Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Good Kids and Open Spaces

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.]


Unknown said...

This was just my thought when I posted my summary: http://mitechie.com/index.php?/archives/329-PyOhio-year-one-in-summary.html

It seemed we were constantly behind, go go go, and there wasn't must movement/social time and that tends to lend to just grab a chair and go through the talks. They were also great talks which didn't help the situation since I was content just watching the talks.

The other thing was just lack of knowledge of where things were. It wasn't until I went to leave for the day I figured out what "the loft" was.

PandamoniAL said...

I didn't get to make it to the entire event. I was there from about 11:00 - 4:30 so I missed the start and finish. What I saw was fantastic though. I came to the table not knowing very much about the language and I left with knowledge of the language, the syntax, and some tools to help make life with Python better. You did a great job getting the event together! I heard so many good comments about all of your hard work. I intend to blog about my experience soon. Although I'm sure you are ready to relax, I can't wait for the next one! Thanks so much!

Anonymous said...

Next time get some really bad speakers. Honestly the problem was that you did too good a job. I didn't want to leave that auditorium because the content was excellent. Perhaps planned down time would be helpful. But then again I really don't know how you could improve things. You did such an awesome job.

Anonymous said...

Some other conferences have "Birds of a Feather" sessions. They are formal like the talks, but have broad topics. Those interested in that particular broad topic go to the BoF session of their choice (there are usually 3-4).

There are usually a couple of moderators or experts to get the conversation going, but it's basically just a discussion group and the conversation can just go wherever.

It has the ease and familiarity of a "formal" talk, but with the same goals as the hallway/open spaces type informal knowledge exchange. It seems to be a good middle ground.