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Going to Conferences

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Going to Conferences

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We talk about the pros and cons of attending professional conferences related to engineering education, including South by Southwest EDU (SXSWedu), whose deadline is coming up! Teacher Rachel Fahrig gives tips on how to make the most of your time at conferences and suggests some good ones. This episode was recorded at Black Walnut Cafe in Austin.

Our opening music comes from "School Zone (radio edit)" by The Honorable Sleaze, and our closing music is from "William Henry Harrison High School Fight Song" by Steve Combs. Both are used under a Creative Commons Attribution License: creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Subscribe and leave episode reviews wherever you get your podcasts. Support Pios Labs with regular donations on Patreon, by purchasing digital teaching materials at the Pios Labs curriculum store, or by buying a copy of the reference book Engineer's Guide to Improv and Art Games by Pius Wong. You'll also be supporting educational tools and projects like Chordinates! or The Calculator Gator. Thanks to our donors and listeners for making the show possible. The K12 Engineering Education Podcast is a production of Pios Labs.


The following is a transcript of an episode of The K12 Engineering Education Podcast. More transcripts for other episodes are linked from the podcast main page, k12engineering.net. Extra information about the episode, including links to relevant resources, are listed in the show notes, which can be found on iTunes, SoundCloud, or your podcast player.

Transcript of:

The K12 Engineering Education Podcast


Going to Conferences

Release Date:




[Pius Wong] This is The K12 Engineering Education Podcast for July 18, 2016.


[00:10 Pius]  If you’re an educator, engineer, entrepreneur, or parent who’s interested in getting kids into engineering at younger ages, then this is for you.  I’m Pius Wong, and today Rachel Fahrig and I are talking about the pros and cons of going to professional conferences related to engineering education.   We’re recording in a café, so there is some background noise.

 [music fade out]

[00:39 Pius]  Hi!

[Rachel Fahrig]  Hi! 

[Pius]  Hi, Rachel.  How are you doing?

[Rachel]  I’m well.  How are you Pius?

[Pius]  I’m doing good, and hello to everyone listening.

[Rachel]  Hi!

[Pius]  We are recording in Austin, Texas, here at Black Walnut Café, and thanks to the café for letting us record.

[Rachel]  Thank you Black Walnut.

[Pius]  And we were just talking about conferences related to engineering education.

[Rachel]  Yes, I’m so excited.  Tell them what we just did.

[Pius]  We just set up our application to present at South by Southwest [SXSW] EDU.  If you haven’t heard of it, you should check it out on Google.  What is South by EDU?  What do you know about it?

[Rachel]  Oh gosh.  South by EDU is so much.  It’s multiple conferences, all rolled into one.  There are talks.  There are forums.  Panel sessions.  There are expert sessions that last half a day, all day.  There are hands-on interactive sessions.  It’s amazing.  You meet so many people.  You do so many things, and you learn so much.  There are so many takeaways that you can put into your classroom, your home school, your business, your industry. 

[Pius]  You’re really selling it.

[Rachel]  I love South by, and I love South by EDU even more, because you also don’t have to handle things like portapotties.

[Pius]  Yes, it’s not as big as the other South by sessions, because there is South by Interactive.  There’s South by Film and Music.  And they’re all cool, too.  You should totally check it out, but, yes.

[Rachel]  But South by EDU is where we’re going to be, and that’s the more important point.

[Pius]  Well where we’re hoping to be.

[Rachel]  We hope, yes.  We don’t know yet.

[Pius]  Keep an eye out for applications later.  It’s cool because the public gets to vote on what sessions they want to see.

[Rachel]  Yup.

[Pius]  And we’re going to submit stuff on electronic quilts and electronic textiles. 

[Rachel]  And? [laughs]

[Pius]  And also improv for engineers and designers, and bringing art -- and integrated art and STEAM into the classroom.

