SiT: Response on organizing a conference. Quote: “I do quite a bit of organizing these things for groups in our system around 90-150. I am totally turned off that as educators, the primary mode of professional communication is a 50 minute lecture to a passive audience.
my response: 50 minutes? hah, no one cares, try 15 to 25 minutes and people will be interested. if they want 50 minutes, then they should hand out papers, there is nothing worse than sitting there listening to someone lecture very poorly for 50 minutes, but in 15 minutes they can hit the high points, and move on.
There is certainly room for presentations though, and depending on the topic, you can do things like computer poster sessions where participants can pick and choose demos to see up close.
my response: you would think this would work, and it does for large audiences over 2000, other than that, it doesn't seem to work very well. It is good in theory, but first you have to get the computers, then the software, then the support staff, then you need an audience that supports that investment by you and the companies, if you don't have it, people will be upset.
Panel discussions are great in theory, but difficult to pull off without a hot topic and a dynamic and forceful facilitator. We typically use them at the end of an event because you bring everyone back together.”
Comment: Thank you to everyone who responded to my request for inspiration. There's some really helpful stuff there. I am of a similar opinion to Alan Levine on the poverty of presentation as the primary mode of communication at professional conferences.
My Response: Panels are easy, super easy, just do it, they are much better than the single person droning on model. Just ask people for topics, and put them facing each other with a central question related to their topic and watch conversation occur.
Just to clarify, this conference is small, with perhaps 50-75 people (guess-timate), mostly librarians and people like me (instructional technologists/distance learning administrators, but not perhaps so much web developers).
I am particularly taken with some elements of the World Cafe and Open Space (whaddya know, they have a wiki) approaches. Something as simple as paying attention to creating the right environment and providing simple resources can really make a big difference. [Serious Instructional Technology]
I've worked on 6 conferences so far in my career, 2 in distance learning, and 4 in internet research, and it is a great experience. for insight into a smaller conference, i suggest checking out Adrian Miles's Dac Blog. Dac is Digital Arts and Culture.