These days there are three conference types. The first requires some call for papers or posters though an abstract. It should meet the theme of the conference and should provide peers in your field with new insights or updates to what is known about the topic. These are peer reviewed and common practice in higher education, however many membership-based associations use the same approach. The focus in on empirical evidence, proven methods of research and serves to inspire and update colleagues.
The second is the commercial show. The largest in Australia is Edutech, so I’ll use this a particularly predatory example. This is a company created and dedicated to making money from conference organizations. Approaches are made on the basis that their work has sufficient popular interest to fill a room. I am only one of many who declined their offers. The process in amusing as some marketing office assistant attempts to conduct a phone ‘interview’ – and apart from going to a school at some point as a student, seem to have no idea what scholarship means, nor do they care. At these events, the ‘keynote’ will be paid anything from $5,000 to $100,000. The most famous – the ones with the most popular pithy quotes such as “schools kill rock music” are fairly shameless in repeating the same mantra, the same true-isms and generally see conferences as easy money, bringing along they wives or husbands for a nice little holiday. Further down the ranks, these event organizers stop paying anyone past a handful of elites. Most of the speakers are there to fill rooms and present this an ‘opportunity’ as though your insights and work is worthless or at best, it’s okay to treat you like an intern who will do almost anything to move up the food chain. Don’t be fooled. There is no food chain, the elites guard their income fiercely and not about to share. Often the elites have not actually been in a classroom for years and simply peddle a story – one the audience want’s to believe. It’s a predictable formula that has been remarkably successful.
The third are the in-system events. These do have some merit in that they are sharing information between actual teachers, but these too, tend to import external-elites, who drop amusing stories for a fee (leaving ASAP) while the actual teachers who know the context backward, get side rooms, and often have to pay to attend the event to boot. These are usually invitation based, and run on who you know – and who did people ‘like’ last time. Another lottery – but at least you’re spending time with people in your system – so most people go for the networking and suffer the boring powerpoint parts by some dude who’s never going to care about you.
Last, we have the ‘unconference’, ‘bar-camp’ and ‘teachmeet’ – these are largely the same thing. Low budget, but no less of an oligarchy. They are promoted via people who have set themselves up as ‘leaders’ or ‘founders’ using Twitter hashtags. They mimic the ‘grand story’ of the big conferences, and there some argument that they are slightly miffed at never being asked, so it’s a little counter-culture. The good part is that bar-camp set up a framework in which most people get a lottery chance at speaking. BUT there are ‘special guests’ who don’t have to use the speaking lottery. Again, good for networking – but the larger ones are highly orchestrated around the ‘in crowd’ and again tend to encourage the ‘intern-apprentice’ culture in which dissenting voices who dare to ask curly questions such as ‘do you have have evidence’ or ‘what is the method being used’ are less welcome. These events seem to encourage buzzwords and bandwagons, as the rely on pop-culture as a promotional vehicle. Bar-camp was about ideas, but we have moved a long way from that these days. In my decade or more experience, I’d suggest the smaller events are far more useful and authentic than the BIG ones – because they often sing to the choir and ego-boost ‘innovative principals and leaders’ etc., because social media based groups are not anywhere near as open and libertarian as they’d like us to believe.
Career booting though Twitter and unconferences works if you are prepared to promote yourself and to align yourself with those who share the ambition. Being popular matters if you want to be part of the in-crowd. This is no different to how YouTubers share audiences to ensure outsiders are locked out. It’s not as though there’s a clear goal here – but clearly, some people are working 24/7. It works too, you can go from classroom teacher to DP or better in a short(er) time – simply by becoming popular and never do anything more than a song and dance. A word of caution: there is a song list. Don’t talk about how unaccountable teachers are for the time they force kids to sit in front of laptops – but just say how X Software on laptops is awesome.they lack evidence and rely on popularism and in-group bias to be correct. They are also often aligned with personalities who are not just brand loyal, but salesmen for the brand.
Where ‘speakers’ lack evidence and must rely on popularism and in-group bias to be noticed. Founding a hashtag and asking simplistic questions is actually seen as ‘good communication’ when in fact its Haw Haw. These people/things are also often aligned and infused with personalities who are not just brand loyal, but salesmen for the brand.
Consumer theory has established that brands have exploited children in recent years – and who better to be the ‘face of brand X’ than a teacher who can insist and command children use it. No wonder technology brands have “edu” high on the list of promotional activities. Brands don’t find peer-review and scholarship appealing ways to promote their products … and social media based events and commercial ‘
Brands avoid peer-review and find membership driven events are ‘best sponsored’ as to avoid scrutiny, whereas and social media based events and commercial conferences are essential to their bottom line.
So how to you speak at a conference? – get in competition with everyone else, be ruthless, find a niche, don’t bother offering any evidence – in fact do the opposite of what education is supposed to do – to arm children with defences against exploitation and to ensure teachers are not in competition, but work to improve what we know works in a world where marketing and media actively work to mask it.
I know >>> I don’t call you, you call me.