I recently read a post by Tom Whitby, titled “Are Educational Conferences Relevant?” His post made me think about the true value of educational conferences. As a teachers there are really 3-types of conferences we can attend. First the Un-conference: more commonly referred to as an Edcamp, Second: a state conference (Examples MRA, MAMSE or MACUL) and Third: The National Conference (Example: ISTE, NSTA or AMLE). All 3 types of conferences have benefits and drawbacks. The attendee really determines the ultimate value of any conference.
Over the past few months I have had the pleasure of attending all three types. (AMLE, MCTE, and EdcampOU) Here are the Pros and Cons I see.
Un-Conferences/Edcamps: These conferences rarely have predetermined schedule. Attendees vote with their feet by walking out of sessions that give them little value into other sessions. All of the sessions are lead by educators in the field working with students and building their craft. Conferences are manly free or low cost, on weekends. The value of un-conferences is in the attendees. A well attended Edcamp with eager presenters means the day will be enlightening. Poor attendance or reluctant presenters can lead to a long day (or early departures). Since the conference is “Free”, no vendors come to sell products. The sessions (if you call them sessions more like conversations) are intimate. 10-25 teachers in a room talking about a topic with passion. Everyone has a voice and feels empowered by the face to face meeting. In this day an age of slashed budgets, I feel the un-conferences will continue to rise in popularity.
State Conferences: Sessions are scheduled. Speakers are brought in from the “educational consulting” and “Edu-Author” realms. Most attendees planed to hear one or more of the “name” presenters. Often many of the teacher lead sessions are over looked due to the popularity of the Keynote/ out of state presenters. State level conferences often have a higher cost, therefore vendors are brought in to help cover the costs. To create a program of scheduled presenters, proposals are submitted 4-9 months ahead of the conference. School leaders and teachers attend to sit and get information. Some conferences have been adding hands-on and quick sessions to liven the conferences up. Some educators get lost in the size of the state level conferences, I find the connections invigorating. Focusing on the small conversations and not the large presentations.
National Conferences: Mirror the state conferences but on a grander scale. Proposals for sessions come 6-12 months before the conference. Every author and Ed-consultant in the field will be presenting to sell their services/books. The main difference at national conferences is the demographics of attendees. More administrators attend and less teachers, mainly due to the cost of travel to the conference. Vendors are present to subsidize costs.Some don’t like vendors at educational conferences, but where else will teachers get to know about their products? At AMLE this year, the clear passion about Middle Level Education was evident everywhere. Sessions are larger than the other types of conferences. The conversations and connections with other attendees were wonderful, since they were from all over the world.
The most important part of any conference is what you take away. All conferences have value to educators. Find conferences you enjoy attending, where you make meaningful connections, and learn new ideas. Go where you feel comfortable and can afford to attend. Everyone will have different opinions about conferences, find ones that make you grow as an educator and add value to your classroom practice.