Bookmarked 10 steps to running an event I’d want to attend | Open Thinkering by Doug Belshaw (Open Thinkering | Doug Belshaw's blog)

This post is the outgrowth of an (online) conversation I had yesterday after an event I’d attended. It was a conference I used to go to every year which, for some reason this year mostly left me cold.

Doug Belshaw reflects on a negative conference experience. In response he shares ten steps associated with running an event:

1. Encourage participation
2. Provide clear scope
3. Ensure a diverse range of speakers/facilitators
4. Challenge the audience with different views
5. Have tracks and/or themes
6. Provide space for chatting
7. Recognise off-stage talent
8. Provide a mix of session formats and lengths
9. Get the food right
10. Build a community

This reminds me of a post I wrote a few years ago, but with more depth.

Bookmarked Going Rogue: Teachers designing their own conferences as a transgressive act (Philippa Nicoll Antipas) by CI_Jamie (

In this post, Philippa Nicoll Antipas re-considers conferences as sites for teacher professional learning and development. She details her PhD research project Plan D, a game-like collective activity whereby teachers are supported to go rogue and design their own professional learning and development needs.

Philippa Nicoll Antipas explores how we might do a conference for teacher professional learning and development (PLD) differently. She argues that we need to breakaway from “somebody deciding to share what they’re interested in, in the hope that you’ll find it interesting too.” A review of the literature highlighted that too few decide for too many, in response she came up with a different model where teachers design their own conferences based on their own needs. This model came in the format of a board game-like collective activity.

There are four layers to the d.conference collective activity, known as Plan D. In the first layer, teachers consider what they already believe about effective PLD. In the second layer, teachers consider their professional learning needs, and the learning needs of their students in order to decide what the purpose of their d.conference is. The third layer gets more ‘nuts and bolts’: who will speak at the conference; what the schedule of the event will be; what the learning at the conference will look like. Finally, in the fourth layer, teachers reflect on the decisions they’ve made whilst playing, and commit to sustaining their professional learning beyond their d.conference.

The process is as important as product.

This reminds me of a piece from Sean Michael Morris reflecting on education conferences.

We need to critically examine all of our assumptions about conferences. How they are run. Who leads them. What kind of learning should happen there? Why are they convened? What is the gathering meant to accomplish? What is the pedagogy for conferences now, in a landscape where keynotes should be something more than talking heads, where organizers who are white and male need to cede not just the stage but the design of events to make way for new ways of knowing, teaching, and learning? Where expertise does not win the day, but a willingness to ask does?

people make conferences, as well as my wonderings about starting the learning prior to the conference.

Bookmarked 66 Event Design Questions – Modern Learners (Modern Learners)

When supporting organizations in their work to design learning experiences, we ask a lot of event design questions. Here’s a few.

Melissa Emler provides a series of questions to consider when planning an event. It would be interesting the break these down using something like the Modern Learning Canvas.
Bookmarked The Future of Professional Learning Part 2 – Ideas and Thoughts (

In general, I think professional offerings will be expanded and diversified moving forward. More than ever, teachers are more comfortable with webinars, chats and courses. Since there is currently little to no face-to-face opportunities, it seems participants are more accepting and less critical of offerings because there is no alternative. That said, I believe there is an opportunity for districts to be more intentional and focused on their online offerings as well as rethinking what face to face learning should be.

Across two posts (one and two), Dean Shareski reflects upon the future of professional development. Two of the points that have stood out are, the flexibility offered by online learning that will not go away.

I believe my own work with feature more virtual options both because it’s been experienced by a greater number of educators in the past 9 months but also because when done correctly, provides great benefits.

Learning in-person will become more about connections and relationships, rather than content.

People will naturally be excited to be together and it should be honoured as such. That means providing people with an opportunity to be with each other beyond the breaks should take priority. I would also suggest that we emphasize the social side of this as much as any professional side. In the past, this would have been seen as frivolous or time-wasting, that mindset has to change. If you’re just worried about delivering content, then it may be better served online. I think this shift will be a challenge for many and like the return to school, it’s going to be easy to revert to previous models.

This all reminds me of something Shareski wrote a few years ago about connections over content:

I’ve been saying for a long time that the old adage, “If you leave a conference with one or two ideas you can use in your classroom right away you’ve done well” is not nearly as good as “if you leave here with one or two people you can continue to learn with you’ve done well.”

Responding to this, David Truss suggests that the future needs to be more interactive.

To expand on this idea, I don’t see things like pre-presentations or assignments and tasks being given before a conference (read as ‘not homework’), but I do see opportunities for conversation, interaction with the presenter, and with other conference attendees. I see icebreakers and teasers.  I see feedback to the presenter about what the attendees want. I see presenters providing clear learning intentions and a framework for their talk. I see presenters providing a personal introduction so that instead of the first 5-10 minutes of a 1 hour presentation slot being “This is who I am”, the presentation starts with an activity, engaging people with other people who have already connected online. I see interactive presentations that rely on participants being involved and engaged with the material.

Replied to Conferences 2020-21 by David Truss (Daily Ink)

The way I see it, digital conferences need dedicated collaboration, discussion, and reflection time built right into the schedule… Digital meeting spaces scheduled into the day. There needs to be opportunities for conversation, serendipity, and reflection.

I really like your point David about the importance of the informal conversations. This reminds me of something I wrote a few years ago about the hidden professional development.

What disappoints me the most is that this hidden professional development is often the first thing to go when it comes to professional development, the first thing to be cut, because it is often seen as too informal, lack purpose, not measureable and not always manageable. However, these opportunities are often the seeds for deeper life long learning. This is what makes things like Teachmeets so powerful. Situations where you don’t go wanting an answer to a question, rather it is the opposite, you go seeking questions for the answers that you already have.

