NECC 2009 Submissions: New Approaches

I recently shared my submissions for the CUE 2009 conference in March. Last night I had only two and a half hours (my own fault of course) to modify some of these for the NECC 2009 conference that follows in June. In the end, I took a few interesting approaches as I managed to squeeze in four sessions:

  • First, I focused on BYOL sessions. I realized that the 20 Minute CUE tips sessions I submitted would be great if expanded to a full hour Bring Your Own Laptop (BYOL) session, so I focused on submitting these hands-on topics first. I felt good about submitting sessions where participants will be learning by doing. And, in the two that I submitted as “lectures” on account of how much material I wanted to cover, I still designed them so that attendees with laptops could follow along or explore related resources as I speak. And of course, I plan to engage them throughout the session.
  • Second, I ignored the “Supporting Research” field in every application. For the BYOL sessions (which focused on mastering a specific new learning tool) I realized that the this section seemed even more irrelevant than usual. So, I simply entered “N/A” in this field. Once I did this, it was so liberating I just continued doing it for the lectures. In the past I either dropped in a mountain of mildly relevant sources (that didn’t impact the session at all), or else really wasted a lot of time finding a few good resources (that didn’t impact the session at all). I’ve always found the NECC applications much more work (for sessions that are no better) compared to other conferences. A title, description, and abstract should be plenty… applicants can include an outline, a purpose statement, outcomes, or supporting research in the abstract if it strengthens their case. Requiring each of these things for each session seems like a waste – and in my case it makes for some very redundant submissions. At any rate, I was pretty happy with my new approach, but it remains to be seen how important this field is to the readers. Perhaps I won’t be presenting at all.
  • Third, I spent much less time than usual fleshing out the outlines and word smithing my titles, descriptions, purpose, and outcome. In past years the sessions I spent the most time on (and cared most about) have tended to get rejected, while the “throw away” sessions I also included were sometimes selected. I’m still excited about these topics, but as you’ll see if you click through, they are far less polished submissions.

We’ll see if these approaches are fruitful. In any case, if you’re interested in seeing what I submitted, here are the full submissions below (these are archives from my presenter page at the NECC site, so most of the links won’t work):

I’m likely to present these topics elsewhere this year regardless of whether or not they get chosen, so I’d love any feedback you might offer even though the deadline has passed. Also, with NECC Unplugged back this yearNECC Unplugged back this year, I’ll sign up to present any of these topics that generate interest even if they are rejected by the selection committee. :)

Post-NECC Reflections (With Thanks and Apologies to Steve Hargadon)

Far and away the biggest issue on my mind as I write this reflection (and my biggest regret from the conference) is that Steve Hargadon was hurt, and that I might have in any way contributed to this. Many bloggers, including me, openly expressed their criticisms of Saturday’s edubloggercon. You can read Steve’s (heartbreaking) response in the comments of a post by John Pederson, who wasn’t even at the event. (Thankfully, my post didn’t appear until Sunday – I’m glad it at least didn’t contribute to Steve’s Saturday evening low.)

I think every single one of us who attended this year were glad that the edubloggercon brought us together, and the event very much owed its existence to Steve. I want to publicly thank Steve for his efforts on this – and the many other projects he donates his time to for the benefit of our community.

I remember NECC 2006 and how happy I was to run into one or two bloggers during the conference… and how amazing the edublogger meet up (on July 6th at Rock Bottom in San Diego) was – and it was just one evening at a bar! The game was totally changed in 2007 when Steve spearheaded the organization of a full day pre-conference edubloggercon. The energy of that event carried over into the first Bloggers Cafe at NECC throughout the rest of the conference. At the time, I started a page on the edubloggercon wiki (which Steve created) for an Edubloggercon West, to occur the day before the CUE conference in California. Even though I did no work to make that event happen (and even though I couldn’t even go due to the new arrival of Clark), Steve made it happen and Steve was there. This year’s edubloggercon and Bloggers Cafe were also direct descendants of last year’s events, and were also direct results of Steve’s hard work over the intervening months. I’m certainly guilty of taking advantage of this good thing without having done anything to contribute to making it happen.

So I’d also like to publicly apologize to Steve for not pitching in. I also need to apologize for posting my concerns about the event online first rather than contacting him directly. He was good enough to respond to my comments on Darren Draper’s blog a month before the event. I never got back to him with additional ideas then, and once I finally had something to add (during the conference) I posted it to my blog in the form of a criticism (however positively framed by “looking ahead“). I’ve made suggestions for next year – and in the post offered my help to Steve and any other organizers. Now, I’m going to follow up this post with an email to Steve pointing him to this and personally offering my help. I hope I might be able to try out some new things at Edubloggercon West next March, or perhaps earlier at CUE and FETC’s Innovative Learning Conference in October or the CUE and CLMS/CLHS Tech Conference in December (where David Jakes will be one of the keynotes).

Additional Reflections

All that being said, I did see some innovative participatory sessions at NECC this year, among them Hall Davidson’s cell phone session in which participants used their phones (and interacted in other ways, as I wrote about here), Will and Sheryl’s session in which participants had small group discussions to define community (which I also wrote about here), and Chris Lehmann’s Understanding by Design session, in which participants created a lesson plan together. Candace Hackett Shively also posted some great new ideas for interactive sessions as a reflection on the conference. This is the first and strongest lesson I take away from NECC:

Participation is absolutely vital to good professional development, and finding innovative ways to tap the creativity of the folks in the room has an even greater impact.

