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On Improving Conferences: The Reflection Session


Harold Jarche, like me, is reflecting on his recent attendance at conferences:

I’ve been thinking about knowledge sharing, after attending a couple of conferences in a row and heading off to another. One thing missing in these discrete time-based events is that there is litle time for reflection. Most presenters hold back their knowledge in order to “deliver” it just before the big official presentation. This presentation is followed by some immediate questions & discussions and a coffee break. Then it’s off to see the next presentation. Reflection, if it occurs, comes much later, and usually after the participants have gone home.

I've encountered this issue, too, so I'm thinking that one way we could improve conferences would be to provide a "Reflection Session." It would be near the end of the conference and scheduled like any other breakout session. Instead of stuffing new information into people's brains, though, it would be a workshop for consolidating what they've already experienced.

I'm picturing:

  • A quiet room with more of a coffee shop set-up--some tables with chairs, but also a few lounge chairs.
  • Possibly some music, although that's such an individual thing it might be better for people to be invited to listen to their ipods. 
  • Some tools for reflection--some small blank journals, some prompts for thinking. These Debriefing Questions could be good. Also the One-Sentence Journal--could be applied to each session the individual attended. 
  • Art supplies--some people are visual thinkers and it could be very cool to encourage them to use art to express what they've learned.

Of course, this is something of an introvert's dream of a reflective session, so I'm thinking it could be followed by an extrovert's debrief where we had people share one or two ideas they got or questions they have as a result of their participation in the conference. If we wanted to get really creative, it could be a sort of Ignite format--3-5 minute presentations on the most compelling question or idea you experienced.

What do you think? Would you attend a "Reflection Session" at a conference? How would you structure it and what would you include?

 

Comments

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Thanks Michelle;
Good thoughts!
1. Sounds like you are trying to integrate the conference with your personal learning environment.
2. I think we all need both your introvert and extrovert environments, just at different times in the conference.
I been thinking recently; maybe lifelong learning (like conferences) should not be modeled on higher education practices, but on something more like Steven Johnson's ideas.
http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_johnson_where_good_ideas_come_from.html
More focus on interaction, less focus on content, an effort to bring participant expectations to a longer timeframe and make it more relevant to their own projects. I hope to develop more pedagogical ideas around this theme for lifelong (post-formal) education.

Hey Howard--thanks for commenting! You're right that I'm trying to integrate more of a learning environment, which also makes me think about my previous conference posts and the comments from Ellen who pointed out some reasons other than learning for why people go to conferences. BUT, I still feel like there's value in taking a workshop that's specifically structured to give you quiet/thinking time on what you've experienced at the conference, even if it was only to think about who to network with next!

I'm off to look at the TedTalk you shared. . .

Hello Michele! Interesting post.

I would certainly be very open to attending a reflection session at a conference! Infact, I often miss this part and end up looking for an intellectually stimulating peer who'd like to discuss what he/she learnt!

I think reflection is a critical skill that is perhaps fading away as we move from one learning generation to another. I don't think we are teaching enough reflective practices to our learners or planning them even in 'typical' learning interventions.

In terms of the kinds of reflective practices I employ - well, some are individual others more group-oriented.

In individual exercises, I have often used the concept of reflecting about what participants have learnt in terms of 'body parts' - hands (new skills), stomach (gut feelings), brain (new thoughts), heart (new emotions)etc. I have found it to work with senior folks who necessarily don't want to talk about what they learnt but would like to record it! To make it more visual, I draw out a silhouette with thought bubbles and distribute it to the participants to reflect and record.

In group exercises, I have used the concept of 'take-aways' and 'trash em'. This is about key learning that participants would like to take with them versus what they'd like to leave behind. Reflection is as much about unlearning as it is about learning! To make it more visual, I use a chart depicting a trash can and another depicting a briefcase and I ask participants to post sticky notes in each 'container'. I have found this to work very well with folks who typically work in groups or teams and are more relaxed about the learning process and willing to share with others. I then ask the participants to take the charts with them and paste the charts where they can see the charts everyday and perhaps add to their learning as they reflect more.

They say, reflection is the key to unlocking one's true potential! In Plato's words, we must “know thyself”...which does lead to a lifetime of reflection!

Regards,
Taruna Goel

Hey Taruna--Great ideas! I especially like your visuals and the notion of including some "unlearning" in a reflection session. That's an excellent point and one that could be really useful in reflecting on a conference experience. Thanks for sharing!

Wow, fantastic ideas. Thanks! You make me think more before attending a "reflection session". :)

As a former journalist now speaker on collaboration communication who has spoken, now at over 2,000 conferences let me suggest another approach to absorbing and using what we learn at conferences. Consider varied formats, not "just" speakers + panels. Example: ballroom of round tables w/ tall, numbered posts at center of tables so people could sign up in advance for the numbered topic, with expert/facilitator, that matches their interest and have either a series of 3 30-minute sessions and/or fewer, longer sessions in the same room. People could also drop in on tables if there is a space open. That way those who share an interest can ask and expert AND share w/each other. Then have a meal or mixer for looser conversation/follow-up.

Also consider a set of paired chairs, facing each other around the edge of the room where people can sign up for brief session to ask an expert questions.

If we can hear and ask questions in different formats throughout much of the conference then thoughts come up, ideas get exchanged and people begin to know each other better, see where they might be helpful to others and vice versa....

out of that learning becomes emergent and the conversations are more likely to continue after the conference...

this is a kind of pull approach whereby we can be pulled to interests that are important to us or that we discover for first time and we may find ways to collaborate such as mutually mentor, forming ongoing small special interest group, co-create, etc.

Great ideas, Kare--thanks for sharing!

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