Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Flipped Conference

Conferences can be a terrific form of professional development, but much like school, little has changed in structure since the last century.  Sure, there are some updated features here and there i.e. backchannels and taping of sessions, but things are more or less done the same way they’ve always been done.  

So, I got to thinking.  

Everyone’s flipping for flip classrooms (well, except me).

Why not flip the conference?

I mean do we really have to crowd into a main room then an overflow room to listen to someone speak at us for an hour?  Couldn’t we watch these presentations on our own and have our time with presenters spent in a more engaging and interactive way?

For example, at the recent International Society for Technology Educator’s conference (ISTE) a select few participants had the opportunity to “Speak with Sir Ken Robinson.” Boy was I jealous. I didn’t even know about it. I only got to listen to him in the overflow room with a crappy sound system.

What if instead of us all sitting silently together watching Sir Ken we watched him on our own. Then, during the conference, we were scheduled in more intimate conversations with him around our topic of choice, followed by group photo!? I don’t know about you, but that would certainly be a more powerful memory than the one I had scrambling to find a speaker that I could hear in the overflow room and even more powerful than if I had been shoved in a room sitting silently with a few thousand others.  

This isn’t hard.  We already have endless videos of keynote presentations just waiting for us. Let’s spend our time with these folks discussing and doing rather than sitting and watching.  

Make sense?


  1. does it make sense? totally! (including your commentary on flipped classrooms)

    roger dennis

  2. Lisa, I was thinking the same thing the whole time. It was great to meet people in person I have only interacted with on twitter, but aside from that, it seemed that many of the sessions I attended resembled podcasts I had heard or lectures I had already viewed. There has to be a better way to make that interaction the focus. That said, the room that Ken Robinson and Marc Presnky went into after was open to everyone. I was amazed that only about 100 people were in the room!

  3. I agree! I was just talking about the same thing here:

  4. Yup. Lots of people have thought of this.

    The problem is, people don't get paid to attend conferences unless they are giving a presentation, which means the conference is filled with presentations (or empty of people).

    1. in a truly flipped conference, the main speeches would be posted on youtube a week in advance so attendees (and others?) can watch and prepare followup questions. Those questions then get asked in the plenary/lecture session.

    2. The speakers would still be on hand and will still have done the presentation. This would just allow for more interactivity.

    3. Hi Lisa and Stephen, great points!

      Stephen - I love your conference ideas. I hope to have a further conversation with you about this!

      Lisa, I've read your posts about the flipped classroom and agree with you whole heartedly that this should be approached with caution and reflection. I have applied Flipped Learning to professional development for teachers and have had amazing, transformative results. is something I have a great passion for.

      Both - I would argue that a flipped conference should go even further. So my ideas for what a flipped conference should look like includes not only digital content accessible before the face-to-face but also deliberate meeting and discussing online in common interest groups. It's like you took the thought out of my head, Stephen, when you sketch "Stage in a Landscape of Trust". This is powerful. High energy, hands on, loud, spontaneous but focused, with a solid core of organized events and opportunities.

      I hope that this is what #flipcon13 will be next year. We have many ideas for high energy opportunities created by space, context and relationships. The NEW conference will not be a beginning but a middle, launching point. A touch point for educators who get to connect face-to-face with their online PLN.
      The NEW conference will be what many of us already do at conferences: network, socialize, share, and encourage. We just need to bring the other educators along.

      Kristin Daniels

  5. My favorite unflipped presentations are those where a sage on the stage talks for 45 minutes about how classrooms aren't preparing students for the 21st century world of work because too many classrooms still feature the teacher in front talking all the time!

    Well, guess what? When it comes to old-fashioned DELIVERY OF CONTENT/INFORMATION, the 21st century world of work is perfectly aligned with the traditional classroom and direct instruction. How often do you witness something other than a PowerPoint when a meeting is informational? At best, we get a Prezi. Oohhh! That's just direct instruction with animation...we're still all lined up in rows with our legs crossed and mouths shut.

    The only time the world of work (that I see) differs from the classic lecture is when the situation is one of solving problems rather than disseminating information.

    When people are trying to solve a problem, they interact; they get creative; and they even take some risks now and then! Modern classrooms do this as well, though probably not as often as they could. Still...don't fault the classroom teacher too much; even education conferences are pretty thin on participatory experiences.

    Did anyone notice that the show floor was filled with presentation after presentation to educators sitting in rows, all trained on the animated vendor in a colorful outfit? Very unflipped!

    Even flipping a conference with presentations consumed in advance is a pretty meager step toward something other than direct instruction...that's only moving the lecture to the cloud. Can't we do better than that?

    If not, then at least let's have a moratorium on lectures about how lectures are so antiquated and don't prepare students for the workplace.

    1. By pre-consuming the lecture, the conference participants would be ready with questions and the time currently taken up with a one-way lecture would be a highly interactive Q and A session.