Tuesday, January 30, 2007

How I Would Organize A Conference

From Internet Time, 2010
The structure would be more like a market or a fair. Mostly, there would not be a schedule. Participants would certainly not get a schedule; organizers would have a bit of one, in order to choreograph the event.

The conference area itself would consist of a largish central area with various side areas with more or less privacy (the presumption is that while people will want to go to the side to chat, etc., they won't want to cut themselves off completely from the main event).

The main area would itself have various types of things, including:
- presentation booths - these are not lined up in rows, but are rather islands, round, surrounded by the attendees - exhibitors don't get a booth for the whole conference, rather, just for certain time slots (lots of rotation in the booths) - at any given time there will be many of these booths in operation - some of these (especially those in strategic areas) are no more than soapboxes, whereon a person stands and makes his/her pitch
- bearpits - where from time to time famous people are surrounded by an audience, where - instead of presenting a lecture - they answer questions tossed in by the audience
- demo labs - again, like the booths, nobody owns these, they are used for a certain amount of time - they consist of a large screen and about a dozen workstations - need lots of these, in various configurations - in the open, so people can stand around and watch
- a great big wall where people can put up any sort of notice or advertisement they please (people who spam the board will have their messages removed)
- electronic games and activities (could even make it possible to win 'tokens' by playing and use the tokens to auction things - check your local laws) -- there would absoluetly have to be a Wii area - but also, there are many video-cam games (eg. the video cam boxing game), have those set up as well, whatever games people want to play
- Big screens everywhere - some of them are showing the games (especially the hockey games, especially the finals from the conference-long tournament), others are showing the conference 'backchannel' where participants (you need a conference login) post their thoughts
- The announcers, of course, on the speaker system, letting people know when an event is about to take place - a '10 minute keynote', a 'Flash video demo', the 'George Siemens bearpit', the 'EA Hockey semi-finals', 'the Wii-learn SIG in the alcove...
- Entertainment, including mainstage shows at noon and in the evening, side stage workshops (esp. with electronic music tools), wandering minstrals, jugglers
- The Vendor's Parade
- plenty of tables and chairs throughout, where people can sit and work or chat
- wireless and numerous ethernet ports with the bandwidth to back them up

There would be numerous side areas, including (pay for meals and coffee, etc., with conference vouchers)
- coffee shops (how much would Starbucks pay to have a coffee shop there?) and cafes (meals tend to be 'ad hoc', not huge 'everybody eats at once' factory-style conference dinners)
- computer stores (Future shop? Apple)
- bookstores - a proper bookstore, not just a few titles on a table
- various types of pubs, some open and lively, others more like lounges, others with quiet out-of-the-way nooks
- very quiet areas, with couches for sleeping
- Art galleries / events (local artists are given a space and told to 'create')

You get the idea...

Now then, what we want participants to do is to add to this, in any way they can - we would want lots of ways participants can contribute...
- code jams - where coders create a new applications
- the participants' art gallery - any art, any way
- the conference radio station / podcast (which plays on speakers in various locations, including some of the cafes, as well as online (of course))
- 99-second presentations

Again - from the participant's point of view, none of this is scheduled ahead of time - what they are intended to do is to arrive and follow what interests them

What about papers? After all, that's how many people get funding to travel to conferences...
- the conference book and DVD - participants will be asked to come and, at some point during the event (probably have to sign up for a slot) go to a studio and record a presentation of their work - they can also bring in audio or video clips to add - these will be facilitated by program directors and hosts - the idea here is to make the presentations less formal, not just a person reading, but rather a person showing, being interviewed, interacting with the audience, etc -- a lot of this would also be the material used for the conference radio and shown on some of the video screens throughout - after the show, you can but the book/dvd from Lulu

- Typically conferences take place in converntion halls and the like -- and there's nothing wrong with that -- but it's worth nothing that a conference as described here can fit into pretty much any (large) location - school, college building, small town, whatever...

7 comments:

  1. All of the conferences I have been attending in the last few years were boring. Most are held in large hotels, with no spot to sit and work: you have to go back to your room if you just want to find a freaking chair. Some talks were interesting, but considering that, unlike a podcast, I can't move forward in time... the rigid schedule means that I waste a lot of time attending talks that I'd rather not listen to.

    Sometimes it is not so much that the speaker is bad, or that the topic is not top notch... but I have moods... sometimes I care for certain stuff... 6 months later, I might view the same talk differently... so rigid schedules are really not my think.

    However, my experience is that the informal component of conferences are even worse. You often have bunch of friends who hook up and chat among themselves. Sometimes that's me with a friend... sometimes I'm new and I don't have any friends yet... then I try to randomly meet people, but random encounters are usually not so exciting... that's like trying to find love in a bar...

