Choosing the right education technology conference

When I was at university I had a fool-proof method for selecting student union representatives when elections were held. I automatically discounted anyone who stood up and announced that what we needed was change. We always need change, although it’s usually quite useful to check what exactly needs changing, and whether right now is the best time to do so. Anyone who announced that we needed change, but without going any deeper into it, was an idiot as far as I was concerned. Either that, or they assumed that I was.

Nothing useful to impart?I have been to too many conferences where a “key” speaker announces that the education system needs changing, without saying why, or how. My view is that if I want to hear someone’s self-important proclamation of their opinions, all I need to do is wander along to the nearest pub.

At the risk of stating the obvious, any kind of professional development event you attend should be useful. With any luck it will be inspirational too, but there needs to be the right balance. These thoughts have been prompted by the appearance of conferences which address educational issues whilst possessing the unique selling point of having no education experts on the list of speakers.

I suppose that raises the question of what is an education expert? In my opinion, it’s someone who is actually working in education, or who has recently worked in education. I meet education “experts” all the time. Only a few weeks ago I went to a local writers’ group, at which one of the attendees confidently told me that the reason the recent riots occurred in the UK was that kids needed to be whacked around the head by their teachers, and that wasn’t happening. Wow! There’s an original, informed and enlightened point of view.

We live in an era when time is tight, and money is tighter still. We can’t afford to go to conferences where speakers and panellists air their opinions without having any real authority in the subject being discussed. So, the next time the opportunity to attend an ICT conference comes up, I think you might ask yourself a series of questions, like:

  • Can this person <keynote speaker> teach ICT to class <insert name of your most challenging class> on a Friday afternoon? And by “teach” I mean carry out activities which ensure that when the students leave the classroom they know or understand or can do more than when they came in.
  • If not, have they at least been able to do that in the past?
  • If not, are they qualified to address the subject for another reason, such as having conducted research in the area?
  • Repeat this exercise for every speaker or panellist.

If the number of “Noes” exceeds the number of “Ayes”, then I think you have to decide whether it’s worth your time and the school’s money to attend this conference. Anyone can have an opinion, and everyone is entitled to an opinion. It’s a different matter entirely to have an informed opinion.


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