Final NECC Reflections

I’m exhausted. Nearly four days after returning from NECC in Atlanta and I’m still exhausted. The adventure on the way to out there left me with only two hours of sleep before heading to the edubloggercon. Saturday and Sunday night I did alright getting the sleep and exercise I needed, but after that it was the usual conference whirlwind of staying out too late and then staying up polishing presentations even later. The flight home was another ten hour nightmare (but I was still better off than many of the other edubloggers trying to get home on Wednesday). I got home at 3 am Thursday morning.

The following morning was lost to sleep, exercise, and recuperation – and things that needed to get done at home. The rest of Thursday and Friday was a mad dash to take care of critical projects, and I again skipped my workout Friday morning – always a mistake when it comes to my stress level. Since then Saturday and Sunday, though more relaxed and healthy, have been a rush to catch up on email, RSS feeds, and conference follow up (business cards etc). Finally, I am writing my final NECC reflections… but I’m exhausted. I’m ready to put the excitement behind me. (And I hope you’ll excuse this bit of self-indulgent blogging. The exhaustion has turned out to be a big part of the conference experience for me.)

That being said, I am coming away from the conference with a few key bits of new (or renewed) learning, most of them more personal (and humbling) than educational technology related, but don’t miss the last one if you’re an edublogger:

  • I know that ed tech is far too large a field for anyone to be an expert in anything, but from time to time I get to feeling like something of an expert in some specialization – web 2.0 tools, say, or video games in education. I was happily humbled on both fronts this past week. For instance, in the very first session of the formal conference, I picked up a few new tools from Jim Gates. Similarly, I was genuinely impressed not only by how far the educators in Second Life have come, but what they are doing with students! And this is to say nothing of the excitement of finally “getting” twitter, which really deserves an entire post in and of itself. Hopefully I’ll be less exhausted soon and be up to writing about it.
  • It’s time to retire my slides. They’ve evolved well over the last few years, but the bullets finally need to go. I need to get on the presentation zen and digital storytelling train here. David Jakes’ comments on this topic were particularly compelling. (As were Terry Freedman’s comments about presenters not talking too much about themselves.) Though my actual sessions and workshops focus on interaction as much as possible – and though I present more often from an interactive wiki than from slides these days – and though what presentation I actually do does follow a digital storytelling model to some degree on account of the anecdotes I throw in – it is nevertheless finally time for me to kick my slides up a notch. And, damn, I just got Benton to help me design a new theme. I wonder if I’ll still use it. Ultimately, I’m just a little too embarassed that someone might throw me in with the folks who were “reading bullets” at NECC. My only slide-based presentation was the Internet Safety and Awareness one, but Vicki was there and I was particularly self conscious anytime I was cranking through a slide of bullet points.
  • I realize I’m a terrible networker… to the point of being socially awkward even. I don’t know how many times I heard someone (usually Mike Lawrence) say “If you’re not networking, you’re not working” at NECC this year, but I suppose I wasn’t doing my job much of the time. It was interesting, but somehow short of instructive (for me), to see how easily (or seemingly so) many of my fellow edubloggers could network. I heard Chris Craft (I believe) compliment Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach on her networking – and I, too, was impressed. And Mike Lawrence (not an edublogger) is of course the master. It’s why he’s the executive director of CUE I think. At any rate, not only are my networking skills not what I’d like, I managed to put my foot in my mouth more times than I care to think about. Again, I’d like to extend my apologies to Terry (for my own ignorance). Even so, I loved the experience of the edubloggercon and getting to meet and chat with so many of my fellow edubloggers.
  • I wish I had been more deliberate about meeting people I hadn’t met – and meeting up with people I know. For instance, Mark van ‘t Hooft was obviously there. I’ve enjoyed his blog, but I didn’t get the chance to meet him. Also, I would’ve liked to have had a more in-depth conversation with probably a dozen or more of the bloggers who met in the bloggers cafe throughout the conference, but sadly I generated relatively few chats over a meal or other shared activity outside the madness of the cafe.
  • When I’m done with this dissertation, I need to start traveling to more of the regional educational technology conferences. This would not only be a good way to expand my business and clientele (I find presentations to be my best advertisement), but it would also give me more opportunities to improve on all of the points above – to learn from and be humbled by others’ presentations, to fine tune my own presentations, and to practice networking (and meeting with people deliberately).
  • There is indeed a very real tension between my practice as an educational technologist and my role as an academic and Ph.D. student. Dr. Abbey Brown’s impassioned speech following Dr. Cheri Toledo’s impromptu sharing with residency students really challenged me in this respect (there was a Walden Univeristy residency in parallel with NECC). I think both the web 2.0 publishing ethic and the peer-review ethic have an important role in our society. Right now I’m existing at an intersection of the two and there is probably another posts’ worth of thinking to do on this topic too.
  • Perhaps the most overwhelming take away for me, though, was the fact that there were really many different NECC conferences happening in Atlanta. Others have mentioned that even with the amazing growth of the edublogger community, we are a very small minority (of about a hundred) in an event of over 20,000. David Warlick posted what look like amazing numbers when we look at last year’s NECC posts versus this year. But, even with the significant jump, I suspect that this year’s posts (748 posts tagged NECC07, 987 posts tagged NECC2007 and 3,149 posts with the string “NECC 2007″ in them) were probably generated by not many more than the 100 or so edubloggers on the list. While my average might be high, I generated 21 of those posts myself. Assuming more overlap than not in those numbers, that’d be an estimate of only about 150 bloggers responsible for all the content we’re excited about… even if we call it 200 bloggers, that’s all of 1% of the attendees at NECC! I spend no more than 15 minutes on the show floor, and most of that talking to colleagues at the Google booth. There were folks for whom the exhibit hall was the most exciting part of the conference! “We” either have a long way to go, or we need to accept that these tools are not for everyone.