[Rachel]  Yes.  Into your office.  If you’re in the industry, I mean, if you’re a professional engineer, you know you have to have a certain amount of creativity, and you have to leverage that creativity in a certain way.  Those are really fundamental tenets of improv.

[Pius]  Yeah.  I need to have a whole podcast just on that.  I know a guy.

[Rachel]  [laughs]  You know a guy?

[Pius]  I do.  But, that said, like, I just wanted to talk about that bigger questions, because we might be enthusiastic about South by, but I guarantee you – I’ve been to several conferences now, in engineering education, and so have you…

[Rachel]  Yes.

[Pius]  And I feel like some conferences are more worthwhile than others.

[Rachel]  Oh that is the truth.

[Pius]  So we’re not going to explicitly bash conferences here today.

[Rachel]  No.

[Pius]  I will praise South by EDU, but even South by EDU has its advantages and disadvantages.

[Rachel]  Sure, they all do.

[Pius]  Yeah, yeah.  For example, in my view, I always wondered – I mean there’s a hefty price tag, I think, for South by and a lot of other conferences, and I wonder, as an engineer developing my own stuff, is it worth it to pay the money and pay for hotels, fly out there, and go there, especially when my fear is: OK, I present some idea, and everyone hates it.

[Rachel]  Right, so you’re looking for a specific return on investment.  It’s interesting when you’re talking about knowledge or any other sort of human capital, you can’t assign – I’m sure technically you can assign a dollar figure to it, but it’s very difficult to say: this is the dollar value that we’re going to get for our time, our travel, things like that.  What I will say is that my experience with any sort of conference, whether it’s educational or trade or otherwise, is that it really takes careful planning on the participant’s end.  So are you exhibiting or are you just going for a learning experience?  If you’re going to learn, are you sharing that knowledge with other people in your company, in your group, in your industry, in your region?  What are you doing with the knowledge that you’ve gained?

[Pius]  So come in with a goal.

[Rachel]  Absolutely.  You never want to sign up for presentation at a conference or even attending a conference without having specific outcomes in mind.  So as we go through the planning process, what is that you need to take away that’s going to add value and/or just in general be important?

[Pius]  Yeah.

[05:03 Rachel]  Then decide, is that – Are those goals, or is that body of knowledge or that set of skills attainable in some other way?  If it is, would you also have to pay?  Would you have to pay a professional

[Pius]  [laughs]  Six hundred dollars or…

[Rachel]  Yes.  Does a professional development leader have to come in to your company, and do you have to pay their hotel and their flight and their fee to get this same knowledge, or this same experience?

[Pius]  Some people say that you go to these conferences to make connections. 

[Rachel]  Yes.

[Pius]  Some people say that you go there learn.

[Rachel]  Yes.  I would say both.  It’s all of it.

[Pius]  That’s what we’re doing, I think, if we get into South by.

[Rachel]  And that’s where you have to look at the conference platform, kind of holistically.  What are your networking opportunities?  What are the intangibles that you’re going to be able to take away from the conference, as well as physical takeaways?  Am I able to take away a component of curriculum, or specific contacts, or whatever it happens to be?  What I like about South by and a few other conferences that I’ve been to, namely National Association of Independent Schools, and National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the National Science Teachers Association – those conferences are so well designed, not only for presenters and exhibitors, but participants, that there’s so much overlap, that no matter what you are doing, there is a valuable takeaway.

[Pius]  So you recommend that anyone in this engineering education space, they go to those conferences, if they can.

[Rachel]  I think so, yes, because you’re connecting with other educators, you’re connecting with other administrators.  But there’s also always a shifting focus.  Every single year these conferences specifically focus on certain questions or goals or ideals or learning principles that are at the forefront of research, and they’re at the forefront of current needs in American education. 

[Pius]  So all those conferences that you mentioned, they seem to be really interested on the new ideas and new research that’s coming out in the field.

[Rachel]  Exactly.

