Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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Excited to see the Learning 2.012 conference is filling up fast. The conference that I helped to start back in 2007 continues to explore the meaning of what it means to be a modern day conference. Every year the committee plays with different formats and different ways to get participants involved in the learning process. The one thing this conference has never had is a keynote speaker with the committee always trying to find ways to get participants involved in the learning process.

For Learning 2.012 in October the breakdown of sessions looks like this:

  • Two Extended Sessions led by Learning 2 Leaders (3 – 3.5 hours)
  • One Learning 2 Leaders presentation: the big idea in a nutshell
  • Two additional workshops or presentations
  • Two ‘unconference’ sessions
  • Three ‘cohort’ sessions in curriculum/common interest groupings
  • Three sets of Learning 2 Talk sessions

You’ll also want to check out the website and have a look at this years Learning Leaders. The conference continues to attract some of the best in the field and within International Education. 

I’m honored that after stepping down as a main conference organizer two years ago that the committee has asked me to stay involved and has again invited me back to be a learning leader. It is one of my favorite conferences to attend and be apart of for no other reason in that it’s just different from any other conference I’ve been to.

The Early Bird Registration ends this Friday (June 1st). If you haven’t registered already you might want to head on over and get registered quickly. After June 1st it will cost you an extra $50. I wouldn’t be so worried about the extra $50 as I would be that the conference will fill up. It’s limited to 500 participants.

Have you been to Learning 2.0 in the past? What have been your take aways from the conference?

If you are going in October what is it your looking forward to the most?

My wife left early this morning for Hawaii. I know…completely lost on her. From Bangkok to Hawaii…..

She’s off to visit a friend, one of the benefits of taking a year off from working and having frequent flier miles to spend.

So that leaves me with a week of no school and time to myself to prepare for what has shaped up to be one heck of a busy November.

Nov. 1-4: EARCOS Admin Conference

Nov. 7-9: Jakarta Weekend Workshop: Learning in a Digital World

Nov. 21-22: United Nations International School of Hanoi

This week I’ll be creating my presentations and focusing in on what my message will be.


I’ll be pulling a lot from Presentation Zen. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It just might change the way you teach. Also, make sure you subscribe to the Presentation Zen blog. It’s one of those books that simplifies the process down to something that just works. In fact Garr Reynold’s simple idea of going off line to plan your presentation has completely focused my presentations the way I want. I spent about 3 hours on Sunday sitting outside on the balcony outlining the four presentations for EARCOS in my notebook. It took me 2 hours to outline the four presentations. Now the fun part of just putting them together.

This book has quickly made the rounds at our school. I loaned it to Kim Cofino after I finished reading it right before Learning 2.008. She got such great feedback on her presentations that she ended up holding a whole unconference session around Presentation Zen.

The book has made the rounds at school as well, and our school just ordered four more copies of it. The best use by far has been watching a couple teachers use the technique as a way to present information in their classes and have all given feedback on how well the students liked the format, were engaged, and attentive.

It’s not a hard format, actually….it’s quite simple, and Garr does a great job of explaining the process that one should follow. A process I now use.

As I’ve been working through my presentations I keep coming back to a common theme of communication. On how technology and the Internet really boils down to allowing us to communicate in new ways. As I was doing some research yesterday I found this article from Wired.

Home Sweet Office: Telecommute Good for Business, Employees, and Planet

Last year, researchers from Penn State analyzed 46 studies of telecommuting conducted over two decades and covering almost 13,000 employees. Their sweeping inquiry concluded that working from home has “favorable effects on perceived autonomy, work-family conflict, job satisfaction, performance, turnover intent, and stress.” The only demonstrable drawback is a slight fraying of the relationships between telecommuters and their colleagues back at headquarters — largely because of jealousy on the part of the latter group.

It’s a great article and as I read it I kept coming back to the same question:

How does this change the way we communicate?

Are we preparing students to communicate and work in this way?

Is this the future/solution to smog, oil prices, commute times?

