It’s not going to surprise anyone that I’m pro-researchED. It’s genuinely changed my life – places I‘ve been, friends I’ve made, the job I do, hangovers I’ve suffered… For me it came along as I was finishing my MEd and offered a place for me to continue engaging with education research in a way I thought I wouldn’t be doing anymore.

Conferences are popping up all over the place now (researchED and others) and I don’t actually go to that many but I do follow what’s going on and as it happens I’ve got two in a row: researchED Birmingham yesterday and off to researchED Haninge next weekend. After a while following from the side-lines it was really great yesterday to be amongst it and maybe this is why it particularly niggled me when I caught up with Twitter last night and the usual voices were there just to sling insults at it all.

No-one is going to agree with everything and nor should they, but the constant snark and spiteful rhetoric is draining to watch and unhealthy to be involved in. I’ve gone from someone who debates ideas to someone who just keeps quiet to avoid the sniping; someone who follows a range of voices to someone who mutes and blocks just to be happier.

Anyway, questioning ideas and voices is healthy and hating based on assumptions and prejudice is not, so for what it’s worth I’ve decided to address some of the criticisms and write about my own experiences of education conferences – naturally, mostly researchED but I’ve been to several others so I’m thinking about those too.

Forcing an Ideology

People seem to believe that there’s one message being peddled and the hoards are being brainwashed. I would hope that a look at a programme for one of these events would allay some fears of this. My experience is of a broad range of speakers and ideas but of course there are going to be topics that people are more interested in and this has evolved with the education landscape. I think it’s a good thing that something like researchED has fed into the landscape but I truly believe that far from forcing an ideology at the expense of blocking others, this has happened because of the space given to debate and different voices.

I’ve heard MPs promoting their own well-honed propaganda and I’ve disagreed with them. I’ve been sat in a presentation when several audience members start debating the ideas with the speaker. I’ve seen people I’d never have thought I’d agree with but have and people I thought I’d love that have made me cringe.

I know what it feels like to be on the opposing side of the current vibe but that’s not a reason to shut down valid experience. There’s space for everyone and they need to be able to decide. I’m a grown up and capable of doing that.

All about Bennett

He’s put his everything into researchED. He’s the face in the programme and bats off the constant flack, but crediting Tom with every researchED event does a disservice to all the people who are organising conferences across the world in their own time for free. People put all their spare time into these things and what they don’t need is ridiculous assertions that they’re part of some sort of conspiracy. If that’s what people genuinely think then it’s a real shame but it’s not going to stop people engaging with what is an amazing, international community of educators.

Research content

I’ve seen sessions that are like a masters crash course and sessions that just have a nod to the research they’ve looked at. Personally I prefer the heavy ones, but I know others aren’t so ready to engage that way. I wrote a while ago about ‘rED the next generation’ and this still holds true. It’s easy to have the curse of the expert (broadest sense) and there are novices just getting into it. Of course there’s the risk of mega Dunning-Kruger effect but that’s not unique to education conferences – it’s a bias with its own special name! We just have to be aware of it.

Same people, same themes

I understand it might seem like researchED peddles the same stuff at each conference but there are several things to bear in mind here:

  1. Everyone does it for free. If you can get a popular speaker to come and do your event for free then you’d be stupid to say no. The presence of a big hitter means people will come and see the unknowns.
  2. There are loads of speakers and not many slots. Having the same people at different events means you get another chance to see something you missed. I’m always surprised I still get asked to talk about journal clubs and equally surprised people turn up.
  3. The timetablers are good at getting it right but I’ve been to lots of these things and there’s always a surprise room with people spilling out. Almost like people can choose who they want to see rather than being told who’s going to be popular…
  4. ‘Ah, but if everyone was an unknown then you wouldn’t have that problem’. Yes. New Voices does that. It’s ace and I’ve also seen how going for it and speaking at that has given some people the confidence to do other conferences. Double aces.

Political leanings

This is woo-woo. We’ve had a Tory led government for 10 years and this spans the whole of the boom in education social media-led  stuff so there’s nothing to compare it to. For what it’s worth, and I know it won’t be worth anything to those who’ve made their minds up, I don’t think the government would be too chuffed with some of the stuff speakers at edu-conferences level at them.

So, my own experience

I’ve done the rounds. I’ve seen some big hitters who are shit – don’t prep, use old, 90 minute presentations in a 40 minute slot and despite being a disaster, have people nodding along because they love their book. I’ve even been disappointed by a presentation and then had the misfortune to have to sit through it again as the keynote at another thing.

BUT. I’ve also seen people I’d never get the chance to see for £20, big names in the audience of a classroom-teacher sharing their passion and awesome first time speakers who’ve prepped beyond perfection because it means the world to share their ideas. And then seen them speak to their heroes at the pub afterwards and get involved in a new project.

My experiences are of events where you can choose to play it safe and go to see your friends and a twitter celebrity or embrace new ideas. Or do both all in the same day. There’s more criticism of ‘dogma’ within researchED presentations than people perhaps think. Some people were well known before they started going to education conferences, others have become more well known as events like researchED have been part of their career journey and they’ve met people and made connections.

There will be a ton of reasons people are wary of or don’t like things like researchED.  I understand that to some extent everyone is a gatekeeper of knowledge and it can make people uneasy to see new faces rising. It does nothing for my imposter syndrome to suddenly see all these enthusiastic new teachers hit the scene, I can tell you! The thing is though, this is an evolving landscape and I’d rather be part of that and call it out from within if I can than poke at it from outside.

We keep being told how the majority of teachers don’t use Twitter or know what researchED is. Don’t use that fact as a stick to beat rED with at the same time you’re accusing it of infiltrating the whole of the education sector. Makes you look silly.