Academic Conferences: an Intervention

Last week I attended the annual conference of the Western History Association.  It was held at a beautiful resort in the Catalina Foothills northeast of Tucson.  It was great to reconnect with friends and colleagues, meet new ones, and sample new scholarship being worked on.  I also spent a day on the program committee, hashing out next year’s program (Newport Beach!) and that was a great experience as well.  With all of that aside, its time to get down to business.

I think we need to have an intervention.

The primary feature of academic conferences like the WHA is panels featuring papers and roundtable discussions where young and veteran scholars share their work and receive feedback.  In theory – its great.  In practice, it is often painful.

Most panels feature “papers.”  Academics are good at writing papers.  Graduate students make a career out of it while earning degrees, and the rest of us (and some grad students) write articles for publication in journals or anthologies.  Eventually, we write book chapters for our books.  Historians like to write.  We pride ourselves in careful and precise writing, this blog not withstanding.  Our vocabularies are, at times, ungainly and challenging for the uninitiated, but we chose words carefully and construct prose purposefully.  The written word proves an effective medium for conveying, analyzing, unpacking, contextualizing and ruminating on complex historical narratives.  Hooray for the written word.  But here is where I think we get in trouble.  When we come to academic conferences, many of us rely on the written word as is, and simply READ our papers to each other.

*shudder*

Let me be the first to confess – this is how I was initiated into the conference scene and this is how I did a number of my first presentations.  I had carefully written my paper and organized my thoughts deliberately – and reading my paper seemed like the least terrifying way to stand in front of a bunch of scowling professors and try to convince them of how smart I was.  (Truth be told, there was very little scowling).  While the feedback from those early papers was positive, the experience was not.  I have been doing public speaking for a long time and I love it!  I love being interactive with the audience, using humor, being generally enthusiastic, etc…  Reading a paper is anything but interactive.  Any “humor” comes off flat when planned and read.  And, it is hard to read something with enthusiasm.  Over the years as I have been on the other side of the podium – in the audience listening – I often find myself thinking, “Wow.  This topic is fascinating, but listening to this paper is really tedious.  I wish these papers would wrap up faster so there would be more time for Q&A and discussion!”  And, often, the papers take up the entire allotted time, the commentator offers rushed comments, and there is no time for discussion.  The written word is GREAT for reading, but often horrible for public speaking.

So what is to be done?
First, let me acknowledge that I am still a novice in the field and speak with little to no authority.  I am in no position to critique much of anyone.  So, please read the following less as critiques or suggestions, and more as things I have found successful in altering my own papers and panels.

1. If On a Traditional “Paper” Panel, Don’t READ the Paper

After reading my first few papers and being frustrated with how awkward it felt, I decided to take a different approach in 2010.  I had organized a panel for the WHA in North Lake Tahoe on indigenous borderlands (A great panel, by the way, with papers by me, Andrae Marak, and David McCrady, chaired by Eric Meeks and amazing comments by Jeff Shepherd) and wanted to give a more dynamic presentation.

So here’s what I did:  I wrote out my full 10-12 page paper with all of its complex prose, precise terminology and construction.  Then, I chopped it up into bullet points.  If there was a specific phrase or sentence I wanted to really highlight – I left it written out.  Otherwise, I reduced it all to an outline of ideas, questions I was asking, and answers I was providing.  I won’t speak to the quality of the content, but I was very pleased with how the presentation itself went.  I didn’t get lost in deep paragraphs like I used to, I hit all of my major points without getting bogged down in unnecessarily complex prose or realizing halfway through a paragraph that I had provided way too much information on the given point and probably should have condensed it, and i stayed within my time allotment without having to rush at the end.  My commenter had read the full-length version, and was able to give useful comments as I had covered all of the content in the written-out paper.  I had simply changed the format by which I conveyed it.

