Me and Conferences

Conferences come in two main forms to me. The first are events which are organised and orientated to educational institutions. These are not events which Universities or Educational Authorities sponsor, they are events where the scholarship of teaching or other field is discussed in the context of evidence based research.

The other forms are commercial. They are driven by revenue and as such resort to marketing routines, hire talent (keynotes get paid $10k-100k at some of these in Australia). They are glitzy events which are marketed to teachers using consumer messages and popular culture. The organisers are driven by profit and the speaker motivated by their fees. I am sure that many scholars whom have earned their place in the ‘edtech’ royal family have got where they are though scholarship and institutions. Good luck to them, they have every right to charge a fee and try to motivate the crowd. I am not sure the fees being demanded are warranted, but in the market, if event companies are willing to pay it, and people can afford to pay to listen, then thats just the neoliberal free market in action.

But most teachers can’t afford to go to glitzy events – time and money being the key barriers. This is perhaps not a bad thing, as the also-ran, self made experts who often fill out the speaker list, are neither scholars nor remotely qualified in adult education. Perhaps that’s why they lecture their audiences, safe in the knowledge that any push back or comment is likely to be made via Twitter (echo) and most people in the room will simply say nothing should they disagree.

There is disagreement in academic conferences – plenty of it – but the work people are doing is based on a deep and well understood process of research, data-sharing and re-evaluation, which is probably why academics don’t take too much notice of 140 systems. I really don’t believe that the money spent on glitzy events is warranted, given the reduction in funding for innovation, research and so on. We are buying into dogmatic, powerpoint driven information transmission, which ironically is what many of these ‘presos’ claim are the problem. Let me put this in perspective. A lecture is worth about $200 in Australia at best. A day’s casual teaching is worth $350.

Anyone paying some fly in, fly out ‘preso’ dropper thousands of dollars for what is little more than public knowledge is removing money from schools. This conference market is not real, it’s entirely being invented by software, hardware, events management and consultants – who claim these things are filling some gap, or offering some new insight that organic meetups and academic events are too stupid to know about.

Do yourself a favour, just visit your online peers in real life, its cheaper and more fun. Pay for a Masters – it will improve your teaching and career or take a course online for a hundred bucks. Even better, go attend something out of your field and learn something new.

So that’s me and conferences. I don’t agree ‘edtech’ events should be without criticism and I accept that they make money and attract people who are motivated by it. I like meeting folks, I like sharing ideas, but I am not about to pay $1000 for a ticket, when I can organise my own peer-event for $50 a head and still have a muffin. Boom.

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One thought on “Me and Conferences

  1. Weird, I spotted a link to my blog post on conferences and then it vanished.

    I agree with much of the sentiment but also have to see such a neat split is not quite as simple. I have seen everything you describe in presentations at commercial conferences occur at academic ones.

    And sometimes I get paid and flown in to speak at conferences, so I must be vacuous evil and greedy. I’m by no means getting big bucks. And I pour slot into my prep; I may be there a few days and give a hour or two or more of time on stage, but there is easily 10 times that in prep. I went to New Zealand in Septempbee doing 29 talks in 9 days at 7 institutions. My paid fee was less than the cost of flying me there.

    Can I put a number on tha value I gave? Probably not.

    It is just not as simple as generalizing; though I do think the whole premise of conferences is open to question.

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