Is It Possible to Have an OUTPUT Session at a Conference?

As someone who has rarely missed attending the Jerusalem ETAI Summer Conference over the past 26 years, I can certainly say I firmly believe in the benefits of attending conferences.

Photo by Omri Epstein

I still haven’t filled out the speaker proposal form because a question has been bothering me.

Do conferences have to be devoted solely to “input”? One goes from session to session, sets up an attention device and prepares to receive input. That is the pattern. Sometimes there will be more than one speaker, sometimes questions from the audience will be answered but the pattern remains.

Is it possible to have an “output” session?

Perhaps I could suggest a few topics to be voted on before the conference over our teachers’ mailing list. Let’s take “Error Correction” as an example of a topic chosen.

Perhaps there would be a session (or one on each day?) devoted to hashing out a set of Do’s and Don’ts related to that topic that could be posted on the conference site after the conference, as a combined effort teachers output of that particular conference. I think the number would have to be limited – we would have to come up with no more than seven or ten strategies / attitudes that are recommended, and the same number which most certainly are not. If we use this example we would perhaps need to produce a separate document for talking and writing. Short lists will be a useful document to have as an “output”.

In addition, having a limited number will make it more into an interesting discussion or debate. While I would call on everyone to be very polite, accepting everything said (sort of “anything goes” attitude) will not lead to an actual meaningful debate over what is effective or less so. Actually, its adding the element of polite dissent to brainstorming (I posted about this here).

On the other hand, this seems a very risky proposition.

I don’t know if teachers are as interested as I am in debating issues of classroom strategies.

I don’t know if the number of teachers in a session at a time should be limited for such a thing.

I don’t know if I can moderate such a session and keep the discussion on track and civil.

I don’t know if I’m simply trying to recreate the amazing dynamics of an #eltchat at a face to face conference without the help of the marvelous moderators we have there.

Has anyone encountered such a session?

22 thoughts on “Is It Possible to Have an OUTPUT Session at a Conference?”

  1. Hi Naomi,
    I’ve never seen a session like this, but it does reflect a little an idea I thought while at our local conference in Brno last year. I wondered if we could do a kind of trouble-shooting session (probably, like you, trying to recreate Twitter), where teachers shared issues they have in their classrooms, and other people in the room try to suggest solutions. There would have to be some kind of time limit on the speakers to avoid one person taking over the session, and you’d probably need limited numbers.
    What do you think?

  2. Hi Maomi,
    I agree with you and I remember my first Iatefl where one of the things I loved was the debate that went on and there doesn’t seem to be so much of these days. It seems such a waste when you think of the audiences you get at conferences, and what a resource we could be for each other.

    In 2010 I thought the Interactive Teaching Fair format at Iatefl was the answer and I took part in it. Ere was more interaction with the audience but it was still very presenter centred.

    Maybe we need a different element to conference which is simply discussion groups or chat groups round certain issues, which then publish their conclusions… MYbe, who know? I think I feel a blog post coming on 🙂

  3. Sandy and Sharon,
    I’m so glad you understand what I mean. Its very encouraging.
    However, it isn’t encouraging that you haven’t encountered such a session.
    As you said, Sharon, the audience at a conference is such a big resource!
    Sandy, just thinking out loud here, I think someone discussing someone’s problems is harder /riskier face-to-face than in some online setting. Those of us who feel confident easily turn to our online PLN for help but often the assistance is exapnded on over private emails or such with the people who really can help. But then again it might work- how will we know if we don’t try?
    Thank you both for helping hash out this idea!

  4. I like this idea. It’s basically a focused discussion. The resulting document could then be published on the ETAI website and in the ETAI Forum and even shared with our regional TA’s in SEETA. I think it would be very useful for many teachers.
    Terrific. I hope it happens!

  5. great idea.
    live twitter-ish feedback. QandA’s
    Open Panel
    It could also be filmed and uploaded – in order to watch the dynamics

    love it

  6. Very interesting, Naomi. We should certainly discuss the idea to flesh it out a bit more. Do you want me to run it by my conference co-conveners? They liked the idea of a symposium like the one we did last year. This year I toyed with the idea of organising a symposium on Dogme but since I couldn’t find a true Dogmetician (intl’ speaker) to attend I’ve given up the idea.

  7. You all are giving me energy to try and submit the proposal!
    I also thought that an output session could lead to a printed product.
    Wow! you are already running before I’m walking! If the proposal gets approved, will you be there to help out? I think two moderaters would be more practical here as writing (and erasing) must be done. I don’t know about the filming though – its the first time!
    I would be thrilled if we could discuss this some more. I don’t want many speakers, as in your symposium, I want the audience to be the resource. However, I don’t know what time frame to ask for. I think it should be more than an it would take time to hash out the right wording and winnow out the things we won’t use.
    Most urgent advice needed is how to word my proposal!

    Thank you all for your support!

  8. One way that we have dealt with this issue at the TESOL Convention in the U.S. is by a type of session known as a Discussion Group. In this format, the presenters serve as facilitators by introducing a topic, described in the program, and inviting the participants to talk about it. The challenge with this is that often, the participants would actually prefer to hear what the presenters have to say, rather than share their own ideas!

  9. Mura!
    I was so excited to read your “rant” – there seem to be so many possibilities to unleashing the power of the audience and making the conference going experience so much more meaningful! Thank you for sharing this with me!

    Thank you for describing the session at TESOL. I think the fact that here in Israel our conference is smaller could be an advantage. Many more of us know each other. And we like to talk! In addition, if the conveners allow I would like the topic to be chosen in advance over our mailing list. I hope that will generate interest and a desire to participate.
    Thank you for sharing this with me, I feel very encouraged!

  10. I’m guessing the conferences you’ve been to haven’t explored the Open Space Technology style sessions ( It’s in some cases been dubbed the “anti-conference” approach and is quite popular in Educamps here. Basically, participants propose burning questions at the beginning of the day. They are they collated into particular group topics and individuals roam to and fro among these spontaneous groups, led by each who attends, sharing knowledge as they see fit. In a nutshell, that’s its appeal.

    1. I have heard about what you describe ( I think there was an edcamp last year that many people were tweeting enthusiastically about) but I have certainly not encountered it here. The English teachers seem way ahead of teachers in all other subjects as we have had these conferences going on for years as grass roots thing, with a vibrant email list which others don’t seem to have. Yet we are a small bunch of “communication minded” teachers in a small country. I honestly don’t know if an ed camp conference could work here. My goal at the moment is something way smaller.
      Thank you for broadening my horizons here!

  11. It doesn’t have to be big. At one conference I went to, they had 3 plenaries initially, then the OST for everyone, then 3 concurrent workshops after that.

    Still, you’re right. People will feel uncomfortable on their first try. I did. I still do, a bit. Honestly, it’s not my favourite style, but it’s a nice change once in a while.

  12. I’ll let you know how the conveners react to this first idea. Who knows where it may lead to?

  13. I have never attended such a session either, and like you I would love to take part in one. I think being able to produce something that could later be shared in the conference’s website, that could give practical ideas to teachers is a wonderful idea.

    Maybe a conference organizer will pick this up? 😉

    Thanks for the great post, Naomi!

  14. Thanks so much for stopping by Ceci!
    I’m not waiting for the conference organizers to read my blog – I must sit down and write down my proposal before Sunday! I hope I can explain it convincingly enough…

  15. Will try that, Ceci! It is going to be an unorthodox proposal anyway, have nothing to lose!

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