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.