Conferences are the lifeblood of knowledge exchange in academic disciplines, business, and government. This really hit home for me a few years ago when I was interacting with colleagues from Senegal. While I generally have more conference options than I can attend (and certainly more than I can afford to attend), my colleagues informed me that in a continent such as Africa, academics look with envy at the rich conference options available in other regions (notably Europe and US). The value of conferences goes well beyond listening to a few keynote speakers and attending paper presentations. The value rests in connecting directly with researchers and practitioners from around the world and forming connections for future exchange. A good conference can be field defining and offer attendees an opportunity to get a broad overview of trends and technologies within a discipline.
I’ve been reflecting on my experience with conferences in Canada. Generally, they have not been positive. I’ve organized events on social media, learning analytics (the most successful one), big data, and recently, educational technology innovation.
Basically, the conference circuit in Canada is dead and/or dying. At best, it just sucks. At least this is the case in education and educational technology. CNIE is slowly dying. CNIE was formed from two organizations (AMTEC and CADE) that were also dying. Our flagship national conference on education innovation struggles to get 100 attendees annually. Earlier this year, together with a group of folks from across the country, I organized EdInnovation. We had an outstanding group of keynote speakers – easily the best of any conference I’ve seen in Canada in 2013 (forget that – the best I’ve seen in ed technology this year). We managed a meager 105 attendees – a number that includes several complimentary passes. And this also include several attendees as part of an NSERC grant during the conference to bring researchers and startups in conversation with one another.
I’m debating whether an EdInnovation14 is worth the effort. Mostly, I’m just curious why the Canadian conference circuit is so anemic. We have many innovative practitioners and researchers. We have a strong startup and entrepreneurship culture nationally. It makes no sense to me that we can’t build a strong culture of knowledge sharing. Apparently, we have to go to US or European conference to do that.