The following is a (slightly expanded) response I left on Will Richardson's blog entry "Thinking Disruptively About Conference Presentations." In his wonderfully angst-ridden style, Will reveals:
"...I find myself more and more questioning the “get up in the front of the room and impart knowledge” model that is so thick with irony in the context of this conversation that it just doesn’t feel quite right anymore."
and goes on to write about doing sessions that are guided conversations instead. Hmmmm, let's think about this.
My sense here is that you've fallen into an "or" approach to conference sessions. Great conference presenters - at least those I gain the most from - provide both expert content and facilitate conversations and/or application. In fact, I would guess most people are unhappy with a purely process approach (Why did I pay my money if I don't get good dope from an expert?) OR pure lecture (Why is this boring person just talking at me?)
I am also going to offer up a small defense of traditional conference sessions (which I posted a few days ago on my blog):
Sit and Git, Spray and Pray (or whatever the clever derogatory appellation du jour for short sessions offered during professional development days or conferences) - such learning opportunities ought not to be simply dismissed as ineffective and drop kicked from the educational ball field. Like classroom lectures, good short sessions can be effective in meeting specific purposes. Those include:
Concrete, even discrete, learning opportunities have a place in professional development, provided they are part of a larger profession growth plan.
- Introducing participants to a new concept, theory or practice with the expectation of self-directed follow-up. (What is meant by authentic assessment?)
- Teaching specific, useful skills, especially if practiced within the time allotted. (How to design a good rubric.)
- Bending a mindset or encouraging an action. (Assessments can be used not just for ranking students, but to actually improve the learning process.) Think of the great speakers on TED.
Quite honestly, Will, were I to hire you to come speak at my conference or in my district, I'd want more than just a conversation. I'd want some expertise, some attention-grabbing, mind altering lecture, AND some constructivist-type activities. I want it all and that would be why you'd be gettin' the big bucks!
Oh, I thought the Edubloggers thing at NECC was a blast, but I enjoyed because of the social aspects and not because I took away much that was useful.
All the best,
Will, I appreciate the impetus for thinking a bit about this. I suspect I sound a bit defensive because on the lecture-conversation continuum, I definitely drift toward the lecture end. (One is never bored when one is doing the talking.) With speaking engagements at seven conferences coming up in the next month and a half, it's an opportune time for reflection. I just wish I had your gravitas so I could be angst-ridden instead of simply confused.