Postcard from NAAEE's Research Symposium

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

It is some while since I have been at NAAEE's research symposium, but coming back is like visiting old family friends, with so many familiar faces – and ideas.  I was touched by the warm 'welcome-back' reception that I received.

What strikes you immediately is how few men there are here, and, at the same time, how non-diverse the group seems to be – a euphemism for 'not many people of color'.  There are men, of course, ~10% by my reckoning, but many are now greybeards.  Indeed, I am one such, literally and metaphorically.  It's rather like the UK, whose graduate students in the EE/ESD field are mostly women.  There are, no doubt, sound sociological explanations for all this.  One positive is the number of women in the group now in senior positions in universities here – with surely more to come.

The programme was a familiar mix of keynote, posters, roundtables, workshops, and facilitated discussions, with so-called skill-building workshops thrown in.  What follows is a personal comment on my partial and small sampling of it all.

Interaction and participation were in, and presentations were frowned on.  So, even in a 30 minute facilitated discussion there had to be time to draw a poster; indeed, there was something of a poster fetish about the whole thing, as if the organisation had been sponsored by flip-chart makers [*].  Maybe it's those smelly marker pens they over use over here – are they addictive, I thought?  Anyway, I wondered whether all this participation was inhibiting discussion, especially the asking of probing questions.  Mind you, I have never thought that NAAEE encouraged this.

There were lots (~40) of posters presentations, and, my, how slick and glossy these now are.  But they were mostly crammed with words in small print.  They were remarkably similar methodologically, and covered much familiar territory.  A new phenomenon, for me, was people photographing the posters.  Good luck with that, I thought.  I had a few conversations with poster owners, but many seemed to abandon their posts – maybe to read other posters.  I'm inclined to think traditional posters have had their day, particularly as they are all so information heavy.  New thinking needed, I'd say.  Maybe the idea of a mini-seminar gathered round a focused poster where ideas are tried out or feedback gained – treating the audience as if it had something to offer.

The symposium concluded with Alan Reid's getting a much-deserved award for his outstanding contribution to research.  This was followed by deliberations he had organised on 2020 vision scenarios (more group work but no posers) looking at how the research symposium might re-focus itself to engage (or not) with existential issues.  One scenario was to focus on climate change (education).  Chance would be a fine thing, I thought.  I thought the scenarios were well-conceived, through it all ended with rather an inconclusive whimper.  The convenors of the research symposium say they will take up this thinking.

The final act was a panel reflecting on (that is, self-indulgently rambling endlessly on about) the symposium highlights.  Inevitably, this was rather tedious.  Still, it was an inclusive panel, so that was a box ticked.


[*] New Verb AlertTo flipchart – To use multi-coloured pens to scribble and/or doodle inconsequentially on a large piece of paper prior to sticking it on a wall for other people to ignore.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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  • Great to see you in San Diego, Bill. And thanks for the comment. This wouldn't be the first time I'm indebted to you. Now where's that like button?