From the D&D Blog (Design and Development: How do we improve AECT Conference session quality?) and from Trey’s Teachable Moment Teachable Moment
How do we improve AECT Conference session quality?
This has been floating around for some time and I’ve tried to respond to it on a number of occasions but I keep getting bogged down in my Curmudgeonhood. I’m going to try to do better.
The issue for me is that I don’t know that we’re asking the right question. Improving the sessions seems to fall into the same cognitive morass as redesigning the luggage rack on an Edsel. Don’t get me wrong. Better sessions would be good.
But would NO sessions be better? Probably not, but can we at least ask the question without getting all hyperventilated?
The research symposium slated for this summer — which I shame-facedly admit sounds only slightly less appealing than painting my house — at least has a model that requires participants to come ready to talk. I’m sure the people who will attend will enjoy it immensely and might even find the sessions stimulating. I probably would enjoy it, too, if I could convince myself to spring for the registration, airfare, parking, hotel, and divorce lawyer (if I travel any more this summer leaving wife to deal with children, I’ll need one).
When I think of going to the convention, I don’t think of attending sessions. I *used* to when I first started, but I learned quite rapidly that the probability of getting into a session I would find interesting, stimulating, or otherwise engaging depended mostly on luck.
What I think of is “Who can I meet?”
A large part of the convention is catching up with old friends, of course. But I’m always on the look out for people with new, different, strange, or oddball ideas and you don’t find those ideas in sessions. The selection process is geared toward keeping those kinds of presentations out.
Oh, it’s not like some kind of conspiracy. It’s more like the criteria we use to evaluate.
- “Is it suitable for the membership of the division?”
- “Is it well written?”
- “Is the requested session length suitable?” Heck, we always change ‘em anyway. Who cares?
Where’s the question that asks, “Will this presentation shake anybody up?” where answers of YES will get high marks?
I suspect it’s not there because nobody in his/her right mind would give a presentation so radical as to rattle any of the very staid cages. And isn’t that a sad commentary?
Don’t get me wrong. I scope out the convention program. I always find the stuff I wanted to see last hour and I can never find the stuff coming up that would be interesting until I’ve missed the session. Having 300 sessions in 3 days is a bit like drinking from a firehose, but nobody says it’s easy.
Anyway. For all those reasons, my suggestions are:
a. No more than 5 sessions in any given hour. We have 3 days of sessions, six hours a day. That’s 90 sessions total. Heck, round it up to 100 and run an extra hour or so. Ya, that probably means *I* won’t present unless I come up with something pretty damn special. But shouldn’t we EXPECT that the sessions would be that special? With over 300 sessions on the docket in Dallas, getting an overall feeling or theme running in the program is a function of ‘normal distribution’ rather than planned program construction.
b. No more “blind review” of proposals. Put them up in the open. Let the members read the proposals and pick their top 10. Let them ask questions and have the proposers respond. Scrap the grading rubric, or replace it with something that has a little more — I don’t know — relevance perhaps. Pick a cut off vote level and date. Any proposal that doesn’t get at least the cut off (say 300 votes), doesn’t make it to the program. If we get too many proposals that meet the cutoff, only the top 100 make it. We can keep a running tally. If we can’t get enough people interested in selecting the program, then we may have a very different problem than session quality.
c. Ban powerpoint presentations. If you put something up on the screen, it better be a picture, demo, example, or other artifact that you’re going to talk about *with* the people in the room. I know there are the dyed-in-the-wool types who can’t talk unless they can pontificate with bullets to back them up, but presentation is performance and if you don’t have a good act, sit down.
d. No more prepared round table sessions. Instead, we have a room with tables, chairs, flip charts, and wireless access — beverage service and perhaps some fruit and cheese would be nice. In each hour, anybody can “claim a table” provided that it’s open, and declare a subject for discussion. You can’t claim it until you get on site and a scheduling database will be available so that the subject, the time slot, table, and person can be recorded and made available to attendees. If nobody shows up, the table is declared “forfeit” and any group who wants to claim the chairs can establish an ad hoc discussion. We’d probably have to put a cap on it … something like you have to be a member in good standing ith the AECT and you can only claim a table once per day.
e. I still like Ward’s “Bowl of Shrimp” session.
My absolute FAVORITE feature in any convention in the last five years was a mistake. In Atlanta, the hotel set up tables in the common area and they just left them. People could just congregate, bring coffee, snacks, papers, whatever and talk. It wasn’t like we had to fit laptops on stinky little bar-tables — there was room to sit down, spread out and have a conversation. It was central so you’d walk by and see somebody or overhear something and perhaps join in. And if there weren’t wait-staff with hot and cold beverages, well then we didn’t get stuck with the tab, either. Now that was a convention!
So? Who else? Start thinking creatively people! Let’s shape this discussion around the entire convention, not just putting a new luggage rack on this Edsel.