Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ How I Would Organize a Conference

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jan 30, 2007




From Internet Time, 2010

The structure would be more like a market or a fair. Mostly, there would not be a schedule. Participants would certainly not get a schedule; organizers would have a bit of one, in order to choreograph the event.

The conference area itself would consist of a largish central area with various side areas with more or less privacy (the presumption is that while people will want to go to the side to chat, etc., they won't want to cut themselves off completely from the main event).

The main area would itself have various types of things, including:
- presentation booths - these are not lined up in rows, but are rather islands, round, surrounded by the attendees - exhibitors don't get a booth for the whole conference, rather, just for certain time slots (lots of rotation in the booths) - at any given time there will be many of these booths in operation - some of these (especially those in strategic areas) are no more than soapboxes, whereon a person stands and makes his/her pitch
- bearpits - where from time to time famous people are surrounded by an audience, where - instead of presenting a lecture - they answer questions tossed in by the audience
- demo labs - again, like the booths, nobody owns these, they are used for a certain amount of time - they consist of a large screen and about a dozen workstations - need lots of these, in various configurations - in the open, so people can stand around and watch
- a great big wall where people can put up any sort of notice or advertisement they please (people who spam the board will have their messages removed)
- electronic games and activities (could even make it possible to win 'tokens' by playing and use the tokens to auction things - check your local laws) -- there would absolutely have to be a Wii area - but also, there are many video-cam games (eg. the video cam boxing game), have those set up as well, whatever games people want to play
- Big screens everywhere - some of them are showing the games (especially the hockey games, especially the finals from the conference-long tournament), others are showing the conference 'backchannel' where participants (you need a conference login) post their thoughts
- The announcers, of course, on the speaker system, letting people know when an event is about to take place - a '10 minute keynote', a 'Flash video demo', the 'George Siemens bearpit', the 'EA Hockey semi-finals', 'the Wii-learn SIG in the alcove...
- Entertainment, including mainstage shows at noon and in the evening, side stage workshops (esp. with electronic music tools), wandering minstrals, jugglers
- The Vendor's Parade
- plenty of tables and chairs throughout, where people can sit and work or chat
- wireless and numerous ethernet ports with the bandwidth to back them up

There would be numerous side areas, including (pay for meals and coffee, etc., with conference vouchers)
- coffee shops (how much would Starbucks pay to have a coffee shop there?) and cafes (meals tend to be 'ad hoc', not huge 'everybody eats at once' factory-style conference dinners)
- computer stores (Future shop? Apple)
- bookstores - a proper bookstore, not just a few titles on a table
- various types of pubs, some open and lively, others more like lounges, others with quiet out-of-the-way nooks
- very quiet areas, with couches for sleeping
- Art galleries / events (local artists are given a space and told to 'create')

You get the idea...

Now then, what we want participants to do is to add to this, in any way they can - we would want lots of ways participants can contribute...
- code jams - where coders create a new applications
- the participants' art gallery - any art, any way
- the conference radio station / podcast (which plays on speakers in various locations, including some of the cafes, as well as online (of course))
- 99-second presentations

Again - from the participant's point of view, none of this is scheduled ahead of time - what they are intended to do is to arrive and follow what interests them

What about papers? After all, that's how many people get funding to travel to conferences...
- the conference book and DVD - participants will be asked to come and, at some point during the event (probably have to sign up for a slot) go to a studio and record a presentation of their work - they can also bring in audio or video clips to add - these will be facilitated by program directors and hosts - the idea here is to make the presentations less formal, not just a person reading, but rather a person showing, being interviewed, interacting with the audience, etc -- a lot of this would also be the material used for the conference radio and shown on some of the video screens throughout - after the show, you can but the book/dvd from Lulu

- Typically conferences take place in convention halls and the like -- and there's nothing wrong with that -- but it's worth nothing that a conference as described here can fit into pretty much any (large) location - school, college building, small town, whatever...




Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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