Five suggestions for future VICEPHEC meetings

It is great news that there is going to be a Committee of Elders looking after future VICEPHEC meetings. Here are five suggestions on the structure of this conference:

  1. Structure discussion time – discussion time needs to be structured into the programme. A good rule of thumb is to have at least half of the time allocated to presentations as discussion, so a 10 minute talk should have 5 minutes discussion, a 30 minute keynote should have 15 minutes discussion. Discussions should be structured by Chairs, perhaps with prompting questions (in the case of keynotes) and questions on a theme (in the case of oral presentations). Where possible, allow for some think-pair-share talk before the Q&A and discussion with the group. If the conference is going to be streamed, discussions will be one of the main reasons to come along. Also, there is a pretty healthy backchannel at these conferences, with a bit of thought could be brought into discussions (e.g. up-voting question apps, etc).
  2. Simplify the presentation formats – at the moment we have keynotes, oral presentations, oral bites, and posters. People submit for one (e.g. a presentation) but get allocated another (e.g. a bite). The original idea of bites was that they would be a quick and easy talk about a “good idea” or something that people wanted to quickly share. But bites now are mostly mini talks, where presenters squeeze their 15 minute research talk into 5 minutes. Now that we have posters, let’s get rid of bites. Make all presentations 10 minutes long (+ 5 separate minutes of discussion). Keynotes for a one-and-a-half day conference should be 30 minutes (+ 15 discussion). Chairing needs to be ruthless. The poster session on Friday morning worked great, and perhaps giving poster presenters 60 seconds at the end of Thursday to pitch their poster would help attendees navigate to posters of interest the following morning.
  3. Have a single stream – perhaps most controversial (ooooh); I think the conference would benefit from a single stream. It keeps everybody together; keeps that sense of discussion going, and means the conference as a whole can start to generate some overall headline outcomes in advancing the disciplines, rather than just a series of lots of little things. I think the keynotes and oral bites sessions (given to one audience) show that single streams are beneficial. Parallel workshops do make sense, but given the shortness of the conference, one hour workshops are more appropriate.
  4. Guidelines for presenters – there is a variety in style and quality of presentations and for people new to the discipline, it would be useful to set out what different types of presentations are valuable, along with guidance on structuring these. This is especially important for people transmuting from bench chemistry type conferences into education conferences. This guidance should be available at abstract submission stage.
  5. Bring in external voices – I think it was useful having an external voice this year (someone not directly from chemistry or physics education) and perhaps that should be a continuing feature. What can we learn from leaders in other disciplines, learning and cognitive scientists, career guidance people, industrialists, primary and secondary educators, students themselves…? I’m guessing quite a lot.