In the wake of all the blogging about the “edupunk” movement this Spring, I found a sort of DIY or hacking theme to my experience at NECC this year. By far the one thing I shared with the most people was how to jailbreak their iPhone. I think the power of this device is awesome (for users in general and for educators or students specifically), so I was happy to go through this so many times – and to help people truly “own” their phones, which are probably the most feature rich computers they own. Despite the good luck others had with the WiFi, I also found myself “hacking” my way into network access, by repurposing Mac Mini’s driving conference displays as access points and by accessing other’s password keychains (with their permission). I suppose in a way, several of us also “hacked” the edubloggercon and the bloggers cafe when we voted with our feet and created spaces for more informal conversation. I’ve always been a fan of subversive teaching. It’s why I wear a tie when I present; the more conservative you look, the more radical things an audience will be receptive to hearing. So this is the second lesson I’m taking away for my own efforts as a professional developer – and that I plan to pass on to teachers:

Ownership, personalization, and creation are a particularly motivating treo when it comes to learning – and opportunities for subversion can sweeten the deal.

A few other moments brought additional perspective to my otherwise relatively narrow experience of the conference as an edublogger. The woman who asked in the K12online conference session whether it was about student learning (45 minutes into the session) and Brian Crosby’s post about teachers who didn’t even think to bring their laptops to the National Educational Computing Conference both reminded me of the tremendous gulf between someone in my role and many classroom teachers. In this election year, I am reminded that politicians often have to reach out to voters who are not immersed day-in and day-out in the issues they as professional politicians deal with so intimately. When speaking publicly, a politician can’t get too caught up in the details at the expense of their message. The third lesson I take away from NECC is relevant, I think, to both professional developers and classroom teachers:

It is critical to stay on message, and to remember your audience; spending too much time on the details or on communicating your own excitement can be detrimental to your audience’s (or students’) learning.

Now admittedly this is a balancing act. I would definitely advocate sharing the nuts and bolts details necessary for a teacher (or student) to get started with whatever you want them to learn – and I definitely advocate sharing your passions, but we need to remember that they are after all constructing their own meaning and that this usually happens gradually and organically over time. In fact, I have to remind myself of this when it comes to my own learning. John Becker’s post about the poverty of attention captured this for me as well. I need to remember that even at an event as packed with learning opportunities as NECC, there is only so much I can process in a day, which is why I’m still working on writing this more than a day after the event ended. This is also why I found the Understanding by Design model Chris Lehmann shared so intriguing – it focused on goals and essential questions. Ideally, this approach acknowledges that learning is organic and slow, that patience is a key ingredient.

I wasn’t quite this deliberate about it, but had I taken the time to formulate an essential question for myself before attending NECC 2008, it would’ve been something like this:

How can I scale my business?

The full answer to this question is going to take some time yet to formulate, but I did take a few things away from this conference. I already knew that I’m interested in scaling to the point that I own a business, rather than just a job. And I already feel that some form of passive income is going to be necessary. From Will and Sheryl, I was inspired to reconsider online distance learning as an option. From Rushton Hurley I was inspired to reconsider creating some sort of intellectual property, such as a traditional book. In any case, I think the collaborative power of online learning networks will also play a role, and in this regard the conference suggested the start of a reading list: The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki, who was the opening keynote speaker, and Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky, which was the focus of a talk at the edubloggercon.

If you have any reactions to these reflections, or any to add, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. :)

PS. I also learned that even though I am not very good at remembering to take pictures, that really doesn’t matter when you are immersed in a “culture of capture” in which a critical mass of people of taking pictures and recording video. A quick search of flickr turned up more good pictures of the events I participated in than I ever could have captured – with me in the photos to boot. A choice few I had to download into iPhoto for posterity. ;)

NECC 08 Highlights: Wednesday

Like Tuesday, Wednesday started with a pleasantly social breakfast. I met with a handful of Google Certified Teachers at the Marriot Riverwalk. I was hoping more would make it, but I got to eat with three of the NYC cohort (Kevin Jarrett, Sarah Rolle, and Lisa Thumann) and one of our new GCTs from New Zealand (Dorothy Burt). I also got a chance to say hi to David Warlick for the first time during the conference.

Return of the Bloggers Cafe

I arrived in the conference center a bit late following the breakfast, but caught the tail end of this facilitated discussion in the main Bloggers cafe:

Blogging and Twitter Etiquette: Are there rules that govern the way we should interact in this wild west of the web? Darren Draper, David Jakes, Kristin Hokanson, and Scott Swanson. Come with your already-formed opinions about etiquette or start with this post to get some background.

It seemed to be a great discussion and by all accounts the bloggers cafe finally “hit its stride” or “found its rhythm” with this discussion. Significantly, I didn’t see any sign the rest of the day of any “presentations.” Now that I look at the planning wiki, I see much of the day was unbooked anyway – and perhaps I missed the other facilitated discussions. But, in any case, this was once again the Blogger Cafe as I’ve enjoyed it most (just as it was on Sunday – and in 2007)… a gathering of like minded (or not so like minded) edubloggers interested in connecting, sharing, and playing. I spent significant time here today and enjoyed it all – even when my Macbook couldn’t get online.

