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Re: [Debconf-team] Talk selection: session chairs

Richard Darst dijo [Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 06:25:05PM -0500]:
> Hi,
> I attended several conferences recently, and looking at them through a
> DebConf lens, I saw a (pretty common overall) idea which I think could
> benefit DebConf.  The IRC people I bounced it off of somewhat liked
> it, so I'm sending it here.
> These conferences had various "sessions" of 3-4 talks.  Each session
> had a "session chair" which was in charge of introducing the speaker,
> providing an intro and some helping to bind them together, and in some
> cases finding the speakers for that session.
> So my rough idea was:
> - regular talk submission process goes on - anyone can submit talks
>   right to us still.
> - Add to that a way to group things together.  Seek out members of
>   teams that have lots of talks, and invite one of them to be the
>   "session chair" for this topic.

I like your idea. It gives coherence to the schedule, and it will also
make easier for people to plan on broad topics they want to discuss
(and possibly allow them to find larger holes in topics unrelated to
their work lines. Many of the more traditionally academic conferences
work this way, and I think it is a winner scheme.

> The session chair can do this (doesn't have to be all):
> (...)
> This implies that "session" is sort of a concept here, with one (or
> multiple) blocks of time.  This has some advantages (having Python
> talks scheduled as a group makes it easier for them to not overlap,
> people can more easily go to all of the talks, stay together, ...) but
> this togetherness could also be seen as a disadvantage.  Blocks could
> be distributed early/late in the week as desired by the session
> chair.  And, of course, if a session chair chose to not schedule in
> blocks, that's fine too.
> If teams don't like this idea, then no one steps up to be a session
> chair and it doesn't affect them.  If speakers don't want to be in a
> session, they just don't.  So I don't think there's much disadvantage
> to giving people a change to order things some (and slightly reduce
> the number of people the main talk organizers have to work with).
> Thoughts?  It's really up to the talk organizers...

I see two ways to tackle this:

On one side, the grouping and chair assignment can be the task of the
academic committee. This means, it is transparent for the talk
submitters, each person (or team) is -as always- responsible only for
submitting and preparing his own work. The committee will group the
talks based on their topic and propose session chairs. Of course, some
talks will not be thematically related to any other, so we should
still have chairless, independent talks. And, of course, BoFs and
similar, more horizontal, sessions really have no reason to be
grouped together.

OTOH, as you say, we can just provide large slots called "topic panel"
or something like that, during which several sub-topics will be
handled. The speakers will then be responsible (the committee can
suggest them with whom to group, FWIW) for talking with each other and
prepare the session, even name the panel chair.

I tend to side towards the first scheme. I think it is an extra burden
on us as organizers, but not an unnecessarily high one, and quite
compatible with the tasks we already perform.

Just as a final remark: Time. I have mostly seen each of a topic
panels' talk to be way smaller than the regular DebConf talk (i.e. 20
minutes instead of an hour). This is needed because otherwise a
continuous four-hour session (even with a break in between), with very
little topic change, can be too tiring. This might be a put-off for
people used to our way of working.

Gunnar Wolf • gwolf@gwolf.org • (+52-55)5623-0154 / 1451-2244

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