Saturday, 9 June 2018

Reflections on the EARLI SIG 22 Neuroscience and Education conference

The European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI) Special Interest Group (SIG) 22 on Neuroscience and Education conference was held at the Wellcome Trust in London from 4th-6th June 2018.

This was a particularly exciting conference for me, as I am the Junior Coordinator of the SIG, and organised the conference with Lia Commissar from the Wellcome Trust. Lia and I spent a long time thinking about what we wanted the conference to achieve and how best to achieve it.

Back in 2016, Lia ran the pre-conference for the International Mind, Brain and Education Society (IMBES) conference in Toronto. During the pre-conference, Lia collated responses to various discussions that were had throughout the day, and together we wrote a summary of the pre-conference. The summary contains a list of recommendations for funders, researchers, and conference organisers, based on IMBES delegates' discussions. We found the list to be really useful in the organisation of the SIG 22 conference.

One of the recommendations was to take an inclusive approach in acknowledging the varying backgrounds of attendees, which is particularly relevant in our interdisciplinary field. We asked all presenters and delegates to define acronyms and make discussions accessible to everyone. We felt the speakers did a great job of this, although we did get feedback that a good idea for the future would be to define key terms at the beginning of the conference. This is a great idea and I hope that this will feature in future conferences, perhaps with a list of key terms and their definitions within the conference booklet.

Another recommendation we took on board was to use more discussion-based approaches, to allow experts to share their knowledge to consider how best to move the field forward. The third day of the conference was therefore an Open Space event. This format enables anyone present to suggest a topic of discussion. The topics picked by delegates were wide-ranging, and it was encouraging to see so many people talking who may not have done so otherwise. The session I suggested had just one other attendant but it was a teacher-trainer who I likely would not have encountered otherwise, and we had a really useful discussion for how I can move a project I'm working on forward. We had a lot of positive feedback about the Open Space session, with many delegates admitting they were unsure about the idea at first, but found it to be immensely helpful and enjoyable in the end.

I'm absolutely delighted with how the conference went, and feel that there was generally a positive and friendly environment throughout the whole event. I've heard lots of talk of "action points", with delegates leaving with a list of steps to take to move their project or the field forward. We've had good informal feedback so far, and are now awaiting responses to our evaluation questionnaire to see what we can do even better in the future.

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