Innovating Conference Planning?

Listen to an audio version of this blogpost here:

You may have seen that recently I’ve been planning a technology in education conference to take place in Bradford on 23rd June called ‘exabytes’. [Details here] I’ve not yet embarked into full-on promotion mode for this event yet as there are some details I feel I need to tie up before I can do this.

At the time of writing this post, I’ve got 25 presenters who have kindly agreed to lead workshop sessions on the day, the majority of whom have asked: “Ok, Alan – what exactly do you want me to run a workshop on?”. What then follows from me is an awkward explanation while I attempt to explain how I see the workshop programme working. The challenge I’ve encountered is that, since the way I’m planning to run the programme is unlike anything I’ve seen before – I’ve no past examples to point people toward.

I was secretly hoping that somebody was going to tell me that they’ve already seen this before, and that it worked a real treat. That would be marvellous; and if you know of an example then please tell me if it worked well or how it could have been better. The thing that scares me most is the notion that perhaps the main reason why nobody else has tried it because it’s just way too crazy and ambitious!

To help illustrate what I’m proposing, I’m going to explain the rationale behind the workshop themes, workshop styles and the timings of the workshops.

Workshop themes: Some conferences have very formal programmes published many months ahead of the event and while I have no problem with this, I am attempting to try something different and more risky with this event which may or may not succeed. The aim of this is to provide a conference programme which more accurately responds to the needs of it’s delegates.

When all delegates register to attend the event, they are required to select from a menu of broad workshop themes they are most interested in. It’s anticipated that this approach will ensure the following:

  • We can plan a bespoke conference programme in response to the specific wishes and needs of the delegates who have registered for this event
  • lf we discover there are gaps in coverage early on, we can respond by hosting workshops to address these gaps
  • No workshop leader should find that only 1 or 2 people turn up for their session
  • Popular workshop themes can be offered more than once to allow more delegates to participate

It’s all about the pedagogy: I believe one of the best ways to share pedagogy is to model it with others and let them experience it for themselves from the point of view as a learner in your classroom (but with the insight of a fellow practitioner). I’ve seen some wonderful conference sessions where presenters have presented “n ideas in n minutes”, but honestly I felt like I’d eaten everything from the buffet yet later unable to recall what I’d eaten.

Less is more: For these exabytes workshops, I’ll be asking our presenters to keep the ideas simple and practical with as much (or more) emphasis on technique as technology. We all use technology of some form in our daily teaching. Workshop leaders – please show us something that works for you in your classroom or school that we may learn from. It doesn’t need to be revolutionary, in fact, perhaps evolutionary is better where teaching and learning are concerned.

40 Minutes Teaching: At exabytes, all the workshops will take place within one hour time slots, but instead of allowing the workshops to run for the full hour, I request that the workshop leaders ensure that the first ‘taught’ part of the session is completed within the first 40 minutes, leaving at least a 20 minute slot at the end. Ideally a ‘time monitor’ would be appointed in each workshop to help the workshop leader complete their session on time.

20 Minutes Reflection: In the remaining 20 minute slot after the conclusion of the first part of the workshop and before the start of the next workshop, the following activities will be encouraged:

  • delegates may choose to exit the room in order to arrive early for the next workshop (some rooms are adjacent to each other, while others are on different floors)
  • delegates could grab a coffee and a chat in the ‘corridor track’ to reflect on the workshops they’ve just been in
  • delegates might choose to remain in the room to ask the workshop leader questions or enter a more individual type discussion
  • the presenter of the next workshop may use this time to get the room ready for their workshop session

Over to you: Please, if you think I’m going about this in the wrong way and I’m headed for disaster, let me know. I’d welcome any thoughts, feedback and criticism so that I can achieve what I’m setting out to do: organising a conference to inspire, support and promote the effective use of technology in education. By the way, if you’d like to present we may still have a slot for you – get in touch.

Thank you.

Resources and/or further reading:

Although the event I’m planning does not match the exact criteria of an EdCamp, it does have some similarities in approach. Personally, I enjoy the ad-hoc nature of EdCamps and BarCamps, but to the un-initiated it’s quite a leap from conventional conferences.





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