Conferences: are we getting it wrong?

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I’ve been interested recently inEdge Conference2 investigating new conference formats, and have found this years Edge conference to be particularly inspiring. Those of us working in Educational Technologies have spent many years standing up in rooms, talking at people for an hour, about how we shouldn’t stand up in rooms and talk at people for an hour. I often find myself pondering whether those outside of HE are doing things differently, or more importantly more effectively.

In Higher Education we often like to preach about how collaboration and interactivity are key to learning.  Yet at conferences, we often share this wisdom and knowledge in very traditional didactic ways. I attend conferences to share my own research with others, but also to generate new ideas, create, collaborate and innovate, and then often return home thinking about how most of this happened through networking outside of the doors of the event itself.

I also tend to find that while it was useful having a ten minute Q&A at the end of my own presentation, it would have been much more interesting to allow this discussion to continue, it often being cut off just as the debate gets interesting, and before my peers have a chance to jump in with their own ideas and suggestions that could really inform my work. I’m not saying that all Educational Technology events are run in this manner, however I’ve been to three large Educational Technology conferences in the last year, one in England, one in mainland Europe, and one in the US. All three conferences ran in a traditional didactic format, with sessions being recorded for online participants.

While having coffee with a friend recently who works as a developer, I was extremely interested to hear about the Edge conference this year.  While the theme is not particularly relevant to my work, the format I find fascinating. Rather than long presentations with short Q&A sessions, the presentations are only ten minutes, followed by 50 minute discussion and debate sessions. Everyone is expected to participate and the attendees are handpicked so have to apply for a ticket, the promotion for the event states that “Edge is about everyone learning from everyone else, so you need to bring something to teach as well as a desire to learn”. The event is promoted as engaging and collaborative, stating that a big discussion needs a team not an audience.

The entire event, and all the discussion and debate is captured both in video and text, which is then free to the world immediately. This allows those that would rather sit back and watch in a more traditional manner, the ability to do so, while creating a wealth of free educational resources for anyone who is interested, which of course includes beginners or those are not yet confident enough to join the debate.

While tech companies are famous for providing the environments people need to be creative and innovative thinkers, particularly in terms of collaborative physical spaces (everyone loves to look at pictures of the Google Zurich offices). I can’t help feeling that when it comes to the best ways of furthering a field, sharing best practice and effective professional development, it’s slightly embarrassing that we are still just talking about best practice at our own conferences, while others are just getting on with it!

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One Response

  1. Sian Lindsay

    April 3, 2014 10:15 am

    This is really interesting – I will look more into the Edge conference format now, thanks for sharing!


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