The value of conferences is the opportunities to meet other people and share ideas and experience; especially with a subject like digital exclusion, which isn’t high on anyone’s list, although it should be. Participants at JSWEC, the Joint Social Work Education Conference, were a rare mix of service users, carers, volunteers, social work students, educators, practitioners, academics, government officials and the mix worked well. The atmosphere was friendly, supportive and eclectic; widening participation in practice with not an ivory tower in sight.
The HEA Conference took place the week before; like JSWEC it was also held at the University of Hertfordshire. The atmosphere was different although the bar was equally well attended. Jan Sellers from the University of Kent created a temporary labyrinth in the campus grounds. It was a shame it couldn’t have been there for JSWEC too because it would have been popular. The idea of walking the labyrinth is to take time out. Pause to reflect and focus on the winding twisty path into the centre and out again. Understanding isn’t important, you don’t need to analyse, it’s the doing of it that counts. Interest in the use of labyrinths in higher education is growing. See http://labyrinths.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk for more information.
My conference hat-trick began with the International Social Work and Social Development Conference. I blogged a bit about the Hong Kong experience here. The experience was inspiring. International conferences offer a rare insight into other countries and lifestyles. They support a retrospective assessment of what you have at home. No matter how much we complain, the UK is an excellent place to live. We have an education system the world admires, a welfare state second to none and precious amenities we take for granted like clean drinking water. John Bowerman, photographer for National Geographic, says the only justification for travelling is the stories you bring back. The most memorable story I heard was from Ms. Valerie Maasdorp, Clinical Director for the Island Hospice and Bereavement Service in Zimbabwe. The speech contained multiple realities; poverty, lack of food, shortage of medicines, the legacy of Aids resulting in thousands of orphans and the harsh consequences of living under a dictatorship government. Here we can ignore the media and pretend everyone wears shoes and can provide for their children. Sharing space with people who are living lives so much harder than ours is a difficult, uncomfortable experience. The story I bring back is we should all value what we have so much more than we do.