Conference season!

I haven’t written a blog post in a long time. Often, the regular academic year is pretty hectic, so I’m less likely in general to post here, but the past few months have been … unusual. (Like I have to point that out!) It’s been tough for me to justify taking the time and effort to write about teaching and learning stuff lately, as  these topics seem almost frivolous, given unfolding world events. (As a Canadian living in the US, I’m still concerned about the current political and societal situation, and I may talk about that more later, but that’s another post … maybe.) However, life goes on, and as we get into conference season, it’s time to think (and talk!) about things beyond day-to-day teaching (and other concerns).

The Windsor-Oakland Teaching and Learning conference is always a great start to conference season for me, running early in May. This year, I was particularly impressed by the keynote from Peter Felten (@pfeltenNC): “Valuing Teaching: What Matters Most“.  This led me to read the most recent book that he co-authored, The Undergraduate Experience (Jossey-Bass, 2016 – Indigo Chapters link). Like his keynote, the book is rich in providing clear information, backed up by evidence, with illustrative examples of positive change at various universities. I’ve read a few books centred on change in undergraduate education, which I’ve typically found to include advice that may not be realistic for my own school, or not feasible for someone to act upon who is not in upper administration. I actually felt like the Felten et al. book provided elements where I may be able to make a difference (beyond my regular goal of teaching and advising as well as I can, in my current position).

oCUBE 2016 group photo

oCUBE 2016 group photo – could you find a more friendly group?

The annual oCUBE May UnConference is coming up very soon! This is the eighth one, and I’m happy to see that our grass-roots community of practise is still going strong. We are a group of individuals across various institutions, in a number of different roles, all interested in improving Biology education. (It started as an Ontario group, but we now have members from other provinces, and even in the USA!) The UnConference format seems to work very well for the kinds of discussions our group has, and having some new and different members contributing, along with a mixture of original and new members means that we get different perspectives and a diversity of interests and experience in our sessions. Our meeting location at Shamrock Lodge (near Port Carling, ON) is a lovely retreat away from our respective cities … and I personally think that the blueberry pancakes promote creativity and well-being! (The Shamrock Lodge folks treat us  – and FEED us – very well.)

The annual conference for the Canadian Society of Microbiologists (CSM) is in June, in Waterloo, ON. The conference program looks great, and I’m excited to see Ed Yong (@EdYong209) and Jack Gilbert (@gilbertjacka) speak again. (Unabashed fangirl here!!!) Even more exciting, for me, is that we are holding our third pre-conference CSM FOME (Forum On Microbiology Education) workshop on June 20! Our keynote facilitator, Karen Smith (@DrMyth115), is a great microbiology educator and communicator, and our planning committee was faced with a challenge we had not faced in the previous two years – we have more workshop/presentation proposals than we can actually fit in our allotted time. CSM FOME co-chair Josie Libertucci (@Jos_Tucci) and I are thrilled to see how many people have registered for the workshop so far, and are looking forward to seeing this section grow in the CSM in future. (P.S. Is it rude to bring my copy of “I Contain Multitudes” to ask Ed Yong to sign it? What about getting a selfie with Ed and Jack?)

We also have the Western Conference on Science Education (WCSE) in July this summer (July 5-7). One of my favourite conferences, it runs every other year at Western University in London, ON, attracting high-quality workshops/presentations/posters, and opportunities to interact with highly engaged educators throughout the conference both in and out of conference activities. Early Registration for 2017 is still open at reduced rates until Friday, May 26th.  If you’ve been to WCSE before, you can once again save $50 on your registration if you find a Newb (WCSE newbie!) to bring along (and if you’ve never been to WCSE, being a “Newb” with a previous WCSE-attendee will save you $50, too!).

It’s going to be a busy summer, and that’s a good antidote to some of the other stuff going on in the world right now. What are you looking forward to over the next few months?

 

 


Want to encourage people to live-tweet your event?

Portion of #MiMicrobe Twitter feed

Portion of #MiMicrobe Twitter feed

If you follow me on Twitter, you are probably well aware that I typically live-tweet conferences. (You can always filter out the hashtag if you get overwhelmed by the tweets!) I find it useful to go through the exercise of distilling important/interesting points, have an instant electronic record of my notes, and if I’m lucky, a tweet will spark discussions with other conference attendees or other people on Twitter.

Some conferences prohibit live-tweeting, but others encourage it.  (If in doubt, ask the conference organizers, or the conference presenter.) For conferences promoting live-tweeting, some have good uptake, and you’ll see several live-tweeters sharing different perspectives, and/or notes from different concurrent sessions. (Check out the #MiMicrobe twitter feed for an example.) Other times, there may be one or two lone tweeters … and it gets lonely being one of them!

If you do want to encourage conference participants to here are some tips I’d suggest for conference/meeting organizers to consider:

  1. Choose your hashtag carefully. It should not be too long (eating into that 140-character limit), and hopefully easy to remember. A more tricky thing is to avoid choosing a hashtag that is being used by another event. If you have to choose a hashtag some time before your event, it may not be possible to discover who else will use the same hashtag. In general, avoid hashtags that are too generic. If you are going to use the year in your hashtag (e.g., #myconf2016), a Twitter search on #myconf2015 might be a good idea.
  2. Recruit a few live-tweeters BEFORE your event. Having even a couple of individuals live-tweeting an event can encourage other people to join the conversation. These people should be familiar with Twitter ahead of the event – it’s tough to learn how to use a new tool AND live-tweet coherently.
  3. If there are sessions that take questions from the audience, consider allowing people to submit questions via Twitter. This will likely mean that you’ll need a volunteer to monitor the Twitter feed to pass along the questions, but may encourage people to ask questions who might be reluctant to go to the microphone. This could also open the discussion to people following the conference in other locations.
  4. Keep a “leaderboard” of your “top-live-tweeters” and show/share this throughout the meeting*. Gamification FTW! (There are tools that make this easy – e.g., https://www.hashtracking.com/ .)
  5. On your conference website, put a link to your hashtag on Twitter.
  6. Discuss social media with the conference presenters ahead of time, so that they can let the audience know if they prefer NOT to have their session (or portions of it) tweeted/shared beyond the event.

* People often assume that the person tapping away on their laptop or on their phone during a presentation is doing something unrelated to the event at hand. Not so for live-tweeters! They are very much engaged in the presentation. (No need for the stink-eye!) A shout out to live-tweeters can encourage them, and maybe make other people aware that there is a wider conversation going on.

What other suggestions do you have to support/encourage live-tweeting?