We Can Flip More Than Classrooms

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by thebassoonist12

If a classroom can be flipped to make better use of time and group processes, why are we not flipping more things?

I’ve spent three days in Austin attending a conference in the same model going back how Ook ran them in 2500 BC.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by WorldIslandInfo.com

Rooms with front lecterns, screens full o’ powerpoint, partially full of passive participants mostly reading email or facebooking, badges, Big Name Keynotes, vendor booths, they only critical missing piece was the Dreaded Conference Chicken.

A lot of us acknowledge this irony of traveling long and far to ignore someone in the front of the room, that the best interactions happen in the breaks and the evening socials, the stuff that is not part of the agenda– then (excuse what might be an expletive) WHY THE F*** DO YOU PLAN THE LARGEST PORTION OF PROFESSIONAL GATHERING TIME FOR THE LEAST USEFUL ACTIVITIES?

I am not the first one to ponder this, here is the same question from a conference planning blog (published in September 2010)- or a dude offering consulting (buy the book! hire me to flip your conference) —

a compelling critique of the limitations of traditional conferences and a complete road map to creating more effective alternatives.

When Karl Fisch was cited for flipping, he told Daniel Pink:

“When you do a standard lecture in class, and then the students go home to do the problems, some of them are lost. They spend a whole lot of time being frustrated and, even worse, doing it wrong,” Fisch told me.

“The idea behind the videos was to flip it. The students can watch it outside of class, pause it, replay it, view it several times, even mute me if they want,” says Fisch, who emphasises that he didn’t come up with the idea, nor is he the only teacher in the country giving it a try. “That allows us to work on what we used to do as homework when I’m they’re to help students and they’re there to help each other.”

Why cannot we do this for conferences? All of that content stuff that we fill up the agenda with- presentations, videos, talks, can be done before the event, and we can use the bulk fo the time for the stuff that counts- discussion, debates, conversations– in fact, I’d like to go to a conference where we get to do something, make something, instead of talking about doing things, or showing pictures of people making something.

In the Telegraph article on Flip-Thinking, Pink goes right to the big idea (my edits in bold):

When he puts it like that, you want to slap your forehead at the idea’s inexorable logic. You wonder why more schools [conferences] aren’t doing it this way. That’s the power of flipping. It melts calcified thinking and leads to solutions that are simple to envision and to implement.

This has certainly been done- it is the structure they run the K-12 Online Conference.

Why cant a conference be flipped?

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by kuminiac

What do we have to lose, besides the chicken?

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


  1. Because people won’t do their homework?

    I’m just betting that a bunch of people asked to read the papers for the sessions they attend beforehand so they can engage in meaningful discourse during the 45 minutes where they would have sat there passively listening (or not)…won’t.

  2. Educon is a decent model for this, at the very least vilifying the standard session lecture format and encouraging conversations and action. Many of the sessions I was a part of had people actively brainstorming ideas on paper, talking in groups, etc. The side conversations in the hallways were of course equally as good.

    The only downside to this method is I found myself resistant after a full day. There were times I just really wanted to not think critically, as bad as that sounds. By the end of the second day I found myself saying “Hmmm what session can I go to where I might not be forced to do too much work….” Maybe that makes me a bad person but I think there needs to be a mix instead of thinking we need all or nothing change.

    1. I always advocate for somewhere in the middle. The Lectures have to be delivered by good lecturers – the workshops should be hands-on.

  3. Um, Tim… It does make you a bad person.

    Alan, have you been to a THATCamp? [thatcamp.org] As an unconference, the sessions vary a great deal, but there are plenty of opportunities to collaboratively write and/or make things.

      1. THATcamps are fine examples.
        So are other unconferences.

        I think one reason we haven’t done this yet, Alan, is because many academics still dig the lecture mode. Having a good discussion, facilitating a complex conversation, learning about a diverse crowd on the fly: that’s a hard skillset, not usually taught in grad school.

