Costly conferences are dead. Long live Twitter!

Conferences

As the fresh school budget comes through, and your thoughts turn to the replenished CPD pot, you begin to wonder, “what conference shall I go to this year?” A quick Google search and a couple of signed forms later, you’re jotting the date into your diary, and fantasising about your day of freedom: no bottom set year nines last period, and no break duty. Just you and a hotel lobby full of fellow escapees.

And then that day comes. You get up at 4am to catch the bus to the nearest station, in order to get the train to the bright lights of [insert major British city here]. And in the event that your train is not delayed, you find yourself in your reserved seat by 6, warm pain au chocolat in hand and bags under your eyes as dark as your black, Pumpkin Café americano. This is, you realize, a bloody long way to go to be talked at, only to come all the way back six hours later with little more than a free pen and a splitting headache.

Conferences can be fun. I’ve listened to many inspirational people, and made a few acquaintances that have opened doors for me. But not all conference presentations are made equal. Some are woefully boring. And this is a risk you run when you go to a conference. Your initial interest was based entirely on the titles of the presentations, which later seem to provide little indication of how interesting or useful the talk was actually going to be. You may find yourself simply watching the clock, counting down to that free lunch.

Lunchtime arrives, and so begins the awkward procession around the buffet tables. You try not to touch elbows, and you avoid staring at the people in front of you loading their plates with flabby slices of ham, undressed iceberg, and coagulated coleslaw. Clutching your plate, you then face the next hurdle: where to sit. You came on your own, and so far have met no one. Other people seem to have come in groups, and are arranging themselves around circular tables for ten. You must either sit with a group, or near a group with a mutual agreement to avoid eye contact. If you opt for the former you risk becoming a sounding post to a conference junkie who spends the entire lunch break gleefully advertising his/her professional teaching prowess and bewailing the Tories. Once again, you watch the clock, this time counting down to the afternoon sessions.

The rest of the day slides by in a bromidic blur until you end up at the same railway station from whence this day began, waiting for your bus home. You aren’t sure whether you enjoyed yourself. You enjoyed the change, that’s for sure, but do you feel invigorated? No. Inspired? Not £300+ worth of inspired, no.

And for me, that’s the problem with these expensive, top-down conferences run by private or semi-private education companies: they’re too darn expensive for what you get. I recently ran a Teaching and Learning session on ‘Why everyone should start using Twitter as their CPD’ (see attached PPT), drawing heavily on the excellent article by Erin Miller recently published in The Guardian. In it, I promoted the fact that Twitter had laid down the gauntlet to these expensive conferences because:

  1. It provides a fantastic exchange of ideas in a never-ending stream;
  2. It levels the professional hierarchy experienced in schools, allowing you to have professional conversation with educationalists of all ranks and creeds;
  3. It keeps you up to date with all the latest education news;
  4. It keeps you motivated to be the best educator you can be;
  5. It’s entirely free and can be accessed whenever and wherever suits you.

At a time when everyone is worried about the financial squeeze on schools, it seems fair for finance departments to call time on these expensive rackets. With travel and transport costing well into the hundreds, we must acknowledge that these conferences have been draining school funds with little demonstrable impact. Alternative gatherings are increasingly taking centre-stage that are using Twitter as their promotional medium; grass root conferences and ‘Teach Meets’ are being organised all across the country by the likes of ResearchEd, WomensEd, and entrepreneurial individuals. And because the presentation programmes are often brilliant and the prices are low, they are attracting great numbers. This is hitting the costly conferences, which are increasingly being cancelled due to poor registration figures.

When it comes to students, we all agree that education should be for everyone. So too should this be the case for the educators. For CPD to be truly accessible for all, it needs to be free or reasonably-priced so that we can develop our professional capabilities whenever the need arises. We are fortunate that Twitter and/or through these grass root meetings are making this possible, and that expensive conferences are finally being kept in check. So long, and thanks for all the ‘free’ stationery!

Twitter CPD Presentation

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3 thoughts on “Costly conferences are dead. Long live Twitter!

  1. Hi Jessica, thanks for pointing me to your post. Both an enjoyable read, and particularly for me, an interesting perspective which might inform my research.

    Not a big fan of the ‘costly conference’ then? 😉
    My reading then is that you’re setting Twitter as alternative or antidote to address the problems with (Formal? Top-down?) conferences?
    Can you say what it is about *Twitter* specifically that provides the benefits you’ve outlined? Why not Facebook or other social media for example?

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    • Yeah, gladly! Let me first start by saying that I am more of a Facebook user by default and, since coming into teaching last year, I joined many Facebook groups dedicated to all matters teaching (Teacher Toolkit, Teacher Life, We Are Teacher, Teacher2Teacher etc.) However, I soon found that they were all prone to sharing either just their own material and/or not especially exciting material (especially clichée memes about teaching!) so I stopped really paying attention to them.

      Since a colleague espoused the virtues of Twitter, I thought I’d give it a go. Having written my first blog article about fidget spinners, I thought it might be wise to do a bit of self-promotion. So, I put the two media to the test: I shared my article on Facebook (obviously thereby sharing it with all my friends and family) AND sent it to a couple of the aforementioned teaching Facebook pages asking whether they’d share it. I also, in the meantime, shared my article on Twitter.

      The positive response was immediate on Twitter. My article was picked up by both TES and The Guardian, and received many likes and retweets. Meanwhile, on Facebook, I had some loyal friends and family members ‘liking’ my post, but very few shares and absolutely no interest from the Facebook pages.

      Thus (to return to the original point about its advantages) we come back to my point in the article about Twitter being a great motivator; obviously, the more your work gets read and promoted, the more compelled you feel to continue writing. This is what IMO gives it the edge over other social media which, though they may also be free, keep you up to date, act as a social-leveller etc., do no give you that exposure. It may simply be that I am not using Facebook correctly for self-promotion, but I feel that self-promotion on that site would come at a cost of my social privacy. I use Facebook for social interactions and Twitter for my professional development and interests.

      As for other social media, I’m afraid I’m really quite ignorant; any hints or tips would be most welcome! 🙂

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  2. Thanks so much for this detailed and fulsome reply Jessica; I really appreciate it.
    Your experimental approach appeals to my former physics teaching sensibilities 😉 but what an interesting result. Greater reach, quicker response and a more meaningful outcome for your needs.
    I’m interested in your reference to “clichée memes” – I think I know what you mean, but could you give me an example and say why, for you, they have a negative association? (Would understand entirely if you prefer not to say here)
    Hints or tips for other social media? That would depend on which aspect of your professional practice you wanted to target. I’ve always found social bookmarking tools (e.g. Diigo https://www.diigo.com/ useful for saving & shariing links, and of course connecting with similar folks laso sharing links). I know a lot of teachers find Pinterest (e.g. https://uk.pinterest.com/teachers/) useful for capturing and sharing images, both their own and those they find. And one on the rise at the moment, particularly in the US and in Australia, but yet to get a foothold here is Voxer (https://www.voxer.com/) – like Twitter, but audio. There are some great communities of supportive educators growing – try googling educators of voxer for examples. Maybe you could start the first UK chapter … 😉

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