Graham Wegner’s recent post about “Redefining Conference Professional Respect” sparked up a blaze for me this morning.
Waiting for time to pass - CC (b) Orange42 Flickr

Waiting for time to pass - CC (by) Orange42 Flickr

In his post, he mentions complaints he read about a recent conference.  It seems some attendees thought that others who used the free wireless available to blog and tweet during keynotes were somehow rude. I started writing a response because the obvious irony of people attending a conference on how to integrate ICTs into education and learning who object to the use of laptops, PDAs and mobile phones to text during a presentation made me snort and shake my head. Then an image arose — of empty vessels who should passively wait to be filled — and of the image here of a bored student who is just sitting there, waiting for time to pass.  And it made me angry because isn’t that what we’ve been trying to break through? Here was what I was going to post as a comment — until it got so long and I got so fired up I figured it was worth a blog post: I question the value of lining us all up in chairs facing forward to listen to someone talk over slides — especially at a conference where the concepts of collaboration and new ways of teaching and learning are supposed to be the focus. How much more engaging would it be to be pointed at a pre-recorded presentation to watch in advance of the day — then come prepared to actively discuss, debate and evaluate the concepts presented? That way, the wireless connection is not a way of spewing out the highlights but to use to research and collaborate during the live discussion? We wonder why people new to the concepts of collaboration and decentralised knowledge have problems incorporating them into their teaching and then we provide conferences and PD sessions that are still structured with one font of all knowledge in front of a “class” of empty vessels waiting to be filled. Can we PLEASE start practicing what we preach?  Is there a conference coming up in the near future where the organisers and keynote speakers are willing to send out the materials in advance to allow people to become conference PARTICIPANTS rather than conference ATTENDEES?

10 Comments

  1. I think that’s a wonderful concept, Kerry, but I bet you the reality is that people (myself included) do not think about the conference until the day they get there, let alone read and digest material beforehand.

  2. Thanks so much for that comment Sarah — I love sharing my learning journey with thoughtful people like you. : )

    That’s what we’ve got to break through, isn’t it? If we want to engage learners and teach them to be active participants in their learning — then we as educators have to learn how to do it.

    It’s the how to learn that’s vital for learners to absorb, not the knowledge. It is a SKILL that can be learned with practice, not a concept that can be memorised.

    Once we all get used to reflective learning then we can pass how to do it along.

    It would be like a driving instructor who only memorised the manual and had never sat bum in a car trying to teach a new driver how to drive.

  3. Kerry, i couldn’t agree more. I often cause a stir in staff meetings by asking staff to have their laptops with them, and on. The only thing i ask is that they are on silent. At conferences the ability to record your thoughts on a blog or twitter, for me, is more valuable than just taking notes, as you are sharing, and more likely to discuss issues at a deeper level from the ensuing conversations. Well typing this comment on my phone is a first for me, but it seems to be working ok. Running out of txt, Suz

  4. I think Grahams post was more a question about the changes that are happening. I also think that a lot of this is US inspired, in terms of how a conference ‘should/could be’. Australian’s I hope realise that the US has a much ‘deeper’ pond to fish in that we do, and more used to ‘big’conferences. I agree with your idea Kerry, and a recent post I threw up was about pre-reading materials in collaborative learning – which is what this is.

    The floor in all this to me is the nature of organising a conference. AU is just not used to participation events. Even Edubloggercon at NECC was 5% of the total visitation – so paying and being talked at is still the norm.

    I also think that the ‘blogger types’ are able to multi-task, and are commenting to the crowd, which is part of their ecosystem. I don’t think that bagging things is at all positive, as trying to strive for a great event is a lot of work, and needs input from people who want to get it self-organised. But, and it’s a big one, putting your hand up to do that is often much harder than Tweeting some smart arse comment. No one at a conference wants to give a bad talk, or attend a bad session.

    I think that running an AU event should have AU people, like Al Upton, Sue Waters etc., and NOT be importing ‘names’ from overseas to keep sponsors happy. There are LOTS of great AU educators and advocates … traditional PD is dead, traditional conferences are dead … it’s a sign of the times … I’d be happy to organise or do workshops … but 90%+ of teachers are not part of the ”Tweet nation” – so in order to get them there, then talking at them just perpetuates the problem – learning is a conversation. It requires at least 2 voices.

  5. Thanks Suz and Dean for getting involved in this discussion — this sort of came to me in a blinding flash and it’s good to hash it out with people like yourselves.