        Another reason: many scholars are still in the 20th-century publication mindset. So conferences are where you do papers work – testing out new ideas, claiming discoveries, getting feedback as you shape the idea into print. The blogosphere does a great job of that; eventually folks will get it.

  4. I’ve been saying for years that they should be held in county fairgrounds with booths and rides and concessions–the whole thing.

  5. The conference presentation shouldn’t be discarded completely as Tim suggests a mix would be best. I think about the presentation as performance (think Jim in a tent occupying last year’s opened keynote) and the liveness is necessary and timely.

    The conversation in the hallway (and online) is often be inspired by these good presentations. Yes you could have had everyone send in the video, audio, etc. beforehand. But the experience of a live presentation, like a good play has it’s merits too.

    I think of all the serendipity of communication and learning that happens on ds106 radio when someone goes live on the stream. There’s the Skype, the twitter backchannel, and of course the stakes felt by the broadcaster speaking live to listeners.

    The conference probably loses its potential impact in the excess of performance and limited audience reaction. If there were some ds106 radio-like riffing on audience feedback built in, that would likely make for more engaging conference presentations.

  6. I’m not attending academic conferences these days, though I have had the pleasure of sharing conference chicken and slurry with D’arcy, Brian, and a couple of others a few years back at OpenEd.

    It could be different in academia, but in the world of search engine conferences, there are way too many speakers who are writing their presentations the night before for this to ever work in that setting.

    Maybe as an intermediate step for when you can’t do the presentations in advance, have guidelines that say no more than x bullet points in a presentation, no complete sentences, etc. At least make the presenter talk and not read. As a conference attendee, I’ve found the best presentations are the ones that are also the hardest to blog/take notes.

  7. You wrote, “I’d like to go to a conference where we get to do something, make something, instead of talking about doing things, or showing pictures of people making something”

    I completely agree with you here. In fact, I do not attend conference sessions, or give them for that matter, unless they are hands on.

    Thanks for writing about how many of us feel.


  8. Thank you for being honest about SXSW, and the “broken” conference model that only seems to proliferate in a day and age when it should be meeting its demise.

    I would echo the thoughts about Educon, THATCamp, and EdCamp style conferences. Those are the truly flipped conferences, provided that you get the right mix of people to lead Q and A, panel, or conversational presentations. I do my part at every EdCamp I attend by billing all sessions I facilitate as conversations.

    I’m waiting for the day when someone says “Hey, let’s just get a bunch of people to hang out together and see what happens!” and pay for just the hotel rooms and meeting space, rather than pay for the conference too. A sort of free-form day-long conversation where people can break into groups, wander in and out of conversations, etc. all based on a single prompt or challenge at the start of the day.

  9. I do acknowledge there are plenty of events breaking the model, and also that it would not take much to change up the current modes- better sessions and presentation styles, folding in unconf activities, and bringing in online participants in mor than a cheap seat/after thought mode.

    I predict not much will change in the near term…

  10. I also wonder about size and scale. It is incredibly easy to flip things for smaller groups. For gatherings in the thousands like SXSW (which in my mind has grown larger than perhaps its ability to accomodate and design for that number) it may be a different-but-related set of challenges.

    So size… does it matter?

    1. It probably does, Nancy, but hey I am just guessing. SXSW does (form my experience there 4 years ago) provide ample room outside of the scheduled session time.

      And frankly, for the most part, and we do this, you can just flip your own conference experience.

  11. HighEdWeb is another great example of the right kind of conference. Before and after the conference they hold half-day, hands-on workshops. Then, during the conference itself, you get about 8 hours of traditional presentations and about 8-10 hours of socializing, discussing and partying each day.

    We also try to follow a somewhat unique model for edUI, offering hands-on workshops and traditional presentations, but choosing speakers carefully to engage lively discussion throughout the presentations.

  12. Pingback: A tilted keynote
  13. Having been “forced” to listen to a few flipped lessons, I find myself wanting to fast forward through the lesson, and wishing I could simply read the material. As a learner, I find it slow and a bit boring. I prefer live discussion and watching the speaker perform (with support) much more interesting.

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