To be fair, I was able to use my iPhone… and at one point I turned the keyboardless Mac Mini on a nearby display into an open access point so I could get my Macbook online – a trick I’d sorted out in the Global Connection lounge the day before. And when that was shut down by conference IT folks, I was able to get on one of the locked networks by accessing someone elses’ Keychain Access to connect to a network one of the tech “doctors” had connected her to when she had the same problem I did. Yes, I felt clever. ;)

I enjoyed meeting new people (some I knew of and some I didn’t), getting to know people I’d only met before, and just plain feeling comfortable sharing time and space with a lot of like-minded folks I respect and have learned a lot from. I considered listing all sort of folks here, but it would’ve been impractical and I was sure to leave someone out. However, particular highlights for me were getting to spend more time with Clarence Fisher, Bud Hunt, Ewan McIntosh, and Dean Shareski – all of whom I’d only first met face-to-face this week. I was also thrilled to meet for the first time Kristin Hokanson and Jo McLeay, among others. And of course, more iPhones were jailbroken… I suppose that’s what I’ll be remembered for this year. :)

More Formal Sessions

The only formal session I made it to on the final day was sort of panel session, The Magic of Digital: Collaborative Interaction in Teacher Professional Development, led by Wes Fryer, with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and Dean Shareski, with Darren Kuropatwa appearing remotely via Skype. These folks also pulled in many of the session participants to speak as well. In short, the topic was the k12online conference. Two years ago I produced three videos for this online event. My efforts were received well, but it turned out to be a much bigger time commitment than I had anticipated, so I avoided the commitment last year as I focused on my dissertation. Now though, I am re-inspired to participate. Bud Hunt talked about his experience creating a keynote for the conference last year, Jeff Utecht talked about his experience setting up face-to-face “LAN Parties” so the teachers at his school could be together as the participated, and many others offered testimonials or answers to questions, including Brian Grenier, Carolyn Foote, and more. One shocking question came about 45 minutes into the session when a lady noted that “none of you talk about student learning” and asked if the event was about student learning. Wow. Folks answered this well (because of course the whole thing is about student learning – or professional development to impact student learning), but we as a community have gotta work on presentation of the message to “ordinary” teachers who need us to connect the dots.

The submission form is somewhat hard to find on the k12online site, so here’s some useful links. I encourage anyone reading this to submit a topic, and as they did during the session – I encourage you to create and share your contribution online even if you don’t get selected for the formal conference.

Incidentally, my Macbook was offline during this session and I was just an audience member, so in the absence of a back channel chat, I resorted to doing something else to occupy the rest of my mind. In this case, I sorted items from my “Cleaned Up” folder into their proper places… I got from about 450 items down to about 270 or so. In the old days, I would’ve been doodling in class. This is one of the benefits of a back channel chat… you have something else for your mind to engage in which is actually relevant to whatever you are learning.

I also dropped in on Leslie Fisher‘s Learning World of Warcraft for Your Classroom, but then opted for returning to the Blogger’s Cafe and following along via David Warlick’s live blog of the session. When he returned to the cafe he related her closing story (about a mother realizing her son ran a WoW raid like a meeting she might attend at work) when I asked how the session was. Many people talked about the Bloggers Cafe being like experiencing their aggregator in the flesh – and this moment was a particularly good example of that for me. ;)

The Closing Keynote

Throughout the conference, one of the formal sessions I knew I didn’t want to miss was the closing keynote. I’ve been a fan of Idit Harel Caperton‘s research, some of which I came across during the literature review for my dissertation. She’s something of a protege of Seymour Papert, who’s work I really learned a lot from, and I particularly appreciate her research into videogames and learning – and into gender issues in educational technology. I settled in to enjoy a live stream of the keynote in the blogger’s cafe… and though I enjoyed the experience in the cafe quite a bit – I was sadly disappointed in the keynote. It seemed like some sort of weird time warp. Despite being something of an ed tech great herself, she seemed to lean excessively on her association with Papert and others, such as Negropante. (She even ended her presentation with the question “what would Papert say…?” almost as if he were dead – or Jesus. It was weird.) She also showed videos of her work with Papert in the 80s and talked a lot about her work with mamamedia in the 90s. This might’ve been good as a sort of foundation for a cutting edge talk, but strangely she proclaimed summer 2008 the summer of transiting to web 2.0 technologies – which was weird with edublogging, wikis, podcasts, and more having seen classroom use for years… and with no sign that they will see significantly wider adoption in the coming months. To make matters worse, she said some strange things, such as talking about students “programming a wiki” (or perhaps misspoke – or perhaps I misunderstood if she really meant they’d program a wiki). She called it a keynote 2.0, but there was nothing read/write, two-way, or participatory about it. She did include video clips of mini-interviews shot during the conference, which was a cool idea, but these weren’t great and there was a lot of screen time for vendors – and Elliot Soloway.

Ultimately, the biggest problem was probably just that she wasn’t much of a public speaker; it seemed she read most of her speech word for word – and without a teleprompter this was distracting. Regardless, I enjoyed the conversation in the bloggers cafe and the use of twitter as a back channel chat. Many of these criticisms came up there. Ewan McIntosh was particularly biting in his critiques. On the other hand, Wes Fryer was overflowing with praise, so there were other perspectives. However, from the steady stream of attendees walking out of the keynote (and past the cafe), it seemed there were many who weren’t even motivated to stick around.

I suppose I’m still a fan of her research (and accomplishments), though. ;)

In terms of content, she advocated constructivist pedagogy (or more accurately, Papert’s particular flavor of constructivism, constructionism), but it was difficult to sus out her message. At one point she did present a framework of six Contemporary Learning Abilities (CLAs), but these seemed to be far too broad (and overlapping) to be of much practical (or theoretical) use. Wes Fryer shared a good set of notes (complete with links) in a href=””>this post. You can also read Vicki Davis’ live blog of the keynote here. I’d love to hear other thoughts on the keynote in the comments below.

Despite the disappointing end to the formal conference, saying goodbye to old and new friends in the Bloggers Cafe still brought a satisfying end to the overall NECC experience for me. Thank you to each of the edubloggers, twitter users, and other attendees who made the week such a rich social learning experience.

Note: I’m still planning to post a final Post-NECC Reflection with some additional thoughts on the conference as a whole.