I read an interesting reflection from Oliver Quinlan on his efforts to manage the transition, however a space to converse did not come up. I think that this will all lead to a lot of private back chats. The challenge with this is that it is hard to have these with people you have not actually met before.

Replied to Taking conferences online during the pandemic by Oliver Quinlan (

Tips we learned for running an online conference:

  • Have a very clear programme with all the timings, URLs to access resources and meeting spaces.
  • Stick to timings and chair ruthlessly – it can really mess things up if people in different spaces are not synchronised, and if things start to drag then engagement drops more quickly online.
  • Run a staffed green room for presenters – it worked so well getting everyone prepared and ready to transition smoothly between presentations.
  • Have plenty of staff to help with any technical challenges or people who need help.
  • Have a staff backchannel to co-ordinate and discuss issues away from the content. We used our organisation’s Slack instance.
Thank you for the breakdown of your experience Oliver. I really like the idea of a virtual green room, even though it seems obvious it is not something that I have seen discussed. It was also interesting the way in which things were mixed up to accommodate the move online, such as moving the keynote.

Guess no one knows what the future may hold, however it will be interesting to see what sticks long term.

Liked How to be an eLearning Expert (module 2) – How to be Controversial by dkernohandkernohan (

This post represents my own thoughts only, not those of my employer or the programmes and projects I am responsible for. It is available under a Creative Commons CC-0 public domain license. It is presented as an OER for personal study.
Any resemblance to celebrity e-learning experts – living, dead…

Bookmarked On Deconferencing (CogDogBlog)

Conference on… but I am deconferencing. I am looking for better ways to share knowledge, ideas that can include more people and less travel, but just plain… better.

Alan Levine responds to posts from Bryan Alexander, Will Richardson and Stephen Downes about climate change and conferences. He argues that this is neither either or. In some respects, the choice to say no is in fact a point of privilege:

The number of people who have the means to attend these confluences are excruciatingly small compared to the number of educators in the world. It can sure look like a prestigious club. When you are not in it.

Sometimes conferences are something that is a part of the hustle.

Let me tell you what it’s like being self-employed. Just getting pay is a second full time job. Every small to medium sized contract I have comes with hours submitting paperwork, following up with HR departments, asking if they got the paperwork, and trying not too much to nag your client to check up on getting that payment. Or just shrugging and starting work in hopes of getting paid maybe within weeks of doing the work.

In the end, what is needed is to stop and consider the Academic Conference Industrial Complex as a whole, not just focus on global warming.

Personally speaking, this discussion of the wider impact and implication of conferences has me thinking about a piece I wrote a few years ago thinking about the hidden professional development made possible by conferences, especially as conferences go online because of things such as coronavirus:

Bookmarked Open Ed, Digital Pedagogy Lab & the Challenge of Education Conferences (Sean Michael Morris)

Sometime before her joint keynote with Chris Gilliard at Digital Pedagogy Lab 2017, Maha Bali wrote to me that, if I wanted to invite marginalized people to take the spotlight, I had to be prepared to let them change the very nature of that spotlight. The stage, the spotlight, the keynote itself, are symbols or approaches to teaching, instruction, performance, leadership that are grounded in a white supremicist, patriarchal, capitalist academic model that doesn’t just eschew the work of education done in non-white, indigenous, queer, and other communities, it is blind to them. The keynote both presumes the hegemony of the expert, and reinforces it. Asking someone who doesn’t benefit from white supremicist, patriarchal, capitalist academe to benefit from exactly that, under the auspices of generosity and representation, is just another way of centering whiteness.

In a reflection on the sudden closure of the Open Ed Conference, Sean Michael Morris explores the place and purpose of the educational conference.

I see educational conferences like Digital Pedagogy Lab (and others: HASTAC, #RealCollege, etc.) as moments in time, gathering spaces for educators and students who, on the daily, are too overwhelmed with their work, their research, the balance of teaching, learning, and personal life, their concerns for the future of education, their ongoing and sometimes relentlessly necessary inquiry into educational technology, justice and equity, that they are unable to stay in touch with the community which, while diverse in its activity and approaches, supports them. For a time, Twitter provided some reprieve and support—on hashtags like #digped and #educolor—but that platform is now too perilous for too many. So, conferences, events, gatherings, these are the places where educators can sit down, take a meal, learn together, connect, re-connect, begin or continue collaborations, and more.

He focuses particularly on aspects such as keynotes and how they perpetuate power and patriarchy. Although we may enourage different voices, unless we also allow for different practices we risk creating another means of ‘centering whiteness’. In closing, he offers some questions to consider in critically examining the notion of the educational conference:

David Wiley is right. We need to critically examine all of our assumptions about conferences. How they are run. Who leads them. What kind of learning should happen there? Why are they convened? What is the gathering meant to accomplish? What is the pedagogy for conferences now, in a landscape where keynotes should be something more than talking heads, where organizers who are white and male need to cede not just the stage but the design of events to make way for new ways of knowing, teaching, and learning? Where expertise does not win the day, but a willingness to ask does?

This all has me rethinking conferences and whether my spark talk from DigiCon16 in which I used voices to define the village simply reinstated my own power and position?

Bookmarked Ask the insiders (

We absolutely have to listen to our students and it will take a lot to convince me that school isn’t still designed for adults. However, I’ll be more hopeful if the next educational conference I attend has students as our co-presenters and co-participants.

Greg Whitby discusses the importance of agency and student voice at conferences.