What if? A new way to think about PD and conferences.

Practical Part 2
I just spent a delightful (but tiring!) weekend at the Korea TESOL conference in Seoul. Met so many teachers that I only knew online – it was truly overwhelming. A special thanks to all those who took in my presentations and/or helped with getting the news out about EnglishCentral. You are all essential components in this push to transform the way students learn English.

But I’m not writing a self congratulatory piece. What I’d like to reflect upon is a thought that came over me as I was giving my talk about “The Flipped Classroom”.

My presentation was well attended and I think I accomplished my goal – to provoke a new way of thinking about how we deliver our curriculum / classes. That said, as I was going through my slides and outlining the what/how/why of the Flipped Classroom, I kept having a strange feeling come over me. I wanted to “STOP” and get off this train, stop and just talk with everyone. Discuss, relate, bob and weave. Flow.  Why should I have a goal, a method beyond us being / sharing / learning together?

You see, presentations and workshops as we know them are fake. Contrived performances.  We all agree not to see the pink elephant in the room. You can call this beast many things; power, protocol, role playing, “going through the motions” etc… but it all boils down to most presentations being an event with a social veneer – a veneer that says, “I agree to listen and do what you want – you agree to play the authority and all knowing”. Then, the next one and so on….

Again, I say this is a crock and we should be doing more to make it so that each person in the room finds relevance, gets connected, is energized. But how to do this without the conventions of “the presentation”? How to deal with the pink elephant in the room, an elephant that I think was laughing at me while I was presenting?

What if we had presentations without a set topic? Where people show up without an organized agenda. Where the discussion goes this way and that way – as the experience and knowledge of those in the room dictate and NOT as the set delivery of the typical presentation would dictate.

I would love just to go to a conference as David Deubelbeiss. No topic, no agenda (or as Van Morrison might have said, “no teacher, no guru, no method”). Just come and let me share my knowledge, scatter my filing cabinet onto the floor for all to see. Teachers could come and get what they want – not what the presentation dictated they must learn. The discussion could range from where to download great video content to the role of grammar in direct instruction. It could have stories or hard data. It could roam into applied linguistics or talk about making our students happy in the classroom. They key is – no set agenda/course. The focus is on the art of the presenter to direct the winds that arrive from those in the room. To guide the ship and bravely sail into “knowing”.

What if ……

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

5 Responses

  1. Great post David.

    I thought about that for the first time last July during the LABCI Conference in Paraguay. It was the first time I ever met friends from Twitter face-to-face, and I must say that the nightouts and the talks during the break were also truly enriching and made me think: What if instead of rushing through sessions, there was more time to just sit down and share experience with others?

    I also thought about so many webinars I’ve attended this semester and how the interaction going on during the session was so enriching, unfortunately there isn’t much space for that in conferences.

    But then, I think about some of the Twitter chats I’ve attended. Most of them made me think and search for related materials after the session was over. On the other hand, if it wasn’t for moderators with pre-task questions, I think the discussion wouldn’t be that interesting. I don’t know if you get what I’m saying, but I guess what would be a good idea would be to have open discussions, based on a topic, but with somebody to moderate the discussion and (maybe) with some material, links, resources to present when they feel the discussion isn’t going anywhere.

    It’s just a thought. I get your feeling, but I still think that there should be some moderation, not dictatorship.


  2. David says:

    Yes, you raise a good point about moderation. It takes talent – to be a good moderator and direct things.

    But the same can be said about a traditional presentation – so it is just about replacing one focus and delivery method with another more fruitful one. The cream of the crop “presenter” will rise to the top in both cases however, I’ll suggest in my untraditional approach – it will be much more evident if “the emperor/presenter” isn’t wearing any clothes. In the existing, more planned and contrived approach – a presenter can hide behind slides/set pieces etc….

    I’ll have to write a follow up shortly. The Flipped Conference. I really think even more so than a classroom, this will work. We are moving in that direction in online conferences already.

    Lots to think about….

  3. Dave Truss says:

    What a great “What if”… I’m heading to my first Edcamp next month and I think that is exactly what you describe.
    I’m glad you pointed to this on my post about “Flipping Professional Development”, it seems now to me that there are a lot of people that feel this way. As I mentioned, I think we totally underutilize the skills of the participants, (have them not just participate, but also lead), at that seems like a wasted opportunity to me.

    It’s time we started using the ‘wisdom in the room’ at our sessions!

  4. Dave nails it. An edcamp, teachmeet or other unconference is EXACTLY what you seek.

    I share your frustration with “fake” presentations and workshops. While it’s hard to indict the entire formal “Sit and Get” model (it’s not going anywhere), I have to say that for me, it’s gotten so bad in the few years that I’ve been involved with organizing and attending edcamps (I’ve worked on three and attended many more) I just can’t get excited about attending traditional conferences anymmore. In fact, I hate them! (Kinda strong but you get my drift).

    To find out if there is an edcamp coming up near you, visit: http://edcamp.wikispaces.com/. There are also teachmeets and other unconferences; use your Twitter network to help locate one.

    If you can’t find one, consider having your own! They are easier to organize than you think and many people who have led them before are willing to help (including me!)

    Thanks for the post!

    Kevin Jarrett
    Edcamp Philly Co-Organizer
    Edcamp Foundation Board Member

  5. David says:


    Thanks for the info. about edcamps. We used to have something similar in traditional public school PD here in Canada – just show up and share a lesson plan. However, it went out of fashion and in itself, just led to a lot of paper being collected but little processing and “making it your own”.

    I am disheartened when I see online conferences mimicing the traditional models of PD. Sign up, attend a room and listen. Very little use of technology in the way it really benefits learning. I guess it takes time…. let’s see. Looking forward to Dave’s report on his Edcamp experience.

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