Not everything at PyOhio was perfect, of course. In particular, we were frustrated that we didn't get more participation in the Open Spaces. Some of the attendees pretty much took a spot in the auditorium, watched the scheduled talks, and went home. I think they were satisfied, but those attendees missed out on a lot.
I wasn't too surprised, since even PyCon wrestles with how to encourage Open Space participation. Many PyOhio attendees were inexperienced conference-goers with absolutely no experience with Open Spaces. But I don't think unfamiliarity was the only barrier.
Back in high school, I was one of the Good Kids. I was Born to be Mild. I went to class early, sat down, readied my notebooks, and waited for the teacher to start. I did not hang around in the hallway gossiping. I certainly did not cut class!
I think most people who become programmers started out as Good Kids, and that's part of why this is hard. We can put a preachy message in the program guide singing the virtues of Open Spaces and the hallway track, of informal, collaborative learning - but they were Good Kids, and they're not buying it. When we say, "get into unplanned discussions, skip some scheduled talks in favor of Open Spaces", it sounds to them like "cut class and hang out." No wonder it's a tough sell! Closing their ears to that is exactly how they became educated enough to be at a programming conference in the first place. In high school, the things your peers could teach you would probably get you arrested, hospitalized, and/or pregnant.
So we've got some ideas to get people over this psychological hump for PyOhio 2009. We're going to use panel discussions to ease people from listening into talking, try a schedule that forces people to get up and move around and bump into each other, and leave time slots where there are no scheduled talks.
Honest, everybody, it's OK. One Good Kid to another.
[EDIT: Let me make clear that this wasn't the only thing keeping people in their seats. We had a jam-packed schedule - gave in to the "fit everything in" temptation, I'm afraid; the Open Space rooms were distant from the main lecture room; and there was no natural transition to a hanging-out space when the library closed at 6. We'll certainly be looking hard for ways to improve those for PyOhio 2009.]