After a marathon attendance at a number of education conferences this year I have stored up many observations on the approach these conferences use to engage educators in their profession. Since I began attending them over 35 years ago I do have some historical perspective. More often than not my experience on the planning of the “Education Conference” is: So it is written, so it shall be done! Many reshuffle the deck and deal out the same old hands. If we always plan conferences on what worked last year, progress will never catch up to relevance.
In our technology-driven society we have come to recognize that our students are learning differently. I would suggest that our educators are learning differently as well. That difference needs to be addressed by the conferences that help educate our educators. The reasons we as educators are reflecting and changing our methods of education to meet the needs of our students are the very reasons education conferences need to change to meet the needs of our changing educators. Resistance that we too often provide does not prevent the fact that there comes a time when we just must reinvent the wheel.
If all educators need to do, in order to keep up with modern education, is to listen to lectures, they can do that cheaper and more conveniently with webinars and podcasts over the Internet. What do conferences provide beyond the lecture? If the answer is face to face networking, then provide the spaces and times to do that. Select venues with ample lounging spaces or build them into the venue. Sessions must be planned with time between sessions for educators to connect and network. Schedule, encourage, or incent presenters, and featured speakers to circulate in these spaces.
Reflection rooms might be a unique addition. Spaces where speakers, presenters, and attendees could gather for reflection and discussion. This would be the best place for educators to connect face to face as well as digitally through social media to continue discussions online, beyond the conference and through the year. Those creative juices that flow during the conference will continue throughout the year. Current models get people thinking during the conference and in many cases the juices will not flow again until the next conference.
Planning the sessions is key to success in any Edu conference. If, as educators, we know that lecture is not the best way to learn, why would we encourage it in sessions? Interactive sessions, as well as discussions, and even interactive panel sessions are the very things that excite, engage, and educate educators. These should be encouraged and highlighted. The method of delivery should always be a prime consideration in addition to being clearly stated on the session description.
The selection of speakers and sessions needs to be examined. Connected educators are often on the cutting edge discussing education topics as much as a year before it hits Faculty meeting and lounges. If the committees made up to judge and select RFP for sessions than those educators need to be relevant as well. Again, a topic that was popular last year may not be as relevant this year. What upset me was that some of this year’s presenters were filling out and submitting RFP’s for next year’s conference. Maybe we should have staggered RFP deadlines with a quota for each date. Planners could then observe trends and avoid replication over a period of time. It also offers the opportunity to analyze the needs and send out requests for specific RFP’s.
Of course the biggest change in PD for educators in years has been the EDCAMP model of conference. Sessions are planned on the fly based on interest and expertise with the assembled group. These sessions are dynamic discussions, which dive into the depths of the selected topic. Every conference should set aside time for the EDCAMP model. Four hours should do it. Planning it for the middle of the conference will enable educators to get a handle on the topics they would need to delve deeply into.
Today’s technology has enabled educators to connect and collaborate globally. Only a few conferences have understood how to harness the power of the tweet. In order to show a conference to the world, the attendees, when moved by engagement will tweet out all that is needed. This draws into the conferences many who are not physically in attendance.
Every conference should have a connected educator space. Many Bloggers have claimed the Blogger’s Lounge as their space and have continued with great connections with other bloggers. We need that for all educators. The connected educator space must be present at every conference.
My final concern is in the Registration fees. Conferences are expensive to run. There is no option on charging money for attendance. The structure however may be flexible with several options. Consideration should be given to discounting for teams of teachers coming from the same district. Maybe we should have a discount for first-time attendees.
I have traveled the world going to Education conferences. All have good points and bad points. All of these conferences have come from the sweat, tears and blood of many volunteers. They are all well-intentioned and I believe in their necessity in our system for Professional Development. The point I feel we must fight for however is the need for relevance in the world in which we teach. This is the same thing we should strive for in all of education. Many of the goals we strive for to support our students should also be the same goals to address our needs to educate our educators.