Friday, 2 May 2014

Reflecting on Pechu Kucha

In this previous blog post I described my frustration with the fact that the Pechu Kucha presentation style was imposed on all speakers at the #HEASTEM14 conference.

That was 3 days ago and with the conference behind me, I am going to write down my thoughts.
First of all: the whole conference was awesome. I had a great time and learnt a lot through the awesome discussions that arose after a session of talks. Each session involved a triplet of Pechu Kuchas (with no gaps) followed by a lengthy discussion.

These discussion were awesome.

Sadly I don't believe these discussions had anything to do what so ever with Pechu Kuchas.

I actually enjoyed my own Pechu Kucha but didn't really feel that it was anything different to a normal presentation (apart from no interaction with the audience and that it was shorter than usual).
I overheard a few speakers say things like: 'it really makes you rehearse' but personally rehearsing is something I always do (I probably rehearsed less for this as I was only talking for 3 minutes and 20 seconds).

The reason the discussions were so awesome was simply that there was enough time for them. The reason there was enough time for them was that Pechu Kucha ensured that everyone spoke for no more than 7 minutes.

This could have been achieved by ensuring that sessions were chaired strictly without the need to further constrain the speakers.

One comment on my previous post said: 'Talks overrun because moderators are not doing their job'.

I realise that it's not always easy to be a chair but I think that imposing Pechu Kucha is not the right solution.

One private comment on my previous post said that 'I also think that this format is not helpful for speakers with slight speech impediments'. Indeed, forcing everyone to use a given delivery style is not terribly inclusive.

I mentioned my opinion to a couple of organisers (again: who did a truly awesome job with the conference) and after clarifying that I wasn't worried about my personal experience of Pechu Kucha but more that I didn't think it was great that everyone had to use it, I received responses along the lines of:

- 'Well I suppose people knew that this was the way so they could choose to not give a presentation';
- 'There are other options such as presenting a poster'.

I perhaps misunderstood and/or am taking that out of context (in which case I apologise) but at an education conference attended by people for whom inclusivity is a high priority I can't say I was terribly satisfied with that response.

Finally to return to the great thing about this conference: the post talk discussions. These were truly awesome and it was so great to be in a place where everyone cared and these discussions offered a great opportunity to transfer ideas and opinions.

Sadly (as is to be expected) having a single discussion session at the end of 3 talks often meant that 1 or 2 of the talks received no discussion what so ever. This could of course be because the talk in question did not instigate enough interest for any questions but I also think that it could be because after the first question is asked and answered, further discussion just snowballed it's way through the room (which is awesome). This is a minor point for me, as in a way if the discussion didn't cover a particular talk but was very interesting perhaps it's not a problem (people could always approach the speakers after the talk).

To summarise:

- It was fun to try out the Pechu Kucha style.
- It worked (indeed there is no need for long talks, short talks are awesome)
- I don't think it should be enforced (this is NOT inclusive, what if I did not want to use PowerPoint? 'Not presenting' or 'presenting a poster' are not acceptable alternatives)

I would (humbly) suggest that next time Pechu Kucha is not imposed (perhaps a Pechu Kucha session or 2 would be a good idea) but I certainly think having a 7 minute limit on talks is a GREAT idea.

This would require strict chairs that kept the conference to time. Something similar to the 'Grand Council' I used in my first year class this year. It involved 40 1 minute pitches from my students: they each had a minute and I was quite brutal in my chairing of the session. I had a timer go off and would yell "YOU'RE DONE!" but mostly it was the next student talking that would usher the previous off the stage. In practice I think I actually only cut 5 students short as all the others kept to time brilliantly. +Paul Harper wrote this post about it.

I loved the conference. 

Pechu Kucha certainly didn't make it worse than it would have been otherwise as everyone made the system work.

I just don't feel that it was an inclusive way of doing things (nor that it was necessary). Next year I will hopefully attend and either use one of the Pechu Kucha workarounds (discussed in the comments on my previous post), present using the delivery system of my choice or I suppose: present a poster.

Finally similar to my image of Machu Picchu in my other post here is a picture of Pickachu (which is what I have been calling Pechu Kucha for the past 3 days):