Volume 11 · Number 1 · Pages 98–105
Designing Academic Conferences as a Learning Environment: How to Stimulate Active Learning at Academic Conferences?

Johan Verbeke

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Abstract

Context: The main aim in organizing academic conferences is to share and develop knowledge in the focus area of the conference. Most conferences, however, are organized in a traditional way: two or three keynote presentations and a series of parallel sessions where participants present their research work, mainly using PowerPoint or Prezi presentations, with little interaction between participants. Problem: Each year, a huge number of academic events and conferences is organized. Yet their typical design is mainly based on a passive way of sharing knowledge. No models for an adequate conference design and an appropriate learning environment are available. The overall conference design, however, is a crucial aspect in the learning of the participants and deserves special attention from conference organizers. Method: I have organized around 15 carefully designed conferences (and attended many more. These have been the steps of an ongoing exploration to learn from each of these events and develop a deeper understanding of adequate conference designs and stimulating learning environments. This paper reports on my understandings of the organization of a selection of these conferences (in architecture, arts and design) and on the way knowledge sharing and knowledge development was stimulated at these events. These conferences included less traditional conference designs, collective learning and explicit sharing of understanding between participants. Results: Collaboration in small groups and joint plenary discussions, plenty of time for interaction and generous feedback to presenters turn out to be very valuable for consolidating knowledge and envisioning future developments in a discipline. Also, it is our experience that the presence of design objects as a trigger and catalyst for discussing and learning makes a huge difference in sharing and developing new knowledge. This paper aims to highlight the importance and raise awareness of different methods of stimulating the construction of knowledge by conference participants. I hope it will inspire future conference organizers and help them to induce more deliberate knowledge construction amongst participants. Implications: Insights from this paper are relevant for all conference organizers, especially those in the domain of architecture, arts and design. It has become clear that it is beneficial to have exhibit-type presentations as well as moments of collective learning. Organizers are recommended to adopt an explicit conference design. Constructivist content: Following a constructivist approach to learning environments, this paper stresses the importance of scheduling moments of active and collective learning and knowledge construction explicitly during academic conferences.

Key words: Conference design, collective learning, collective tutoring, knowledge construction.

Citation

Verbeke J. (2015) Designing academic conferences as a learning environment: How to stimulate active learning at academic conferences? Constructivist Foundations 11(1): 98–105. http://constructivist.info/11/1/098

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