If the good old lecture format is under fire (see previous entry) then maybe it's also time to examine what we do at conferences. I enjoy attending conferences I must admit and most of the time I learn a lot and meet lots of interesting people some of whom I end up doing work with later on.
However, even if these conferences deal with new technology and new teaching methods we seldom stop and look at how we present it all. Let's face it most of the conferences I've attended (and some I've been involved in arranging!) are extremely conservative and generally involve a cavalcade of traditional lectures to a mass audience with virtually no participation. Keynote speakers are followed by parrallel sessions with coffee breaks and lunch now and then during which time we have to visit the exhibition area. Sometimes you don't really get much chance to meet so many people!
George Siemens excellent blog, elearnspace, tipped me off about a fascinating initiative from the AACE (Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education). They're arranging a virtual conference called Spaces of Interaction: An Online Conversation on Improving Traditional Conferences 18-20 February. The aim of this conference is to discuss how to improve the conference as an event and enable participants to get more out of them using the potential of Web 2.0 etc. The conference will involve both live on-line sessions as well as discussion groups on Moodle and a social network on Ning.
I've often wondered if it would be possible to have a do-it-yourself conference. Participants are usually so enthusiastic that you could probably just put them into groups and let free discussion flowaround a chosen topic or two. I once went to a conference where we actually did this for one session per day. Each group went to a room with coffee and buns with the task of just reflecting and discussing for 90 minutes. No questions afterwards, no presentation to the others, just our own discussion. It was great and not a moment was wasted. I learnt a lot!