In any case, I look forward to seeing where this “movement” goes in the next year (and it is a movement – we have the buttons to prove it). I’ll be keeping an eye on the new virtual versions of the bloggers’ cafe in Second Life and on the web. Of course, I also look forward to my own transformation over the next year. It was just before NECC last year that I left the county office of education and started my own consulting and professional development company. This NECC has thus severed as a milestone for me. I made it through the first year of business on my own. In fact – as of today (to the day) I’ve been on my own for a year. Time to go celebrate…

Then on to chapter three of the dissertation.

8 Responses to “Final NECC Reflections”

  1. Chris Lehmann Says:

    Mark,

    I’m going to write about one somewhat-tangential piece of this really wonderful, thoughtful post. But I find it interesting that, while you appeared to me to me really outgoing and warm and friendly, you find networking really hard. Interesting in that I feel the same way (and yes, I come off as outgoing.) For me, I love to talk about ideas that I’m really passionate about, but I never feel comfortable networking, and I feel awkward in those moments as well.

    –Chris

  2. Kurt Paccio Says:

    Mark,

    Wow! No wonder you’re exhausted.

    The more I read post-conference reflections the more I wish I had been more deliberate about networking as well. If I had it to do over again, I just know I’d spend much more time in the Blogger’s Cafe.

    Given all of sessions on web 2.0 tools, blogging, and one-to-one computing, I don’t understand how the edublogger community can still be so “exclusive.” One percent just seems too low.

    Do you have any thoughts on methods to find out how many are active in the edublogger community?

    Congratulations on your first year in business!

    Kurt

  3. Gayla Keesee Says:

    Mark,
    It was wonderful meeting you at the Walden residency at NECC. Thanks so much for your reflections on writing the dissertation and how you got into blogging. With you as my inspiration, I started my own blog (Ed Tech Lady) to help me process what I was learning at Walden and my thoughts on educational technology/online learning in higher education. Your blog is listed as a favorite on mine.

    Good luck in narrowing down that lit review!

    Gayla

  4. Lucy Gray Says:

    Mark! You socially awkward? Puhleeze! You networked just fine; have a few more Googletinis next year and you won’t feel so anxious. I know the feeling, though. I felt the most awkward at the Edubloggercon as I knew who most of the people were, and felt sort of silly introducing myself as I am not sure they knew of my work. I guess I didn’t want to sound like a groupie, but I probably appeared a bit standoffish. I also headed right for that event after arriving that morning in Atlanta, so I was just getting warmed up in terms of networking. At any rate, it was great spending time with you and the other ITMers and I’m looking forward to many more real life and online discussions about education.

  5. Erin Elliott Says:

    Mark…heard you speak at the Walden Residency. I am working on KAM III right now and came across this work.

    Creating Effective Learning Environments and Learning Organizations through Gaming Simulation Design
    Willy C. Kriz

    Simulation & Gaming, 12 2003; vol. 34: pp. 495 – 511.

    I didn’t know if you had read him or not (you probably have b/c you have sooooo much information in your blog). But, thought if I share you will too. I have a blog, however, I must admit I have let it lapse…but I am starting it back up thanks to your inspiration. Please share any research you come across for technology integration (online instruction) in rural and inner-city school children, specifically increasing self-esteem. Thanks so much!! Erin

  6. Mark Wagner Says:

    Erin,

    I’m catching up on flagged comments and email tonight, and oh, man, I can’t believe I let this sit back in July. In any case, I hadn’t come across this particular article. Thank you for the reference. Hapily, I’ve already got my proposal in for review and shouldn’t need any more literature this time around. But, of course I’m always interested.

    I popped over to your blog and saw your couple of summer posts. I went ahead and subscribed incase you get back to it sometime.

    Good luck in your studies – and KAM writing.

  7. Mark Wagner Says:

    Hi, Gayla. I’m catching up on flagged comments/email tonight. I’m sorry for such a delayed response. In any case, I popped over to your blog and saw that you’ve got a few posts up each month, so I went ahead and subscribed. I hope your studies (and KAM writing) are going well.

  8. Mark Wagner Says:

    Hey, Kurt. I’m going through old flagged email and comments tonight and realized I never responded to this. Thanks for the comment. Reading your response again I’m re-intrigued about somehow finding out how many active edubloggers there are out there. I suppose I’m subscribed to over 600 feeds, but those aren’t necessarily all edubloggers… and I’m certainly not subscribed to all edubloggers by any means. I’ve been much more selective lately. I wonder if some kind of poll would be effective. I’m sure there is a well established means of taking this kind of census. The question is who we would have to ask. Anyway, it definitely a problem for *after* the dissertation is done. :)

    Incidentally, I finally subscribed to your blog this evening.

    Take care.