2.  Ditch the Paper Panel and Adopt a Roundtable, or Modified-Roundtable Format

I  have been to good and bad roundtables.  The bad ones lack focus and turn into a wandering conversation that doesn’t go anywhere.  On occasion, by fortuitous combination of strong panelists and an engaged audience – the loosely organized roundtable proves fruitful.  The best roundtables are carefully planned.  I argue for a modified roundtable of sorts – where each panelist is given a set of central questions before hand and then presents (different than reading) 5-10 minutes of prepared remarks in succession, leaving a good 45 minutes for dialog between panelists and Q&A/discussion with the audience.  Last year at the WHA in Denver I organized 2 panels – one of which adopted this format.  James Brooks (then President and CEO of the School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe), Cynthia Radding (Gussenhoven Distinguished Professor of Latin American Studies and Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Ted Binnema (Professor of History, University of Northern British Columbia), and Joshua Reid (Assistant Professor of History, University of Massachusetts, Boston).  The panel was chewing on re-orienting borderlands and transnational studies to feature the landscapes and boundaries defined by Indigenous peoples, instead of Euro-American empires, and questioned how that may, or may not, alter our understandings of various historical narratives, trends, and events.  Their short and informal (but carefully thought-out) presentations were enlightening.  The real value, however, was the dynamic, robust, and exciting dialog and discussion that followed.

I stood at the podium, trying to direct the Q&A, but mostly thinking to myself, “Now THIS is why I come to conferences – for revelatory, exciting, unpredictable scholarly discussion!”

 

I guess that’s it.  I really love conferences, but hope to see more roundtables.  And, when papers are given, I  hope to see less readings and more talks.

Not meandering, tangent-plagued, disorganized thoughts – but carefully constructed, but dynamic and engaging talks.

I believe it is customary in an intervention for me to pass the pillow or some other object to the next person in the room who wants to speak there peace.  Please rant in the comment section below.

31 thoughts on “Academic Conferences: an Intervention

  1. Brenden: In my field, it is essential to get wording right in presenting arguments, so it is very useful to stick to a written paper. That said, there’s everything to be said for delivery. I preach at church from a sermon that is written out, and have learned how to deliver it so that it is interesting; this is a matter of emphasis, timing, gestures, and eye contact with the audience, and it allows me to stick to script without being boring. I try to do the same with papers that I deliver; eye contact is critical, and frequently prevents people from becoming bored when they think that I am talking right to them. When someone gives a talk without a carefully worded presentation, it can easily run off the rails and lead to many questions of clarification. Anyway, that’s my take on things. Best, Steve Lahey

    • Thanks Steve. And yes, that is the problem. When people go off-script, things can quickly devolve into a mess of a presentation – aimless, wandering, etc… My problem with reading (when I’m the one doing the reading) is that I keep on looking up to maintain eye contact, but then lose my place in the paper! I guess we could just go old-school and MEMORIZE our papers – do some proper oration!

  2. So should the paper presentation be in text which the author can refer to, but at the conference present? Several non-traditional panels have ventured into this realm, posting papers either on a website or distributed in print to the audience members, so the panelists can present their work.

    I presented on Digital History at the American Social Studies Conference in Albuquerque several years ago. I decided for that smaller conference to PRESENT my work. I used power-point slides with single bold words on them to convey my essential points. It got the idea across and was engaging with the audience. The paper was available online as well as the talk.

    There are many more possibilities for panels other than the very tired format of reading papers. Even in complex fields that require precision in their work in presenting arguments, often the precision is lost in presentation.

    I suggest the movement toward non-traditional panels. Round tables for building discussion and presentations for summation of great findings, but much less paper reading.

    • I think the pre-circulated paper has been done in quite a few conferences. I like the idea, but often no one in the audience reads them – at least not at big conferences like the WHA. I would guess this works best at smaller, intimate symposiums. I attended a Metis symposium in Ottawa last March and the organizers sent us all a packet of articles to read before our meeting – and given the small nature of the event, I think we all did. That is a bit different than a conference though. Apples, oranges, perhaps.

  3. We are talking about academic presentations, not Church sermons or homilies. The question I think is Public Speaking. Even then there is more to reading a passage of scripture at church than simply reading it. You must connect with the congregation which must be done by the eyes connecting with the people. You must connect with all of the people so it is also more than simply looking up. Now more specifically to academic presentations. If I want to READ a paper I will go and read it, not listen to someone read it. At the paper presentation I want to hear more from the author about his or her feelings, experiences, and such when he or she was writing the paper. I want to hear the author talk about what might be “written between the lines.” But even here, like at church, academics must learn more about public speaking, how to better connect with the audience, which includes connection via the eyes and other “body language, ” changes in pitch and speed, etc

    • Gerard – I have had that thought too. “I could just read this in the comfort of my hotel room, in bed, and get as much out of it.” The attendant discussion/comment/Q&A is what makes attending worthwhile if the papers are simply read. But, as I lamented, there is often too little time for discussion.

