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A new kind of Drupalcon session

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!


Posted on by admin04.

+1000. It is for the very reasons you outline in your post that I actually cut down on my session attendance at the last two camps I attended. I want to *learn* and *network*, not just hear about stuff and wonder if I ever will apply it - especially when sessions are recorded.

So, in a sense, the stuff that can't be recorded (like this) would be of the greatest use to me and probably many others.

Posted on by Lindsay Roberts.

If this is accepted they should most certainly have a video for download that captures the whole room, unlike most drupalcon sessions where it is slides and voice over. Personally i think all drupalcon presentations should include the presenter with the option for the user to download the slides.

Posted on by Frédéric Marand.

This was something we experimented with at DC Paris: I did a workshop-type session like this on the Views API (4 hours, free). Attendance was overwhelming, meaning there were really too many people trying to attend, and I did not have enough time to cover the full expected material, because in such situations the number of questions increases with the number of participants, unlike traditional lectures.

If such a session is accepted, you will likely want to either limit attendance to fairly low numbers or be ready to cover only a small part of what you would normally cover in the same duration if attendance is significant.

Posted on by Barry Jaspan.

Thanks for this info; it confirms exactly what I was suspecting about the number of people, time required, and amount of content. I do think this kind of active engagement learning works best in a "depth first" way in which less actual stuff is covered more deeply and thoroughly instead of having more stuff covered shallowly. The former results in people really learning about less stuff, but the latter results in people really learning no stuff!

How/where was your 4-hour session held? One of the concerns for Denver is that holding a single 3-hour session takes up 3 times the space as a 1-hour session, resulting in fewer overall sessions. I think they are trying to solve that by finding additional space just for this kind of workshop, but info from Paris will be useful.

Posted on by Frédéric Marand.

The session was on the monday of the conference, before the "official" start on tueday, meaning one of the smaller rooms (about 40 seats, IIRC) was available for the whole afternoon.

Originally, this had been part of our (DC Paris team) plan for the paid training offering I had imagined for the conference, but this was too new an idea at the time and we did not succeed in organizing it, so this session was eventually offered for free and was the only one to be actually performed. Paid training on the first day of DC really took off DCSF 2010.

Attendance went up above 60, but people without seats mostly left over the course of the session, and only seated people remained to the end.

Posted on by Ben Jeavons.

Thanks for describing this, Barry. I'm very interested in seeing these sort of offerings and as an organizer of DC Denver I can say that we're talking about how best to make it work. I'm not certain a standard session in the way that we're currently handling them is the best method for this, because of scheduling and room setup, but I want to find a way to something like this happen.

Posted on by Daniel F. Kudwien.

Good idea. Kinda tangential to the Mentoring Sprint idea being discussed for DrupalCon Munich 2012:
http: //www.unleashedmind.com/en/blog/sun/mentoring-sprint

Small but important difference tho: the Mentoring Sprint idea isn't really intended for the average/regular "consumer" audience (of typical sessions on Tue-Thu), and instead, people who want to contribute only.

But aside from that, it's going to be interesting to learn from these workgroup sessions, and I really like the idea!


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