I really enjoy attending conferences. I hear some interesting talks and chat with some impressive professionals. At the same time I recognize how outdated their structure and format are. Apparently other professionals have been feeling the same way (Check out Erika Thompson‘s delicious Stack with links to most of the conversation). I might be a little late to this party but I I wanted to throw a thought into the ring.
The conversation’s I read centered around reconstructing conferences to make them more nimble, up-to-date, relevant, thought provoking, and so on – all valid points. For this post I want to focus on conference content disruption. Joe Ginese remarked that sessions are not so much about innovation, rather repurposed ideas that are offered as “possibly” applicable to your campus. I agree with that but I see it going a step further. The session content itself may not be traditionally innovative but what professionals do with the content is meant to be innovative. The content we offer attendees become the tools for future program growth, but if we offer sessions lacking depth and richness, then the outcomes will mimic.
I was an Interdiscplinary Studies major as an undergraduate – which I am pretty sure is the technical term for an academic mashup. One belief that was hammered home that I still believe deeply in: Innovation sparks when multiple disciplines are brought together to see what can be created. HigherEd conferences probably can’t be considered a mashup of discplines. This is not to say that innovation and great ideas aren’t created at these meetings of the minds, but when you bring folks within the same profession together every year… the outcome isn’t going to shift much. There needs to be a spark that brings a little disruption to our conferences.
Let’s tentatively call it the National Professional Exchange. I picture the system looking like this: A HigherEd professional organization makes a connection with another professional organization, one outside of higher education but that represents applicable professions. These two organizations strike an accord that allows 5 or so professionals to attend the other associations conference at discount price. Think of it as an investment in the group and their ability to come back with applicable fresh and innovative ideas for their peers. The professional would be enrolled as a NPE Fellow and tasked to engage with participants, present, and then bring back new ideas to the conference and discussed in an unconference setting.
This type of AltProDev is burgeoning as can be seen with the BIGIdeas conference in New Jersey. The conference organizers are having professionals in outside industries lead presentations and discussions. Simply put, I LOVE that. You can also find live streaming conferences andor twitter backchannels that can give a similar experience. All in all there are a number of ways professionals can find accessible professional development. Would a National Professional Exchange be a viable option for AltProDev?
Do you think this system could work? Would it add to the conference experience?