  4. I agree with Steve. I think it is about delivery and preparation. In either case the presenter needs to have much of his paper memorized, to insure effective communication with the audience. In terms of panels, they are generally not my favorite way of getting feedback. Particularly at large conference the questions and comments can be pretty generic.
    At the GSA (German Studies Association) conference I was part of an experimental format. I co organized a seminar on 1968 in Germany with 15 participants meeting for one session everyday of the conference. We had all read each others papers before hand. There were no presentations only discussion of the papers and larger connecting questions. I found this format much more useful than a traditional panel. I find presenting in panel mainly useful as means of forcing me to organize my research into a coherent narrative.

    • That sounds great Alex! That is kind of what happened at the Metis symposium I mentioned in a diff. comment. The University of Ottawa brought about 15 of us in, precirculated some articles for us to read, and then we sat and talked and chewed on stuff for 3 days. It was amazing – by far the most rewarding academic conference experience I have ever had.

  5. Brenden,
    Brent Yergensen here. I agree that the reading approach is a problem. It shows a lack of concern for both the audience as well as for the contributions of the material that the scholar is presenting. I’m actually not a fan roundtables either, although it is a step above reading. The best panel presentations I have seen have more of a TEDtalk feel to them–using visual technology and following more a scholar’s personal journey to engaging in the study. In this approach scholars are more interested in explaining the implications of the study than in the details of an analysis. This doesn’t mean dumbing the material down, but if someone wants to hear the intricate details, then they would care enough to read it anyway. A scholarly presentation should sexify the material and take into consideration why the scholar is so drawn to it as well as their journey through their findings. This would raise the bar in attendance, expectations, and especially interest in the material that scholars are offering. The dignity of the scholar’s expectations as a distributor of the knowledge he or she found and the dignity of the conference as an outlet of cutting edge information would increase.
    Sadly, I personally never used such technology for a panel presentation. It takes a lot more work and its easy to say, “I’ll read these paragraphs and then explain it. ” I am somewhere between reading and discussing. I submit work and attend mostly for feedback, which ins’t encouraging most of the time anyway, as you mention.
    If conferences required more of a visually-technology presentation approach, the material and the celebration of the scholar who has been invited/accepted to participate would take on more meaning.
    Just some thoughts,
    Brent

    • Thanks Brent. I guess another issue to bring up is that I don’t want to advocate (what TED talks often become) a devolution into entertaining people – edutainment, as they say. I don’t think we need to use bells, whistles, technology, song and dance numbers, to entertain audiences. And, sometimes I think the knee-jerk reaction to shift towards tech-supplements becomes that. Furthermore, the AV situation at a lot of conferences is BAD…so best not plan on having a nice hi-res projector for a big fancy presentation. 😉

      • I agree. Certainly the material can become the backdrop if taken too ar. I don’t mean that form would take precedence over material. But I don’t think its an either/or. The reading of the paper approach, in 10-20 minutes, doesn’t do the material justice either. Writing in the humanities tradition, setup of the argument and use of evidence is everything. I’ve never felt that reading my papers does my work justice. It is always snippets to choose. So if we have to make choices of what to present, why not do it in a more sophisticated way that empowers clarity? And much more is offered if the author can give some background and context for the creation of the project as well. Thanks.

  6. Interesting post. I definitely agree that academic conference presentations could use a livening up across the board, and I’m all for the more interactive style. But, I would argue that there are some academics who “read” papers at conferences quite well. I chaired a session at a conference recently (not at the WHA), where I watched a panelist (a senior scholar) read one of the liveliest, funniest and most interesting papers I’ve ever listened to. Nothing substitutes for enthusiasm, energy, enunciation, connecting with the audience, and having a bit of a sense of humor–whether reading a paper or going off the cuff. But, I do agree with your main point in that reading papers tends to dull those elements more often than not.

  7. I like the seminar format, which my husband and his colleague participated in (and arranged) for the German Studies Association Conference. It was a seminar around a important topic in German Studies. They solicited participants via email and then participants (around 15) submitted their papers 1 month before the conference. They met three days in a row and had a DISCUSSION around the topic. They did not read their papers. It was very productive. At the ASA (American Studies Association) Conference, I took part in a roundtable on Darwin and it was very good. Our comments were very brief and it was a discussion on future directions in interdisciplinary and disciplinary approaches to Darwin.

