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.