SPABC: the flipped panel format

Last week I wrote up our gladiatorial format for conference panels: kind of working, but needs some re-thinking on a number of fronts.

This time, I’m going through the flipped format, which I think has a lot more immediate promise.

For those too lazy to follow links back, the original idea here was to try out some different ways of running panels, because they’re often, well, boring. Perhaps changing things up might improve that.

So happy…

The format

This is just like a flipped classroom, but for conference panels. The presenters were required to record a video presentation of their paper and upload it to a public location – YouTube was suggested: no limits on length, content or approach. The videos were then publicised by my and the conference organisers.

Then, in the panel itself, each presenter was limited to 5 minutes of speaking and a maximum of 2 slides. The idea is to free up much more time for interactive discussion than usual.

How it unfolded on the day

Compared to the gladiator format, no-one really seemed bothered by the format: the audience didn’t have to do anything different, and the presenters had done their heavy lifting well beforehand.

The flipped presentations were all ready a week beforehand, hosted on a variety of platforms: lengths ranged from 35 to 55 minutes, so well beyond what we could normally do in the panel. Links here, here and here.

We did have a late addition to our panel, who presented in the conventional 15 minute format, but we still fitted all four papers into 45 minutes (including introductions/explanations of the format).

Feedback from the audience

The audience seemed pretty happy with the format, both in the discussion and in the short survey I ran afterwards.

They liked that there was more time to discuss and that they could refer back to the full presentation later on (only a few had watched the presentations either in full or in part beforehand).

However, there was repeated pleas for this to have been made clearer beforehand: several requested links sooner. To put that in context, all panellists tweeted about it for a week beforehand; the conference organiser added links to the abstracts in the programme and mentioned it in the general emails sent out to all delegates; plus we told lots of people about it in person.

Which highlights that academics aren’t necessarily as different from students as they sometimes believe.

More consequentially, when asked to rate whether this format was more engaging and/or more informative than the usual format, the survey respondents were rather tepid, rating it only slightly better on both metrics. This compared to a much higher rating for the gladiatorial format, which might be down to the interaction of the latter, or to the substantive content (L&T for the gladiatorial; Brexit for this one).

Feedback from the presenters

This format needs planning by presenters: you can’t just rock up on the day and wing it [ahem].

Because our conference was early September, and I had annual leave beforehand, I needed to get my presentation together in July, plus think about how to do the short version in person.

I was lucky that my university has a lecture capture system that I could use on my computer: giving a mix of my talking head and my slides (OK, it took a couple of attempts to make it look as it should): colleagues didn’t have that and so either had to try some editing of bits of video, or just have a disembodied voice over the slides.

Unlike the others, I also decided I’d not recycle my slides into the panel presentation, but would make one new slide to capture the core idea of the paper. That worked very well for me, but it might have been tricky to do for others.

However, we all felt it worked, making us got to the point in the panel (even if that might be tough in such a short time). Yes, it’s clearly more work than a normal panel, but there was a strong feeling that it was more useful for us too.

Looking at tracking stats, I can see my presentation has been accessed over 70 times already, which is well above the number of people in the room. Sure, that tracking also says not many of them watched the whole thing, but I’m still getting a bigger footprint than usual.

So, does it work?

Yes, yes it does. With some tweaks.

If I did this again – and I really think I would – then I’d add some more guidance on all the elements.

The video presentations might have some (generous) time limit to them: 45 minutes seems plenty, especially if you consider you’d normally have 15 to deliver it. If there were some free video capture software – suggestions, anyone? – that allowed face-and-slide capture, then that would also recover a big barrier.

On the panel presentations, I’d reinforce the rule on time and slides, and maybe ask that people didn’t recycle slides from the video, in order to get them to consider how to pull together the main aim of the paper into one place. Maybe it’s not always possible, but it’s worth a try: I certainly got to think about my paper rather way because of it.

As for promotion of the format, I struggle to see what more could have been done this time. Perhaps the solution would be to have a series of panels in a conference using this, so that more people knew about it: maybe one per session, leaving a collection of papers for the conference organisers to promote and archive.

Of course, you then need a bunch more people to buy into it, but it’s not the most difficult thing. Maybe you offer some kind of inducement to encourage people.

The limit is that if everyone does it, why bother going to the conference at all? That’s why I’d pick-and-mix across substantive topics, so it show-cases the conference, rather than replacing it.

Further ideas

One option we discussed in Lisbon was using this as part of a virtual conference or workshop.

You could pre-record full presentations and get participants to watch ahead of a webinar debate/chat: that way you don’t have to keep people sitting on their arses for ages while just listening, but instead you can pitch them into debate quite quickly.

If you’re thinking about carbon footprints – and you should be – then this might be one way forward.