Flipping the Conference


An upcoming philosophy conference is organized around those interesting and fruitful conversations that take place between the official talks.

The Coffee Break Conference of Aesthetics  will be organized such that “the proportions of a traditional academic conference are inverted; while in conferences we normally have long lecture sessions of passive listening and short coffee breaks for some talk, this time the focus is on the coffee break discussions—regarding each others academic research and beyond.”

The organizers, Zoltán Somhegyi (Károli Gáspár University) and Max Ryynänen (Aalto University), provide an attractive pitch of the idea:

Do you remember that highly inspiring discussion you were having with a fellow speaker in one of the last conferences you participated in about his/her paper, when the organisers suddenly reminded you of the end of the coffee break, and you had to rush back to listen to the next speaker? Do you remember the exhausting days of the conference that are fully packed with presentations, with barely any time to have more leisurely chats with other participants (except if you skip an otherwise surely interesting talk, hence causing dilemmas and bad conscience…)? Do you remember how refreshing it is when in a conference you have excursions, city visits, common dinners, or even hiking? And finally, do you remember how much we all missed, during Corona-times and zoom-conferences, that we can finally meet in person again and have thorough conversations, not only about papers, but on anything else, like a good coffee break?

To facilitate productive informal conversations, the conference will be a “read ahead” event in which the participants will be required not only to read the papers in advance, but also to provide comments on them. The organizers say:

In this way we gain” a significant amount of time; in other words, we do not spend most of the conference simply listening to and getting introduced to a presentation and its main points and ask basic questions or express our first-impression-reactions. Instead, we can use the time we will spend together to go deeper into ideas, concepts and insights developed in the participants’ texts that, by then, we all already know. We understand the papers better, as we read them, and we do not have to work on straightening misunderstandings, which often is the case after 20-minute talks. During the actual meeting, through moderated sessions and guided discussions all papers will be thoroughly debated, hence we can focus on scrutinising the presented issues.

The topic of the conference is “Trying Out New Paths in Aesthetics,” and its schedule will include a number of interesting aesthetic events. You can learn more about it here.

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Daniel Weltman
3 months ago

I greatly prefer conferences with this format over conferences which are not pre-read. I get much more useful feedback from pre-read conferences. I think I typically give much more useful feedback at pre-read conferences. The conversations about the papers tend to be better at pre-read conferences. And the deadline that getting ready for a conference imposes on me is much more valuable when it requires me to get a paper ready rather than merely requiring me to get a talk ready.

(In fact the disparity is so large that it seems to me that non-pre-read conferences are often useful for little more than networking. It’s rare that I get feedback at a non-pre-read conference that I haven’t thought about before the conference, unless I’m presenting something extremely sketchy, and if I am, then I feel like I’m wasting people’s time.)

For a number of years the Pre-RoME Workshop on Animal Ethics has been one of my favorite workshops/conferences because it has this pre-read format. I’m going to a pre-read conference in January that I’m looking forward to for similar reasons.

For the same reason a “flipped classroom” (aka the way most philosophers teach most courses, I think) is good, I think it would be great if we had more flipped conferences like this.

(I’m neutral to negative on piano concerts, Japanese tea ceremonies, and fancy coffee, since ideally I’d rather have conference funds set aside to pay for meals or accommodations for people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to attend. But chances are these things are cheap enough such that devoting their cost to ameliorating conference expenses wouldn’t make much of a difference.)

Michael Kates
Michael Kates
Reply to  Daniel Weltman
3 months ago

Can you say more about what you mean by a “flipped classroom?” I feel like different professors mean different things by this phrase, and I’m intrigued by your aside suggesting that this is the way most philosophers already teach their courses. I’m not sure if I do, so I’d be interested to hear how you describe it.

Daniel Weltman
Reply to  Michael Kates
3 months ago

A flipped classroom as I understand it is one in which the students are expected to become familiar with some ideas before coming to class (e.g. via reading something) and then in the class they talk about them.

(The notion of this being a “flipped” classroom comes from the idea of a “normal” classroom being the place where the students are fed the ideas from the professor.)

Michael Kates
Michael Kates
Reply to  Daniel Weltman
3 months ago

Thanks, that’s helpful. I guess I’ve always found that quite difficult to do, especially when I teach undergrads with no background in philosophy. Most of the material is very hard for them to understand on their own, so I always need to spend some portion of the class introducing the material and explaining how we should understand it.

Daniel Weltman
Reply to  Michael Kates
3 months ago

Depending on how much support the students need, in addition (or even instead of) reading, you could give the students recorded lectures, reading guides, and other materials. (I use these sorts of things, although not as much as I might if I were teaching at a university where students needed more support. At my university the students are almost universally excellent and they do pretty well with the readings themselves.)

David
Reply to  Daniel Weltman
3 months ago

How do you find out about pre-read conferences and how common are they? I’ve actually not heard of them before and have largely avoided conferences because I find so much about them frustrating and alienating, a good chunk of which relates to their reliance on talks. This has naturally greatly reduced my networking which may be why I haven’t heard of pre-read conferences (though even when I’ve expressed my dissatisfaction with conferences to mentors and colleagues, no one has brought up pre-read conferences…)

Daniel Weltman
Reply to  David
3 months ago

I found out about the one I’m going to in January via the Liverpool List: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/philosophy/philos-l/ and if I were in America I’d find out things via PhilEvents: https://philevents.org

Ibn Sina
Ibn Sina
3 months ago

“I need to try the cheese over there,” awkwardly steps away.

You mean this?

P.D. Magnus
3 months ago

I’m sure that the quality of feedback to authors is better at a pre-read conference. Nevertheless, there is value in a conference that doesn’t require me to do homework before showing up. I have often had the experience of going to a talk which I wasn’t so interested in that I would have read the paper beforehand but which I was happy to have attended— I learned something about a topic I hadn’t thought much about or saw connections with things that I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered.
Also: Although I have had great conversations end only because sessions were starting, I’ve also been in awkward conversations which I was happy to end when the session started.

Georgi
3 months ago

The Ethics of Belief retreat was like this:

https://www.georgigardiner.com/projects#h.aaiomfml193q

And “The Philosophy of Life Experience” retreat will be like this too.

If you scroll my own Projects” page, you’ll see “art of academic gathering” ideas. I have a write up about it, but that isn’t included yet.

I am currently building a website to feature session types, activities, and strategies for building conferences that aren’t centred on talks and Q&As.

One of the parts of the website will showcase what others have done. (Like the APA’s syllabus showcase, but for conferences.)

I am not sure when it will launch. Maybe around February.