    • I participated in a symposium like this (oddly, also in Germany — have they figured out something we haven’t?). Like the one you described, Jeannette, this one had us turn in our papers long in advance so we could read them before the symposium. Then they divided us into twelve-person groups and paired us up in these groups. Instead of me discussing my paper for ten minutes, they had someone else introduce and comment on my paper. A second (and possibly third) was also introduced and commented upon in this way, with the rest of the time — an hour or so — for discussion, clarifying questions, etc. This engendered some of the richest discussion I’ve ever participated in at a professional conference or symposium.

  8. I want to second the idea of roundtables. They are great as long as they are not too loose. They should have a tight theme meant to intentionally provoke debate among the panelists and audience members. I did one at the Urban History Association a few years ago. The theme was actually a question: “Does Region Matter Any More?” It turned out to be kind of raucous in a fun and interesting way. Five of us had very short (like 5 minute), very prepared comments.

  9. Round tables are the best … but at many institutions roundtables are give less weight in the tenure process than a “full” research paper. I hear all the time “oh, that was just a roundtable, it wasn’t a full conference presentation.” I know it is balderdash… but it is part of the problem.

    The only other thing I would ask is that we ditch the PPT slides unless the message can’t be conveyed without it – such as an image analysis. I hate seeing the first 10 to 15 minutes of a panel get flushed while people try to figure out their various computing problems.

    • I hadn’t considered the issue of papers serving in tenure/rank/salary promotions. That is an entirely different conversation though, I guess. I know it depends if you are at a research 1 vs research 2 vs liberal arts vs teaching college vs junior college vs community college – as far as what counts towards tenure. For that matter, some disciplines don’t really publish “books” like many historians do, and conference papers and/or articles are the primary measures for promotion.

  10. A few thoughts…. It seems that part of our frustration with panels in which presenters simply “read” their papers is that we do not have time for discussion. Much of this actually has nothing to do with whether or not the paper was “read” aloud. Instead, it’s an issue of time. I don’t mind being read to, as long as the presenter makes some effort at engaging the audience. What bothers me, though, are those presenters who do not stick to their allotted presentation time of fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on how many people are presenting. For instance, during one of my favorite panels at this most recent WHA, one of the presenters went on for thirty-five minutes, fifteen past his allotted time. Was his paper interesting? Yes! However, the end of the session came just as Q&A started, so any discussion that happened was certainly truncated; I don’t know because I had to duck out to be on time to something else. Another problem emerges when panels don’t start on time. This happened at the other of my favorite panels at this last WHA. Again, Q&A time started just as the session ended, and many had to run off to other commitments. So I think each session should be facilitated by a timekeeper who actually keeps time and holds people accountable. And, of course, presenters need to respect the allotted time they are given.

    Finally, I think organizations should set some guidelines for sessions, limiting panels to three presenters (fifteen-ish minutes each) and one commentator (ten-ish minutes). This would give plenty of time for discussion in a ninety-minute session, including time spent introducing the speakers and transitioning from one speaker (and PowerPoint) to the next, items we rarely budget time for anyhow. I think it’s a bit unwise for people to put together panels with four speakers and a commentator, unless everyone is willing to cut back on their presentation times in order to leave room for discussion. Yes, it’s great to have more people participating, but at what cost?

    • High fives all around Josh – I agree that the lack of Q&A time is a big impetus for my frustration. But, I still am disappointed by how often I go to a panel with amazing paper titles, but the presentation leaves me wishing I could just download their papers and read them later – rather than sit through the readings.

      I was once at a venue that had a red light on the podium that could be controlled by someone remotely – a “your time is up” light. I think some chairs are reluctant to hold up the “5 minutes left” sign because it is awkward, and they are afraid of potentially offending the presenter. The red light would be much less conspicuous. Or, maybe we should just bring a boombox and fade-in some music like the Academy Awards do when speeches go too long. 😉

      Panel organizers, chairs, or whoever is running the show may be able to prevent some of the time problems by having VERY frank and direct discussions via email in the months preceding the conference. Flat-out tell presenters to not show up with anything longer than 10 pages, and tell them that you are prepared to cut them off should they start to go over their allotted time. If the subject is broached prior to the conference in a clear manner, I think it would prevent a lot of trouble. People show up with 25 page papers!

  11. The WHA’s Committee on Teaching and Public Education has been lucky to have the opportunity to experiment a bit with panel format in the past several years, in particular with our collaborations with the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program.

