Final report and lessons learned putting on our first flipped learning conference.
Having taken a few breaths since our inaugural Illinois Flipped and Blended Learning Network Conference at Huntley Illinois on June 15th and 16th I am surprised to announce that I have only a few apologies and zero regrets about our inaugural conference
But first the numbers
We had two days of conference the first being to our hands-on workshop sessions and the second day being a mix of both traditional one-hour presentations, hands-on workshops, and half hour speed sessions. Attendance for the workshop day was around a 160 people of the 175 registered to attend, more on that later. The primary conference day we had approximately 210 butts in seats at any given time as best we could count for my registrations and body count at lunch and keynote. Day one ended up with 7 Workshop rooms for both to our sessions. On Day 2 there were eight presentation rooms going every hour on the hour plus a flip video light board creation room that ran all day. If you combine all of that time with the one-hour combined Keynote we had 84 unique hours of professional development available to conference attendees. We also Periscoped one workshop and one room of special guest and speed presentations, meaning 8 hours of online content live that day as we simply maxed out space we had available on site. It also means that I have 8 hours of video to process to get posted on the ILFABN website for future reference due to the generosity of all the folks involved. https://ilfabn.wixsite.com/ilfabn
A BIG thank you
Big thank you and unanticipated appreciation to Sonny in charge of the local Subway for not just accommodating our increasing orders, but delivering well beyond expectations with personal service and flexibility when a credit card company decides to decline a $1,300 Subway bill because it’s 4 hours away from the home address of the card holder. In the credit companies defense, that was probably a good call on their part, but we really needed some sandwiches. This was one of those details that is far more important than initially anticipated, ensuring that the food supply and payment process is fully worked out well in advance of the conference with vendors that are motivated and flexible.
A near miss
Our boots on the ground, Gerry, did a tremendous job of getting all of the on-site details ready and having the tech worked out to ensure that our conference went off without a hitch… until the head tech guy goes on vacation and the guest Internet is not set up until 20 minutes till conference time. Having the boots on the ground that know who to call, where to find them, and how to get things fixed is an absolutely critical component to a successful conference.
An opportunity for improvement
Volunteers are critical, and ours were great, but having more volunteers than you think you need is probably a really good idea. We had a great student panel about flipped learning during lunch and it was great having their input. Although, we would shift the time and location for that panel to better allow people to focus on what the students had to say. What we also needed was more hands available for running errands and doing 1000 little things would definitely been a plus. I think by the end of the conference the attendees felt we brought Dave Walsh, @collsphisistry, in from New Jersey just to be everybody’s techno gopher.
Harry Truman had his famous sign on his desk that said “The buck stops here” if you are a conference planner or organizer you are responsible for all the bucks and ensuring they all get to where they’re going. My wife is an accountant by trade and it’s great having two other guys that I can trust as we openly negotiated moving money between all the places it needed to go. We used Eventbrite as our registration management site and overall were very happy with our decision to use their services. Their work works like every provider that we did not enjoy but with hindsight we could accommodate some of those quirks more easily.
A few surprises
As mentioned earlier we closed registration as we maxed out our facilities on both days. We were very pleased with how well the facilities reserved for a conference of 100 people adapted to over 200 but felt we needed to better accomodate interaction and collaboration space. We were surprised that there was a 5-10% “no show” percentange from registration to attendance. After talking with David Prindle, of many many teaching conferences, this is apparently normal.
The other major surprise is how many people reported that in our attempts to make a conference “outstanding… and affordable” we underpriced our registration at $45 for two days. Both in-person feedback and online survey feedback indicated that while those present felt they recieved great bang for their buck, the low price came with a stigma of poor quality. More than one admin mentioned that they were scared to send more people to the conference because the price did not sound like the price for a quality event. This one blew my mind as I am a dedicated clearance rack shopper and my district is very tight with professional development funds. Our potential solution to this is to use the department store method of making the retail price higher with deep discounts and online sales to keep it affordable. I guess the marketing people have trained even educators to look for high prices and deep discounts.
The best part
In my opinion, the very best part of a good conference is what happens outside the sessions. While lunch is an opportunity to interact and collaborate, we purposely planned informal evening gatherings surrounding our event. As our budget was $0 for social activities, we simply chose a well stocked bar or restaurant as a gathering place for after hour collaboration. Whether you are attending a conference with co-workers or strangers step out on a limb and get out around a meal or some drinks because that is where the best collaboration happens. I don’t drink and am not a social person by nature but this is the biggest aspect we want to develop and nurture because just as flipped learning is about relationships, professional development means being relational with other educators.
I apologize I have not processed more of the video yet. I apologize that lab stools are hard on tushies. I also apologize we didn’t get the air conditioning turned on the night before. However, I have no regrets about the inaugural Illinois Flipped and Blended Learning Conference. We have already lined up a keynote and have had requests from sponsors who want to be a part of next year’s conference. I have no regrets and have enjoyed the adventure.