A Week at NECC09

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Well, I’m back home and rested up from an exciting week in Washington DC at NECC09. It was an interesting experience that in many ways I am still trying to process. The last time I attended NECC was in 2006 when the conference was held in San Diego. I have to say that I wasn’t impressed with that particular conference. No matter how hard I tried, I kept stumbling into sessions that sounded great, but were little more than PhD dissertation sessions. NECC09 was quite a bit better! During the past three days I attended sessions on:

  1. Library of Congress
  2. iPods & iPhones in the Classroom (multiple sessions)
  3. Here Comes Learning with Will Richardson & Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach
  4. VoiceThread in the Classroom
  5. Flat Classroom Project
  6. Google Earth & Web 2.0 Tools
  7. Students as Contributor: Digital Learning Farm with Alan November

While all of these sessions were great and I’ll be posting on each one in the next few days, the highlight of NECC09 was the networking and informal learning though conversations with colleagues from all over the country.  These conversations occurred in two places – the Blogger’s Cafe, where so many of my friends constantly hung out and often sought refuge from sessions that weren’t as great as advertised and through backchannel discussions on Twitter.  As I reflect on NECC09, I wonder if the whole notion of a conference in dramatically changing.  These events used to be focused on formal direct instruction sessions and maybe a handful of hands on labs.  However, one thing I noticed at NECC is that many of us were skipping sessions in order to sit down for informal learning and discussion in the Blogger’s Cafe.  More than once I heard someone say, “I should be going to a session, but the conversation I’m having here will likely be more worthwhile.” Granted many of these people are our EdTecherati, the active members of the edtech community who regularly blog, tweet, and hangout in Elluminate sessions.  Sitting through a one hour session on how to use Smartphones to send Excel files (yes this did occur) or walking though poster sessions (why we still have posters at a technology conference is beyond me) might not meet the needs of these individuals and perhaps we’ve just created our own strand.  Regardless, its something we should think of for future conferences.  How do we meet the needs of these educators?

The backchannel discussions on Twitter were also quite fascinating.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with backchannel discussions, here’s a brief description.  Basically while someone was presenting, many of us in the audience used Twitter to share our observations, thoughts, and reflections with the hashtag #necc09.  By using this code anyone, whether physically at NECC or not, could easily find our tweets and participate in session discussions through a piece of software like Tweetdeck.  The backchannel conversations built upon the information that was being shared by the presenter and often provided a different view into the content being taught.  One of the more interesting backchannel discussions occurred during the Oxford style debate on Tuesday that started with the statement “Bricks and mortar schools are detrimental to the future of education.”  The debaters included Brad Jupp, Cheryl Lemke, Michael Horn, and Gary Stager, along with two high school students.  If you haven’t watched the debate, sit down with some popcorn and check it out (you have to fast forward through the first 20 minutes or so of NECC/ISTE blah-blah, but then it gets good.  The backchannel conversations pretty much exploded during  Gary Stager’s remarks, which isn’t too surprising if you’ve ever seen him present and I thought for sure we’d crash the network, but amazingly we didn’t.

So where am I going with all of this?  Well, to summarize NECC09 was a great experience where I had multiple opportunities to learn and grow, but the majority of this did not occur during formal learning experiences.  It occurred through face-to-face conversations, and backchannel Twitter discussions during presentations.  In many ways, I guess I’m not too different than my students.  The very nature of education overall, not just K-12, is changing…and its changing because people are carving a new, customized path with technology and social media.  During Will Richardson’s session he mentioned that a little while back he had the opportunity to ask Clay Shirkey what people will say when they look back on on this period of time and Shirkey’s response was that people we will be amazed at how little they understood about what was happening.

Joe

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