A new kind of Drupalcon session
by Barry Jaspan
What is the purpose of sessions at Drupalcon? Why do speakers put in the effort to give them? Why does anyone attend them?
I believe that the purpose of sessions at Drupalcon is to spread knowledge about Drupal. The speakers put in the effort because they genuinely want to teach the material, and people attend because they genuinely want to learn.
I've attended the last ten Drupalcons, and I've presented sessions at nine of them. To a large extent, every session I've given has been the same: I give a lecture based on some slides for about 40 minutes and answer questions for about 20 minutes. Practically every session at Drupalcon is like this; heck, practically every session at every conference is like this! I like think people find my sessions useful, and usually the feedback has been positive. However, for a long time, I've had a nagging feeling that few people really learn what I am trying to teach.
The fact is that all the education research in the world says the same thing: lectures are a terrible way to convey information. We all know what happens at lectures: we try to pay attention and follow along; we think we are getting it, but can't be sure because we are only passively listening instead of doing it ourselves; we tune out when the material is boring, confusing, or unimportant to us. Passive listeners do not learn anything.
This time, I want to do something different.
My session in Denver, if accepted, will actively engage the audience in learning. The attendees will work together in small groups to accomplish specific goals; they will literally have their hands on a keyboard working on live systems; they will discuss and problem solve and figure things out for themselves. When the session is over, they will have really learned what they came to my session to learn.
Another way to think about my session is that it will be a lot like the "trainings" that are offered on the day before Drupalcon. However, this session will be free, part of the normal Drupalcon program, during the normal Drupalcon session days.
This kind of active engagement teaching cannot be accomplished in a single hour. I asked the Drupalcon Denvder organizers if I could have a three hour block (e.g. a morning or an afternoon) in order to offer this new kind of session. They liked the idea enough to consider finding additional space for up to six such "workshop" sessions, one each morning and afternoon during the conference, so that other people have the opportunity to offer them as well. I hope that happens; I would love to see this new kind of truly educational session become a common occurrence in Denver, and a standard part of future Drupalcons as well.
My session proposal for Drupalcon Denver is Site Develoment Sanity Hands-On Workshop: Build Your Site Like the Pros. If you like my idea, please vote for it!