Tips for Conference Chairs

I have had the great privilege of attending and speaking at hundreds of conferences throughout my career. This year for the first time I have also begun chairing events. If the event is being held in a single room, with no breakout sessions, the role of the conference chair becomes an important one.

These are my suggestions for facilitating a successful single room event:

  • Bring energy and enthusiasm to the stage. Be upbeat. You have one chance to set the tone for the day and get things off to a great start. Engage the audience, use humour, ask the audience questions, get them to raise their hands and create a fun, energetic vibe to the start of proceedings. Make a connection with certain individuals in the audience. Encourage people to meet each other and even provide some 30 second activities to allow this to happen.
  • Make sure you know the correct pronunciation of all the speakers names you will be introducing.
  • Triple check that A/V is sorted ie. slides work, videos play, audio levels are correct, presenter is mic’d up.
  • Introduce the theme of the conference by painting the big picture. Be passionate, provocative and be optimistic. Use stories and current news events. Authentic stories are always a powerful medium for communicating a message.
  • Remember that the conference is not about you – share personal anecdotes where appropriate but don’t talk about your own work. Be curious.
  • Some speakers may have provided lengthy bios. When introducing them, take some creative licence and shorten where necessary.
  • Ensure speakers keep to time. Arrange beforehand how you will let them know that they 5 minutes remaining.
  • Lead audience Q&A if time permits. Always have a question prepared to ask the presenter in case the audience is shy.
  • When facilitating Q&A, remind people to stand, speak their name clearly, and to ask a short and pointed question. Do not accept 5 minute monologues disguised as questions. Trust me, the audience will thank you for this.
  • Sitting down for a whole day can be gruelling. Create opportunities throughout the day for people to stand, meet others and engage in small creative exercises.
  • Encourage positive human collisions at scheduled breaks. Often the best experiences at events come about through networking or meeting people that you haven’t met before.
  • Make yourself available to the audience during breaks to network, discuss and generally just be visible.
  • Closing the event is just important as opening. Create a call to action. Summarise briefly the main themes for the day. Challenge the audience to decide on at least one concrete action that they are going to go back with them into their own contexts and implement straight away.
  • Thank everyone – conference organisers, speakers, the audience, any sponsors.

STEM Curriculum for our Future

Curriculum hasn’t had a transformation in over 100 years and yet the world has changed dramatically in that period of time. Whilst the current system demands that students be prepped for final examinations in traditional fields, report after report cites the continual decline of student engagement in science and mathematics and the subsequent affect this will have on Australia’s innovation future.

Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. There is nothing stopping us from innovating within the confines of the existing system and radically altering the way we approach the teaching and learning within these fields. I propose the following list as one that is incredibly interesting, interdisciplinary, relevant and at the frontier of our future;

Programming, Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Vehicles, Entrepreneurship, Quantum Computing, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Machine Learning, Robotics, Cryptography, Synthetic Biology, Global Positioning Systems, Smart Health Care Applications, Biotechnology, Bio-engineering, Aged Care Services, Brain-Computer Interaction, Alternate Energy, Big Data, Nanotechnology, Intelligence Augmentation, Internet of Things, 3D Printing, Blockchain, Universal Basic Income, Web Development.

This is stuff that is for the most part accessible for students and teachers and would provide an interesting and viable context to increase engagement, maintain rigour and increase participation rates.

Dispositions of Teacher Learners

What are the dispositions of those teachers who naturally see themselves as learners and chief investigators of their own practice? What are the enabling and contextual factors?

This is what I am trying to find out through my PhD studies. My contention is that certain default and perhaps tacit understandings can predispose an individual to be unable to engage in the necessary formation and reformation of professional identity that is required to engage in new learning. This inhibiting behaviour results in an individual essentially “shutting up shop.” The inverse is also true however, and those teachers who are able to have multi-membership of different communities of practice within the broader landscape of practice seem to be at home in this process of identity formation and reformation. The insightful and intuitive organic dispositions of these individuals enable them to disregard boundaries and instead seamlessly cross boundaries of community, competence, knowledgeability and self-narrative whilst engaging in a multiplicity of practices within a specific context. This is what some might refer to as being innovative.

I’ve even started working on a model. It’s still early days but much of my current work is investigating Polanyi, Nonaka, Brock, Dreyfus, Agyris, Schon, Wenger, Beauchamp and Thomas.