the participants themselves use sticky notes or such to arrange and create on-the-spot sessions. I’m thinking we could create unconferences inside the main conferences, which I saw done on a lesser scale at the ED-MEDIA conference last summer in Vancouver (this summer’s should be great too!). So some “sessions” could be ad-hoc and fully participatory, while the more traditional sessions are pre-scheduled. Even though the Program for Online Teaching’s first mini-conference was small, I see a place there in Fall for doing just that inside our own conference. So although I just happened to fall into the session (because George and Alec posted an invite on Twitter and I happened to see it), it’s provided inspiration for the kind of subversive change I like to do!

3 thoughts to “Accidental Inspiration”

  1. I’m all about this. I have had some excellent conference experiences, but they are far outnumbered by the tedious and unproductive.

    I also caught part of the AACE session – the beginning – but got dragged away by family business. That’s OK, I can experience the recorded session. That’s one of the beauties of the online conversation. Which leads me to…

    What about increasing the number and subject matter of virtual conferences and unconferences? I’m sure we’re all experiencing squeezes on our travel budgets, so we who are comfortable with digital connective technology should be exploiting it to the full.

  2. Lisa:

    Glad you caught part of the webinar.

    I’m a big fan of unconferences and I often get called upon to lead them. So often they are standalone events. I would love if, more often, they were integrated into a traditional conference setting. I think an unconference provides an opportunity for open discussion, participation, and a “brain dump” that most attendees need at some point just to eliminate that overwhelming feeling of too much information. Unconferences help you sort it out.

    I think in the conversation we weren’t all addressing the same sorts of conferences. Tony & I, for example, tend to attend more corporate conferences (corporate training and the like), whereas others were more familiar with the conferences you reference, where people have that professional imperative to present, present, present. I do think several things can be done to improve both types, but you are right. At some conferences, that imperative to present does create a passive audience.


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