Jul 17, 2008

ED-Media 2008, Vienna > disappointing

I went to ED-Media 2008 in Vienna, presenting my paper about Delft OCW (Open Courseware >> project I graduated on @ Delft University of Technology). Clearly, I was thrilled to do that, but it kind of resulted in a disappointment. Having a handful of people listening to your story cannot be the reason for coming to such an event and travel so far. A bigger disappointment was the conference itself: it was so large, so chaotic, treating so many different subjects, and so diverging in quality, I ended up attending too many uninspiring or even disappointing presentations. Even the get-together of people was virtually non-existent: there was not really a place to hang out and get together. Moreover, the whole event was organized in three different buildings that were not too near to each other.

Overall: an uninspiring conference, and I would not go again. Although I am young, and have not attended many conferences, I have to say that all conferences, both online and offline, I have experienced in the past, were much better, and left me with many new ideas, contacts, and lots of inspiration and motivation. This one did not.

This disappointment is one, but think about all the people coming from all over the world to attend this conference. There were heaps from Asia, South-America and Australia, from the US, Mexico and South-Africa, next to European people. This costs an enormous amount of money. Let's calculate:

# of people: 1000+ people
average travel + hotel expenses: €1000 to €2500
abg. conference fee: €400

This amounts to more than 2 million euros spent collectively to attend this conference. Additionally, people get paid by their host institution to be here, meaning that another half a million to a million euros is spent: almost €3 mio for this conference (1000 persons). Can this be justified? Can all the CO2 emissions by these people be justified? As I experienced it, I would say absolutely not. It lacked interaction, inspiration, quality, and focus ...

I suggest the organization to radically change to setup of this conference, or it will die a slow death.

  • Online & Offline! Start by blending online and offline interaction, change the whole "presentation" thing: instead each person to present gets 2 minutes to introduce a discussion. Also, people need to upload a short 2 or 3 minute podcast or video to explain their talk on the conference website. Going online is a possibity as well, clearly (before, during, and after physical events). I attended 2 great online conferences organized by George Siemens, so learn from him.
  • Focus! Try to have one topic at a time, and decrease the size of the conference. You could do this per day as well.
  • Social! The most interesting discussions are held not in the presentation room, but afterwards. Support these interactions in nice rooms (not necessarily in a conference building, can be a park or coffee-room or someone's house as well), with tools and through funny, interesting, and interactive sessions &c.
These are just three ideas. A traditional conference can still be very engaging, but please don't make the same mistakes as ED-Media.


  1. Andreas Meiszner8/10/2008 1:08 PM

    Hi Thieme

    Your message at FB today reminded me to have a look at your blog again.

    Regarding the above mentioned experience IMO this entire conference thing is a bit like an “all-inclusive” tourism industry for academics.

    Academics need to present their results, thus need to go to conferences – than you arrive there and what happens is exactly as you describe: high quantitative turnover of presentations, POINT.

    I discussed this with some people at a conference last month and basically this entire conference scheme is pretty much out of date in a networked world we are now living at. I mean all of the papers and presentations and information should be available BEFOREHAND – so you can go through the things you are interested in and than DISCUSS THEM AT THE CONFERENCE with others that are also interested in your work and ALREADY KNOW ABOUT IT.

    But for this to happen I assume it will need a generation break, since those people currently organizing all of this conferences are unlikely to change the concept – as they are equally unlikely to cause any innovative changes to our educational systems.

    It’s a bit frustrating to see the waste of resources within the educational / academic area, IMO it’s not just the conference thing – but the entire higher education sector, like: (1) The antique copyright concept that kills creativity and exchange (but hey publishers need profits) or (2) The focus on developing (with public funds) yet another educational software instead of looking at the human side of TEL and what really is happening out here at the web (too complicated and anyway most people in the education domain appear to come from the IT side - erm ever went to a car mechanic that works as a dentist?) or (3) the assessment and quality "assurance" system (ok, would take too long to go into this in detail).

    Won’t go further here and spoil a nice sunny Sunday.

    So long

  2. you don't spoil my sunday afternoon at all.. always good to bring these things out in the open.

    thanks for the comment.

    cu online!

  3. hello,
    i stumbled upon your post & i totally agree. edmedia vienna was a disappointment. hope someone in the organizing committee read your suggestions. - ywk