[Pius]  South by included.  I feel like each one is different, though.  They’ve got different flavors.

[Rachel]  Sure they do.

[Pius]  South by, I know, because I’ve been to South by, but I haven’t been to the other ones.  South by to me feels more techie and…

[Rachel]  It is.  It’s super techie, and I think that South by is far more social.

[Pius]  Social?

[Rachel]  Well…

[Pius]  Like drinking out after dark kind of thing?

[Rachel]  Yes!

[Pius]  Awesome.

[Rachel]  There are so many more valuable opportunities that are available in those after-hour South by meetups, and these are formalized meetups.  They’re advertised.  They’re actually designed.  I mean someone sits there and puts together the venue and the hours and some of them even have agenda.  Not with handouts and presentations and things like that.

[Pius]  It’s a different thing, yeah.

[Rachel]  But they’ll say at this meetup we’re going to focus on XYZ kind of conversation.  And because they’re more intimate, and they’re smaller gatherings, you’re not in a room necessarily with a hundred and fifty other people.  You make those personal connections, and you find where it is that you can help other people, or receive help from other people.   And that’s where a lot of the really authentic learning and communicating happens.

[Pius]  Yeah.  So then what are the other conferences like?  You don’t have the beer conversations about education policy? [laughs]

[Rachel]  Well I won’t necessarily say that.  But it’s so less – There’s not a dedicated designated space for it, so, for example, if you go to some of these huge conferences, NSTA, NAIS, NASSP, whatever they happen to be, there’s always a social – what I term – and this is not a real thing, but I call it a social moment, where all of the participants, including the exhibitors, gather in the exhibition hall.  Typically it’s at the end of the first full day.  And they have, you know, free drink tickets for everyone, and you have your one beer and your one wine, and you walk around, but all the conversations are so superficial, and there’s no real exchange of information or knowledge or any sort of meaningful connection that leads to any kind of growth and development on either end.  Either for the educator, the administrator, the exhibitor, or even for the conference professionals who put all this together.  There’s nothing – I shouldn’t say nothing, because there are, I’m sure, some deep connections forged, but not often.  What I love about South by is the richness and diversity of options and the culture of it lends itself toward such expansive opportunity.

[Pius]  Yeah.  You have that daytime feel, I think, of the more formal talks and workshops, but you have the less formal different flavor of conversation at night.

[Rachel]  Yeah, and because of that, it’s almost unlimited. 

[Pius]  So I guess we’re just saying that if you’re interested in attending South by, the deadline’s coming up on…

[Rachel]  Hashtag shameless plug.

[Pius]  Yeah, July 24 --

[Rachel]  [laughs]

[Pius]  Well, we don’t work for South by, but we are saying we want to see you there.

[Rachel]  No, but we want you to come and see us.

[Pius]  Yeah.  So submit something if you’re interested, to the South by Southwest Panelpicker, by July 21st or 22nd, something like that [2016], and yeah.  Hope to get your support.

[Rachel]  Hopefully we see you there!

[Pius]  Yeah.

[Rachel]  We’ll program some electronic quilts and play some…

[Pius]  It’ll keep you wam.

[Rachel]  Improv games.

[Pius]  Improv games will be played.  Check that out.

[Rachel]  Yes.  All right.  Thank you so much, Pius.

[11:15 music interlude]

[11:24 Pius]  The views expressed in this podcast are our own, and they are not necessarily the opinions of any schools, universities, or other organizations with which we might be connected.  Our opening music comes from “School Zone” by the Honorable Sleaze, and our closing music this time is from “William Henry Harrison High School Fight Song” by Steve Combs.  Both are used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.  Subscribe, review, and send us comments online.  On Twitter I’m @PiusWong, and Rachel is @rfahrig.  Like us and share us on Facebook for updates, and subscribe to us on iTunes and review the podcast if you like it.  As always, thanks so much for listening.

[12:09 music]