Less conformity and more interference – four playDUcative elements for better conferences

Less conformity and more interference – four playDUcative elements for better conferences

exploring: the Design in Education Conference
engaging: out of the box interaction
learning: content is King – but the way to deliver it makes the Master!

18. February 2011 by Bea Beste

A conference is a conference is a conference. Let’s get it straight: I’m actually fed up with them – and becoming more interested in unconferences (there are a few exceptions, of course…). Basti in his youthful enthusiasm however just didn’t give me the option to keep up my ‘been there, done that, got the t-shirt’ attitude. And there were four elements of the Design in Education conference that I found valuable and playDUcative at the conference organized by Kiran Bir Sethi and theRiverside School:

Get out of the box: Air and brighten the day

Do you know this long-haul flight feeling that comes with the typical, darkened air-con conference room? Of being too tired to stay awake and too uncomfortable to sleep? The typical conference room was built when overhead projectors couldn’t compete with daylight – this was the 70s and 80s, but most of conferences just go with this standard. You can’t believe how happy I was to start this conference outside. The wonderful setting in the courtyard of the NID in Ahmedabad gave us freedom of mind and spirit.

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Partnership is ownership: Spontaneous depth

Research has shown (a little inside joke) that networking and getting to know each other is one of the greatest benefits of conferencing. To experience the Design Thinking approach we worked and played for an hour with a person we hadn’t met before. We interviewed each other and found out our needs in order to design an object that suits our partner. It’s amazing how quickly you get beyond the typical small talk if you’re asked to. My partner was a remarkable personality: With Taral, a founder of nurseries, we went from talking about the perfect design for a wallet, which was our task, to the notion of freedom and happiness, to what we expect from friendship and what you find out about yourself while you travel.

I had to think about Helena Curtain, a remarkable woman and a renowned bilingual expert, who gave us at Phorms, a couple of years ago, a great talk. One of her first takes was “choose a partner!” – so people were put in teams of two with the person just sitting next to them. During her speech, she used to ask the people to quickly share something with their partner, to ask them something, to exchange a view. A perfect trick to keep an audience tuned, engaged and entertained! 

They are part of the game: Your customer as a facilitator

This conference was about learning and children and here they were: At the registration desks, as speakers, as workshop participants – at the very core of what’s happening. They had a voice, a presence and responsibilities. It wasn’t about “them” – it was about “us”. And thus, less throwing phrases like ‘education of the 21st century’ or ‘inquiry-based learning’ around and more clear thinking about what kids need and want.

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Amazing vibes and magic moments: Dance and Drama

A conference needs the moments of entertainment, a little bit of “sparks and fireworks”. We had it all in the evening, in the beautiful setting of the Riverside School in candlelight: A dancing performance of the kids at an extraordinary level of perfection. Besides the pure enjoyment it reminded me about what dance and drama can contribute to making people confident and strong.

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But not only the youngsters, I could have imagined having us all moving around – as experienced at TEDx Berlin with Dr. Peter Lovatt who managed to get a whole audience of around 400 people to joyfully move to his rhythm. 

And what about the content? Of course, I learned a lot: About Design in Education, about initiatives and innovation. But, what really stays with me is the way and the spirit in which the content is delivered. This spirit of this particular conference has been shaped and continuously powered by Kiran Bir Sethi. Her presence was all over the place – and she didn’t hesitate also to jump into a workshop and take ownership and leadership when her energy was needed. Thank you Kiran and your team!

(This blog post is dedicated to a couple of people to whom I’m very thankful for amazing and highly valuable conference experiences: Dr. Antonella Mei-Pochtler for her One-and-Only BCG Brand Club, the worldwide EO Team and the local chapters for EO Universities, the BMW foundation around Markus Hipp for the Young Leaders Gatherings, and Stephan Balzer, Jörg Rheinboldt and Stephanie Igunbor and the TEDx Team in Berlin and Hamburg).

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