more conference/classroom cogitation

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So today Aaron Swartz has a post in his weblog on "How to Run a Good Conference." Once again, I find myself thinking about what happens when you substitute "classroom" for "conference," "students" for "audience," and "teachers" for "speakers"...

1. Speech is a bad medium for communicating information. (This one is due to Tufte.) Speech can't be stopped and rewound, it can't be carefully examined, it can't be slowed down, it can't be paused, it can't present complex concepts, and it's really very low bandwidth. Just use paper. Tufte suggested giving the audience a bunch of paper that communicated the important information and have them read through it before hand.

2. Speech is a good medium for dialog. (Also due to Tufte.) Speech is best used for interaction. Are you sure that's correct? Have you seen this? Why didn't you go this way? Smart people love discussing things with other smart people, especially when the others are informed (see point 1). Let them!

Every conference I can think of gets these two things backwards. They use valuable face-to-face time for worthless presentations by people who are not particularly entertaining and even if they were are saying things you already know, and then try and stifle discussion (one question per person, sir!) and shunt it off towards lunch or something (we don't have time for questions now). Hello? What did all these people come out here for? I can watch infomercials at home just fine, thanks.

3. Get smart people and encourage them to talk. Now this one is a bit difficult. Most conferences seem to use a large mass of "normal" people (the "audience" to subsidize the "special" people (the "speakers"). Since I tend to be in the latter group and don't have much money, I sort of like this. But the annoying side-effects are that "special" people don't get to discuss things with each other and "normal" people waste everybody's time by asking stupid questions. I'm not sure how to solve this. Maybe only let "special" people ask questions? I suspect this would seriously hurt the feel of the event.

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This page contains a single entry published on December 9, 2002 4:34 PM.

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