Wednesday, 26 October 2005

Conference: how-to from one without any experience

I have been desk-bound in the last two years, travelling little and attended only a handful of conferences. However, Fablusi is helping to organise the LOW2 conference in Melbourne here in November (OK Roni does all the work!). So I have been thinking why, in this increasingly online environment, we still want to meet face to face?

Good food and wine, relaxing in a different city, away from daily work and having a holiday paid by your employer are good reasons enough to justify attending conference.

As organiser, we need to think how to create a rewarding conference experience for the participants. Here are a few suggestions:

[ideas from Ausweb]

  • Host in a nice resort in the East coast of Australia. Always start on Saturday with workshops. Formally start on Sunday afternoon with conference BBQ. Conference dinner in the first full conference night.

  • Group papers, as most conferences do. Allow only up to 15 minutes presentation and devote a great part of the time for discussion.

  • Publish papers online before hand. Ask participants to read before attending presentation.

  • I.e. try to maximize the benefits of having face to face interactions.

    [technology support]
  • Some years ago, I have stolen the idea from Marie Jasinski, to run an email game before the one-day meeting ( National Summit on Online Role Play held in October 2002) in order to arrive at an agreed statement about the reason why we used role play simulation*.

  • Program published as a wiki. "This means that every session is open for comments, extensions and even revisions by our attendees." [idea from Learning TRENDS #366]

  • Run a collaborative editing session at the same time for keeping a record of the discussion.

  • Make a recording and make the audio and presentation files available online later. (see IT Conversations)

  • Encourage blogging.

  • [Program format]
  • Long program with lots of empty time slots in-between. For example, frequent and long coffee breaks and long lunch break.

  • Do not allow people movement during sessions. I.e. do not encourage people to leave a discussion in the middle. Consider that this is rude to the other participants.

  • [Conference environment]
  • Try to get as many participants as possible to stay in the same place. Hence, they will start their day at Breakfast and finish after the pub.

  • Wireless 24-hour fast Internet access a MUST.

  • Plenty of small tables, comfortable seats with nearby power points, supplied with plenty of drinking water, pencils and blank papers.

  • One more killer tool, which we shall implement during LOW2, which meant to be a secret is (don't tell the LOW2 participants yet.)
  • Run the conference in parallel with a virtual conference where the participants take on another persona. That is, our participants are attending TWO conferences at the same time.

  • *The final wordings we agreed after the email game is:
    We use online role play because it encourages deep approaches to learning through safe, yet challenging, explorations of perspectives.

    - Online Role-Play Expert Reference Group


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