Today was my 4th year attending to an ASE Annual Conference, and my first without any sort of requirement to do a presentation, be on a stand or, indeed, turn up at all. But this year, as in all previous years, I’m glad I made the effort.
People like me (the non-teaching periphery of science education) love the ASE conference as it tantalisingly dangles the opportunity to do 3 things:
1) Tell lots and lots of teachers about our wonderful activity / bit of kit / book / website / other thing that is probably the answer to all their prayers. Probably.
2) Listen to lots of teachers, and hear about current priorities and practices in science education.
3) Bump in to a plethora of contacts we haven’t seen for months (perhaps since last conference) and have a good natter.
I always go wanting to speak to lots of teachers but never end up speaking to many of them, regardless of the capacity in which I attend. This year I was just there, part of the crowd, with people on stands hopefully / desperately asking me as I walk past “are you a teacher?”. I offer some apologetic reply indicating that although I’m not a teacher, many of my friends are. I can feel their disappointment.
There is just so much to do, see, discuss and discover at the conference, the place is oozing with CPD opportunities. And therein lies the problem – there’s simply too much on offer. I spent a day just in the exhibition tent today and barely got round it all. The main conference programme is overflowing with sessions, it’s impossible to know where to even start. ASE seems to gorge on the sessions that are put to it during the call for proposals, whereas other conferences are much more selective. When you spread yourself too thin, the quality of the experience will inevitably suffer. Maybe it’s time for a cull, or at least for ASE to be a bit more picky about their conference sessions?
Or maybe it needs a new approach? Because absolutely one of the best things about today (and about all other ASE conferences I’ve attended) was the unconference - the make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach of a tweet-up (#asetu if you’re interested) and the impromptu discussions during tea breaks and taxi rides. It’s the magic that happens when a bunch of committed, enthusiastic people with a common purpose get together in one place and talk about stuff. The excitement of new ideas and approaches mixed with experience and sage advice – if ASE can bottle this and make it function as an event then they will convert a frustrating conference into the absolute must-attend event of the year.
And then maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a few more teachers there to talk to.