I’m helping to organise a conference – sort of

One of the courses I’m responsible for next semester is EDU8719 Contemporary Issues Conference. The synopsis of the course is

The course will be structured around an online conference that will include several themes or strands that reflect current trends and issues in education. Students will prepare a proposal for a paper in which they will draw upon their prior study and experience to respond to one of the conference themes and will participate in anonymous peer review of submitted proposals. Using their reviews for guidance, students will complete their papers, present them online using an appropriate medium, and engage in discussion of their own and other papers.

So, I’m helping organise a conference.

The following is meant to encourage me to get to know the course better by retelling it in my own words, to save any vague ideas I get while learning about it, and perhaps get some good ideas for the course. In particular, I’d appreciate any

  • Pointers to similar courses that are more open than not.
  • Suggestions about how to enhance the learning experience.
  • Thoughts and experiences on online services for running conferences.
  • Suggestions for literature and people that provide good insight on the four main topics.

The course has been run numerous times before and appears to be fairly well set up. So, at the moment the intent is not to make any radical changes. There is another course I’m running at the same time to which I’ll be making more radical changes, only want to do one course at a time. Just looking to avoid any major pitfalls and make any gradual refinements.

Summarising the course

The course has four main topics/modules. The content in these is minimal, the interests of the students should drive what they actually look at.

  1. Engaging in professional networks.
  2. Locating, accessing and critiquing current professional discourse.
  3. Writing for professional audiences.
  4. Online presentation techniques.

The aim is to encourage students to deepen their reading and discussion of contemporary issues in education. The main task is to engage with a simulated online conference in a range of roles. Students need to

  • Prepare and submit a paper proposal.
  • Review and comment on proposals from two other students.
  • Review and comment on full papers produced from those proposals.
  • Complete their paper based on comments from the marker and two other students.
  • Present the paper using an online format of their choice.
  • Host online discussion of their paper.
  • Participate in discussion of serval papers during the conference period.

The idea is that as author they go into some depth and as reviewer they develop some breadth.

Assessment is summarised in the following table

Assignment Due Date Description
1 – 20% 14 Aug 2013 – Week 5 Abstract proposal
Proposal reviews
2 – 60% 18 Sep 2013 – Week 10
Just before mid-semester break
Draft paper for review
Paper review
Final revised paper
3 – 20% 23 Oct 2013 – Last week Recorded presentation
Conference contributions
Self-rating quiz

The weekly structure is something like the following table

Week Module Tasks
Weeks 1 & 2 1 – Connected professionals Module 1 readings
View sample papers and presentations.
Begin reading for paper preparation
Prepare and submit abstract with proposal
Weeks 3, 4 & 5 2 – Professional conversation Module 2 readings
Reading for paper
Begin drafting paper
Weeks 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
includes the break.
3 – Writing as a professional Wk 6

  • Module 3 readings
  • Consider proposal reviews

Wk 7 – Review draft and prepare for submission.
Wk 8 – Complete paper & submit ** different in specification and ICE **
Wk 9 & 10 – Read assigned papers and submit reviews
Wk 11 – Consider paper reviews, revise and submit final paper

Week 13-15 4 – Presenting online Wk 12

  • Submit to conference site and EASE.
  • Read Module 4 readings
  • Work on conference presentation

Wk 13 Complete presentation and load to study desk
Wk 14 – Deliver conference presentation and host discussion. Participate in others.
Wk 15 – Deliver and participate and finally assess conference participation of self and others.

Online structure/services

  • EasyChair conferencing system used to run the conference.
  • Forums
    • A tea forum for introductions.

      Not a lot in terms of replies and doesn’t seem to lead into further conversations.

    • Class bulletins.

      Announcements and responses. Seems a good place to find what issues there were with the course in prior offerings.

    • Course management and Broken links

      General forums for reporting issues problems, both empty. So, no problems or problems raised in other forums?