NECC 08 Highlights: Tuesday

After Monday at NECC I stayed up blogging from about midnight until around 2:30 in the morning. The resulting reflection and communication that took place was a turning point in the conference for me. I began Tuesday much more prepared to appreciate the whatever experiences and interactions I might have in my personal participation in a conference of 14,000 or more people. Happily, I started Tuesday by enjoying breakfast with Dean Shareski, a blogger I’ve admired but only met for the first time at this conference.

Another Bloggers Cafe?

Following breakfast I was excited to join a small group of edubloggers who set up camp in the Global Connection Lounge, as a sort of Satellite Bloggers Cafe where it would be easier to have conversations and connections (so the name of the lounge was appropriate). This was also jokingly referred to as the Utecht Cafe… as far as I know, Jeff Utecht spent his whole day there – and did a lot to make it an inviting (and thought provoking) place to hang out and converse. I still have mixed feelings about that move (though I was enthusiastic about it at first and even suggested the new location). I can sum up this conflict in three concerns:

  1. I might be missing something: Being removed from the actual (higher traffic) bloggers cafe meant I would miss out on potential opportunities to meet new people and learn new things. However, since I was feeling more comfortable with experiencing the conference on a personal and more human level (and because I was happy to appreciate where I was and what I was doing), this didn’t bother me so much.
  2. I wasn’t participating in NECC Unplugged: Even though there were hundreds of sessions I was choosing not to go to (and this couldn’t be any other way even if I was in sessions all day every day), I somehow felt more guilty about purposely moving away from the NECC Unplugged presentations in the Bloggers Cafe. Also, though I had purposely removed my name from the presenting list, I still felt that if I was at the conference I aught to be sharing what I know with those who might benefit from it. Still, this is the one conference a year I go to primarily for my own learning, so despite the guilty feelings, I was ok with this.
  3. There was a potential perception of elitism: I really had anticipated that more people might want to move into a more conversation friendly location, so I was surprised that so few did. In the end I was afraid it might appear the way Scott McLeod portrayed it (not that I consider myself an FB by any stretch). I also noted how few women made their way up to the Global Connection lounge. This is the concern I worry about the most. I would hate to think that anyone felt the folks in the Global Connection lounge were creating some sort of “old boys club” or anything like it.

Ultimately, even though these things weren’t ideal, I enjoyed my time there immensely. The pace was much more relaxed – and more human – than the pace in most parts of the conference, in large part because it was a bit off the beaten path and it required an effort to go there. Most folks were happy to do their own thing and to enjoy the serendipitous conversations that still occurred. During much of the time, the TED talks were playing as a thought provoking background. The time hanging out helped me to forge new or deeper connections with several colleagues and bloggers I respect. I helped a few more people jailbreak their iPhones and iPhod touches, and a group of us explored a trio of network visualization tools I’d never seen before:

Visit the NECC Unplugged planning wiki page for the Global Connections lounge to explore more links discussed in that space – most of which are videos.

Formal Sessions

Unfortunately, many of us in the Global Connections lounge (and elsewhere I’m sure) fell victim to the overwhelming size of the conference, as sessions we wanted to attend filled up. About the time I was getting up to head to Stephanie Sandifer‘s session, Marzano and Web 2.0: Ed Tech That Works, a group of others was coming back to the lounge after being shut out of her session! Apparently it filled up a half hour before the start time… before she even got there. I’m looking forward to still exploring the resources Stephanie has collected on her Web 2.0 that Works wiki. The lesson some took away from this experience: include Marzano in your title when you submit a session. ;)

I did manage to see the beginning of Ian Juke’s session, Understanding Digital Learners: Learning in the New Digital Landscape. I hadn’t ever seen Ian present before, so it was good to get a sense for his style, energy, and humor. As far as content goes, though, there was nothing new in his message, as far as I could tell. I had this to say about it on twitter:

Hard to believe people still pack in to hear “education needs to catch up” and “kids are different.”

I’m glad I wasn’t dying to hear the rest, because I left his session early to meet Eva, Clark, and Darrel (Eva’s dad – Clark’s grandpa) for lunch. :)

Following that, I attended Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach‘s session, Powerful Learning Practice: Creating Online Communities for Professional Development. Will gave a quick overview of what an online learning community can be, including a touching student example (it seems I didn’t grab the URL, sorry). Then he led us in a “what is community?” discussion, in which we broke up into small groups. Fantastic! I was hoping for that sort of participation at the edubloggercon sessions. Kudos to Will and Sheryl for getting their participants… participating. Sheryl then introduced some frameworks for scaling a “pocket of innovation” into a larger change effort, sharing resources such as this education specific scalability matrix produced by Microsoft. She also shared the model she and Will use to provide “blended” professional development (synchronous online meetings supplemented by face-to-face meetings at the beginning and end of the project). As someone who is in the business of professional development, and who is explicitly interested in scaling his business (now that he’s done with his Ph.D.), I found this to be a particularly relevant session, especially when presented by two professional developers (and bloggers) that I respect so much.

