Have you ever seen a set of badge ribbons like on the left? Impressive!!! How about on the right?
I remember getting my first SPEAKER ribbon. It was pink. I was eager to receive that ribbon almost immediately after receiving my acceptance e-mail. I felt like I was joining a club, and wearing that ribbon would signal to everyone my higher status at the conference.
But like most new things the novelty eventually wore off, and I came to wonder why I even wear those speaker ribbons anymore. I definitely grew detached from the ribbon as a status symbol. I also know of some accomplished speakers who got upset when they didn’t receive their speaker ribbons.
There are benefits to identifying with communities, including to advance a sense of belonging and closeness particularly at large conferences. But something doesn’t sit well with me with the badge on the left… What is the person trying to say or project about themselves to other attendees? Is there a correspondence between the number of ribbons one has and their importance? And just as communities can bring people closer, they can also project barriers or exclusivity that keeps people out. I don’t know, help me put my finger on what’s happening here.
I imagine a conference, somewhere, someday, where every speaker, attendee, volunteer, and everyone else receives one and only one ribbon that simply says LEARNING, like the (edited) badge on the right. A conference committee making this decision would project a strong and positive message about their conference:
- The conference is designed and intended to be a collaborative learning experience, one where everyone learns from everyone else.
- The conference discourages a top-down model of professional learning provided by a sage-on-a-stage-with-a-microphone-and-podium-and-speaker-ribbon. (Okay, I took some artistic license with that phrase… but the parallel to the “sage-on-a-stage” teaching model in the classroom is apropos).
- Learning very often happens from conversations among attendees, sometimes even more than learning from speakers.
- Speakers also learn from attending conferences. For instance, if a speaker presents during 1 out of 8 sessions at a conference, it seems odd that their ribbon would emphasize the way they spend 1/8 of their conference speaking and not the other 7/8 of the conference attending and learning from other sessions.
Perhaps most importantly, the conference committee would recognize that the same dynamics of identity and agency that influence students in the classroom also exist among attendees at conferences. We know that the way students view themselves influences how they engage with learning in the classroom. Perhaps it is time for conferences to leverage the field’s understanding of identity and agency to improve conference learning outcomes among attendees. Swapping out all those colorful ribbons for a single LEARNING ribbon could be a strong and visible first step.
**Note: To learn more about identity and agency, consider:
- Using Identity and Agency to Frame Access and Equity, by Robert Berry
- Do You See and Engage Your Hidden Figures, NCTM President’s Message by Matt Larson
- This Google Scholar search of relevant articles