When you work with schools across the nation, you soon realize that February and March are never going to be your own again. These are the months where many states schedule their state educational technology conferences. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been to Texas (TCEA), Washington (NCCE), Washington DC (CoSN) and of course, my home state of California (CUE).
If I could have cloned myself, I could have gone to Florida (FETC), Illinois (IL-TCE), Arizona (MEC), Michigan (MACUL), New Jersey (NJECC) and probably more I’m forgetting. (I can’t even bring myself to find all the full names and links to these terrific conferences! Bad blogger!)
These conferences give technology-using educators a chance to reflect and recharge, hear inspiring speakers and talk to colleagues from near and far. This year, more than ever, I met folks who previously have only been virtual avatars, Twitter buddies, or names on blogs. The opportunities to use Web 2.0 tools and social networks to build a Personal Learning Network has changed many educator’s lives, and brought new spark to a traditionally isolated profession.
I believe conferences must change as well, or risk being a relic of the past.
At CUE, I participated in a day long “unconference” event called EdubloggerCon West run by Steve Hargadon of Classroom 2.0 (a social network for educators.) Instead of submitting session ideas months in advance, and a faceless committee deciding which sessions are presented, the attendees shaped the day to our own needs. A wiki was used to plan the event. People signed up, and added their ideas to another page for ideas about what to talk about.
At the event, the first item on the agenda was to decide what the day would become. Imagine that, the attendees shaped their own day of learning to their personal needs!
Someone volunteered to edit the wiki, and an agenda emerged on the fly. Some people wanted to talk about technology and language development. Some people wanted to talk about project-based learning. Concepts got merged and people stepped forward to offer new ideas. There were some mini-sessions (5 minutes!) on various tools. At the end of the day, the wiki stood as both a record of what happened, and links to the tools and ideas we talked about.
It was an interesting day, both for the learning taking place and the concept that conferences could change and adapt to new technology that allows more personalized learning. It felt like a mash-up of the best conference sessions you’ve ever been to, combined with the most interesting conversations you tend to have when committed, passionate educators gather after-hours.
While this exact format might not work for thousands of attendees, there are certainly elements that can be adapted and experimented with. Conferences as we know them today are going to change as technology and culture change — or become obsolete.
Steve is getting to be pretty good at structuring these events. It’s an interesting combination of leadership, experimentation on the bleeding edge of technology, herding cats, and stepping back gracefully to allow others to share the spotlight. It’s one of those skills that looks magically effortless when it’s done right, but isn’t. Sort of teaching.
These days, change happens quickly, even for those who feel ready for it. In fact, the name EdubloggerCon seemed cutting edge a year or two ago, but now it’s too focused on one tool in a universe of possibilities. It’s really about changing education for the modern world.
Congratulations to CUE and executive director Mike Lawrence for allowing this experiment to take place and not being afraid of the future.
If you are attending the National Educational Computer Conference (NECC) in San Antonio in June, there is a similar event being held two days before NECC starts. More information here.