    This year we tried something new. We invited historians to Notre Dame last spring for a preliminary conference and they all presented on a piece of their research. The historians then worked one-on-one with K-12 teachers to try to translate their research themes/topics/sources into a lesson plan. At the WHA, the historians and K-12 teachers presented together — many of the historians presented on how they use these sources in their classroom and in their research and the teachers presented on how the lesson plan they created with the historian.
    It provided a different way for historians to share their research, while also helping to transform it into something accessible to people outside of the university. But, bringing everyone together for a pre-conference was something only possible with outside financial support that we were lucky to have access to this year. And, while we targeted this to a K-12 teacher audience, this format did offer historians an opportunity to talk about their sources and how they use them in a more relaxed, open, and fun manner.

    Many people did a fantastic job presenting this year as a part of this program, and maybe some would they would be willing to share their experiences presenting this way.

    Thanks for raising some great questions, Brenden!

    • I have been heartened to see a few of these alternative formats in the last couple years. I’m glad it went well this last time. Send this to your fellow participants – I would love to hear their feedback and thoughts on how your guys’ panel went.

  12. Ah, the perennial post conference complaint. We should remember that any “large” conference is actually several conferences at once. I have no problem helping grad students read their way through their first, second, or third papers. Like everything else, good presentations take practice.

    Are roundtables more interesting and free-flowing? You bet they are. Should mid-level and senior scholars be able to present far more fluidly than simply “reading” their paper? I would hope so. And I have to admit, I enjoy being on roundtables as much as I tend to seek them out in the program. But the WHA and similar conferences should not be all one or the other. We need to allow people to get better at presenting, give them genuine feedback on ideas, and encourage further growth.

    I also have to say that I enjoyed all the sessions I attended at the WHA (which I don’t think has ever been the case – usually I end up regretting my attendance of at least one session) with really only one clunker of a paper/presentation in the bunch. Ironically, that paper was all performance and no substance. Great delivery, great visuals, even some great lines, but in the end, nothing there, really.

    I will echo Josh and agree that we are stuck in a terrible trap of too often squeezing 3 or 4 presentations into a session. Add a commenter who doesn’t understand that their role is not to give a 4th or 5th paper – and you end up with a LOT of listening and five minutes of questions. It is a terrible model. It would be great to limit paper presentations to a couple so as to allow for thoughtful commentary and lots of audience interaction. However, if we want to encourage participation, we need room for more presenters than a paper-or-two format allows. And for many attendees, if you don’t present, you don’t get the (partial) funding to attend.

    So, an absolute moratorium on four+ paper panels? Some attention given to whether chairs do their job? Clear guidelines sent to all participants by the program committee?

  13. Hey Brenden,
    Thanks for the post. I have mixed feelings about this that echo some of the comments above. In general I prefer “talk” style presentations with images and discussion to read papers, but I also don’t think read papers are necessarily bad. I went to several excellent panels at the WHA with read papers that I thought were engaging and easy to follow. I also went to a panel with “talk” presentations that rambled on way too long and lacked clarity. It’s also true that some topics and time periods lend themselves better to multimedia presentations than others–though I have tried to get people excited about images of 17th century Spanish paleography and maps.

    To second you and others above, what would help most with the tediousness of conference panels is for people to recognize that less is usually more in terms of length and that the audience wants to participate and be heard. Now I just have to follow my own advice and let go (next time) of that one final point that was just too essential to cut. 😉

  14. Hi Brendan:

    Excellent conversation. I agree that conferences frequently have become rather bland and little conversation or Q&A takes place in the traditional format if just one person goes over the time limit. I think what is missing from most academic conferences is an acceptance of various formats. I participated in all the formats mentioned here whether thematically focused conference, pre-circulated papers, or the European-model day long sessions at large area studies conferences in which all members are responsible and have a shared venue for the day.

    I think the academic conference format must move beyond simply reading, presenting, or talking. Frankly, what I would like to see are things that would allow a greater ability to incorporate more people, ideas, and formats such as film, video, images, etc. For example, I have become a fan of poster presentations (or displays) for historians, public historians, historical practitioners, students or non-experts. The WHA but also other regional conferences might draw more students, teachers, archivists, and dare I say, the public to the conference and events. The display spaces allow for more one-on-one Q&A, and it is great for junior scholars or someone embarking on a new project and seeking feedback. I would also like to see more digital capabilities for streaming of videos, films, and other digital material. This is expensive in certain hotels so that might limit the venues, but would enhance the conference. I have been to many sessions in which someone brought their equipment and it could not interface with that of the venue. This led to viewing of images on a laptop that was passed around; worse, an unprepared verbal description of the clip, song (nothing like listening to someone recite a narcocorrido), etc which is far from exciting, compelling, or even interesting.

