Flipping the MLA Conference

As with almost all One Health attendees, I spent a lot of time at the conference listening to a variety 7-10 min presentations alongside a couple hundred others in tightly arranged row of seats. If I happened to get to a session late, or decide to switch rooms to catch a specific presentation, I either had to stand in the back, sit on the floor, or disrupt the presentation or the other attendees by working my way to an open seat.

In this environment, which is a traditional conference structure, presenters discuss or outline a project while projecting a series of supporting slides. The role of the attendees is usually passive. They try to capture what is being said at the instant the speaker says it, and then jot down a few notes or send out a few tweets. While some of what is discussed can be processed at that moment, there is little time to think too deeply the content. Often, one may not fully digest the content until after discussing it in the hallway with other attendees.

All too often than one would hope, presenters simply read the content on the slides. I am probably not alone in thinking that some presentations could simply be posted online and read rather than presented.

There has been a lot discussion and efforts in academia in recent years related to flipping the classroom. The “flipped classroom” is a pedagogical model in which the usual lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed. Most commonly, short video lectures are viewed by students before class session with in-class time being devoted to exercises, projects, or discussions.

One of the benefits of the adoption of the flipped classroom is that it asks teachers and students alike to evaluate how they use the time in the classroom. Are they lecturing? Is there thoughtful discussion? Is there hands-on learning? What then happens online? What happens face-to-face? By contrast, the use of recorded lectures puts the lectures under the control of the students. They can watch, rewind, and fast-forward as needed. The flipped classroom isn’t about video lectures or homework. It has everything to do with who owns the learning.

So, as I was sitting in tightly packed in one of the program sessions it stuck me, could the conference presentation be flipped?

One way a flipped presentation could work is that the materials for a specific program session could be posted online prior to the conference. The format of posting would be up to the individual or the session sponsor. Posting the session content in advance would allow ALL attendees (not just those that could squeeze into the room) to review the content. Attendees and non-attendees alike would then have time to digest the content and perhaps discuss it with colleagues even before landing in the host city.

Then, at the conference, the session could consist of a general discussion, a series or activities, or any other method of engagement that is hosted by the authors. Those discussion could be also be captured or would at least add to the dialog. This approach could also be used for posters. Why wait until one is in the hall standing there in front of the author reading their materials then have to generate questions on the spot?

While the flipped presentation/poster wouldn’t always the appropriate approach, for example for the plenary and many invited speakers, the idea has the potential to put the ownership of the conference experience to the attendees. They could access and digest the content in advance and then use the face-to0face interactions to further their understanding. If the attendees own their experience then there is a potential for deeper and trans-formative things could happen at the conference.

I wonder if anyone would be interested in testing a flipped approach pilot out at MLA 14? At the very least perhaps as an informal session.

5 thoughts on “Flipping the MLA Conference

  1. YES. I was talking about this exact thing on Twitter yesterday – I’d like to see section programming prerecorded and released to registrants two weeks or so in advance. That would give people plenty of time to view presentations as desired, and avoid time conflicts between sessions. Then – much as we do with posters – there could be scheduled time slots in which authors/presenters are available to answer questions.

    There was some discussion at https://twitter.com/rachel_w/status/331434423868329985

  2. I wasn’t at MLA this year, but I think the additional time to digest and discuss information would add to conferences in general. I agree with the commenter in Rachel’s stream that there are often scheduling conflicts and this model would help. I will link this in a post of interesting things I’ve run across this week, thanks!

  3. It was really funny that I had this blog post started on Sunday and that Rachel’s Twitter discussion occurred when I was on a tour, so I missed it! Otherwise, I would have gotten together and co-authored the blog post with her! Anyway, informal discussion on this topic continues and I’m really excited by the possibilities.

  4. Eric, let’s make this happen! Forget co-authoring the post, it’s always a good thing when we’re having a mind meld!

  5. There’s been a lot of discussion of the flipped classroom lately, and I had some difficulty understanding it — I was a Rhetoric major and as a result, took LOTS of literature classes. In those, we were always expected to read in advance so that we could discuss/critique in class. There was usually some form of lecture by the instructor, but based on what we had read, not what we would be reading for the next class. I had to think about the science and math classes I slogged through to remember that not all classes worked that way.

    I do think this would be a great idea for conference papers – there’s almost always more discussion than there is time for at the end of the paper, and this would facilitate that. It might be good if the presenter did a short (maybe 3-5 minutes) re-hash at the beginning, since there will be people who come in without preparation, either because they just didn’t prepare or they changed their mind about attending just before the session.

Comments are closed.