I’m one of the people frequently lamenting the stale, presenter-centric structure at atmosphere of most academic conferences – that said, it has been well over a year since I went to one of the bigger shindigs, maybe they have changed dramatically. And the THATCamps (which I have not seen but read about and know people who attend) are among the more intriguing models.
My usual counter experience is Northern Voice, which I have attended most since 2006, and as a conference with a few years under its belt of course can and ought to be evolving. My primary reason to go is for the colleagues that also go, and for the opportunities to extend that circle.
A few friends lamented the change of the experience from the heady first years, and while I nod to some degree of agreement, I am not ready to say this event has gone shark jumping.
It’s a two way street on an experience- its what the conference brings to you and what you bring to the conference. What I found remarkable from my first northern voice was the mix of people that is broader than typical education conference, the entrepreneur startup folks and social activists.
From my fortuitous opportunity to collaborate with Nancy White and Rob Cottingham doing what might have been my most fun session on improv (I leave you to Nancy’s notes), I hope to try for any session I do have people getting out of their chairs and doing something.
We had a packed little room for this session (after leading half of the audience off track by ascending the wrong stair case), and I had noticed one lady in the front with a camera who seemed locked into the action:
She came up to me and thanked me for my session last year on photography (Looking Through the Lens) that it inspired her to do more with her photography. I sensed there was a story there and asked to chat after the session, which we did…
And so I had a 10 minute gem time listening to Cathy Browne‘s story which I thought I had recorded on my phone but managed to not save the file. Oh well. But photography was an avenue she used to deal with grief and loss, and the way she talked about seeing through the camera filled me with inspiration being that she is legally blind. So she aims, and composes, and pretty much let’s her Nikon DSLR do the art; she does very little in post.
Her photos show a keen sense of perspective, detail, and humanity, but the thing I connect most with is a similar sense that for her, the mere act of photography, of observing, of being with the scene, is what motivates us- not the products at the end (although getting good photos out of an experience is a virtuous cycle of reward).
This was one gem from my time at Northern Voice. Yes, the sessions matter not quite as much to me as when I was an young ed-tech pup, when I was trying to actively blog and record the whole experience. Yes, the way I go about these events is much different.
And thus we evolve as participants and events evolve too, they cannot be the same every year. I salute Northern Voice for changing up the locale this year, and going for a smaller conference size to increase the personal feel of meeting new people. Maybe it needs a new format, maybe not- it all changes and should.
I’m a;ready feeling professionally in an in-between place of where I have been and where I am going, waiting for the latter to materialize, so I feel akin to this conference, but I’m not ready to be strapping on the water skis (or maybe I have already jumped over myself).