Wow, my blog post "A Conference Manifesto" for the Genealogy World garnered more interaction than I thought it would. Reading through the comments at all the various places the piece was shared, I am noticing a pattern:
1. I'm not alone. Others are tiring of the back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back lectures that make up a daily genealogy conference schedule. It's not a dislike of the lecture format, but more of a desire for variety of presentations. When you open a conference schedule and see 50 different lectures, it's kind of like 50 kinds of vanilla ice cream. I like vanilla ice cream, I just don't need 50 versions of it.
2. Commenters say they prefer--and often learn more from--interactions with others outside a conference's classroom hours than they do in the lecture sessions. This has been my experience as well. This is not a knock on speakers or the lecture format, rather a plug for the value of group learning.
3. There seems to be a measurable desire for other learning formats to be incorporated alongside lectures into conference programming. Of course, there will be those who don't like changes, but there is now a group just as vocal about exploring other options.
What kind of options are out there? I started looking at conferences for different types of things. Some ideas are already being incorporated in genealogy conferences, but could be tweaked for more success. Others are just new ways we can teach the old tricks and subjects we deem important.
Conference within a conference - It is exactly as it sounds: a smaller day-long event within a larger one, usually where the sessions are tied together by a specific theme. Here's an example I pulled from the cobwebs in my head:
BCG Camp (a hypothetical example of a conference within a genealogy conference)
The Board for Certification of GenealogistsⓇ holds a day-long mini-conference on one of the days of a national conference. The schedule could go like this:
8:30am-10:00am - Opening keynote of the larger conference. Usually these are huge draws so there's no need to take away from it. Start the camp later.
10:30am-11:30am - Lecture on a key principle like the Genealogical Proof Standard or something. Give attendees an in-depth look at a selected topic with an expert lecturer.
12:00pm-1:30pm - Ticketed BCG lunch with time to socialize and notable speaker.
2:00pm-3:00pm - Certification Q&A. Certified genealogists answer audience questions. The crowd is taking in information as they would in a lecture, but they're participating in the learning as well. Have the group watch the instructional BCG certification seminar video at home ahead of time so the basic questions are already answered and they bring a variety of new ones.
3:30pm-4:30pm - Problem solving exercise. Present a genealogical problem, divide the class into groups, and give them time to work out their approach to solving the issue. Then gather the class back together, share the groups' processes and reveal the speaker's solution if different.
Aftersession - Have a meetup or informal social event in the evening so prospective certification candidates meet one another and mingle with CGs.
See there? A whole day of learning and interaction with only one traditional lecture.
Conference within a conference isn't just for groups. Planners and speakers can also schedule these mini-camps around subjects of interest like military records, Irish genealogy research, etc.
Unconference sessions - Yes, we already have these in genealogy conferences, but they aren't being utilized properly. They're usually only publicized on an exhibit hall white board that folks may or may not see. Why not put unconference topics, times and places right in the conference program with all the other sessions? Planners could request unconferencing topics and facilitators just as they call for speakers. Pick the best ideas and put them in the master schedule.
Here are some ideas for possible FGS unconference topics: How we find speakers/subjects for our genealogy society, fundraising ideas, popular newsletter topics, creative membership drives, your favorite genealogy resources for researching in Texas/Scotland/whatever. Do you think people would attend these unconferences if they were in the program? I do. Put them in the conference program and ask attendees to bring their best ideas and questions. Designate a facilitator and let's create a list of ideas we can take home and share with others.
Interest groups - Wouldn't it be great to meet up with people researching French ancestry? Or RootsMagic users? Or whatever little genealogical niche you desire? I realize it is difficult to cull these ideas and get them into a program many months out but there has to be a way. There just has to be.
Blended learning - This is a trend in K-12 education right now, but there's no reason it can't be an option for genealogy conferences or single society meetings. Students do part of their learning at home (usually an online component), on their own schedule and at their own pace. Then the group comes together to apply what they've learned. It's backwards: lecture/lesson at home, homework/problem solving at school.
Thomas MacEntee envisioned a "flipped lecture" format in a comment on my last blog post. Randy Seaver also proposed an idea where genealogists independently watch video lessons taught by experienced researchers, then coming together in person to discuss the issue and/or apply it to real research situations.
The ideas are there. The interest is there. I think this is something the genealogy community should explore.
MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses are all the rage right now in the online community. See Coursera for an idea of what's available out there. Discussion is also buzzing in the library community, so--if you read my last post--this should be a genealogy issue in about 5 years.
Why can't the genealogy community get on the MOOC train? Is doesn't have to be a "massive" effort. Maybe we can get FamilySearch on board. Maybe they're already exploring the option. It's jut something to think about.
So what do you think? Are your idea gears going? What would you like to see at genealogy conferences and society meetings?
Do you think the general genealogy public would like other format options alongside lectures? I don't know. Change is funny. And people are funny. I'm not an expert at judging ether one.
I wrote a blog post about how the all-lecture-all-the-time conference format was starting to wear on me. Others agreed across several social media platforms and more enthusiastically than I expected. There is a desire for other learning formats...not to replace the traditional lecture but to accompany it.