Thinking About My Thinking About What Makes A Good Conference

#gbl10 I go to a lot of conferences, and get invited to attend even more, and sometimes get invited to speakCogitating on't at them. There is a fine line, I think, between attending the conferences you need to maintain your skill set and your employability, and becoming a sort of conference junkie.

And 'junkie' is a good word to use in this context because one of the effects of good conferences is that they induce a feeling of euphoria. You can tell this by what happens afterwards: there is almost nothing worse than the mild depression one starts to feel as one nears home, the train becoming less and less populated, and the remaining people looking tired, their ennui almost palpable, all brought to the fore by the post-adrenalin rush let-down.

The problem is, that feeling of euphoria can just as easily be brought on by conferences which, when all said and done, don't amount to a hill of beans, to use that wonderful quote from Casablanca. The fact is, although I added it as a follow-up to my original blog post on the subject of what makes a good conference, the issue of whether you can actually do anything practical as a result of attending is very important to me. You know, if all I want is a feeling of euphoria, there are all sorts of meetings I can go to, and come out feeling high, without spending a penny. But what would that achieve?

That's one of the reasons I thought about what makes a good conference: as well as attending several bad ones, I've also attended lots that make me feel good. The question is: is feeling 'good' enough?

Another reason is that I wanted to find a way of evaluating conferences that made comparison meaningful. I realise that not all conferences can be compared with others, because they are so different. But in economic terms, they are all goods competing for the same resources of time and money. From that point of view, I feel it my duty, both to myself and others, to start a record of how conferences fare against my criteria, in order to help me make choices in the future. (Although I acknowledge that Conference X next year will not be the same as Conference X this year; as Heraclitus said, you cannot jump into the same river twice.)

So yesterday I started the ball rolling by evaluating the Games-Based Learning 2010 Conference according to these criteria, and was quite surprised by the result. I really did enjoy the conference, but looking at the event in the cold light of those 14 points, I can see more clearly the not-so-great aspects of it.

I will need to think about this. Using those quasi-objective criteria forced me to think about the conference in a very detached way, as far as that's possible. As a result, the conference no longer shines quite so brightly to me. That will not deter me from attending next year's, or from recommending that others do so too. But it has made me think that in future conferences I shall be more 'robust' in my criticism of poor speakers, and more effusive in my praise of good ones, to take just one of the criteria. To some extent this year I allowed the 'euphoria' to blunt my edginess when it came to completing the evaluation form.

Yet at the same time, I wonder whether I am simply being too demanding. Does it even matter if some aspects of a conference 'suck', to borrow an American colloquialism? In these dark grey recessionary days, is not a glimpse of enlightenment to be welcomed, even if it is merely transitory?

I'd value your opinion on these matters, whether in the form of comments on this post using the facility here, or in Twitter or Facebook, or even by email.

Writers I like: Lucy Kellaway

I've been thinking for a while of starting a new series about blogs I like to read or podcasts I like to listen to or watch. I may still do one specifically about podcasts, but for now I have plumped for the title "Writers I like" because that will encompass journalists and others as well as bloggers.

I've started the series with Lucy Kellaway, not because she writes anything about educational technology (as far as I know), but for the following reasons:

  • As the holiday season nears I intend to take a short break and not think about ICT for a day or two. One of the things I hope to be doing instead is catching up with blogs, columns and podcasts I've fallen behind on. Lucy Kellaway's is top of my list.
  • She writes about (bad) management. Bad management is bad management is bad management, wherever it appears. We can learn much from the example of those who get it wrong.
  • She produces a podcast as well as a column (one is a spoken version of the other), thereby straddling two of my categories.

What I especially like about Kellaway's work is that it cuts straight to the quick, and is fearless. I don't know what it's like in other fields, but in education a lot of people are frightened to point out the emperor's new clothes in case it turns out to be, in the memorable phrase of one of my previous line managers, a 'career-limiting statement'.

