So, which is it? At traditional conferences, the juicy stuff often happens away from the sessions, in the hallways, while at peer conferences or the Open Agenda events, the rooms where the sessions are held are the loci for the conference energy.
The heart of every peer conference: peer sessions, the sessions generated by the roundtable (and peer session sign-up processes). During peer session determination and scheduling, the format for each chosen peer session—presentation, panel, discussion, workshop, simulation, tour, or excursion—becomes clear. Sometimes the actual session strays a little from what was originally proposed, for example, when a presenter discovers that there are two people present who have valuable experience to contribute, or an attendee clearly knows considerably more than her fellow panelists. Peer sessions handle such developments on the fly, with the help of a short printed Peer Session Primer that provides attendees the information they need to participate in a peer session.
Peer sessions are the core events at a peer conference. They provide a flexible, yet somewhat structured, method for conferees to share experience and expertise on subjects of mutual interest. Attendees determine topics for peer sessions during the first day of the conference. The typical peer session has five to fifteen participants and lasts around an hour. Peer sessions are often discussion centered, but sometimes a presentation or panel format is more appropriate. You’ll be able to tell what’s going to work for you.
Experience has shown that for a peer session to work well, it’s important that there be one or more participants who have some knowledge or experience in the topic chosen. Occasionally, no expertise is available, and the peer session becomes a disappointment to all involved. Obviously, there are no guarantees that every peer session will be a success. You can help! If you have expertise in or experience with a peer session’s topic, please consider volunteering to facilitate, or participate. Our conference will work best when we support each other.
Each peer session needs a facilitator and a scribe. Ideally the facilitator has some knowledge or experience of the topic, though this is not required. The facilitator is responsible for finding a scribe if no one has yet volunteered, keeping the group focused on the topic, ensuring the session runs smoothly, and making sure that all present have an appropriate chance to contribute and ask questions. The scribe is responsible for creating a list of attendees and a summary of the meeting in computer readable form. It’s important to take notes during the meeting, since experience has shown that memories quickly fade. Resources mentioned at the session should be noted in the summary. Please give the summary to the conference coordinator before the conference is over!