When you attend a conference, either online or in person, do you have a strategy for getting the most out of it? Sometimes it's not possible to attend all talks due to concurrent sessions. Hard choices have to made about the best way to use your time.
I have heard that some people choose sessions based on the syllabus. Talks that have very thorough handouts are skipped in favor of ones that have little on paper. I can understand that but at the same time it seems counter-intuitive to me. Perhaps the talk with the weak syllabus also has less substantial live content.
Over the years I have developed a quirky but very specific way in which I choose the sessions that I go to.
1) Rock Stars - I hate to use that term but it fits. If I'm at a conference where Elizabeth Shown Mills or Dr. Thomas Jones is speaking I will likely not miss the opportunity to go to see them. I would even go so far as to watch the same talk multiple times at various conferences. There are some people you just need to hear if you have the opportunity.
2) The Geography Factor - In a time slot where there are no rock stars I will then fall back on geographic selection. If I'm at a regional conference in New England I will choose to watch the presentation by the speaker that comes from the furthest away. The logic is that I will likely have access to local speakers at some other point during the year. Speakers from far away are much harder to see in person. If they have made the effort to come from a great distance I will return the favor by attending their presentation.
With online conferences we don't have the same physical restrictions as we do with in-person conferences. We can attend from the comfort of our home through the internet. An online conference still forces us to make choices. Are there concurrent sessions that we must choose from or is it a simple matter of prioritizing which sessions we watch first?
1) New Topics - My basic strategy for prioritizing online conference watching is to choose the content that I know nothing about. It may even be on topics that I will likely never research. Something new, however, will hold my interest more than a topic I already know about. And even if it seems out of my research area I will very likely get some new ideas or strategies that I can apply to my own research.
2) Same Topics - This may surprise you but after watching the topics I know nothing about I will head for topics that either I think I know everything about or I have already heard someone speak on.
For instance, last Saturday I heard a presentation by Walter Hickey of NARA Northeast Region (Waltham, MA) give a talk on the coming 1940 US Federal Census. Then on Wednesday, I listened to the webinar on exactly the same topic by Thomas MacEntee. Many of you are likely shaking your heads and saying that is a waste of time.
It's not really. The explanation I received of how high school is different from college is that in college you learn critical thinking. Critical thinking is necessary for evaluating sources to come to a more informed conclusion.
When I watch a presentation on one topic and never take advantage of further talks on the same subject then I am learning with a one-sided viewpoint. By hearing two speakers on the same topic I can evaluate better all the information I received.
I admit I was a bit hesitant to hear both Walter and Thomas present on the same topic. I worried that perhaps one speaker might disappoint me. In reality what I heard were two excellent presentations on the same topic. I learned that individuals will approach topics from different viewpoints and provide different solutions or suggestions for tackling research. I was amazed that two talks sharing the same basic limited subject could be so different from one another.
So in this strategy I would seek out presentations on topics that I've already been exposed to in order to help me better evaluate the information.
Hopefully I've given you some food for thought. What are you conference learning strategies like?