Some reflections on the organization of #BectaX

Introduction

I don’t often post about conferences at which I’m not a presenter or workshop leader. Whilst it’s useful to share the resources I produce for such events, reporting the content or organization of a conference as a mere participant can be, well… a bit boring.

I’m making an exception, though, with #BectaX for three reasons:

  1. I was fortunate enough to be one of the 150 people invited to attend.
  2. There were massively high hopes regarding the outcomes of the conference.
  3. It was a very ‘open’ event.

Some caveats:

  • My experience is likely to have been shifted towards the positive due to the fact that many of the people I interact with regularly on Twitter.
  • I had to leave an hour early to catch a flight back from Stansted to Newcastle and so missed the feedback session.
  • I’m can be a bit over-analytical (and critical) at times, especially when the opening session was on the subject of my Ed.D. thesis.

The Good

The conference was set up expertly by a team including Ewan McIntosh and Josie Fraser. As you’d expect from such finger-on-the-pulse luminaries, there was as much – if not more – stuff happening in the ether as there was physically in front of us. The ‘speed networking’ event, whilst ultimately a bit frustrating due to the length of time allocated and the resultant din, was a fun way to meet new folks with similar interests.

There was also an attempt to get students involved. In fact, 14 schools were invited to take part via a video link (not live two-way, unfortunately) and Twitter hashtag (#BectaX). There was a cool Flash-powered map that appeared on the screen every so often showing tweets from the schools.

The Bad

It’s difficult organizing a conference. Not that I’ve ever tried to (yet!) but I can imagine that there’s no way you can please everyone. Here’s the things that I thought could have been better:

  1. A clear announcement at the start about the potential self-censorship of tweets. It’s hard to put something damning – or even slightly negative on Twitter – when you know it’s going to be flashed on the screen in a few seconds’ time. As it is Ewan cleared it up nicely, but it could have gone the other way.
  2. A more engaging first session. I found that the presentation on digital literacy conflated several issues, wasn’t very interesting, and was by someone who either doesn’t present very often or doesn’t present well very often (lots of text on-screen and bumbling)
  3. Hands-on activities in the morning session. Something to get your teeth into before lunch and the desire to nap kicks in.
  4. Power sockets available at seats. If you expect people to be tweeting, provide them with some power – especially if we’re going to sit there on-and-off for 3 hours or so.
  5. Find a way to get students more involved – perhaps by them actually being there?

The Ugly

Whilst I’m willing to hear from all parties involved in education, I really do take exception to representatives of companies mentioning their products in every breath. I also had no sympathy for said man from Sony when he complained that there was no mechanism to sell to all UK schools at once. He moaned that Sony would have to “literally go and knock on every school’s door”. Boo hoo.

Conclusion

#BectaX was by far the most unconferencey conference I’ve ever been to. The digital and physical really were blended and it was great to see the debate ranging across international boundaries, never mind leaking out of the hall. Ewan and Josie prompted and probed participants in the discussion sessions and led the event well.

But… will it change anything? The cynic in me noted that it was organized on the last day of the financial year by a government organization that is, by all accounts, under threat after the next election. However, I’d like to think it will mix things up a bit. If nothing else, just getting some of the finest educators and grassroots educational thinkers in the country together in one place can’t help but spark something… :-p

All photos CC BY-NC-SA Mr Ush

7 Comments

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  1. I’ve been to many conferences over the years, though I wasn’t at BectaX, and I often feel that the last session should always be a ‘next steps’ session. Give good, solid advice to delegates on what to do next morning, when back in school, to make some of the good things from the conference work. Otherwise all the enthusiastic evangelism evaporates…

  2. Enjoyed the write up thank you. I remember various tweets (not from you!) last week commenting that it was sad that so few policy makers and school leaders were there but now I see that it was invite only it sort of makes sense! :0) I have to say that on the last week of term/ last days of financial year the timing was pretty off to get anyone from any agency or school leadership there in any case.

    If events like this then pursue the mainstream and actually influence change then great – if they are the great and the good simply agreeing with each other about how crap it is that nobody makes the effort to understand and “get with it” then I wonder if it was money well spent? After all there is grassroots and then there is grassroots!

  3. I did a similar post to the HHL09 conference and got slated for being critical, good on you. Feedback, both positive and negative will make #bectaX a better conference.

  4. Good feedback, especially:

    # Hands-on activities in the morning session. Something to get your teeth into before lunch and the desire to nap kicks in.
    # Power sockets available at seats. If you expect people to be tweeting, provide them with some power – especially if we’re going to sit there on-and-off for 3 hours or so.

    Yes!

    RE Sonia Livingstone, she’s one of the UK’s experts on media literacy, a researcher and hard core at that, so while the presentation needed some work to get into it as an audience member, the content was outstanding and, I thought, dense rather than conflated.

    The last session was indeed next steps, and they were mostly practical ones coming from the floor. The policy framework that prevents many of us doing what we need to do will take longer to change but it will. There were policymakers from Becta there, though not shouting about it, and there were at least 15 head teachers (probably a good few more) amongst a selection of folk picked to represent as many levels of the policy hierarchy as possible.

    I’ve got a blog post about how we ‘listen’ to young people, and why we need a mix of presence and virtualness. If you can be patient for that, though, I’d be grateful. Off to continue a wee break first.

    Have no fear about the impact of the conference on the Bectoids – they’ve got a network and content to guide their work for the next six months in response to whatever government we get in.

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