For the last twelve years, I have been pondering on whether to keep going to national and international conferences or simply stop doing it. Reasons for stopping have been piling up, yet I can’t seem to find them convincing enough and probably, deep down, I still hope things may change for the better.
Although I surely don’t know much about the amount of work and nerve-racking implied by organising an international conference, I can’t pretend not to have noticed some aspects which, unfortunately, have prevented this conference from being a complete success. Among the several reasons behind this post, two stand out: a. to point out some mistakes, which might help others when organising a similar event and b. to unveil some reasons why a conference might be less successful.
Much as I might feel tempted to do it, I’ll refrain from giving specific names. Here’s the short list:
1. The venue – “Petre Andrei” University is a new building, with only two elevators on the ground floor (one of which did not work) and two more on the first floor, to be used by 250 participants at the conference if they wanted to get to the sixth floor, where the auditorium was, or to the different floors where the workshops were located.
2. The plenaries – Thirteen plenaries in two days, some of them running one immediately after the other, with no break whatsoever… and probably three hours of sitting down on a chair wouldn’t be that bad if who you’re listening to really has something interesting to communicate and gives you the feeling you’ve learnt something new and you’re taking home some food for thought. Well, the reality is saddening… A NEST beginning his talk with a reminder to the audience of who he is, how great he is, what coursebooks he’s written and how good friends he is with … [dropping names] and when he finally gets to the topic of his talk, it turns out to be more than 50% a commercial presentation… Another NEST presenting new activities to be done in the classroom, completely random and disorganised, culminating with an adaptation of “This little piggy went to market“, only his little piggy went to… eBay!? Another NEST, who has become a regular in the conferences in Romania although he has long stopped saying anything new, is just adapting the same old – same old he too got so fed up with that he has even changed his initially enthusiastic attitude towards the audience and nowadays his performance is more and more cynical and sarcastic… Luckily, there were several NESTs whose plenaries never fail to be both interesting and challenging and who keep attracting large audiences and make it worth attending the conference.
3. The workshops – What initially was announced as four concurrent sessions of 10 workshops each, ended up in the same number of sessions, but with 12 workshops each. Audiences to the workshops varied from 0 [zero] participants in several rooms – including that of a NEST presenter!!! – to a maximum of 45 in the international speakers’ rooms. Surprised?
4. How the numbering of the workshop rooms was done beats me – imagine Room No. 4 next to Room No.10, on the landing between the second and the third floors, Room No. 6 on the eighth floor, etc. That wouldn’t have been such a big problem, hadn’t the organisers changed some workshop rooms with just 15 minutes before a workshop session was due to start… Imagine, again, the embarrassing situation when, after changing rooms, a workshop presenter standing in front of the classroom sees two people coming in, says “Hello! Come in, please! Thanks for being here!” and the two people look at each other wondering what the hell is going on and then say “We’re sorry, what workshop is this? We were looking for Mr. X’s room, isn’t he going to have his presentation in this room? Oh, they’ve changed the rooms? Do you happen to know where we can find him? You don’t? OK, no problem, sorry, we’ll try and find him…” Now multiply this situation by five presenters who were forced to change rooms and around twenty people looking for each of the workshops they wanted to attend. I’ll let you do the math…
5. The workshop rooms – With large windows and no shutters or blinds or shades of some kind, comfortable as the rooms may have been, the bright light made it very difficult to see the PowerPoint or MovieMaker or Internet-using presentation projected on the shiny whiteboards… So much work and time invested in making a good presentation, wasted in an hour of bright afternoon sunlight. Oh, but the view of the sunset was amazing!
6. The publishers – The publishers’ book stands were spread over two floors, most of them aligned along the walls and/or the stair rails, leaving a narrow path for the participants to pass by. I said ‘most of them’ because there were two exceptions: one publisher who got the largest space and could display everything they wanted and another publisher who, being told that there was no need for them to be at the conference venue earlier than 10 a.m., got placed right next to the elevators, in sort of an end-of-hallway, facing the entrance to… the toilets. Was this publisher being punished in some obscure way? I wonder… If that was the case, well… they deserved it: they sponsored only two authors to come to this conference!
Do I sound unfair? I am being unfair, of course! The organisers have put many a sleepless night into the RATE conference, the circumstances were not favourable at all, the initial venue for the event had to be changed due to financial issues, they wanted to please all the publishers who sponsored authors to participate in the conference and all the teachers who took the time to fill in a speaker’s proposal, thus making it all a very busy event, and pretty crowded, too.
I know it’s a lot easier to criticise than to get your hands dirty in the doing of it all and I’ll apologise if I sounded critical, it was not entirely my intention… If it had been, I would have given names. Although I am sure I actually don’t need to, because those who were there know exactly what I am talking about here and those who chose not to be there will understand they have no reason to regret it too much.