There are many ways to run an education conference or event. We, at RSC London, do not claim to have all the answers but here are a few suggestions which we have developed over the past ten years in running our own events. I hope you find them useful.
The pedagogy of your event
Most education conferences and events are focussed on quality improvement, enhancing the learner experience, and innovation in teaching and learning. The title of the conference may differ but the theme is often the same: How to improve individually as teachers and collectively as an organisation.
The big change in education over the past few decades is the recognition that teaching is not enough. It is learning that is key. In other words are your students learning as a result of your teaching activity? This is the key theme that underpins many education events. The event may be about using digital technology in the classroom but the underlying theme is about enhancing or improving learning with technology as the catalyst.
If this is the case in your conference or event then you need to think about the pedagogy of your event. A conference that seeks to explore innovative new ways to teach with the aim of reaching more learners through use of more engaging activities and richer resources will not be helped by a dull chalk and talk style conference consisting of ‘death by powerpoint’. So you need to think about your conference content and the method of delivery of the material carefully.
Harnessing the wisdom of the crowd
One thing to bear in mind is that events will have many delegates attending, almost all will have some experience, many will have far more experience and expertise than your presenters. Ideally you should seek ways to recognise and extract this collective intelligence at your event, not just the thoughts of the speakers. Aim to have delegates spending as much time speaking and participating as listening during the event as a whole. Find ways to collect/record the contribution of delegates. This could be by recording, filming, taking notes, collecting materials produced, collating tweets etc. People learn by listening and then discussing and reflecting. Explore ways in which your event can enable discussion and reflection. These outputs can then be offered alongside the presentation slides online afterwards. A good summary of the event outputs plus some reflective blogging can leave a lasting legacy to your event. These resources are also useful in marketing future events.
Helping delegates sell your event to their managers
Potential delegates may want to attend your event but they also have to justify their attendance to their line managers and the staff development manager. Your event objectives should be clear to both delegates and their managers. The objectives should enable attendees to perform their roles more effectively. Remember that staff may be required to disseminate the event outcomes when they return to their organisations. So try to make this easier for them by being relevant, clear and concise in defining what they will gain from attending your event. How you achieve the objectives is up to you. So you may have a group discussion activity achieving the objective of ‘delegates will gain an understanding of current best practice across the region, for example. Informal networking time could also contribute to this objective.
Ideas for enlivening your event
Develop activities for delegates to actively participate in such as discussion activities, tasks, role play, pecha kucha, knowledge café, 140 seconds challenge, round table introductions, ice breaker activities, panel discussion (like question time on TV). Aim to have a mixture of listening and speaking for your delegates. Have a target figure in your planning for how much time delegates will speak during the day. Keep formal presentations down to 15 or 20 minutes maximum. Short sharp presentations are good because people who may not be interested in a topic will not have too long to wait before the next topic is presented. Also giving presenters a short time helps them to focus and stick to the key issues.
Supporting your event with online content
One way to think about your event is to consider what is best dealt with face to face and what can be accomplished online. You can have online preconference and post conference activity. You could ask delegates to complete surveys or quizzes beforehand. You could let delegates have some influence over the content of the conference by getting them to vote on potential topics, for example. You could ask delegates to read materials (e.g. case studies) beforehand or even view videos (e.g. a TED talk or two) to prime them for discussion activities planned for the face to face time.
Build in networking time during the event. The networking could take the place at: the informal welcome session, coffee breaks, lunch break, drinks at the end but also online such as via Twitter. Create a hash tag for your event and monitor feedback/discussion during the day. You can offer a networking challenge during the day with a small gift for the first to complete it. A fairly light hearted activity like this can help to relax people and encourage your delegates to collaborate and network. Many good events start with an ice breaker activity. There are many options for this. I like to ask people to spend a few minutes talking to a person near them who they do not know and find out 3 or four things about them.
Ideas for activities at events
Knowledge Café http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge_Cafe
TED Talks http://www.ted.com/talks
140 challenge – selected people speak for 140 seconds each on a topic
Good luck with your own events
If you are thinking of running an online event see https://jiscrsclondon.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/moving-your-event-online/
For current RSC London events see http://jiscevents.force.com/E/EventsMainPage?srvc=JISC%20RSC%20London
For current Jisc events see http://www.jisc.ac.uk/events.aspx
Martin Sepion is an adviser at Jisc Regional Support Centre London
For more information about the Jisc Regional Support Centres visit http://www.jiscrsc.ac.uk/