While going through my inbox the other day I clicked on a link about an upcoming conference in my area; I was hoping to find out a bit more, but also saw that they were still seeking proposals. Having been on both ends of the request for proposals, I'm always interested in to see what different organizations ask for.
The request was pretty standard, until I got to the section on AV requirements; the form specified that standard AV equipment would be provided, including overhead projector and VCR/monitor. Presenters were asked to bring their own LCD projector, if possible.
About an hour or so later I got another e-mail, asking me to participate in a conference program described as "Battledecks meets TED."
The first call for proposals was like almost every call I've ever seen, until I got to the AV section. The only distinguishing feature was the listing of technology that I did not think was still in popular usage
The second call was also very similar to requests I've seen. Except in this case the distinguishing feature was how they described the "feel" they wanted a presentation to have.
I go to a lot of conferences (fewer this year than in years past, but I still have several under my belt), and I have a pretty extensive online network for resources and ideas. And there is a lot of overlap in terms of sessions, topics, ideas, and even attendees. Which is great. But even with that overlap, different conferences and different online communities often end up having a different feel for me. Despite being able to get the same types of information from many different places, I often feel myself pulled towards particular learning communities.
I'd never given that much thought, but seeing these two very similar--and very, very different--calls for proposals so close together brought the idea to the forefront of my mind. While these two conferences are likely to have a significant overlap of ideas, there's only one I'm interested in attending (just to be clear, it's the "Battledecks meets TED" one. Because, obviously).
There are a lot of ways to present and share the same information. I've been to sessions (or read articles) on very similar topics that leave me with very different feelings. In one I may walk away feeling energized and ready to put an idea into action; in another I may walk away feeling like I've just been chastised for being behind the curve.
I'm thinking about this more consciously as I "Mark All As Read" some blogs in my Google Reader, while reading and reflecting on others. I pore over every article in some journals, while casually flipping through others before tossing them aside. I make plans to attend (in person or virtually) some conferences, while saying, "Eh, maybe some other year" to others.
When I talk to my students about research, I tell them that the issue I most regularly faced when doing research in high school was not being able to find enough information; that is, most often, not the challenge they face. The challenge they confront is focusing and narrowing and separating the wheat from the chaff.
I'm working on applying that idea more consciously to my own professional research. Finding ideas and information is no longer the challenge. Finding a professional network that inspires and challenges and supports me is. And this is not just about surrounding myself with people who share all the same ideas--I want to be surrounded by people who push my thinking in new directions, without making me feel like I'm a failure if I'm not already doing X, Y, and Z.
So I'm trying to more consciously look for the feel I get from really inspiring conference experiences from my online networks. Do they leave me feeling overwhelmed? Underwhelmed? Inspired? Chastised? Excited? Encouraged?
The right network for me will be the wrong network for someone else. But I should be as discerning in selecting my sources as I encourage my students to be in selecting theirs.