  • Other Moodle resources
    • A suggested resources Database activity that is empty. A place to share resources. Would social bookmarking work better?
  • Other resources
    • Link to prior conference papers – including 2010 hosted on an OJS site.
    • Links to prior conference presentations.
    • Large collection of ICE-based content.

Minor bugs, possibilities and questions

The following is an ad hoc collection of observations while looking through the course.


  • The “ezproxy” link for “Canter, D.V., Fairbairn, G., & ebrary Inc 2006, Becoming an author advice for academics and other professionals” in the specification is broken. May point to similar problems elsewhere.
  • Appears getting the reviews in is as much a problem in this course as in others.
  • There’s a chance that the ICE content will not match some of the details of the course including: staffing, due dates etc.


  • Short interviews/invited talks from external folk on various topics at appropriate times.
  • Replace the “suggested resources” Moodle database with a Diigo group?
  • A couple of simple screencasts to illustrate aspects of using EasyChair?
  • Be a bit more specific with some of the readings focused around the act of thinking about and preparing a conference paper.

    e.g. types of research papers, fitting with a conference theme, mechanical tasks of reference management/writing etc.


  1. Is there any formal or advisable pre-requisites for students entering the course and do all the enrolled students fulfil this?

    It would appear that the students would need to have a fairly good grasp of a particular issue and the some experience with writing. So this wouldn’t appear to be a good first course.

  2. Can I get access to prior uses of the easychair conferencing system? What else is involved in setting this up
  3. What’s the difference between a “real” conference and a “simulated” one?
  4. Is there some value in having a fixed online format to allow more of a conference community to form and perhaps to invite participation from others?
  5. EDU8117 also uses an online symposium idea, is there value in exploring connections between these two courses? At the very least using the same technology or approach to the conferences.
  6. How to make the purpose and process of the course easier to understand?

    Some early forums suggest this was a problem for some students.

  7. How to align some of the assessment detail between ICE and course specification?
  8. How to deal with issues of anonymity of submissions within such a small class

2 thoughts on “I’m helping to organise a conference – sort of

  1. chrisbigum

    Was going to reply on WP but the reply box sometimes makes it tricky to write more than a a para or two.

    Am assuming this is a Masters course?

    Why a conference? We ran what I think was the 1st online “e-salon” in Ed a zillion yrs back – email – ftp for papers etc – worked well. But that was a different time. The point is using old, familiar terms to talk about something which seems a little different, i.e.

    You want students to talk to one another, help one another and crit each other’s work. The conf sw looks interesting but do you need it?

    The notion of both professional and network is now quite fuzzy. The Pro-Am stuff of Leadbeater and the buckets of work around networks. I’m interested in the notion of “digital habits” – i.e. what diff groups of folk actually do to network, find stuff, keep in touch etc. It’s as you well know way messy but also there seems to be such redundancy that good stuff always seems to get to you in the end.

    But the boundary stuff matters a lot. i.e. what is a network, how is it professional? Do the zillion followers of a good teacher make that a network. Is a good aggregator site a network? Are bursts networks of a kind (Barabsi)? Gets back to habits i think, what teachers do to sustain their professional interests. Hell of a question. There is a staggering amount of crap out there that thinks it is helping teachers. I like this from Dan Dennett:

