Tag Archives: Conferences

Major Conference Going Virtual? My Lessons From Co-Hosting #AEFP2020

Nine days before a conference for which 750 people had already registered, an education organization I’m on the board of decided to switch to virtual because of coronavirus. This was, as you can imagine, a pretty hectic choice, but one we’re proud of as we prioritized the health and safety of our members.

The Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) is a nonprofit professional and academic association. At the annual meeting, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers share research and lessons learned about efforts to enhance student learning. Initially, my role was to chair a session and moderate a policy talk. The switch to virtual meant that I also served as host for seven sessions. 

Three computer monitors showing different concurrent sessions of @aefpweb virtual conference

Photo via @aefpweb on Twitter

Since many other conferences will be going virtual in the coming months, here are lessons I learned about the transition — as well as some unexpected upsides to going remote: 

Organize your team and provide clear instructions.

AEFP’s executive director, Lydia Ross, and IT contractor, Hiep Ho, arranged for all 126 sessions, four featured policy talks, the skills sessions, and the general session to be held via Zoom webinars. (Zoom has provided a helpful list of tips for setting things up in a way that minimizes party-crashers and other unwanted behavior.) In addition to the usual chair and presenters, each session had a host. Hosts were provided instructions on how to log into the designated Zoom room to start the webinar and enable panelists to share their screens during presentations. AEFP used Zoom’s branding capabilities to tailor the conference look by uploading the group logo and creating a custom URL. AEFP also created a Zoom page on the conference website with instructions and troubleshooting tips. Having this information accessible made it easier to support attendees. 

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Dispatch from #EP2016

UPDATE: As of May 2018, the social media story tool Storify, which we used below, no longer exists. This blog post is no longer visible.

SXSWedu and Ed Tech’s Coming of Age

Austin Graffiti

I’m back in San Francisco after three days at the annual Ed tech Mecca SXSWedu in Austin, Texas. Edsurge, Edudemic, and my Bellwether colleague Carolyn Chuong have good recaps on the scene and a few specific panels, so I’m going to hit on a few points unlikely to surface anywhere else.

[Update 3/16/2015: You can now watch an assortment of keynotes and sessions here.)

The Scene
When you’re at SXSWedu, it feels like the entire $550B US education sector is looking to disrupt itself, in actuality, it’s a tribe of like-minded professionals affecting a small fraction of students scattered across the country. Soon, however, many of the innovative ideas that emerge from Austin will become commonplace as prices drop, minds open, and policies are retooled. The value of SXSWedu is that this tribe of forward thinkers can come together to speak its native language, tackle critical issues like student data privacy, and exchange ideas in an environment free from the gravity of the traditional school models.

I expected a lot more technologists peddling their new apps, but the people I met represented the entire technology ecosystem – investors, entrepreneurs, content providers, district and charter leaders, principals, etc. I didn’t meet any teachers, a population SXSWedu has made serious efforts to include.

Lastly, I was surprised that the conference was organized just like every other conference I’ve been to – rooms upon rooms of panel discussions with lots of networking in the hallways. I thought that an event for people focused on flipped, blended, and adaptive models of instruction would be the first to boycott stale, didactic panels.

Pumping the Breaks
The mentality that I’ve witnessed in the ed tech community since the bubble started growing in the late 2000s has been an unbridled enthusiasm for anything new and the assumption that it’s better than whatever currently exists. But I didn’t experience a lot of that at SXSWedu.  In fact, I was party to a lot of conversations where there was a high degree of skepticism around anything new. My hunch is that this is a function of ed tech maturing. After a couple of years putting ideas through the thresher of the complex reality of the education sector, folks no longer settle for hype and insist on proof points.

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