Interesting academic/professional conference session formats?
July 11, 2007 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Planning a professional conference for 300 or so instruction librarians and looking for innovative session formats or other structured interactions to engage participants. Have you run across any unusual and effective conference session formats or activities?

There will be traditional hour-long presentation/discussion sessions, but we're interested in exploring other ways of harnessing the creative energy of this dynamic, passionate group. We've heard stories of "hackerfests" where groups convene to solve programming problems and are thinking along those lines, except without the coding.

For example, we might consider a "teaching technique slam" open mic session during a cocktail hour, or develop some kind of alternate-reality gaming inspired puzzle to solve collaboratively.

What do you experienced conference attendees recommend? Thanks!
posted by zepheria to Education (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Don't have any advice of my own, but the collaborative puzzle sounds like a great idea. To read a vague overview of something like this, you can check out a summary of FestQuest 07, a game made for the 2007 convention of alternate-reality gamers.

Some of their basic ideas could be really fun, I think: split people into teams, give them puzzles, have solutions that might require them to travel (if you want), maybe require them to do outside research (bust out a laptop and wikipedia something?).

Sorry, I couldn't be more helpful; I just had to respond because you don't have your email address in your profile, but I had to tell you your username rocks. :D
posted by Zephyrial at 12:03 PM on July 11, 2007

People go to these things to learn but they also love to talk about what they themselves are doing and working on and solving back at home.

Do a session with a 20-20 / PechaKucha format (20 slides, 20 seconds per slide), where you solicit submissions from registrants prior to arrival. When you send out the solicitation, give a broad topic that is fascinating and germane to the conference (don't know the audience but something like "a problem you solved in the last 12 months" etc).

I like to see these occur early on in the schedule, so that people have time to talk to their peers about them over the course of the week. If it's the last day/night of the event, you don't get time to follow up with someone over lunch or a beer, a la "we are dealing with a similar situation, I really liked the solution you shared, how did y'all handle issue X?"

Another session variation that is popular at a lot of the conferences I attend is round table, where different topics of discussion are assigned to a 10-top, and people can sign up to join a particular one and talk about that for an hour, etc.

I think round tables have drawbacks though -- if there isn't a method of sharing the results with the other tables, it's kind of an insular activity. Maybe each table could select a secretary who would make a report to the whole room at the end? Or maybe notes could be shared online after the event?

You might be able to steal some ideas from Foo Camp, although that bleeding-edge stuff IMO tends to be the kind of conference session that people love to blog about but not every group can actually execute. There is such a thing as too little structure.
posted by pineapple at 12:48 PM on July 11, 2007

This is more on the conference-wide scheduling/formatting side of things, rather than session-level activities, but I liked the sound of some of the things in this blog post on the last IA Summit. Especially the trading cards, as a conference-wide ice-breaker.

(Actually a blog from library land, so maybe you've already seen it.)
posted by lillygog at 12:56 PM on July 11, 2007

I've had good experiences with World Caf├ęs.
posted by bluebird at 2:04 PM on July 11, 2007

I was going to recommend you read Amanda's blog entry that lillygog pointed out above, because they did indeed so some really great things.

My biggest suggestion for you is to try and make the sessions as virtual as possible...put everything online, make sure the conference goers can find things afterwards when then want to brag to their coworkers about it, and give people lots of chances to talk. I was one of the organizers of the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase at ALA Annual this year (shameless self link due to relevance) and we had an overwhelming response. Take a look at what we did, and see if it's useful to you.
posted by griffey at 5:49 PM on July 11, 2007

Thanks for the excellent suggestions - I had never heard of PechaKucha and love the idea, and Amanda's blog post was exactly what I was hoping to discover. I think we'll try encouraging alternative modes in the call for papers and see how that flies - and thanks for the reminder to document it online!

& thanks, zephyrial, my z-handle brother - when i picked it in the early 90s I was spending a lot of time reading sonnet sequences
posted by zepheria at 8:50 AM on July 12, 2007

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