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How do you measure the success of a conference?

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Today as Wes twitted…was long…exciting…brain hurting…fun. The conference seems to be going pretty well…but then again those that aren’t enjoying it usually do not come up to you and say, “This conference sucks.” when they know you are helping to organize it.

I’ve prepared a survey for conference goers to fill out for tomorrow, our last day of the conference, and as I do I keep thinking about how do you truly measure the success of a conference?

Sure you can ask questions about sessions, the lay out, things you would change, but how do you truly know if a conference affects the classroom, makes teachers think, and actually changes teaching and learning?

As one person said to me today “What happens Monday when we all go back to our rooms?” I guess that’s the question…what happens Monday? Is a conference considered successful if on Monday the teacher walks back into their classroom the same as they walked out on Friday? Better yet how do you measure that?

As a presenter I guess you hope that something you said sticks with your audience…that they learn something new. As a teacher we hope for the same of our students. As a conference organizer, do you hope for something larger? Hoping that participants will walk away, return to school on Monday ready to engage students in Learning 2.0? But of course we all know that change does not happen that fast…or can it?

So I’m stuck struggling with this question. How do you define a successful conference?


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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Jeff, I think the absolute measure of the success of a conference or any PD-related activity is if educators start to use the ideas and tools they have just discovered. By that I mean they don’t have to rush back to their classroom and start implementing podcasting or Twitter etc. What they have to do however is spread the word! Keep the conversation going! Tell their colleagues, discuss the new and exciting things they saw. Discuss how these can be implemented and what is appropriate/possible for their school and their students.
    I feel very strongly about educators who come back from conferences etc and do not share. After the money that was spent, the least someone could do is implement one new idea and then invite others in to their class to see what is going on, or run a workshop etc. Administrators must take responsibility for this as well. The old fashioned ‘conference report’ does not cut it any more. We should see some action, some higher-order analysis, synthesis and creation of new modes of learning from the attendees at the confernece. They should come back and start to make a difference to the way they teach and the way others teach in the school. Otherwise why are we bothering?????
    Yes, I think things can change that fast, Learning 2.0 is possible BUT……well, you know how schools can be sometimes 😉 Am I too idealistic??

  2. I’m working in a junior high school in Texas. My blog is blocked. Your’s is not 🙂

    Enjoying following the conference from the U.S.

    — dave —

  3. Hi Jeff,
    A long time ago, at the closing session of an ed tech conference, a teacher got up in the audience and asked Seymour Papert, “Maybe someday I’ll be able to do all this stuff, but what do I do on Monday?”

    He said, “What you do on Monday is take a step on the path to Someday.”

  4. Jeff – I’ve had a great time following along when I can … but it’s so easy to do – great job.
    I believe most conference attendees that are teachers always come away with ideas. The problem is time and the things teachers are required to do or they think they are required to do each day. I’ve attended conferences where I’ve come back with ideas and materials that I have set on the edge of my desk in October and removed in June while trying to remember why I thought I wanted to do whatever it was. So I guess the comment above about taking a step on Monday is pertinent.

  5. We’ll be having a professional development day in my district soon and I’m anticipating the question – “When am I supposed to have time to do all these things.” My reply will be that the better question is:
    “What changes do you need to make in order to do the things you know will have a positive affect on student learning?” And from a conference standpoint, if the presenters have done a good job of linking their ideas/knowledge to good instructional practices, then teachers should begin to examine what they need to change in order to make Monday a different day than it would have been otherwise.

  6. Here’s what I’m thinking….with any PD I’m invovled with I build in follow-up…”Let’s meet again in a month and see where we’re at”. Perhaps creating an opportunity with something like your ning site to continue conversations. Ultimately everyone will choose to do whatever, but allowing the opportunity to continue learning, especially for those without a network, is one suggestion.

  7. I think there’s two areas that we can look at: the larger community that participated both in real life and online, and the specific group of teachers that we work with on a daily basis.

    For the global community, it would be nice to see the conference Ning continue to be a place to collaborate, connect and communicate. Perhaps opening up the forums and the groups feature would allow people to develop the network in ways that will best help them continue learning.

    For your local school community, I have to agree with Julie. I was with Singapore American School on Saturday night and every single staff member agreed to give a full presentation about something that they learned at Learning 2.0. I know that we’re going to do something similar at ISB to make sure that teachers are sharing with those that weren’t able to attend.

