We were offered a vision of how the academic conference might be re-imagined with the final words of the 6th Designs on E Learning conference held at Savannah College of Art and Design. Owen Kelly, from ARCADA in Helsinki, Finland, where Designs will be held in 2011, gave an outline of their plans for the next meeting, which if they come to fruition sound really interesting and a real challenge to the traditional format of papers presentations and lots of talk over lunch.
The idea is that the conference will last for 6 weeks, with a long initial period of online interaction culminating in the actual f2f event. Presenters will be asked to upload their papers and presentations well in advance of the conference, and the participants will be able to interact with them, post comments, read and absorb them etc well ahead of time. At the conference itself, the presenters will give just a short outline of their work and then lead an in-depth discussion of the issues it raises. This promises to really engage the audience, and should lead to a much deeper debate than usual.
All the sessions will be webcast live – this could be tricky if they really are going to go for an interactive discussion – and will have a live feed in from the online audience to ask questions directly.
Talking to Owen afterwards they really seem committed to this vision, and we discussed that perhaps the presenters could give the traditional paper as a webinar before the event, and that we could hold other webinars after the conference to keep the discussion going. We also thought that if it was presented as a real opportunity for the presenters to get peer feedback on their work it could be sold to the management who might otherwise question the challenge to the traditional format.
I think this has real potential, and could help to bridge the gap between the ‘unconference’ style event and the more formal one.
We also had some great discussions with Keith Bailey from Penn State and the SCAD team about how to make Designs part of an ongoing process of establishing a more solid pedagogy for art and design. A key part of this was the idea for an open journal, and that we would also collaborate on a project to imagine what a ‘virtual open studio’ might be in our disciplines – rethinking the VLE/LMS with an art/design twist. We had a good breakfast brainstorm on this and started a Google doc on what it might be; more on this in another post shortly. This should link the conference to an actual open source product, and to a reification of the production of the conference too, all good stuff.
In my own small way I tried to experiment with the presentation format as well, I had a fairly long session of 45 minutes for my ‘paper’, so gave a 20 min ‘talk’ and then broke the audience up into small discussion groups to brainstorm a question that related to my talk – and a question that I wanted some answers to. I asked them to talk about what ways might web 2.0 enhance reflective practice, and to sue examples from their own experience. We made a public Google doc and allowed everyone to post their ideas to it. This worked ok; although a MAJOR bug was that the ipad does not support Google docs unless you download an app, which we only discovered during the session. And as lots of the participants had ipads not laptops, his hindered our ability to collaborate. But as a concept it worked really well, the participants really engaged with it and the discussions were really active. Proof of the pudding was that most of them stayed on after the session ended to carry on their group discussions and I had to virtually force them out to go to lunch – now that doesn’t normally happen at the end of a sessions! And of course, we created an artefact of the session, which everyone could share and contribute to.
How else might we rework the conference presentation format??