Friday, June 07, 2013

It's the conversation, stupid

Have you ever been at a conference or seminar and missed a session because the conversation with colleagues over coffee was more interesting and relevant than sitting and listening to the next speaker?

At the recent THETA conference they offered an alternative to the traditional presentation.

More universities are offering flipped classrooms.  Instead of coming to class to listen to a lecture and then complete assignments, students study the topic first and then come to lecture for informed discussion.  At THETA 2013 you can flip your session, turning it into a facilitated discussion instead of a presentation.

I proposed a 'flipped' session on Next Generation Library Systems.  I prepared some notes including pre-reading as requested by the organisers and which was promoted to conference participants. I was more nervous about this session than my presentation because it was untrod territory for me.

I set out some ground rules at the start of the 50 minute session, with my primary ground rule being no passengers only contributors. Many people then decided to go to another session but I was left with 40 odd people who actively participated in the ensuing discussion. I had some talking points and directed the discussion, moving it on, introducing new topics and encouraging people to elaborate or listen as required.

We had a robust and informed conversation on a topic of interest. I thought the session was more productive than if I had spoken to slides. I got some very nice feedback after the session, including from one of the library systems vendors who had attended and participated.

I'd like to see more flipped sessions at conferences and less stand and deliver; more conversations beyond the coffee break. I think we would get more value from having more conversation. On the down side it would mean that preparation for attending a conference would about more than airline and hotel bookings. Attendees would have to have done the reading and thinking beforehand and be primed to participate and not just passively absorb.

Shall we talk about it?


  1. librarykris12:22 pm

    I like this idea very much. I am guilty of going to conference waiting to be filled up with knowledge but I much prefer the conversations about the things that I know a little about. Sign me up.

  2. Sounds like a great session Peter, wish I could have been there.

    I think there's a lot of value in this model - when I do get to attend conferences (which is becoming a rarer treat) I think I would get more out of the individual sessions if I was expected to contribute rather than passively accept the information. That's not to say that I actually have anything valuable to add in every forum but I think if you prepare as if you will, there's going to be much more value to your sponsoring organisation on your return to work. :)

  3. I can definitely see the value of "flipped" sessions, if attendees are motivated enough to prepare beforehand. Sometimes I like to attend a session I know nothing about to soak up something new, especially if the speaker is known to be inspiring. But, as someone who has missed out on conference sessions to continue tearoom conversations, I'd be very willing to try this model for one or two sessions per day.