If you’re unfamiliar (and I was until a year ago) AERA is the American Educational Research Association. Each year they have an annual meeting (what I’ve often mistakingly called a conference). Cathy Jo asked me to write a bit about the conference, and I am glad to do so.
Here’s the deal, AERA is a humongous meeting. It was spread over four hotels and they had every conference room booked all day long. Next year, thank goodness, the annual meeting is in San Diego, CA and they’ve got some major convention center booked, so more easily navigated.
So, what the heck happens as this meeting, you ask?
1. Poster sessions.
2. Paper presentations.
3. Invited speakers
4. Meetings of special groups
5. Networking galore.
All of this is submitted ahead of time. For April 2009 the submissions have to be in by August of 2008. So just like the major ed tech conferences, submissions are handled ahead of time. The submission goes to a panel of members of the association and they review it and rate it. Depending on how the poster/paper is rated is what determines whether it’s accepted. Just like academic journals, everything is peer reviewed.
Here’s each one in detail…
Poster sessions are literally that. You bring a poster printout of your reseach and stand by it and talk to interested folks. There are over 70 presentations every day. Theoretically, there is a set time frame that you get to present your poster. There are right at four time slots every day. Ergo, there are roughly 70 per day times 4 per day times a few days equals a heck of a lot of posters. Some were papers printed and tacked up, some were more formal. Ours looked darn nice, no thanks to me.
Paper presentations are probably the most plentiful. The format to these is interesting. The association groups similar papers into symposiums. So, let’s say you want to see the Cognitive Load in Teaching, Implications and Directions session. There will be a lot of people present, they are:
Chair – the chair is the one who keeps time and introduces the papers.
Presenters – Usually there is more than one for each paper, and they present their paper. Each paper gets 15 minutes. The papers are submitted ahead of time for review by the…
Discussant – The discussant takes a few minutes and summarizes the papers and provides critiques as well as thoughts on the session. If time allows, there may be questions at the end.
The use of a discussant was interesting, as it was nice to have someone sum up the papers. It’s easy to forget the first when you’ve heard four.
The invited speakers are noted academics and other really smart influential people that I don’t know.
The meetings of special groups are a great opportunity. I went to a graduate student fireside chat on the nature of academic collaborations. It was interesting, but I had to bug out. That was one of the more useful sessions I attended and I hated to leave early, but I had to catch one of my prof’s presentations.
Now, here are my personal thoughts about AERA.
First, there are far too many sessions. The conference program they give you is the size of a phonebook. Seriously, it’s huge. Maybe not a big phonebook, but it’s bigger than the books you buy at ed tech conferences by popular speakers. It’s big and heavy.
That means it’s hard to choose good sessions. If you think your local ed tech conference makes it hard to decide what to go and see, imagine there being nearly 10,000 attendees and it being all about really heady academic research.
Nope, there’s nothing web 2.0, nothing read/write web, nothing about student engagement in the title. I’m being silly of course, but needless to say this is a slightly different conference than the ones we usually attend. Again, not knocking ed tech, this is just a different world. It’s a weird world, too.
So, you choose your sessions and you’re off. In the very first session I attended I rubbed shoulders with Mitchell Resnick of MIT, Kurt Squire from the Unversity of Wisconsin-Madison, Constance Steinkeuhler (and her and Kurt’s new baby boy), Sasha Barab from the University of Indiana (Indiana University?) and others.
Quite possible the highlight of the trip was meeting John Sweller from the University of New South Wales. He is the originator of Cognitive Load Theory, which I am falling for more and more.
So, what are my gripes?
First and foremost it is darned hard to figure out which sessions are going to be actually interesting. Most aren’t.
If I pick by names, I run the risk of hearing the same stuff I already know or have read. If I pick by title, the session might turn out to be awful. I ended up having a first choice and alternates.
The other gripe is the way folks design their presentations. And by that I mean the design of what’s projected on the screen. Sometimes it was really hard not to enter into cognitive overload listening to folks read their slides.
This ended up being the primary topic of most of my tweets. I suppose the normal someone would overlook this stuff because it’s quite the norm, but I can’t look over it because I’m me, and I’m obsessed with this topic.
The other something frustrating was the spotty wireless. I ended up using my cell phone way more than my laptop during the trip, but that’s another post.
So there it is, AERA, quite the amazing meeting but also a bit frustrating. Hopefully next year I’ll present a paper session or two, as the feedback is invaluable in prepping for journal submissions.