For the past 10 years now, my school district has put on this huge educational technology conference. I say our district but in fact its really my department. My dept. of ed tech specialists, all prior classroom teachers, consists of a whopping 13 people. Together, in addition to our regular duties, we throw together this technology conference. Just to give you a little perspective, the conference this year consisted of approximately 70 vendors and sponsors, (big-names such as Apple, Discovery Education, Audio Enhancement, Scholastic, etc.) and keynote and featured speakers such as Tim Tyson, Hall Davidson, Kathy Schrock, Mark Benno and Alan November and over 200 breakout sessions! We typically have over 2000 teachers and administrators in attendance. Rain or shine! And we don't charge a penny for our teachers to attend this terrific staff development event.
Last Friday I had the opportunity to participate not only as one of the people who was running the show, but also as a participant and presenter. Here are a few thoughts that are now running through my head as I sort through my experiences of last Friday:
- I was (pleasantly) surprised at the level of knowledge, or perhaps interest, that our teachers currently possess as compared to when we first began this conference 10 years ago. I overheard teachers discussing their choices and they were wondering if they should attend the Google Earth session or a session on Second Life. In other words, these teachers weren't talking about PowerPoint or Word.
- Many of the teachers were active learners in the breakout sessions. I heard this from numerous presenters, and this was true in my session as well. Teachers were not just interested in sitting back and consuming information from the presenter. And, this was perfectly fine with me and the other presenters I spoke with. We are all for conversation rather than the "I feed you" method. Our participants were conversing, interjecting and adding to the discussion. They weren't just asking questions, they were at times challenging our very thoughts. This is good! Isn't this what we want our students to do?
- Likewise, I was an active learner in my session. My session was more conversational than presenter v. audience and I really enjoyed the comfortable interaction between me and within the members of the group. My session was on del.cio.us bookmarking and using the networking feature. If there was more time, I would have liked to have exchanged del.ico.us usernames so that we could continue our conversation as it began.
- In many sessions, in the courtyard, in the auditorium and other "remote" places there were video cameras, cellphones, laptops, iPhones, and other electronic instruments of destruction! In truth, we were doing exactly what we won't let the kids do. We were extending our learning to others who couldn't be there. Or for ourselves to extend our learning at another time or place. Hmmm, see how that works so well for us. Let's see, there was video conferencing, uStreaming, text messaging, Twittering (see a Twitter stream below), podcasting, and good ol' note taking.
- Like all participants, I could not be everywhere. (However, it is my goal to work on this one.) It is my hope that the participants were making good use of the Presenter Directory at the end of the program. If there was a session I wanted to attend, but didn't get to, I will contact that presenter to see if I can get a copy of his/her handouts, or hopefully they have information online somewhere. Perhaps they might be blogging somewhere? I hope others are thinking to do the same.
- I saw a few familiar faces in the breakout sessions on Friday and they weren't in the audiences. They were presenters. These were teachers who, up to last year, had not even attended one of our conferences. They felt so techno-phobic that they would be absolutely lost at a tech conference. I am so proud of these people for the courage that it took to take the leap and say, "if I can do this, anyone can do this" and want to show others that it's true! The idea that beginners can not only attend these conferences but have something to share, is too valuable to ignore! I'm already planning a future breakout session or presentation geared towards motivating beginners to share what they know... perhaps getting them to realize they know more then they know. Yeah, you know!
Here's a snapshot of the Twitter chat that was streaming during the conference.
As it turns out, when I checked my del.icio.us network this morning, I noticed some familiar names in my network. I'm proud and encouraged that some of the teachers in my session noted my del.icio.us username in my handouts and added me to their networks already... check off item #3. :)
And the beat goes on...