conference n. 1. A prearranged meeting for consultation or exchange of information or discussion (especially one with a formal agenda). 2. An association of sports teams that organizes matches for its members. 3. A discussion among participants who have an agreed (serious) topic. -- Princeton Wordnet
ATTENDED A TWO-DAY CONFERENCE on educational technology (ET) last Thursday and Friday. So much hard work, so many speakers and so many participants from so many countries. Somehow though, it ended on a note of disillusion. At the closing forum, one participant noted, "Elearning has not yet delivered its promise of a teaching and learning utopia. Instead, what we have seems to be a Web of mass distraction."
"Web of mass distraction"! Everyone laughed. How sad!
Then another guy stood up to say, "In our search for gold, let us not be discouraged or disturbed by the dirt we find." So, we've found more dirt than gold so far? The chairperson muttered, "Oh ok. Let us thank...." and ended the conference.
As for the conference itself, other than a few enlightening sessions (such as two good keynote addresses and some HoD presentations on the use of online scaffolding to facilitate meaningful discussions among three primary schools), the usual thing happened. Most sessions turned out to be quite bland. While exhorting all to facilitate learning constructivistly, most presenters transmitted their knowledge (or findings) one-way while making lots of "motherhood" statements (obvious well-accepted cliches) about the need for constructivist teaching, benefits, and so on. Not walking their talk! The slides also left much to be desired -- the words were often too small, too many; the graphics have too much details or are plain distracting.
conference n. An electronic meeting place dedicated to a particular subject where users come to participate in discussions or group projects... An electronic conference provides a many-to-many communication medium, as opposed to the person-to-person nature of e-mail. -- EE Link's Glossary of Computing Terms
IF I COULD ORGANIZE the next ET conference (and have enough supporting resources -- this is crucial because having organized much smaller conferences, i have some idea of how much work a conference can entail), i'll make use of educational technology to enable speakers and participants to 'conference' with one another in a truly constructivist manner. Among other things, i would do the following:
. Half the number of sessions and double the duration of each session to at least forty minutes.
. Set aside a few introductory sessions on technology and pedagogy for those who are unfamiliar with educational technology. This shall be the only sessions where presenters are allowed to make "motherhood" statements.
. All presenters must go through checklists like Dr Bernie Dodge's checklist for overall visual appeal.
. Pre-record all presentations (narrated PowerPoint, video unnecessary) or at least put all the PowerPoint slides online so that participants can preview and select sessions that meet their needs BEFORE the conference. Room sizes shall be allocated accordingly and not based on guesswork.
. Actual conference sessions shall be used for topic-based discussions, and not for one-way transmissions, possibly using the "Progression" format (where based on a theme, several speakers host separate tables that each seats up to 10; participants join a table with a preferred topic, discuss with the speaker for about 20 minutes or so, and then move on to the next table with another topic).
. Include a video conferencing segment with one or more special overseas speakers.
. Put a few PCs with Internet access near registration booths and make them available for use by conference participants at a nominal fee.
. Make it easier for participants to network with others who have similar experiences and/or interests, possibly through activities such as networking lunches or gaming, as well as online matching, discussion or polling.
Interesting ideas on "what if... you could organised your own conference" Joo Khim. Hope you had given your feedback to the organisers!
Thanks, TP, for the suggestion. Had emailed one of the organizers but got no reply.
Belated update: Emailed the professor in charge one or two weeks ago and got a very positive response. Truly looking forward to the next conference now. :-)
Just for the record. Some belated notes on the three good presentations by HoDs during ICET 2004: All three primary schools made use of Knowledge Community forums (KCF) which support scaffolded conversations or discussions. Qihua Primary used an exploratory approach to discuss a Science topic, Planets. The question was: "Which planet would you visit and why?" Woodlands Primary used a content-based approach. Cannot remember the topic now. The last school was the most interesting -- Shuqun Primary used a PBL (constructivist) approach. Students were grouped into fours to solve a problem online. The scenario is: Your good friend asks you for help to organize a birthday party with maximum turnout and within a budget of $400. The proposed date, time, venue, menu (with shark's fin), etc. were given. The students discussed issues such as Muslims don't eat pork, the time is too late for students, etc.
What's interesting are the built-in scaffolds which teaching staff can modify, such as [I need to understand], [my reflection], [my question], [I have evidence], etc. With these help, the students manage to construct meaningful questions, discussions and even debates (or challenges) without much (or even any) interference from their instructors. The students seem to enjoy the exercise a lot. Some posted more than 100 messages.