I'm Still Looking for Learning
Corey Topf

Can Conferences Ever Be Cost Effective?

I was very fortunate. I usually had a travel budget. I engaged in the scholarship of teaching and learning — to improve my efforts with my students. But I therefore presented at conferences, facilitated workshops at conferences, and had other presentations and workshops that I wanted to attend. And, of course, there were the sidebar discussions (often over a meal) and exhibition hall visits to see the latest products. Finally, there was always that end of conference ‘to do’ list — which indeed I most often followed up on, honestly…

So now I’ve been Emeritus for ten years… Looking back on those conferences, motivated by the above post and similar ones, let me share a few thoughts:

  • Not in my thinking at the time, I’m struck by how much the conferences I attended most often mirrored the industrial school model and the prevailing PD model back then. Too many lectures!!! Even the workshops still had too little interaction beyond table sharing of what each person did.
  • The best feature, for me at least, of the conferences were the meetings and conversations with new individuals. The meetings with ‘colleagues’ (met at previous conferences) weren’t as good, just enjoyable; they could have been done by phone back then — video interaction today!
  • My post-conference ‘to do’ list was almost exclusively a set of links to follow-up Considerations for me to do. Once, in Honolulu (I know, but someone had to go…), a keynote speaker talked about his latest book. I bought it in Hawaii, read much of it in our post-conference short vacation, and finished it on the plane ride home. “Group Genius” by Keith Sawyer remains one of my valued resources today.
  • Rarely was I able to bring much right into my classroom. Of course, such opportunities never did and still don’t make sense. How could a presenter or workshop facilitator know my students’ or my needs? They couldn’t!!! One time it did was a workshop by faculty from Wentworth College that used the Tangoes game pieces to build team effectiveness.
  • Ironically, since accepting Emeritus status, I’ve actively participated in social media professional development (the most exciting being Twitter chats) that improve the conference experience I believe, from the comfort of my favorite easy chair! And I’ve learned about EdCamps that I’m hoping to join or even organize — the so-called ‘unconferences’ that are based upon teacher interaction / learning together.
  • Social media has also greatly expanded and improved the value of my Personal Learning Network or PLN. So many learners that I’ve never met face-to-face are there for me to seek input, share experiences, or provide feedback.

I miss the tourism connections and the face-to-face conversations; but I sure don’t miss the air travel nightmares happening today (I’m old enough to remember when flying was fun…)! With social media, I get so much more for next to no budget — a true win-win. I am looking forward to my first EdCamp.

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