    I’m also hoping to set up a follow up meeting like Dean describes above, just to keep the momentum going. One step at a time is fine – just as long as we don’t stop.

  8. Kim: I think the idea of teachers sharing short conference reports with other teachers after they return is a good one. My main thought about “success” following a conference would be “small victories” (as Marco Torres calls them) that teachers make right after they return. Big ideas are great, but teachers need practical tips they can start implementing quickly. Delayed implementation suggests irrelevance for the conference in terms of its impact on professional practices. LIke Brian said, those ideas too often sit on a shelf or in a drawer and then never move further. I think it might be good to follow up with attendees in 2 months and ask for quick anecdotes about things they have done up to that point which are attributable to the conference. That would be a good measure of success. Next year if the conference happens again, you could let attendees know you’ll be contacting them 2 months down the road and asking that question. Follow-up for PD is essential and we don’t do it enough in K-12 settings, from what I’ve seen. So it would be great for the Learning 2.0 conference to practice and model that for everyone watching, especially since there is a large international audience!

  9. David Carpenter Reply

    These comments are very helpful as we plan and work with our respective school leaders to extend our Learning 2.0 community around the world. I would add that this conference was truly successful in that in many cases, the sharing of ideas in the presentations followed the models that were being taught by the experts and by the practitioners.

    The unconference experience and the Ning-Twitter network included a naturally differentiated learning environment with availability of choice that good instructional practice should include.

    Bravo for taking some chances and modeling what using Learning 2.0 thinking and tools can do in a conference situation. I hope that all future EARCOS conferences will be run in the same fashion giving attendees the option to expand their learning communities beyond the meeting rooms.

  10. Inspiration is a start.

    Challenged thinking is another.

    How do you define a successful conference? Both of those come to mind when I think of last weekend.

    But of course, your Monday question is a good one. (luckily here in BKK, we have until Wednesday before school starts up again!)

    How about this: my “novice” techie teachers who came have already approached me about getting together and building up their RSS feeds and web 2.0 technologies. They want to meet THIS WEEK to ensure that momentum is not lost.

    They want to expose their students to the thinking and processes that November and McKenzie and Richardson challenged them to do.

    They want to podcast and blog and connect their kids into a world that until last weekend they had been hiding from them through unintentional ignorance, not choice.

    But tools aside, they want their kids to learn to be successful which they’ve always wanted, but now realize may take more than they were doing before.

    I think that’s a successful conference.

    Now I just have to make sure I don’t miss out on this opportunity with them and screw it up!

  11. Pingback: Thinking Allowed. » Blog Archive » There are a lot of smart people

  12. I want to agree with what Dennis said about how to measure the success of the conference. The excitement surrounding the actual event (there was lots of that) but more importantly the buzz that is carried back to the home countries for Monday morning…. ok- we had Monday and Tuesday off to recover… but you get the point. There was definitely a buzz created at the conference for the ISB gang. It continued into lunch on Sunday and all the way back to Bangkok. We have decided to continue it with a “thinking dinner” to further explore the possibilities for really moving our school deeply into the 21st century.
    From speaking with others, I might have been one of the only administrators at the conference and I think that begs the question why? It also makes our excitement so much more difficult because, as I heard many people say this weekend, one of the main blockers for moving forward with technolgy in the classroom is reluctant administrators. How can we move our schools into the 21st century if we don’t have the decision makers informed about our thinking? Kids already know it, teachers will get to know it more from conferences like Learning 2.0…. how can we ensure that admin and parents don’t get lost along the way?
    I went home and did 3 things today (on the advice of Justin, Kim and Dennis):
    1. Set up gmail accounts for my 3 kids (who won’t use them for 5 years most likely)
    2. Set up a blog (my 2nd, but now I understand more deeply why I need a blog (struth.edublogs.org)
    3. Met with my tech team and mapped out how we can educate our parents about why their kids need to be deeply immersed in technolgy to enhance their learning.
    4. 5. 6. 7….. continued twittering and checking the learn2cn.ning.
    What will I do tomorrow? Not sure yet, but I feel psyched!
    So- Jeff- your question- how do you judge the successfulness of a conference? Make a lasting impact on people. Thanks again for all your efforts this past weekend in Shanghai.

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