Getting Long-lasting Effects from the Shortest Talks #2016DML

rushing through a tube station

I wasn’t at #2016DML this year, but I participated via Virtually Connecting (a presentation of ours and three rich hallway conversations – all available here) and watched some of the live/recorded sessions (keynotes and Ignite talks playlist here).

This isn’t the first year DML had this Ignite talk format (also sometimes called lightning talks, they’re very brief time-limited talks where presenters follow one another without pause for Q&A), and other events have done them (e.g. (OLCInnovate had a lightning talks group as keynote, AMICAL 2016 had lightning talks), so I wanted to reflect on this format, even as I prepare to include some sessions in it at our upcoming CLT symposium at AUC.

I find these intense lightning talk formats extremely exhausting – one idea firing after another without room to recover and reflect (and that’s saying a lot coming from me because I am very fast-paced and a hyper-active learner – I can’t imagine how people more reflective and thoughtful than me survive them!) but especially after #2016DML, I am converted to their potential usefulness. With caveat that even though I believe academia can benefit from brevity sometimes, I don’t know if I could have absorbed all these ideas in real time (because I was watching recordings, I could pause sometimes and it helped).

What makes a good lightning talk? In my view:

  1. Asking good, strong questions. Robin DeRosa asked us to consider what public education really means and the role open education can play. Christian Friedrich asked us how we can help refugees hack the German education system. Rhianon Gutierrez asked us to question whose voices we are listening to and whom we involve in the process (of inclusive design). How simply and boldly these questions are phrased makes all the difference.

  2. Making provocative suggestions and connections. Kim Jaxon asked us to rethink large vs small classes, to see them as different but not necessarily better or worse. She talked about how experiencing connected learning online (and finding friendship/intimacy is possible even in large groups), and how humans actually seek being part of large groups gave her ideas of how to make large f2f classes pedagogically beneficial. Jason Engerman introduced the idea of playcology. Laurel Felt talked about the benefits of using playful improv in classes (something I am definitely planning to build on this semester).

  3. Hitting our hearts and spurring us to action. Kate Green’s talk made me very emotional and I think she is making a very personal and specific point which can be abstracted to larger issues of digital health literacy/citizenship (terms I learned from Rebecca J. Hogue, her cancer blogging, and her ePatients initiative). Also Rhianon Gutierrez talked about inclusive design in powerful ways. I said hitting not touching our hearts because the short time frame won’t work for a gentle touch.

  4. Engaging formats. Nick Ross rapped his talk (this was extra cool for me because I engaged with him on Twitter earlier when he was still considering it, and getting feedback from the Twitterverse, and I hadn’t known him before that). Jonathan Worth last year had the audience engage in a physical empathy exercise. Kate Green did some polling in her talk that also promoted empathy.

  5. Opening up dialogue and providing space for people to engage beyond the very brief time of the talk. Christian Friedrich wrote a blogpost and added a Google doc. Kate Green blogged her courageous talk, which steers towards how we can “move people from a position [of] misperceived privacy to a position of agency”. Remi Kalir blogged his talk on web annotation and it can be a great resource for introducing it in a workshop or class.

In summary? Too many good Ignite talks in a row will make your head spin in pretty uncomfortable ways. But speakers asking good questions, making provocative points, using special formats and hitting hearts – all of these have lasting effects. And many of them are inspiring calls to action. They Ignite something within us. I would use many of them in my workshops (especially Remi’s) and classes.

And for goodness sake, if you ever give such a brief and exciting talk, please do leave us a blogpost so we can find a place to keep talking to you about it!

Flickr photo by Markus Meier CC-BY-NC-ND

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