Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Alternative approaches to the standard conference ‘lecture’? Please?

I am in a session, and I have decided to change the name of the presenter and not mention the title (but this person is an invited speaker). I read the overview of the session beforehand and was hooked. I turned up early to the session to make sure I had a seat. The presenter kicked off by introducing himself and then setting the scene for the session. Then, he took a seat, said that he would talk for about 30 mins, and finally he pulled out his notes - no visuals. My heart sank - but I thought I should hang in there as the subject was well worth listening to and thinking about. I lasted about 10 minutes before I typed in the live blog I was typing up about the session:
Hmmm - maybe I've been spoiled by visuals and media....usually when I am listening to someone present - with just audio - it is when I am out running with my iPod. The presenter has some interesting points, but somehow I feel cheated. I could be out running and listening to what he has to say, or even sitting in a comfortable seat, reading his words. The face-to-face context, I feel in this case has not offered anything extra. Again (having previously blogged about this), I ask when are we going to make our conferences more engaging for everyone involved?

And about 5 minutes after that:
I'm reflecting about why I am feeling so negative. Other people here seem to be fully involved. I'm finding it really tricky to stay on track...and so I am fidgeting, and my mind is drifting.  The presenter is personable, he has an interesting voice, and is making some interesting points.
He has just said that "sending our children to school is not really educating them" - and, my immediate thought was, if I chose to be in this session, and have chosen to be at this conference, what do students who have been made to go to school, and who are sitting in a room like this one (chairs in rows, all facing the front), while someone talks 'at' them - feel?

It was at this time I decided I would continue following this line of thought (with half an ear on the lecture) as follows:

So, if face-to-face lectures have their place as some people argue, what are the ingredients that make them valuable? Thinking of Ewan's presentation this morning (which was enhanced by relevant, rich media), he told stories, he gave us hooks and provocations. There was humour, the presenter was obviously enthused, and there was a lively backchannel. But, I hate to think how long it took Ewan to prepare this presentation - and realistically, can we expect presenters to put this amount of effort into every presentation? I suspect not.

Preparing a presentation, and presenting, are skills. Likewise, at conferences, not all presenters and presentations have these skills well-honed. So - returning to the question about conferences that I posed above, perhaps presenters (maybe following guidelines that are nutted out by the conference 'community', which includes the presenters, beforehand) create a multi-media resource that can be accessed prior to the conference (think K12 online). Presenters may even want to collaborate to create a single resources that captures overlapping experiences, points and theories across one common theme. Then conference participants rock up to discuss the key points in the presentation...or to figure out how these points relate to them and their context.

The unconference is popular, but some folk finds that there is sometimes a requirement for more of a catalyst to get conversations underway. However, the big conferences (including TED Talks) are still focussed on the transmission model. What can we do, that is still financially viable (have to be realistic here), still going to fulfil PBRF requirements, but that respects, engages, and makes the most of all the participants at a conference - and in turn models the approaches that we could be using in school, university, and businesses?

  • TED Conference '97 - Peter Max Signed Print (Photo credit: The Daring Librarian)
  • Bored (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn_be_back_on_Jan_20th)

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