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.