Today’s my last day at the LORNet conference in Vancouver, as I have to miss the Friday sessions to attend the fall session of the BC Ed Tech Users Group workshops.
I’ve enjoyed meeting the people at the conference and seeing their work at the poster sessions, but I have really not been enjoying the actual plenary sessions at all. Too much “death-by-powerpoint-no-demos-talk-and-no-show” which anyone who attends academic conferences, especially research-focused academic conferences, has experienced to no end.
It’s pretty easy to complain about this. I won’t go on much more. Alan pretty much has the market cornered on indignation at what a waste most of these sessions are, and I agree. But like Alan, I long to figure out a better model, one which could still preserve all of the good things we like about conferences, and re-invent or do away the bad.
So, here’s my modest proposal. Do away with the formal scheduling of presenting papers altogether. I’m not saying do away with presenting your ideas, but do away with the formal schedule that says “at 2 o’clock everyone should assemble in Room 1400 to hear what’s-his-name drone on about whatever” (sorry, I know I’m sounding dismissive, but there are many hours of my life that I will never get back due to such presentations).
Instead, book spaces with large rooms/halls, and make everyone who wants to present their work do it as a poster session over the course of 1 or 2 days. Offer seating in front of the poster areas if you like, and then let the wisdom of crowds decide which presentations to attend. Make it like the agora in days of yore, with the sages holding forth and the ‘learners’ wandering around till they found the conversation they wanted. See a big group forming and want to find out what the buzz is about – go and find out. Want to stay with that group discussion for the remainder of the conference – great, stay there. No one is coming to your presentation, fine, go to someone else’s, presuade others you have somthing to say, bring them back to your conversation or join the existing one and make it something bigger. Create ways in which people can also connect to these self-forming ‘groups’ via social software – different sessions could have different tags, different chat channels, whatever. Or else pre-create the groups via social software and then have meetups in real space around them. Take the whole conference concept a step futher and adopt a practice like “Open Spaces” whose explicit goal is “to create time and space for people to engage deeply and creatively around issues of concern to them.” Novel idea, eh?
But like I said, a ‘modest proposal’ – what would we list on our resumes as a result of such metings? How would we get publication credits? Right, right, I forgot, the reason for conferences is publishing opportunities, not learning and professional development. And you want me to pay me registration fee why exactly? – SWL