To end the day of formal sessions, I made it to Hall Davidson‘s It’s in Your Pocket: Teaching Spectacularly with Cell Phones… and this was the best formal session I attended this year. Mark van ‘t Hooft has a great summary of the session and the tools Hall shared in his post, NECC 2008, July 1, Hall Davidson on Cell Phones in Education. I’d like to share why I thought this was such a great session – in the form of tips for future sessions:

  1. Make it Participatory: Hall began by saying “this is one of the rare public gatherings where you’re going to be asked to take out your cell phone and use it” and then proceeded to have participants take part in demonstrations of several tools teachers might find useful in a classroom. In addition, right from the very beginning he had the crowd hollering things out as prompted them during the introductory slides. Good stuff.
  2. Lead with live demos: This is especially critical for an educational technology session. There’s no better way to show how a technology works – or how easy it is to use – than to demonstrate it in front of a live audience on the fly. Hall was extraordinarily well preprared to do this (and/or a bit lucky), because everything he tried worked fantastically… and there was probably a dozen or so live demo’s in this one session – and many of them depended on audience participation!
  3. Keep it fast paced: The last thing anyone wants from a presentation of any kind is for it to be boring (and this is doubly true of any technology presentation). In a one-hour conference session, it is much better to leave participants with a sense of what is possible so that they might be inspired to learn more than to focus on every little detail of one little thing, IMHO. Hall has this one in the bag anytime he presents. He’s very high energy – and very witty to boot. He can move fast and make it fresh each time.
  4. Include Humour: Hall also has this in the bag. If you’ve ever seen him present, you won’t be surprised to know that we were laughing – hard – throughout the session. I sometimes forget how important humor is to a good presentation, and I often come away from one of Hall’s re-inspired to incorporate more humor into my own work.
  5. Stay on the cutting edge: I’m amazed at home many sessions at NECC 2008 could’ve been seen at NECC 2006… to say nothing of how many sessions seemed stuck in 1997. (I’ve tried to keep my submissions fresh every year – but that has apparently not been a particularly successful approach.) In any case, even though most avid edubloggers have been aware of some tools Hall shared for a few months (or even years), his topic was one of the few truly looking forward – to a time when teachers will be taking advantage of the handheld computers students are all bringing to class with them (already). I know there’s been “mobile learning” sessions at NECC for years, but this was the first “cell phone” session I’ve seen that really addressed practitioners at a practical level… this was stuff I’m sure many ran out and tried. Some of it I look forward to trying.

I think these five tips capture what I’m looking for (and striving for) in a good educational technology conference session. But, I’m including one more bonus tip:

  1. Include Steve Dembo: Steve appeared in a supporting role as he streamed video (of himself filling out a scantron) from his cell phone – to Hall’s presentation… live! Actually, this one demo exemplifies many of the above tips. Also, it’s something like Pascal’s wager, I suppose… if you believe in Steve’s efforts to take over the world, perhaps it’s best if you have him on your side. ;)

… and Life

Eva and I took time out Tuesday evening for “Date Night.” She arranged reservations for us to have dinner at 7:30 at the Chart House at the top of the Tower of The Americas at the center of San Antonio (right behind the conference center). Eva’s mom, Debbie, is a first grade teacher and ed tech coordiantor who was also attending the conference. She and Eva’s dad watched Clark for us so we could go out and have a bit of a break. I can definitely recommend the restaurant. It was much higher quality food that we ate during most of the trip (the Riverwalk is all about location, not quality). We had the crab stuffed mushrooms, macadamia nut encrusted Mahi Mahi (with steamed vegetables and garlic mashed potatoes), and some sort of chocolate lava cake with Heath bar crumbled over it… all of it, including the drinks we ordered, was fantastic.

NECC 08 Highlights: Monday

I may have been too negative in my online reflections related to edubloggercon and the bloggers cafe. It is absolutely amazing to be here with everyone – with so many opportunities for learning surrounding me. There have been many highlights today alone.

Glogowski on Student Blogging

The first and perhaps the most high of the highlights, was attending Konrad Glogowski’s Blogging Communities in the Classroom: Creating Engaging Learning Experiences. I had this to say about it in twitter:

At Konrad Glogowski’s presentation on classroom blogging communities (Hyatt Sequin A/B)… It’s packed.

Konrad (to a chorus oh mmm hmmm’s): If you you have time to read everything your students write, they’re not writing enough.

Konrad got 27 minutes in before getting asked “was that on the district server?How do you handle harassment.”

Konrad’s answer was good: we start by spending a lot of time with the kids talking about creating community.

As a former English teacher, I’m enjoying Konrad’s humorous and humane approach to helping students develop as writers.

Konrad on redefining writing: move from authoritative pronouncements to ongoing discourse.

Konrad sharing great “how to grow a blog” graphic metaphor.

Will Richardson ustreamed the presentation and archived the chat.

Because Konrad has just finished up his dissertation, too (this presentation was based on his research), I felt an additional connection. He showed lots of excerpts of student writing from his study, which inspired me to take a more specific approach to presenting my own dissertation later in the day. I was amazed and impressed to learn after his presentation that he was preparing to leave this afternoon – for two months in Africa working for teachers without borders. He considered it a big unknown and expressed his concerns about it. He seems to be a man living life to it’s fullest… in part by engaging in meaningful risk taking. :)

Jakes and Shareski on Presentation Design

After some time in the Bloggers Cafe (more on that below), I next made my way to see David Jakes and Dean Shareski present One Hour PowerPoint: A Strategy for Improving Presentations. It seems Jakes may have submitted a powerpoint session (almost as a joke) after realizing that more sophisticated sessions often got rejected. But there was nothing unsophisticated about this presentation, and by all accounts it was masterfully executed (I only saw about half – plus the preview I saw before hand). I had this to say about it on twitter:

Arrived 11 minutes into @dnakes’ preso – it’s PACKED! They’ve now been watching a video for at least 3 minutes. Hmm.

He’s got the crowd enraptured with his brain based segment – 1st of his ten things.

Metaphor from Jakes: its a dial up connection between the ears and the brain – but a broadband connection between the eye and the brain.

Jakes is teaching about flickr and creative commons. Good stuff but I’m moving on.

I watched them lay a solid theoretical foundation justifying better presentation design, but as they transitioned into talking about tools I knew, I figured I didn’t need to stand in back and stretch to see anymore… but of course it turns out I missed some great examples and demos. I can’t wait to see the presentation online, but at this point can’t seem to find the link. I think their approach will influence my own Images, Impact, and Interaction workshops in the future.

