Reflections on SAAHE 2010

The SAAHE conference has come and gone for the 3rd year running. It’s been an interesting and engaging 3 days, and since I’ve already posted all my notes, these are just a few thoughts on what it’s like having a conference in South Africa. And it’s the last post, I promise.

To get the negative stuff out of the way, there were two things that really disappointed me, and which I’ve mentioned at every conference I’ve been to (in South Africa), and they are:

  • A lack of dedicated wireless access, even though internet access is not an issue at tertiary educational issue
  • No video or audio coverage of any of the tracks, not even of the keynote speakers (I’m sorry, but uploading presentations just doesn’t cut it)

As a collection of South African health educators who say they to participate in a global, regional and national conversation on these issues, how can you possibly do it if you have no voice? I can’t think of any reason not to provide dedicated access in all conference venues.

Piggy backing on this idea of what we could do with access, I had an interesting conversation with a colleague when we were trying to decide which presentations to attend. We realised that we were trying to situate our own work within the broader context of what was happening at the conference. Where does my work fit in with all the other work that’s being done in my own (or a similar) domain?

It seems to make sense that if all attendees (or a significant proportion) were tweeting, blogging, waving or otherwise engaged in providing their own personal experiences, perceptions, insights, etc., we would have multiple streams within which we would be able to situate our own work. Not that we would necessarily watch the streams while presenting (although that would be an option), but it would be nice to reference the work of others that you’d already seen in the stream. These referrals could be aggregated after the conference to see who’s working on similar ideas (or who should be working on similar ideas) and make it easier to build national networks for collaboration. What topics are most common? Who seems to be involved in the most conversations? Who are the “qualitative” people who can give me the insight I need for my own work?

Unfortunately, this won’t happen anytime soon. It’s not a technical problem (all the infrastructure and technology is there), but rather the complex human component. Besides a resistance to learn new things (“I’m a busy person, I don’t have the time”), most health educators aren’t technically savvy.

Finally, during the last half of the last day, we had a power outage across the campus and we had to continue outside. Interestingly, most people seemed quite amused with the experience. We got to sit outside and enjoy the beautiful weather and have a more informal (if a bit rushed) discussion. It was also refreshing for me having to present my work without a presentation on a computer. I felt a bit more connected with the audience, although being in such close proximity could also be a bit daunting. See below for our “conference venue”.

All in all, it was a great conference, I learned a lot and the organisers should be proud of what they achieved.