Long experience of participation on the conference circuit has given me a jaundiced view if question-and-answer sessions. The chair throws out an invitation, which either attracts a deafening silence, or encourages certain colleagues to grandstand in an attempt to prove their superior knowledge of a topic and thereby humiliate the speaker. Alternatively the discussion can turn to issues only incidentally related to the basis subject, requiring a firm intervention by the chair to drag the proceedibgs back on course.
I am not implying that all panels take this form, but I often get disappointed at conferences with the number of squandered learning opportunities.
When I experience an “aha” moment during conference questions, it is something ro celebrate. Yesterday I gave a talk to the Adaptation Studies conference in Osijek, Croatia. My long illness - which interrupted my work as well ad the flow of blog-posts - prevented me dron traveling there, so I recorded the talk whixh was subsequently transferred to YouRube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w6Kl9ytdrD8. The participants watched it yesterday and asked me questions via Skype.
I was more than a little apprehensive. What if the Skype did not work properly, and how could I cope with the effects of my eye operation, where I could not identify people in this middle distance? When the session began, my fears were confirmed: I could make out only a few of the participants’ faces.
I decided to practise what I preach and listen very carefully. I also resolved to ask questions if I could so as to find out a little more about Adaptation Studies in another region.
The outcome was unexpectedly revelatory. I talked about some of my other activities - for example, a dramatization of Orwell’s ANIMAL FARM where some learners dressed up as the farm animals and devised their own animal languages. As I explained, this form of adaptation was designed to increase communicational abilities by showing how we don’t necessarily need the sane discursive and linguistic forms to understand one another.
When I asked the participants what they had sone in their classes, the responses were astonishing. They had produced versions of MEMENTO and BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S, using a variety of domestic materials and linguistic varieties.
As I listened, i understood the value of questioning as a means of discovering examples of classroom practice that colleagues might not want to discuss in more formal contexts. Tone is important: the questioner does not want to score intellectual points but genuinely wants to learn more, just like the participants who have just listened to the presentation. It's a marter of mutual respect; the more we listen to each other and ask genuine questions, the more rewarding the conference experience.
This occasion represented something of a comeback for me. After nearly five months of frustration, it was gratifying to climb back onto the academic roller-coaster, even if I am not yet fully fit. The Osijek conference confirmed for me the importance of empathy - listening and questioning with humility.
For giving me this opportunity I am heartily grateful to everyone associated with the Osijek event. Hopefully I’ll be fit if the university decides to organize something sinilar.