Where do we draw the line at conference fees if we’re presenting at them?
Teaching conferences are great craic, it’s a couple of days with like-minded people out for a bit of CPD while having a laugh with others at schools around a region that we may not see apart from on the conference circuit each year. But while paying to attend something should be fine, if it’s a reasonable fee (there are obviously costs for hosting and venues, tea/coffees and material production), where does everyone draw the line at paying to present at conferences?
I’ve a mixed history of this myself. Going down the presenting, publication and in fact the teacher training route in the past few years I’ve been keen to present my peer reviewed work at conferences in the hope that someone takes away something from them. Some conferences have been free, and some have come with pretty small fees which have seemed reasonable (ELT Ireland was €10) but the issue arises with more international conferences. I’ve been lucky enough to present at Trinity College London’s Future of ELT conference twice, for free which seems reasonable …although it is my spare times its eating into, as it was during a standard teaching year.
There has been other conferences though, where the fees to speak at a conference, and present my own research, would have cost a fair bit and it just isn’t worthwhile for a 45 or 60 minute session. Two examples from the past year include being offered to speak at a conference, to which I said ‘Great, see you then’, to then get an email back saying “The speaker fee is £100, pay at this link”, where they got a ‘thanks but no thanks’ reply. Other places have stated you need to be a paying member to their organisation, as well as pay a speakers fee on top of that, which would take the fee well over £100 to present your own work and research in your own free time.
Why would I bother?
I took to Twitter and LinkedIn to see what others thought of this. This had to be taken with a pinch of salt at the same time mind you as we all know what sort of cesspits both can be. Twitter, where everyone wants to rant about something, and LinkedIn, where people will write a 300 word essay on their gratitude to their inspirations, family, colleagues and qualifications to date just for making a cup of tea.
Overall 80 people responded, and the results were ….pretty expected.
Pay to present was obviously the lowest of the 4 options I gave people, so it’s nice to see I’m not alone in this. I did see an interesting comment that stated if people were trained, or coached before talking at a conference, fees would be more worthwhile, which is a good idea I found (again, if the fee was reasonable). Everyone seemed happy enough with the pay to attend option, which I agree with, as it has to make financial sense to have a conference to begin with. The Twitter crowd edged out the LinkedIn crowd (no surprise) on the be paid to speak option for conferences. While it may not be feasible for smaller conferences to do this (but it needs to be worthwhile) surely this makes more sense. We do seem to be going down the pay-to-publish route of things in teaching which is killing research and certain areas of academia. Quantity of publications and numbers of presentations seem to be in demand for some areas, so people are almost forced to fork out to pump their numbers. About a fifth of people clicked the ‘it’s all a con’ option. To be honest, some areas of teaching does feel like it’s going down that route, especially in ELT there is a whole other world of marketing-trumps-actual-research type of buzzwords, methods and material on offer.
LinkedIn results, here I was actually expecting more people clicking ‘pay to present’ due to the nature of the website.
Twitter, where I do tend to have a good teacher network, gave interesting responses.
Something ultimately needs done though, and that’s not just at conferences but for the world of teaching in general. Universally we’re paid pitifully at any rate and have never had higher demands on us, never mind walking into danger every day while teaching in a global pandemic, surely a healthy bit of CPD at conferences shouldn’t cost us an arm and a leg as teaching in general seems to be haemorrhaging teachers at a disturbing rate.