How Might We Innovate The Tired Old Education Conference ? Use Complexity Thinking

This Friday and Saturday the DLTV Education Conference take place. I have been fortunate enough to have played a role in its organization and direction. logo@2x


This Friday and Saturday the DLTV Education Conference take place. I have been fortunate enough to have played a role in its organization and direction. 

I am a believer that the traditional conference format needs to update to actually reflect contemporary thinking regarding how we best learn.

Self-directed learning, network learning, self-managed learning are all terms I have spoken of many times and they are all key to my work in attempting to bring transformation to our education system and assist in the natural evolutionary process of our system. These terms represent significant developments in understanding the nature of knowledge and how we as humans best learn. They are also terms that have increased in general usage within western education as the metaphor of the internet makes concepts such as “networked learning” something that is more tangible and readily understandable.

Knowledge never resides in the individual it resides in relationships. Those relationships are what build up networks. That is where knowledge resides. It is a key point to understand that dramatically shines a light on many of the outdated practices we continue within current schooling, practices such as lesson plans, teaching that is based on content or information transferal, learning that supposes an idea of linearity, adherence to top-down developed curriculums, and almost all the hierarchical structures our entire system is built on, including teacher as expert, but also many other power structures are seen within traditional schools and in our departments as a whole.

Interestingly enough almost all education conferences also adhere to these traditional, somewhat tired structures.

I am organizing the Gaming in Education Stream at the DLTV conference and I thought I would try something different with this stream, something that actually represented my thinking about learning.

Let me state again, knowledge does not reside in individuals, it resides in networks.

Complexity thinking says that a highly functioning network, or system, will have a number of key properties. These include:

  1. There will be a nonhierarchical structure (no centralizing controller),
  2. The network will self organize,
  3. There will be a mix of order and disorder, too much of either is disastrous, too much order leads to stasis and death, too much disorder leads to chaos and death,
  4. There will be strong internal communication built into the system,
  5. The system will communicate based on prior memories and new understanding developed through the communication,
  6. The network will be open.

When these are in place emergence arises. Emergence is a phenomenon that cannot be predicted by looking at any of the data that makes up the individual agents within the system. Emergence, in my mind, is another word for pure creativity – it arises from the system, NEVER from individuals. Emergence is new knowledge.

Complexity thinking is the theory that has given rise to such terms as “self-directed learning” and the phrase, “teacher as a facilitator not a teacher as expert”.

So…how do you apply this to a conference. Well, we asked for people to submit expressions of ideas they were interested in presenting about and everyone who spoke somewhere in the region of Gaming in Education, we grouped together. That is an example of forming the initial network.

Self-organization – I then decided to throw out the idea of structured session/timetables as that is an example of top-down limiting hierarchy, I tried to put in into place as much openness as possible, I facilitated a number of potential internal communication devices with the group (video conferences, email, Google +, etc) but while I facilitated, I never imposed any structures on the group. Furthermore, we were conscious and comfortable with the rule of order and disorder (the network must be sitting on the edge of chaos but never slip in) and then I watched what happened.  I think this group has “self-organized” in an amazing way.

We have a number of participants that, in the normal conference style, would just have shown up and delivered their PowerPoint presentation on the great work they had been doing at their schools. That is because the “normal conference”  reflects a form of top-down hierarchy – it has been predetermined and it almost forces the style of presentation. By removing this the participants in the Gaming in Education stream have now all met each other, discussed their ideas, changed, teamed up, evolved thinking, reorganized their presentations, and are now are collectively presenting with others. They are aware that they are part of a system, not just individuals. They have actively participated and the system is creating new things – Emergence.

There has been a general commitment to making our stream experiential so now everyone is bringing things to ensure that all participants in our stream are immersed in an experience.

In regards to the variety of games and learning about games, there is cross-collaboration within the group. There will be games happening in the assigned rooms there will be immersive games happening throughout other stream spaces and in fact, there will be one large overarching game happening throughout the entire conference. If you are at this conference you will be involved whether you’re aware of it or not. There will be formal and informal talks, presentations and who knows maybe we might even get spontaneous and impromptu presentations by audience members (for use of a better term).

