Thursday 21 May 2015

Try out new conference formats #emoocs2015

With the #eMOOCs2015 conference coming to a finish, it is time for me as the experience track chair to look back and think about what happened, how, and the feeling it gave me and possibly others as well.

Trying out other formats during the conference
The experience track of a MOOC conference has one big advantage: you can say YES to any proposal that is offered, or suggest them, or think of them and try them out on the spot. All of that happened. We - all participants within and beyond the conference - came up with formats to test:

  • a flipped conference mode in pecha kucha style, 
  • an e-buddy style hangout online, and 
  • unprepared speakers taking the floor: an open call to speak ad hoc filling in open speaking spots. 

Flipped conference mode: from open video, to pecha kucha and an engaged audience
The idea: put the 5 best (= those who got the highest scores from the reviewing panel) papers of each conference track on a MOOC platform about 3 weeks before the conference. Ask the authors of those papers to make a short (= approx 5 min) video describing their MOOC project adding some key questions. Enable people - insight and outside of the conference - to have a look, pose questions, add comments... to all of these papers/videos. These videos and papers were put on the ConfX MOOC, which is available here. Once the conference started we needed to find a way to balance the discussion that could take place in the room: on the one hand there would be people in the room having seen the videos/read papers, but there would also be people in the room being new to the presented projects. So how do you drive a constructive discussion forward where these two audiences meet? The option we went for was: pecha kucha style: each of the participants in the f-2-f session had 20 slides, each taking up to 20 seconds, to describe their project. Leaving 18 minutes for questions and answers with the audience. Because this was a new format, an extra physical incentive was added: Belgian chocolates were given to all those participants that posed a question. How did it go? First the audience was hesitant, but as trust and confidence grew, people started to shout out their questions. Resulting in the end with 25 questions coming from the audience, providing real dialogues to take place in the room itself, a real treat.

An e-buddy style hangout online
The wonderful, inspiring and public scholars Maha Bali ( @Bali_Maha ) and Rebecca Hogue ( @RJHogue )proposed a hangout, enabling non-conference audience to have a feel of what was happening at the conference, and have a chance to talk to some of the active people in the conference. This resulted in a recorded session spanning multiple continents. You can see the hangout here.
Now just to understand how great Maha and Rebecca are: suddenly the connection dropped Whitney Kilgore and me out the hangout. And Maha had a back-up plan! On the air she asked Aras Bozkurt to share his graph visualization from NodeXL where you could see the social media networks as they were created during the eMOOCs2015 conference, and his MOOCs, especially #rhizo15 and #edcmooc (this is a really great share!).
This e-buddy style hangout is part of a concept by both Maha and Rebecca exploring a new type of conference option, and you can read more about it in Maha's blogpost here.

Open call for speakers to take the floor (open speaking spots)
As I was preparing for my session (a session of an hour and a half, normally with 3 speakers)... I thought I was the only speaker in that room as the timing of our session had come. So I decided to call out and ask if there was anyone in the room willing to take one of the open spots... and Brian Wernham from NooLearn (= an open MOOC platform that lets the crowd build online courses... really nice) took the chance and started preparing a 15 min presentation on the spot. Tiberio Feliz Murias, the wonderful chair of this session also got out and pulled in a wonderful extra presenter: Divina Frau-Meigs of the Sorbonne university in Paris. As these two speakers were found, one planned speaker showed up: RĂ©mi Bachelet, with a great talk on MOOC peer assessments which you can see on slideshare here.
So all of a sudden we were 4 speakers in the room, two planned speakers, two volunteering on the spot. And did it work? Yes! As in MOOCs, the people that actively participate are always people with wisdom, form which we all can learn. And indeed that happened in the room as well. New wisdom was shared, and new dialogues took place.

MOOCs and f-2-f moments mimicking the magic of life
So, for me, there were a lot of experiences happening in the experience track of the conference that lifted the interactions that were taking place. To me there is a parallel between life and moocs, if you keep opportunities open, new surprising knowledge will be created, and new networks will appear ... all of which make up the best moments in life, where magic happens. Thank you to all that engaged... it felt good. 

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