    So, the best part *are* the talks... and yet, I want to skip most of them.... and I don't want them on a rigid schedule...

    And the papers? Who cares!!! I read papers in my office... there is no way I want to fly to another country so I can grab a copy of some papers that I can bring back home (even on a DVD). Papers should be published in journals, in electronic archives, on our Web sites... Conferences are not the right place for papers... maybe you should have to submit a paper to be selected as a speaker... but I don't think conferences should be paper publication venues...

    Ah! Well, but we need:

    1) the work to be citeable... but why can't we start citing videos? Because they tend to go away so fast... but won't youtube change that?

    2) we need to build up our c.v.s... and that's the gist of the matter, really... you need "peer review" and I'm not sure how an informal setting can match the formal requirements of a promotion review board...

    participants will be asked to come and, at some point during the event (probably have to sign up for a slot) go to a studio and record a presentation of their work


    I want people to present in front of their peers! If you want to produce a podcast, do it at home.

    Why a studio? I think you can get sufficient sound quality and image quality at a nearby booth, in the mist of the conference.

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  2. Daniel, you haven't given this a fair hearing.

    "my experience is that the informal component of conferences are even worse. You often have bunch of friends who hook up and chat among themselves. Sometimes that's me with a friend... sometimes I'm new and I don't have any friends yet... then I try to randomly meet people, but random encounters are usually not so exciting... that's like trying to find love in a bar..."

    Quite right, and I think a lot of this 'informal' stuff is for people who are extroverts and social animals. Which I'm not.

    Traditional conferences even do the informal stuff badly. Wine & cheese parties or conference receptions, for example. Their version of 'informal' is to have everyonbe in a room, maybe with something to drink, and... well, that's about it. Great if you are a people person. A waste of time otherwise.

    That's why I was careful to describe a conference that was not merely informal, but one that had a lot of different activities and events. So even if you're alone and antisocial (like me) you can find lots to do, meet lots of people (if you want, and none if you don't) and get what you want out of the conference.

    "So, the best part *are* the talks... and yet, I want to skip most of them....
    "

    Right... exactly where I end up...

    "Ah! Well, but we need: 1) the work to be citeable... but why can't we start citing videos? Because they tend to go away so fast... "

    What, you think that's the reason? And not that, say, traditional academia can't think of anything to cite other than books and journal articles?

    Anyway, who cares about this? Did I say anything about citing videos? No, I did not.

    "2) we need to build up our c.v.s... and that's the gist of the matter, really... you need "peer review" and I'm not sure how an informal setting can match the formal requirements of a promotion review board..."

    Right. The conference still calls for papers, still reviews them, and still accepts... well, most of them. Nothing I said precludes that.

    Then, as I said, participants will be asked to come and, at some point during the event (probably have to sign up for a slot) go to a studio and record a presentation of their work.

    "I want people to present in front of their peers! If you want to produce a podcast, do it at home. Why a studio? I think you can get sufficient sound quality and image quality at a nearby booth, in the mist of the conference."

    Where did I say studios were sealed units hidden away from everyone?

    The studios are right in the middle of the conference. You are presenting in front of people - but in the course of presenting, you are recording. And broadcasting.

    I think we're probably pretty close on this, but like I said, I don't think you gave the post a fair hearing...

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  3. terrific! We'll do it! As soon as we little kiwis are recharged from the last effort - we'll do it. I hope you'll come ;)

    Thanks for this Stephen. Could have used it before FLNW, but now we have it for the next time.

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  4. One day, beyond our dreams, it may be true that:

    conference != lectures

    I would go beyond the DVD/CD archive of the events and dream that everything have reference-able related materials online, more than an abstract less than an uncontextualized powerpoint.

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  5. http://www.edtechpost.ca/wordpress/2005/11/17/lornet-conference-day-2-and-a-modest-proposal/

    Like they say, great minds think alike ;-) Though I appreciate that yours has a much fuller description. But what if we actually did this - gasp - conferences might actually become more than just deductible junkets.

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  6. Dibs on the first cycle in the bearpit. What a lovely concept. I've been promoting unconferences, where equality reigns. Pitching the presenter in the bearpit ia a wonderful next step.

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  7. Stephen,

    I'm taken with your musings here and can only hope that we move towards this type of knowledge sharing cause' it sure has been a arduous trip till now.

    I'm a fidgeter. I cant sit still for more than it would take to work out how to deliver it myself.

    What works most for me about your post is the flow of your idea - the honesty of your approach - the way your put things so that i can understand them without the formal vs. type of babble that others seem to fall prey to.

    Nice one.

    I feel like I want to keep reading your blog amongst all else that I have to attend to.

    :-)

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