On 20th July 2022, we co-hosted the international Active Learning Network conference. The conference programme and recordings attest to the high quality workshops and presentations. In this blog, we share our reflections, as conference organisers, of the processes and planning leading up to the event itself. We also share some suggestions for future conference organisers.
When discussions started about hosting the 2022 conference, both the University of Glasgow and Coventry University made tentative expressions of interest. As we talked through the logistics of an in-person event (finding a suitable space on either campus, lining up sponsorship or finding a source of funding, the uncertainty of in-person events during a pandemic), we realised that an online event would make more sense, also opening the conference up more easily to delegates around the world. And so the decision to co-lead was made. With hindsight, this model of two institutions as co-leads of an online conference was the best decision that we made.
One thing that we were very keen to do, as a conference team, was to capture some of the things that we learnt along the way. So here are some of our suggestions, in no particular order:
- Start early: Everything will take longer than estimated and time will get away from you.
- Draft a timeline and stick to it as much as possible (we started with the date of the conference and worked back from that).
- Maintain a shared online account of meetings and actions; we also feel that sharing this with next year’s conference organisers will be valuable.
- Schedule regular (but not overly long) meetings: Having a date in our diaries helped us to keep to our timeline.
- Get buy-in from your institution: As well as getting ‘permission’ from our line managers, we contacted senior staff from our institution: Dr Andrew Turner, Pro Vice-Chancellor, Curriculum Development at Coventry University and Professor Moira Fischbacher-Smith, Vice Principal of Learning and Teaching at the University of Glasgow. This gave our conference an official ‘seal of approval’ that was noted by many delegates when they formally opened the conference for us.
- Have a conference team, rather than trying to organise it alone: we were a group of three from UofG and one from Coventry. Going forwards we would suggest that it is important to find a group of people who are willing and able to invest the time to the conference and commit for the whole process, as we were.
- Ensure that you find a group of colleagues (from the ALN) willing to help with reviews and act as chairs (and backup chairs!) for the conference. We’d suggest putting together a wider conference ‘committee’ with volunteers from the ALN for future years.
- We used a Google Form for submissions for the conference. While this was easy to set up and use, the review process did take a fair bit of time, and the possibility of a more automated system could be explored (at the time of writing Easychair is only free for up to 20 submissions, but it would make the whole process much easier).
- Be prepared to disagree and discuss: As a cross-institutional team with diverse viewpoints, we feel this was a strength in making the conference as best as it could be, and we respected each others’ contributions.
- And finally, enjoy the conference. It was such a privilege to be part of such a supportive and creative network of educators focused on enhancing the student learning experience through active learning.
We are still looking for the hosts for the next year’s conference. If you are interested in finding out more, or would like to volunteer, you can contact the ALN via email.
We’re super excited to hear about plans for next year!
Sarah, Vicki, Frances and Christina