This is also an example of the group wanting to allow the further participants in this new network – the conference audience  – to also now be able to actively participate in the system, and enhance their learning and the learning of the group. We are all co-learners.

Emergence – it is already in evidence through the way the collective presenters of this stream have come together and it will continue to evidence itself throughout the entirety of the conference as more and more participants actively get involved. Emergence is new knowledge.

This is how we learn and develop. It is what I always speak of when talking about what learning actually is, it is key to the work I do assist schools as they attempt to change themselves to better represent contemporary thinking, and hopefully it will be represented in this small attempt to evolve the conference format. It will emerge because we have allowed for the above-mentioned things including; self-organisation, no hierarchical dominance, and encouragement for active participation in knowledge construction.

If nothing else it’s great fun!!

A big thank you needs to go to all the amazing presenters/co-learners in this stream including Dan Donahoo, Jess McCulloch, Roxanne Ciddor, Michael Ha, John Pearce, Nathan Connors, Vincent Trundle, Sayraphim Lothian, Robert Reid form Popupplagrounds and  Kalani Robinson. They have done all the collective learning so far. I just tried to allow for it to happen. Now it’s over to you, hope to see you there on Friday and Saturday.


See you at DLTV 2014

See you at DLTV 2014

5 thoughts on “How Might We Innovate The Tired Old Education Conference ? Use Complexity Thinking

  1. Kynan, I am reading your blog post with much interest. I also design alternative conference formats, such as the Flat Connections Conference held in Sydney a month ago where both teachers and students come together to learn with and from each other.
    I believe your ideas about emergence that lead to experiential learning are valuable – especially in the climate of a traditional conference format as you describe. I would also encourage you to consider how you will network with ‘presenters’ and participants before, during and after the event via an online medium (could be as simple as a Twitter hashtag). Sharing of resources and ideas in real time is one thing – but sustaining those connections and building on ideas can be done through effective use of technology ans asynchronous communication (I love the Ning platform and used that in Sydney recently –
    In addition I encourage you to keep pushing the envelope in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them’. In a truly flattened learning environment participants must feel as though they have a voice and can contribute and that their contribution is valued. Typical ‘unconference’ opportunities or ‘smackdown’ sessions encourage this.
    Finally, referring to your statement again, “…knowledge does not reside in individuals, it resides in networks.”, consider also what can be jointly built at the event – building knowledge through the network is a powerful learning experience, and one that usually takes the average educator out of their comfort zone initially. I refer in particular to the theory and practice of Connectivism by George Siemes and Stephen Downes.
    Good luck with the conference this weekend – reading the DLTV program it is very obvious your ideas and approach are quite different to the other strands!

  2. Pingback: Episode 6 – DLTV, Laptop Leases, Extra Curricular Conundrums & Teacher Blunders | 2 Regular Teachers

  3. I can’t believe that I missed this post. I think that I must have flicked it out of my Feedly by chance. I could not agree more with your sentiment about knowledge creation Kynan. Although I didn’t work as closely as I could (or should) have with those in my stream, I did at least work with Steve Brophy in the development of our session and this was a priceless experience. What I found was that it not only forced me to consider things more closely, but actually consider different perspectives. I think that something was started this year at DLTV which I believe will only get better the more we embrace connectivism and emergance. As I stated in my post “The smartest person at the conference is the conference.”

  4. Thanks for your comments Julie and Aaron. Its an interesting point the one I make about knowledge creation Aaron (BTW it’s not my point). It is quite an abstract point and one that takes a little while to fully understand but for some reason it seems to really rile teachers up. I think it seems to”attack” their predetermined concept of what it is to be a teacher and therefore the sense of self identity. I find it quite a liberating attitude especially from a teaching perspective. It frees me from the sense of the individual and ties me deeply back to the group.
    I think the conference went quite well, the stream we were running created a bit of buzz, some positive, some negative but I would prefer that than a nonplussed acceptance of the status quo.

    Thank you both for your support.

  5. Pingback: The #DLTV2014 Conference | {et al}

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.