As a former director of a large annual distance education conference, I’ve often been asked what happens during the year-long preparation for a conference that draws more than 900 participants annually from more than a dozen countries.
First, we believe it’s important to come together once a year to share experiences; to learn new tools, teaching strategies and problem-solving techniques; to compare strategies for assessment of learning; and to gain insights from experts in the field. Through past conference surveys, we know a major benefit of the conference, as listed by participants, is time to network face-to-face with others working in the field. So we continue to invite those interested to come to Madison for a frenzy of sharing and learning over a one-week period each year.
I recently retired and was asked to share my major roles with the new director, Les Howles. This has given me a chance to reflect on my major tasks to plan, implement and evaluate our conference, in addition to directing our certificate programs and performing divisional/campus roles. Below are the major responsibilities involved in hosting the Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning.
Twelve Months to Conference
Debrief and decide on possible improvements to the schedule, presentation types and logistics for next year’s conference.
Ensure the resource library is updated with additional materials (videos, proceedings papers, handouts, slides) from all speakers.
Ask the advisory group members for suggestions for next year’s keynote speakers.
Investigate possible keynote speakers (watch videos of past presentations and/or transcripts, interviews, and other examples of these speaker’s topics and delivery style).
Email the top two keynote speaker candidates to invite them to speak, giving them the details of dates, place and compensation.
Send planning committee members data on registrations and the compiled results from the conference evaluation and virtual conference evaluation for their review prior to the planning meeting.
Hold a teleconference to discuss changes and solicit ideas for the next conference from the fall planning committee.
Continue negotiations to confirm keynote speakers and negotiate via email or phone to hone in on the exact titles, discussion descriptions and brief bios.
Scan other conferences’ websites for new presentation formats and event ideas.
Refine the conference schedule, presentation types, and assign tentative locations for events.
Work with the division’s graphic designers on a visual for the conference web banner that will carry through on all of the print pieces.
Develop content for the conference website to announce the next conference and call-for-proposals.
Develop content for the conference call-for-proposals and ensure it is printed and distributed prior to Thanksgiving.
Review and update/revise the online proposal submission form.
Nine Months to Conference
Confirm planning committee members’ participation in proposal reviews and have them hold dates for the reviews.
Update, test and refine the online proposal review and scoring form.
Encourage proposal submissions by taking one (or both) of the following actions:
Announce on LinkedIn Groups and other social media forums; and
Send requests to leaders and organizations in the field, etc.
Assign proposal reviews and send them to pre-determined reviewers.
Ensure the review process for the annual awards is underway and participate in the review of proposals.
Assign staff to participate in making final determinations of proposals accepted.
To read the second installment of Terpstra’s Conference Planning Checklist, please click here.
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