When we first launched the PLE conference we wanted to do something different. “Why is it that the best part of conferences is the time you spend with colleagues outside the conference?”, we asked. “How can we make the conference sessions as entertaining as the social?” “How can we encourage people to learn from each other, rather than sitting passively watching powerpoint slides?”
And we wanted the conference to be open and accessible to as many interested people as possible including young researchers.
At the same time we realised that formal paper submissions were important in gaining support from universities for travel and attendance at the conference. We also acknowledged that journal publications remain important for career development for many researchers.
So we tried to balance all these things. We issued a call for formal paper proposals but at the same time encouraged submissions in other formats – workshops, bring-a laptop demos, and pecha keucha sessions. And when we were designing the programme we tried to build in unconferencing sessions as well as more traditional formats. We also said that even if you submit a formal paper, you can still use less traditional ways of delivering that paper. We tried to support people in working together in collaborative sessions. We also invented the unkeynotes where keynote speakers were challenged themselves to find new and collaborative ways of engaging with the audience.
Even small things can make a difference. Rather than provide the usual uniform conference badges we asked participants to make their own, to reflect their PLEs.
It seems to have worked. The PLE conference is not the biggest educational technology event, neither would we want it to be. But feedback constantly refers to the warmth of the atmosphere, the mutual support and the intensity of the learning experience.
2012 sees the third PLE conference, building on the previous events in Barcelona and Southampton. And yet again this year we want to push out the boundaries – to do something new. So this year conference takes place not in one venue but in two. And although the venues are interlinked by people and personal networks they are geographically a long distance apart. The conference will take place in Aveiro in Portugal and in Melbourne in Australia on 11 – 13 July 2012. Both events share a common organising committee and call for proposals. Both events will share common electronic spaces and spaces for networking. And we are hoping that despite the time differences we will be able to share some of the sessions through the use of technology.
One conference – two venues – PLE2012 is going to be a lot of fun.