Why We Should Flip Education Conferences

Image via Flickr by Sebastiaan ter Burg

Image via Flickr by Sebastiaan ter Burg

More and more teachers embrace flipped classrooms every year. In a 2014 survey, 78% of teachers said they’d flipped at least one lesson in their classroom.

And they’re finding that the flipped model is successful. Teachers who try out flipped classrooms find that students can learn at their own pace, have an easier time asking for (and receiving) help, and show more engagement in the classroom.

But you’ve heard all of this before. The flipped classroom made its mark in education years ago. You know the benefits and understand its appeal.

So why haven’t we brought the same model into teachers’ own version of classroom learning: the educational conference?

  • Think about what your conference experiences look like:
  • You spend a lot of money
  • You’re out of the classroom for days at a time,
  • You travel to some far-flung locale,
  •  All in order to… sit in a room and listen to someone give a lecture.

Do you get more from that lecture because you’re in the same room as the presenter than you would if you watched a video of it?

If your students get more out of direct interaction with you than they would from a lecture, doesn’t it just make sense that the same would apply to how you learn at a conference?

What a Flipped Conference Looks Like

The particulars could change a bit from conference to conference, or evolve as the model gets tested out more, but the gist of a flipped conference is this: lectures are replaced by more interactive discussions.

This is already happening in a few different forms. “Unconferences” like EdCamp switch the conference model around to be run by the participants – with the structure being worked out as the event happens.

Flipped conferences could keep more of the traditional model than unconferences do. You could ask educational influencers with something important to teach the conference audience to speak. But instead of doing their teaching and presenting at the conference itself, they can work out an assignment for the attendees to complete in advance – a slide share, video of a speech, or a collection of reading materials – and then spend the actual conference time discussing, or workshopping, the ideas from the assignment.

The Benefits of Flipping Education Conferences

1. Everyone learns from each other.

You know that you’re never the only teacher in a classroom. Students have plenty to learn from each other as well. In a room full of educators, the amount of experience and knowledge contained in that small space is massive. Why would you want to miss out on all of that in order to just learn from one person who’s been designated the expert of the moment?

A flipped conference model gives the many brilliant and creative educators in the room a chance to weigh in. You can learn from the input of your peers and help inspire them in kind.

2. Attendees are more engaged.

Sitting quietly through lecture after lecture for a couple of days can be enough to help you sympathize with the students who occasionally doze off in class. No matter what your age, paying attention to a long lecture can be really hard. And the more tired you get, the more the lectures start to really drag, no matter how great the speaker is.

Even when the information is revolutionary, the lecture format isn’t one that encourages engagement. A format that encourages questions and discussions, on the other hand, that’s engaging. People who have the chance to contribute will be more on their toes to see what others have to say. And if an outright argument happens? Oh boy, everyone will pay attention to that. Passionate opinions keep people interested.

3. Everyone has more time for making contacts.

“For me, conferences are more about meeting people than the sessions.” Who is that quote attributable to? Probably half of the conference attendees ever. If you haven’t said it, you’ve probably heard it.

Conferences offer you a chance to be surrounded by people from all over the country (or world, even) who share your passions and interests – all of whom come equipped with unique experiences and knowledge. The potential for great conversations, new friends, and valuable collaboration opportunities is everywhere you look. But only if you can find the time to actually talk to people and make those connections while you’re there. A flipped conference makes that experience part of the sessions themselves, rather than something that happens randomly in between them.

4. You can see what the flipped classroom experience feels like from the other side.

If you’ve been implementing the flipped classroom model in your own classrooms, or if you’ve been thinking about it but haven’t tried yet, getting some experience into what it’s like for the student can be valuable. If you find certain aspects of the flipped conference experience frustrating or especially valuable, you can make an effort to bring rules or guidelines into your own classroom to limit what doesn’t work and emphasize what does.

5. A good discussion can just be fun.

This point doesn’t need much elaboration. Every time you have a riveting conversation at a party, get into a passionate debate with an acquaintance, or spend hours talking on the phone with your best friend, you get a reminder that good discussions are a good time.

The word “lecture” can make people groan, but sub in “discussion” instead and suddenly people perk up.  Most people will take being an active participant any day over being a passive listener.

And people learn better when they’re active participants anyway. That’s what started this whole craze of flipping classrooms to begin with. Why should the idea only benefit your students, when you could start getting more out of it too?

1 Comment

  1. Cindy

    April 10, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    agree 1000%. Who needs to be convinced?