    Suz, would you believe that a friend of mine was recently chastised for bringing his laptop to a meeting at his organisation? It seems the meeting organiser thought he was trying to catch up on work, rather than taking notes and adding actions and dates to his calendar. He had to turn his laptop screen around to prove he was using it in this way!

    Dean – I love how your brain works. A question or two — 1) do you think we can say traditional conferences are dead if they still keep happening? 2) how can we get people used to “traditional” teaching and learning involved in the new conversation? I’m afraid if we don’t figure that out, people entering university courses to become educators aren’t going to learn how to develop their voices.

  6. I actually saw Graham tweet that very question during the conference – is it rude to tweet during a session. Innocently I responded in the negative – it is not rude, it is productive if done to share information or to expand on ideas. So I think Graham was lashing out a bit in his post about redefining how conference professional respect. As Dean has explained, some of us are keen to see new models emerge in terms of professional learning. Face to face still rocks, but so does virtual attendance in whatever form is possible. Yes, I can multitask at a conference session. I can even blog the session, put up the images, and get feeback before the presenter has left the room. That doesn’t mean that I am rude – it means that I am actively distributing knowledge and information to contribute to the greater global conversation. Well spotted Kerry!

  7. Judy, that is hilarious that Graham tweeted that question during said session. And I love your turn of phrase — learning as a collaborative activity where we share with and enrich each other is a powerful way to think. It certainly knocks down rows of chairs and shakes up those passive vessels, doesn’t it? ; )

  8. As a participant I find the most engaging and educational PD I attend is PD where I am a participant rather than a passsive listener waiting to receive the wisdom of the presenter. I want to be able to discuss so that I can come to grips with the subject matter. I don’t find that ‘please keep all your questions to the end’ however practical it sounds, really works for me as a participant, and in the same way I really don’t see how there should be any problem with people discussing via electronic means as this doesn’t actually disrupt the session in any way and can actually be productive and conducive to learning. It is especially ridiculous in an environment where we are all talking about the power of web 2.0 tech to ‘provide rich and collaborative learning experiences where students and teachers engage in a dialogue and build new understandings’ that those teaching this concept are not always willing to practice what they preach. I just can’t believe that anyone thinks that using a laptop means that people aren’t paying attention. And I disagree with the idea that they might be ‘distracting’. One of the best sessions I have ever attended was one where the presenter actively encouraged us to keep exploring if we got interested and he would be happy to bring us back up to speed at any time. He was so open and encouraging in his approach that I came away inspired despite the fact that I wasn’t sure I would be interested when I read about the session. Everyone I spoke to who attended that session commented on what an inspiring teacher he was and how it made them want to try and model more of their teaching on his because of how motivating and encouraging he was.

  9. Wow merriwyn – thanks so much for that comment! I agree – as I hear new things, I like to bash them about a bit with other brains.

    Who was the instructor? I’d love to find out if he has a blog.

  10. I was shocked about a 8 months ago to witness a well known advocate of ‘network learning’ declare that he would not do a de-conference as he really preferred to just present and not get ‘caught up in discussions’.
    I think issues around ‘enabled devices in presentations’ are indicative of transition we are in the middle of. It goes to the heart of the pedagogic conflict and while many school leaders and academic advocates, talk the ‘collaboration’ talk – they do not walk the walk (possible because they have gone through content driven academic and management systems and their brains have just been shaped that way).
    The big question is where does the ‘knowledge’ originate?
    Your ‘empty vessel’ infers the Platonic view of knowledge that there is an ‘expert’ who understands the way the world is and we must dutifully await instruction. It is hard if you are an academic or a teacher ‘paid’ for your knowledge to get past the content delivery mode – sometimes it isn’t a sinister ‘control’ thing- more often it is the feeling that you have not done your job properly if you don’t finish the PowerPoint.
    If you believe the knowledge resides in the network (a more constructivist approach) then at these conferences and hopefully in our classroom ‘processes’ must occur to liberate and generate that knowledge. Again our presenters and colleagues are not necessarily predisposed to such skills.
    In any communication there is a sender and a receiver, and both have expectation of each other. While we feel that a more progressive attitude should prevail at such conferences – the complaints of others indicate that many in the audience expect to sit passively and be feed information.
    I do believe in experts and I do believe in knowledge residing in the collective – I do not believe the challenge is to eliminate one over the other. The real challenge to be faced (in conferences, classroom and work environments) is to find the right blend of didactic delivery and facilitated collaboration to meet the challenge at hand.

  11. Pingback: Conference as place of participation, not just attendance

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