Whether giving answers in her 'agony aunt' column called 'Dear Lucy', nominating businesses for her annual Twaddle Awards or in her weekly column/podcast, Kellaway slices through the BS in a witty, acerbic style.

Thanks to her, I recently discovered David Thorne's blog, which is hilarious (read the email exchange headed 'Please design a logo for me. With pie charts.', unless you are of a sensitive nature: the language gets a bit fruity).

Business leaders are lucky (although they may not think so) to have Lucy Kellaway. I'm not aware of anybody who performs the same role in education since Ted Wragg died (there's a link to a collection of his articles in my Amazon Books page).

It's slightly frustrating that you have to register on the Financial Times website to be able to read more than 2 articles a month - and slightly bizarre too given that you can subscribe to the feed readers of her column and podcast. You'll find her on the Lucy Kellaway page. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Why Subscribe to Blogs? 8 Things to Consider

So many blogs, so little time. What with all the 101 other things you have to do in your life, you can't afford to waste time on blogs that won't benefit you in any way. Or, to be more accurate, in which the benefits are exceeded by the cost, ie the time spent.

So what kind of things might you take into account when deciding whether or not to subscribe to a blog's RSS feed? Here is what I look for.

  1. I will usually have discovered a blog through a reference to one particular article. The obvious thing to check out, then, is whether all or most of the articles on the blog look interesting, or whether the one I came across was the exception to the rule.
  2. Are the articles engaging? Ideally, I prefer to read stuff that is well-written. Not just well-written from a technical point of view, but in a way that's engaging, that reels me in. I want to have to drag myself away because I have other things to do, not force myself to read it because I think it might be good for me.
  3. OK, not everyone can be a great writer, so is it informative at least? Am I going to learn stuff that I may not otherwise come across, or not packaged in as succinct a manner?
  4. Is it newsworthy? I find it hard to keep up with news, despite, or possibly because of, the dozens of sources I rely on. If there's a blog that consistently mentions the latest news, be it technical or educational or otherwise, I'm interested.
  5. Is it humorous? Even if it's none of the things mentioned so far, if it makes me smile or laugh that is a big plus.
  6. Is it provocative? A blog should make you think, or react.
  7. Once it's made it through the hurdles presented so far, a blog has to show that its owner is serious about it. The issue here is: has it been updated regularly? If it's been more than a month since the last post, that is a real turn-off for me.
    Yes, I know that people are busy, but I think it's a matter of priorities. I have blogs that I haven't updated in months. But this one, ICT in Education, gets updated on average at least once a day during the week, and sometimes more, and sometimes at the weekends and on holidays too. And let me tell you: I am busy!
    That does raise another issue, of course: is a blog updated too frequently? That doesn't bother me in the slightest. I figure that someone can update their blog every 15 minutes if they want to, but I don't have to read it all. But I mention it here because I have recently had one person unsubscribe from my RSS feed because he thought that I update my blog too often.
  8. Finally, is it easy to subscribe? I have a Google toolbar which enables me to subscribe to a blog by clicking on a button labelled 'Subscribe'. If I get a message saying 'Feed not found', I become slightly miffed, because it is pretty easy to avoid that,m and people with slick-looking websites ought to know that. All you have to do is insert the following code within the HEAD part of your Index page:

    "<link rel="alternate" type="application/rss+xml"
    title="RSS Feed for"
    href="" »",

    substituting your RSS feed and title for mine, or course.

If clicking on Subscribe doesn't work, I'll click on an RSS feed icon or similar. If have to hunt around for that, I'll probably give up, especially if the decision to subscribe was touch and go anyway.

Total time for this whole process? I would say no more than 5 minutes, and most of that will be taken up with #1.

I'd be interested in hearing about what makes you decide to subscribe to an RSS feed or not, so please either comment below or complete the survey on the subject; it will take you just two or three minutes, and I'll publish the results soon.