HEA STEM conference 2014

A couple of weeks ago I attended the HEA STEM conference in Edinburgh.  I was a bit out of my comfort zone for a couple of reasons – first because I’m a philosopher, and STEM scares me a bit, and second because the presentations (I was doing two) were all in a Pecha Kucha format.  Apart from the fact that nobody seems to know how to pronounce these (and thanks to @niall_barr for sourcing this inspirational video for me):

I was also slightly nervous about having to talk in strict time for the first time to slides we’d written such eons ago (the deadline for the slides was about 2 months before the conference – why?) I will say that, as a conference delagate, I’m not hostile to the pecha kucha format.  It does force presenters to kep to their alloted time and to allow for questions and I approve of that (too many folk overrun and I think this is slapdash at best and arrogant at worst).  It’s really not hard to talk for exactly the time one has, no more, no less, and nobody’s words are so precious that they can’t be cut down.  But I do think the conference organisers could have, well, organised things better:

  1. Having to send the final slides so far in advance meant, in effect, that we submitted a fairly bland set of slides.  In the case of both of my presentations, my co-presenters and I were talking about very recent/ongoing experiences.  We didn’t have our conclusions ready at the time of submission, so we had to guess what we were going to want to say.  Sure, we could have limited ourselves to writing a “safe” presentation, but we don’t work like that (who does?).
  2. One of the conference organisers justified using this format to put the emphasis on the performance, not the content.  No, just no.  While I like a slick performance a) that didn’t happen and b) content IS important.
  3. The requirement was for either 20 slides of 20 seconds or 10 slides of 40 seconds. This was fine for us but I heard others wanting a mix of timings to the same overall length.

In the event I only presented once, Sue opted to fly solo for hers as she felt happier not having to fit timings around anyone else.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it would be, as our sides were general enough and Shazia and I decided not to worry if we were out of sync with them.  Interestingly, though, while Sue hated the format and thought she was awful, Niall and I appreciated the fact thatg she had to keep to her script for once, so there’s that.

So, there’s a part of me that really, really likes other people having to present ina pecha kucha format as it keeps them to time and possibly toscript.  However, I think you need to have a good idea about the final content before writing the slides, and that often is not possibl, or desirable.

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About Nomad War Machine

Philosopher, Doctor Who lover, knitter, anarchist. Gets paid for being a Learning Technologist at the University of Glasgow. I am interested in theories and models of co-operative learning, in particular the Jigsaw Classroom, and I have just started a PhD about that sort of stuff. Twitter: @NomadWarMachine
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