Teaching with Conferences

I love conferences.  There is something so enriching about being together with a bunch of unique but similarly interested people. My mind is switched on and usually turned up to 11 as I try to take in every new idea, concept, data point or fact. It’s invigorating and exhausting in equal measure, but I look forward to it every year.

2012 was a great year and my conference experience was  enhanced because I got to share for the first time.  I got to write papers and  get up and speak. I got to share my experiences, ideas and learning and show off some of the slides I’d crafted. I got to experience another side of conferences.

Conference attendance usually comes under the professional development category, but presenting gave me another viewpoint – it’s profession development too. For a couple of days you get to come together and discuss your profession, what you do, how your do it and then you share that with the hope of making a difference, not to you – but your colleagues.

In the act of coming together you can put aside competition, ego and business imperatives to make working in that industry better. I came across the phase “a shared problem deserves a shared solution” last year and I think that’s what conferences can provide – a common space to share solutions. I’ve been to conferences where we keep talking about the problems too, but in coming together the solutions actually begin to form. You see the problem from a different perspective, learn new ways of doing things and participate in generating ideas over coffee, lunch and dinner.

Conferences are about learning.

So it leads me to wonder – why aren’t conferences replicated in education?

If every academic and staff member is keen to go to a conference as part of their professional development why don’t we offer that experience to students? There must be pedagogical benefits to a conference that makes them so affective. Is it the format? The structure? Is it being together and sharing a space?

Mark Boulton uses some really lovely language to describe the aim of conferences: Nourishment. His ideas around giving back and the opportunity to be and work together really resonate with my experiences and my ideas around what education should aspire to do.

At a time where we are discussing blended and flexible learning options I think we should be looking at proven models to enable this. Rather than residential schools that attempt to replicate the on-campus experience, what about running them like a conference instead?

Bring students together to hear keynote quality presentations. Participate in the discussion around their profession. Engage and network with their peers. Share solutions through collaboration and working together. Eat, drink and interact around the ideas – not just just professional development – but development of the profession.

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