    4. Sturgeons Law The science-fiction author Ted Sturgeon, speaking at the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia in September 1953, said, When people talk about the mystery novel, they mention The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. When they talk about the western, they say theres The Way West and Shane. But when they talk about science fiction, they call it that Buck Rogers stuff, and they say ninety percent of science fiction is crud. Well, theyre right. Ninety percent of science fiction is crud. But then ninety percent of everything is crud, and its the ten percent that isnt crud that is important, and the ten percent of science fiction that isnt crud is as good as or better than anything being written anywhere. Sturgeons Law is usually put a little less decorously: Ninety percent of everything is crap. Ninety percent of experiments in molecular biology, 90 percent of poetry, 90 percent of philosophy books, 90 percent of peer-reviewed articles in mathematicsand so forthis crap. Is that true? Well, maybe its an exaggeration, but lets agree that there is a lot of mediocre work done in every field. (Some curmudgeons say its more like 99 percent, but lets not get into that game.) A good moral to draw from this observation is that when you want to criticize a field, a genre, a discipline, an art form, … dont waste your time and ours hooting at the crap! Go after the good stuff, or leave it alone. This advice is often ignored by ideologues intent on destroying the reputation of analytic philosophy, evolutionary psychology, sociology, cultural anthropology, macroeconomics, plastic surgery, improvisational theater, television sitcoms, philosophical theology, massage therapy, you name it. Lets stipulate at the outset that there is a great deal of deplorable, stupid, second-rate stuff out there, of all sorts. Now, in order not to waste your time and try our patience, make sure you concentrate on the best stuff you can find, the flagship examples extolled by the leaders of the field, the prize-winning entries, not the dregs. Notice that this is closely related to Rapoports Rules: unless you are a comedian whose main purpose is to make people laugh at ludicrous buffoonery, spare us the caricature. This is particularly true, I find, when the target is philosophers. The very best theories and analyses of any philosopher, from the greatest, most perceptive sages of ancient Greece to the intellectual heroes of the recent past (Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein, John Dewey, Jean Paul Sartreto name four very different thinkers), can be made to look like utter idiocyor tedious nitpicking with a few deft tweaks. Yuck, yuck. Dont do it. The only one youll discredit is yourself.

    Dennett, D. C. (2013). Intuition pumps and other tools for thinking (1st, Kindle ed.). London: Penguin.

    Which is another way of making the point that Bateson made a long time ago: There is an ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds, and it is charactieristic of the system that basic error propagates itself. It branches out like a rooted parasite through the tissue of life, and everything gets into a rather peculiar mess. Bateson, G. (1999). Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 492

    In other words getting them to find stuff from that 10% is the real challenge :) of course what is that 10% is not exactly something folk would agree on.

    This is probably all unhelpful – the other thought that I like for this style of thing is what Brockman does at Edge – his annual question. Some have been brill. In other words – if these are professionals then using them as key resources would work well. :)

    If this is a Master’s course the logic would work so well if it was done across universities. :) heh

    1. Thanks for taking the time to comment Chris. Have struggled with WordPress comments box myself. Looked for a solution, none there.

      Why a conference? Mainly because that’s how the course has been set up and run previously and because I want to focus on the other Masters course I’m meant to be teaching next semester. This is the one where I want to do some more interesting things. A large part of this decision is that the “conference” course is well set up, there Network & Global Learning course has a lot more scope for interesting stuff.

      It’s the other course in which I think some of your other ideas might apply in a more interesting way. My rough thoughts for that course currently are to have three main themes, Networked and Global Learning and you as:

      1. student;

        Where the students experiment/transform their practice as a USQ student using N&GL. Have the course really push the students out of the LMS, reading resources and essay assignments into something new. Assumption being they can’t use N&GL to transform their own teaching practice without gaining insight into what it means as a student.

        I think this is a necessary first step because it’s part of a mindset that needs breaking before really starting to appreciate just how different N&GL is/can be/should be.

      2. learner; and,

        i.e. not as a student seeking a formal qualification, but using N&GL to learn something useful to them. e.g. a student last year tried to engage in a online bread-baking community. I imagine some others might engage in a MOOC or just about any other form of N&GL.

      3. teacher.

        Where all of the above experiences and the various things they find are applied back to their own practice and context. Explore their choice of questions/issues around how/if they could do this in their context.

      The intent is that my role would be to

      • Set up a minimum bit of scaffolding/resources to introduce some basic ideas around N&GL and perhaps map out some of the area.
      • Model N&GL by engaging in all of the above roles myself.
      • Where necessary, take on a role of “network meddler” helping make connections here and there as appropriate.

      This will require that the course take place out in the network. Not in the LMS.

      Still early days on this. Sturgeon’s law and the Bateson quote are very applicable. Especially the bad idea part.

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