  15. Brendan:

    Sorry to get to this so late, but I think you are right on target. In fact, although I understand the arguments several others have presented for continuing to read papers, I will go a step further and say that there is NO place for reading papers at today’s (first world) conferences. Conferences are expensive and most people agree that the conversations are the most useful part, so why wouldn’t we arrange conferences to get the most conversation possible?

    I know that folks are wary of posting a paper online, and some good reasons for this remain, but with all of our digital capabilities, it is a waste of time for someone to read to me. I have had good experiences reading papers ahead of time (or even after a conference) and participating in lively discussions at sessions. This actually takes some pressure off of presenters to have completed works–we can take advantage of the conference opportunity to work out some issues with our work among experts. I’ve also been in very successful sessions in which experts presented briefly and then answered questions for the uninitiated in the audience. This is a good way for us all to continue our education.

    As others have suggested, alternative conference formats are growing. An example: I am taking part in a roundtable at our major conference in the Spring. We will each give 3-5 minutes on our case studies before presenting questions to the audience. The goal of this roundtable is to get at some best practices (or worst practices) for working with communities. The audience will participate. One or two of the panelists will be designated note-takers, and then we will publish a blog post of our findings for all to continue the conversation and/or reference later. Admittedly, this does not work for all subjects, but it takes advantage of having educated and interested parties in one room to produce a reference.

    At a minimum, panel organizers need to be vigilant about time limits. It is rude to the other panelists and the audience to drone on, no matter how senior a scholar one is or how compelling his or her work. It shows a lack of consideration and preparation.

    I agree with what someone said above that whether reading or “just talking,” conference presenters need to be prepared and engaging.

    I think that as more of us present this way and come up with creative session ideas, the unengaged reading will hopefully die out.

    Thanks for continuing this important conversation!

    • Kristen – its so great to hear from you. If you share this with anyone, I would love to hear what your comrades in the Public History world think about this. Thanks for joining the conversation!

  16. Hi Brendan,

    Kristen referred me to your article. I’m one of her public history comrades. I am organizing a session for our spring conference that is in what I call a “structured conversation” format, which seems a lot like what you refer to as a modified round table. My plan is that the panelists will engage in a few pre-conference conversations to work out some common session goals and identify 4-5 conversation starters. During the session, each panelist will give their remarks to that particular discussion point and then open it to the audience for the remaining time. Time policing will be essential in making sure we can get through all discussion points. I plan to explain ground rules at the beginning.

    I’ve participated in working group discussions before where each person presents a case study on a common issue, but I found that people just want to talk about their own work, and not really engage in a conversation. I’m hoping this different format will correct those issues. We shall see.

    The other caveat to this session is that it is on doing public history with the federal government, which means that one of our panel organizers cannot travel to the conference because he is a federal employee. It also means that a substantial part of our audience will not be able to participate. So right now I am brainstorming ways to make this session as inclusive as possible. I am thinking about hosting Google Hangouts with federal colleagues so that they can help direct the discussion points at the session. I also hope to have pre and post conference blogs on our commons website. The pre-conference piece should be a teaser and help people start thinking about the session, while the second piece should be a take away for those that could not attend. I also hope to have a clever Twitter handle and all that so that people can tweet the conversation. Still a lot of things to figure out.

    Best,
    Angie

    • Thanks for your thoughts Angie! I am always excited to hear about new and innovative ways that people are presenting research. I am sometimes wary, however, of certain tactics. I have been in live-tweeted panels/sessions and found that they distracted more than added any substance. Some techniques, in the end, prove to be just bells and whistles without adding any value. That said – if these kinds of things CAN be leveraged to really enhance dialog at sessions, that awesome. Using tech to engage with people unable to attend – in real time – like you mention, sounds promising. That, of course, leads to all kinds of technological troubles. Live webcasting a session so people not in attendance could live tweet to text questions back would require a reliable (and free) wifi connection at the conference, which is sometimes lacking. Also, I wonder if some conferences would disallow it due to worries of registration numbers dropping since people could watch for free at home. Although, if we are masochists for going to academic conferences and sitting in rooms listening to this stuff (with the promise of also socializing with friends), then I shudder to think who would opt to sit at home and watch. Funding or travel/time problems, as you said, is always a struggle though. There are probably lots of panels I would enjoy viewing without having to pay to travel and attend an entire conference.

      Definitely food for thought – ideas to chew on.

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