Thursday, September 29, 2016

Extended Conversations: Thinking About the 2016 ASTC Conference

Conversations (both inside of sessions and during informal gatherings) are always a hallmark of museum conferences.  But I was especially taken by the notion of the extended conversations that occurred during the recent Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) Conference that took place recently in Tampa.

Some of these extended conversations were built into the ASTC Conference schedule.  For instance, several all day and half-day Pre-Conference sessions took place on Friday September 23rd with session topics ranging from Evaluation Tips to Developing Exhibits on Climate Change to Citizen Science.

Ok, they weren't all serious conversations ...

A great pre-conference session I took part in was an "Un-Conference" where several facilitators introduced provocative topics as conversation starters and then encouraged everyone in the room to have a 20 minute organic discussion following on from there.   This format really provided some interesting takeaways and was a welcome relief from the "three presenters with PowerPoints" format that many conference sessions devolve into.   One thing that especially stuck with me was the notion of "Followership" (as opposed to Leadership) that Julie Johnson introduced.  Julie also shared this related article by Robert Kelley on the subject.

This year the ASTC Conference also featured a number of "Extended Sessions" that occurred for two hours at the end of the day, instead of the typical 1 hour 15 minute time slots for most other sessions. The Extended Sessions I attended used their extra time to provide more full-group question and discussion time, which worked really well.  Extended Session topics ranged from Teen Programming to Mentoring to Computational Tinkering.  

But my favorite Extended Session was entitled "High, Low, or No Tech? Choosing Appropriate Technology for New Museum Exhibits."  The presentations and audience conversations spun around nicely, and we even got into an analogy comparing the challenges of presenting high-quality programs to increasing numbers of people to cooking great scrambled eggs for large crowds!  (I guess you had to be there ...)

Here's your convenient technology analogy 

Another extended conversational opportunity happened in and around the Poster Presentations that this year were set up for the entire two days that the Exhibit Hall was open.  Many in-depth discussions were held with project leaders in front of their posters which probably wouldn't taken place in sessions.

Of course, for every rule there is an exception, and this year I moderated a "Flash Session" (quick 10-minute presentations on a single topic with Q&A in-between) on Exhibits and Environments. This concentrated burst of five different speakers from around the world presenting five compelling projects was positively received. 

Special thanks to all my Flash Session presenters, especially Roy Griffiths from the Museum of Life and Science  in Durham, NC for presenting about Hideaway Woods, and Lynn Scarff from Science Gallery Dublin for telling us about recent programs there (the reanimated pig heart image shown below was a real show-stopper!)

As a member of the ASTC Conference Program Planning Committee, I hope we can continue this notion of extended sessions and conversations during ASTC 2017 in San Jose!  (If you'd like to get an additional sense of this year's conference in Tampa check out the #ASTC2016 hashtag on social media channels like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.)


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