There have been a slew of education "conferences" in the past few years that have challenged what a conference is or can be. For me, the K12Online was the first of such conferences I learned about. the K12Online is a free online conference that takes place every fall. Most of the sessions in the k12Online Conference are pre-recorded or pre-made videos, Voicethreads, or podcasts that are released on a traditional conference schedule. There is an element of synchronous learning with the K12Online in the form of "fireside chats" but that is pretty much the extent of it. The beauty of the k12Online is that the sessions exist and are accessible indefinitely (or at least until the companies that host the files or the technology that mediates this form of information sharing degrades or falls well into obsolescence). I can attend the 2008 K12Online Conference today pretty much just as I could three years ago.
The second type of conference that I came to know that challenges our notion of the conference is the unconference. For me this was Educon, a now annual event hosted by Chris Lehman at the Science and Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, and Edubloggercon, an event convened by Steve Hargadon annually the day before the ISTE conference. The premise of an unconference is that there are no conference sessions, only conversations. Where a traditional conference session usually involves a presentation by a speaker and "sit and get" from attendees, an unconference involves participants in dialog, discussion, and problem solving.
The third type of conference-like event that for me challenges this whole notion is not a conference purse but rather an online version of what we might think of as a seminar. Steve Hargadon, aside from turning the conference upside down with Edubloggercons, hosts an ongoing series of interviews/presentation both for Classroom 2.0 and the Future of Education. These are syncronous sessions where a presenter gives what amounts to a keynote speech followed by a question and answer session in Elluminate. The biggest difference is these sessions are highly interactive. You have a far better chance getting a question of your answered in one of Steve's sessions than you ever would with most of these presenters in person. Whats more, Steve records these sessions so, like the K12Online they can be accessed anywhere at anytime.
July 30th-Aug 1st will be another conference that seems to challenge the notion of what a conference can be. Convened by Kelly Tenkely, Shelly Terrell, Jason Bedell, and Chris Rogers, The 2010 Reform Symposium looks to combine elements of the K12Online and Steve Hargadon's ongoing Future of Education series into a live interactive online conference for educators. They also have said they would record the event, but unlike the K12Online the interactiveness of these sessions promises value in actually attending the event live. Looks to be a fantastic event.
All of this has had me thinking lately about how social media (podcasts, vodcasts, slide sharing services, etc.) has made a lot of high quality content normally presented at these conferences available for free online. Is there even any real need to attend any conference other than to network with other educators? And, as for networking, we do that online through tools like Ning and Twitter anyway. Is there really any need for us to meet in person. Besides, who do you think learns more from a traditional conference? The attendees or the conveners? Just like often the one in the classroom who learns the most about the content is the teacher I content that the one who learns the most about the PD content is the convener. With so much great content out there for free online anyone could convene their own virtual conference for free. Whats more, through social media we can even simulate Q&A sessions around the keynote and sessions we choose (and the presenters don't even have to know they are part of our conference).
So, here is my challenge to you:
Convene your own conference! Scour the internet for high quality content. It can be on any subject. It doesn't even have to be about education, it could be about Smurfs, Dungeons & Dragons, LOL Cats, or Dinosaurs if you want. But, convene your own conference! Do it on a blog, wiki, social network, or website. You are allotted a budget of $0. Then let everyone know about your conference. Publicize it on Twitter, post a comment on this blog, post a link to it on your Facebook profile, send a link to people on email listserves you are part of. Convene your own conference on any topic. Go!
Resources: below are a list of possible sources of online content for your conference (I will post more to this list as the week goes on):