Wagner (That’s Me) on MMORPGs in Education

Again I had some time in the Blogger’s Cafe, but soon I made a quick trip to the Presenters’ World (prep room) and then headed to present my own session, Massively Multiplayer Schools: Do MMORPGs Have a Future in Education? This was a round table presentation of my dissertation findings. I was happy with the turnout (which required extra chairs) and was able to speak to the practitioners who showed up more than to academics, which suited me fine – I felt I might be making more of a difference for students and teachers. It really felt good to present – I think that may have been some of what I’ve been missing here. I feel really useless walking around with all these workshops in my head and nobody to share them with despite being in a conference of 13,000 teachers who want to learn more about using computers with their students. The round table went great (and allowed some discussion on a reasonable scale), but even so, I couldn’t help but feel that the large presentation I did at NECC two years ago for a huge packed room (before I had formal research to report) probably had more of an impact. Happily, I got a chance to “present” again less than two hours later.

CUE Social

In the meantime, I visited the CUE social at the Global Connections lounge. It was small (we’re not in California), but I was able to connect with some colleagues I don’t see very often. And, after the Second Life demo announcing the CUEniverse (CUE’s SL presence), we pulled up the ustream of a Creating Live Web TV for the Classroom for Global Audiences… a session on ustream, presented by Will Richardson and a panel of others including Steve Dembo, Ewan McIntosh, and more. It was the first time during the conference that I found the stream a really valuable alternative to being there face-to-face. Unfortunately, I made a bit of a fool of myself as I tried to join into the chat while only half watching the session during the social. :(

Walden University Residency

In any case, I left the social (and the session) early to once again make a sort of cameo appearance at the Walden University residency. Educational Technology Ph.D. students attend NECC during the day and then the residency in the evening, where the debrief, continue to learn, and work on their progress in the program. One of my committee members runs the program and asked me to speak to them about the dissertation process (and my experiences at NECC). I enjoyed being able to “give back” a bit – and I enjoyed presenting my paper to academics (who had much harder questions for me) following my round table with practitioners. I left here feeling a bit more like I usually do at conferences.

The People

Ultimately, though, the real valuable moments of this day (as is often the case at conferences) were the serendipitous – and often very short – conversations with my fellow attendees and fellow edubloggers.

As much as I may have missed the Blogger Cafe format from last year (and yesterday), it has still been an amazingly cool thing to wake up, come downstairs, and have breakfast with edubloggers I respect… to bump into and learn new things about others over lunch (or frantic preparations) at the Bloggers cafe… to connect with CUE colleagues over a drink… and to run into so many people whose work and writing I respect simply while walking beside the river downtown. Even though I’m splitting some of my time and attention with my family, this is cool. Very. Very. Cool.

For tomorrow and Wendesday, I’m torn between wanting to present as much as I can via NECC Unplugged (if there are any slots left) and wanting to find a way (or place) to have more conversations of the sort we were able to have in the Bloggers’ Cafe before the NECC Unplugged sessions. (Ironically, the speakers for these sessions are “plugged” in with Mics.) On this second front I may have discovered something useful this afternoon…

An Alternate Blogger’s Cafe?

As I commented on Jeff’s post I think the Global Connections cafe (where the CUE social was) might be perfect as an alternate location for the edublogger cafe. It was empty when I was there at about 3, but it was outfit just as well as the blogger’s cafe… lots of tables, comfy chairs, the widescreen tv, the whiteboard with short-throw projector, power, etc. If folks are up for it, I think it might fit the bill. I’d love to have more informal conversations and learning there the next two days. I don’t know what it would take to get a critical mass there, but perhaps it can start with something like this post.

Bloggers Cafe Reflection

After sleeping in and breakfast with Clark and Eva, which felt like a true luxury after the last few weeks (and especially after some very short nights sleep at Google), I spent most of my first day at NECC in the edubloggers cafe.

In general, I found it to be what I had hoped – a place for informal gathering and conversing. Unfortunately, I personally didn’t do much learning.

It was somewhat slow in the first few hours I was there, but I got to connect with a few people I hadn’t met before – and with a few colleagues from California that I don’t see very often. Eventually, though, I decided to set to work on my presentation for tomorrow. I’m glad I did, because it took a lot of time to get my mind back to a place where I can talk about my dissertation at an academic level. (I’m not thrilled about how dry my presentation is bound to be – I hope some people that care show up.) In any case, it was tough to stick to my work as the cafe began to fill up and exciting conversations sprung up all over.

Happily, I was able to take a few breaks to participate in Jeff Utecht’s streaming of the cafe and to contribute to (or listen to) a few good conversations. And once I was finished I got to play a bit with Brian Smith’s XO, which was a great experience, long overdue for me.

Later, I forewent the keynote (is forewent a word?) in favor of the edublogger rib cook off. John Maklary, Brian Grenier, and some of their fellow texans produced a dinner that fed dozens, including Eva and Clark – and Eva’s parents (her mom Debbie is also a techie teacher, and her dad comes along for the ride). It was a great social experience, and I was able to connect with several edubloggers I respect in a personal way I never had before. Sharing baby pictures with Ewan McIntosh sort of captures the value of the evening for me.

Still, I didn’t do much learning. So, going into day two I have two things on my mind…

First, I am trying to sort out how to get the most out of this conference… especially with Eva along I feel compelled to justify the expense in terms of some new learning or inspiration for the coming year – if not by new business opportunities as a consultant and professional developer. (Ideally, I’d love to come away with ideas for growing my business.) I may actually go to sessions. I may actually visit the show floor. (Admittedly, these things weren’t terribly productive for me at the last two NECC conferences, but I must admit it seems arrogant to say there’s nothing I can learn from in the formal conference. Perhaps I can “skim” the floor and skim the sessions the way I skim my aggregator.)

