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. ;)