I will definitely have breakfast with Google Certified Teachers tomorrow – I can’t wait to meet the ones from New York!

Second, as others are, I am concerned that the blogger’s cafe might not be available as an informal learning space tomorrow. The NECC Unplugged schedule might preclude that. As I see it, we who want to the informal setting have two choices (if indeed the NECC Unplugged sessions are too intrusive):

1. Move somewhere else for our informal learning. This would be a real shame.

2. “Stand Up” to the unplugged sessions (in as sensitive and reasonable a way as possible) to “protect” the cafe and keep it from becoming a breakout room.

I’m not at all ready to exert any leadership in this, and I think the proper reaction will depend a lot on the situation “on the ground” in the morning. I’m merely making sense of it for myself (and anyone who cares to read/listen), and I’m hoping it is handled well when (and if) the time comes.

For my part, I’ve removed my name from the agenda – I’d signed up for a short talk and a speed demo only a few days ago when I was feeling somewhat guilty for not having jumped in to contribute earlier. Now I feel guilty for removing it. I’m not presenting much this year and I want to share as much as I can with as many as I can… but not at the expense of my own learning (this is the one conference I come to as an attendee) and not at the expense of others’ informal learning opportunities.

I suppose another goal for me over the next three days is to figure out how to share what I can… and perhaps that screen in the bloggers cafe should be for something other than tweets – perhaps we should be presenting to each other.

Again, I’d love to hear other perspectives on this. And, again, I’ll reiterate my respect for the efforts of Steve Hargadon and the other organizers. I just see a potential problem here – and I hope it is handled well, without the loss of the edublogger cafe as we loved it last year… and as it was today.

UPDATE: Apparently my reflection/whining came a few hours too late. It seems there was a tweetstorm against the idea of NECC unplugged in the bloggers cafe, after which Will Richardson connected with Steve Hargadon and moved NECC Unplugged “down the hall.” Still, I’ll leave the rest of this reflection up, for my sake if nothing else. It helped me focus for the day. :)

UPDATE 2: Nevermind. The NECC Unplugged is happening in the bloggers cafe. I’m bummed about it, in particular because it seems some edubloggers are staying away… but it’s not awful. It’s great that lots of people are sharing, and it is still possible to have conversations around the fringes. We’ll see how it goes. I hope there will still be time and space to play, share, and learn. (Of course, there’s no reason I can’t play, share, and learn regardless – and I am learning, though it might be about different things than I though. The bigger frustration is the wireless – I finally paid to get on an alternate network!

Edubloggercon Reflection: Looking Ahead

As I commented on a post by Darren Draper just over a month ago, I was concerned that edubloggercon and NECC unplugged might be too structured to maximize conversation. I was extremely excited to see the gathering of minds present at this year’s edubloggercon (and it was much larger than last year – by Steve Hargadon’s estimates it grew from about 65 to over 200). Steve was once again heroic in his efforts to make it happen, but sadly I did indeed find it to be too structured for my tastes.

The Problem

During the first session I popped in and out of each room (as was my habit at NECC before the edubloggercon and bloggers cafe). I attended to other things and connected with those I could on the fringes. In the largest room something very like a panel session had developed. There was a very large panel to be sure, but a much larger audience… in general there was one person speaking and about 80 or so listening. Plus, this was the room with the intrusive Pearson camera crew (which is a topic well covered elsewhere). In the Second Life Cafe, where one of the other sessions was held, the topic was exciting, but the “presenter” stood at the center of 30 or so folks who were as near as I could tell only listening. I had a resource to share, so passed it on to someone in the back before going on my way.

During the second session, I actually attended a session in this same space – the talk on Clay Shirky’s book. This was considerably more participatory than what I’d seen so far that morning… not unlike a Bible study actually (as Will Richardson almost said at one point). Folks were quoting the book and interpreting it. Significantly, those who began the talk wound up moving to become part of the outer circle so that there was no clear leader. This helped more voices be heard. But, again there were 30 or so people present, and only one could talk at a time. As my somewhat tangential live blog reveals, I wasn’t inspired to say much.

In the third session, I joined several others I respect in another panel session in the big room. I was not at all engaged. I live blogged a bit of my thoughts on this, too. Eventually, I got into a back channel chat… and realized many of the people in the chat were in the room… chatting with each other instead of talking!

The Solution

I finally wrote something to this effect in the chat, and thankfully several of the folks in the chat (and in the room) were up for moving to the blogger’s cafe, where as Jeff describes, we finally created something of an unconference. Most importantly, multiple conversations could occur and overlap – and we were able to “play” in a serendipitous fashion. This was by far my favorite part of the day – and the conference thus far. This picture by Ewan McIntosh really captures it for me. :)

Looking Ahead

For years I’ve been interested in maximizing the conversations that generally occur during the five minutes before or after a session. I’ve been a fan of Dave Winer’s Hypercamp* concept and have at times advocated for an edu-hypercamp. I think something like this might be part of the solution for the next edubloggercon. Perhaps we can set up a space with two (or more) mini-presentation areas (not unlike the bloggers cafe actually), many “round tables” for people to retreat to for further conversation (this is key!), and plenty of power and wi-fi. Folks could then sign up for 5 minute (or 15 minute) time slots at the presentation areas, or the presentations could be even more spontaneous – even if that means a line might form. ;)

I also think that more topical longer sessions might also be effective – if the facilitators reacted to the number of participants. If it is a sufficiently small number, perhaps a conversation could be facilitated. In this case, ideally the facilitator wouldn’t even be necessary, as in the bible-study like session we had on the Shirky book. However, the Shirky session was too large for this. I’d advocate the practice of splitting off into smaller groups to discuss (if memory serves, this is what small group bible study is all about – to run with the analogy). Then, the large group could be reconvened to share the “aha!” moments of their conversation. And as with a hypercamp room, round tables could also be available for splinter conversations – I did mention this was key, right?

Others have noted that few of us stood up to make a difference. I recognize my own lack of participation in planning the edubloggercon and NECC unplugged, so I want to offer my help (to Steve or whoever) in organizing the next event to include elements like this. I’d also love to help setup the Edubloggercon West as a sort of pilot of these ideas at the CUE conference next March. I know I missed it this year (after starting the wiki page for it), but with any luck I won’t be having another baby that month. ;)

Now, the best argument I’ve heard against these proposals is this: that there may tend to be a measure of elitism among core groups of edubloggers and that the more structured sessions might help more people participate. Now, many of the edubloggers I respect most love meeting new people and learning from them. But, I also see some exchanges that are more like fans meeting a star, and these are often considerably less valuable to both parties. So I know keeping it small or segmented might potentially isolate some people… but honestly, I think the possibility of good conversation out weighs the certainty of mass disengagement. I suppose, by the way, that this is applies to my philosophies about K12 education as well.

A Call To Participate

I’d love to hear what others think of these issues and potential solutions – and I’d love to hear any additional ideas, particularly if they might be incorporated into future edubloggercons. :)

*Dave Winer’s diagram has one huge “blogging table” – but I think smaller “round tables” are key to generating more conversations and more personal connections.

Edubloggercon Live

I just saw David Warlick using Cover it and decided I’d jump on that myself for my notetaking. Sorry the notes are rough. Leave a comment to let me know what you think – or to reply to the content.


The original version of this post somehow got hacked and filled with spam links. Sometime after I fixed it, I noticed the post was blank. Not sure if it was my fault or a hack. So, since folks have linked here for reference, here’s the important bits. ISTE initially sent out this recording policy to all presenters:

Full video/audio capture of NECC sessions and activities is strictlyprohibited without express written permission from BOTH: 1.) the session presenter/s, and 2.) ISTE. Those holding official ISTE-issued press credentials may capture footage for media coverage purposes only.

Amateur video/audio capture is permitted of ambient environments,informal exchanges and sessions, and sessions and activities not
organized by ISTE, etc., provided that appropriate permissions have been granted by the parties affected. ISTE assumes no liability for
copyright and/or intellectual property violations that may occur as a result. Amateur video/audio capture is also permitted in NECC sessions
and activities provided that the length of capture does not exceed 10 minutes AND appropriate permissions have been granted by the presenter/s.

Under no circumstances may any length or quality of video/audio capture of NECC sessions be used for marketing, advertising, or commercial purposes without express written permission from BOTH: 1.) the session presenter/s, and 2.) ISTE.

I was somewhat vague in my suggestion that folks might consider being subversive and ignoring it… at least the bit about getting ISTE’s permission. I asked “Just how edupunk are you?” – which was my first use of that term. Then, a day later, following a firestorm in the edublogosphere, ISTE release this revision:

For NECC 2008, ISTE’s permission is not required for non-commercial video and audio recording of sessions and workshops.

However, for NECC 2008, written permission from the session or workshop presenter is required prior to capturing a video or audio recording. Any permitted recording should respect the presenter’s rights and not be disruptive.

Under no circumstances may any length or quality of video/audio capture be used for marketing, advertising, or commercial purposes without express written permission from both the session presenter(s) and ISTE.

Ok, the links and comments should all make sense now. I apologize for the disruption in service. ;)

Massively Multiplayer Schools (NECC Submission)

Finally, here is the fifth of five submissions I made for NECC 2008. This is also a presentation I’ve never done, though I’ve submitted it once already… it’s the second time I’ve submitted to present my dissertation, which I hope to complete by the time my baby is born in February. (I also submitted this for the 2008 CUE Conference, though it seems I didn’t post about it here.) This one for NECC will really mean something, though, if I get it. I submitted it as an academic paper and it will undergo double blind peer review. :)

I hope I’ll get to give the talk, and I hope some of you will get to join me. In the meantime, let me know what you think of this approach to sharing it.


Massively Multiplayer Schools: Do MMORPGs Have a Future in Education?


Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games are engaging and motivating. Can they also support context-embedded, inquiry-driven, and socially negotiated learning – while encouraging reflection and metacognition?


Formal K12 education remains much as it did a century ago, but in the era of the Internet, cell phones, and videogames, students have changed. Videogames and simulations show potential as engaging and motivating learning environments. MMORPGs in particular have social and cooperative elements that might be valuable for educational purposes. However, despite a breadth of research about videogames and learning in general, the potential uses of MMORPGs in formal education are poorly understood. Therefore, this study aims to inquire into potential applications for MMORPGs as constructivist learning environments in formal K12 education , and to understand related benefits and drawbacks. Two pillars of theory support this study: constructivist learning theory and digital game-based learning theory. The study will employ a grounded theory paradigm of qualitative research and the Delphi method of inquiry. The expert panel will consist of 12 to 24 adult experts drawn from the field of videogames and learning. Both industry professionals and academics will be represented in the population. The concensus of the panel’s predictions, and any outlying or dissenting perspectives, will be reported in the final paper.

There isn’t really an outline for this type of session, and I don’t want to post the entire length of the submission here, so please check out the complete archive of the submission if you are interested:

Massively Multiplayer Schools (NECC 2008 Submission)

As always, I’d be thrilled to receive any feedback on this. Please leave a comment.