I have a feeling this research will be making an appearance somewhere in November. 🙂

The second season of Shift Our Schools kicks off tonight as David and I along with Kim Cofino reflect about the Learning 2.008 Conference in Shanghai.

We’re changing things up this year starting with a new website dedicated to the podcast. Click on the link above or the picture to head to the website.

We are in iTunes and ready to go! Click here will take you to our iTunes page where you can subscribe to the podcast to be downloaded automatically.

Once again this year we will broadcast live on the web. (Click on the Live page on the website). We have also set up a Skype account for the podcast and will try and have live call-ins for those that want to join the conversation. We’ll see how this goes in the first couple of weeks and decide whether or not to keep the feature (link down the sidebar on the website).

We’ve also started a Diigo group so that listeners can share links around our essential questions. Please bookmark them with the episode number that the link refers to.

As usual each podcast will revolve around an essential question. Here is just a taste of some of the questions we’ll be struggling with this year.

  • Where do you start the shift?
  • How to infuse information literacy throughout the curriculum?
  • How to shift wehn the administration is not on board?
  • How do you shift administrtors?
  • What are some shifted practices?

Why do I podcast?

It’s a different conversation, it’s talking through rather than writing through your thoughts. Honestly I was not planning on doing the podcast again this year, but I had people at NECC and at Learning 2.008 tell me they were waiting for us to start the show again. So, I do it not only for my own reflection and thought process but for those that listen as well. It’s about sharing ideas, thoughts, and knoweldge and I hope that is what we do on some level.

You can get a schedule of the podcasts on the website. We record live at 7pm Bangkok Time (GMT+7) or 8pm China time (GMT+8). The podcast focus on International Schools and International Education, we hope you enjoy this small glimpse into the world in which we educate.

I’ve been thinking about reflection lately and how we use it in our classrooms. I can remember being in elementary school and being asked to reflect in a journal. Reflection is a great process…a proven process of learning. We’ve been asking students to reflect for years in education so one simple question:

Do you give yourself permission to reflect during the work day?

and another question:

Do your administrators give you permission to reflect during the work day?

I say during the work day because I truly feel if we are to become better educators we need reflection time built into what we do. To often we end up like Jenny:

When you spend a considerable amount of time learning about how we transform learning with the use of new tools you find yourself online a lot. Most of this effort happens outside of my working day which impacts on sleep, family time and time spent with friends.

And that’s not good!

Why is it the educators place a high value on the reflective process yet do not give themselves permission to do it during their own working hours? Every educator has prep time. We use that time in a multitude of ways, yet how many of us set time aside just once a week to take 30 minutes or so and reflect.

You don’t have to blog, or even write. Reflecting could be reading an educational journal, it might be sitting and staring out the window, or it might be writing down your thoughts.

Andy Torris, an administrator, finds time in the back of the car when he’s going from one campus to another in his “Dispatch from the Road” posts. Andy uses his working day time, to reflect and write about his thinking.

New comer to the blogosphere David Hamilton has an excellent post on reflection and the act of reflecting.

But lest we forget, reflection is hard work. Whether we are sorting out our emotions and discerning personal values and attitudes, or discovering the shaky underpinnings of contemporary truths, reflection takes work, and, I would suggest, it takes practice. As I prepared to write this blog, I was amazed at how difficult it is to keep focused on a single abstract topic for stretches of time over several days.

Yes, reflecting is hard work! It takes practice, but more than that it takes time. Do you give yourself permission to reflect?

At the Learning 2.008 conference we had seven unconference sessions where participants could choose to go find a corner and reflect. Yet I have had conversations with people who went to the conference who said:

“I just wish I would have had time to site and play with everything I was learning.”

You did! You just didn’t give yourself permission to sit and let it soak in. Instead it was more important to you to go to this session, or that unconference session. Don’t blame the conference, we gave you the time…you just chose to use it in a different way.

Isn’t that what we do with prep time during our working day? We make a choice on how we are going to spend that time. We make the choice to answer e-mails, grade those papers, or update our facebook status.

During the Shanghai EduBlogger Con I was talking with some newbie bloggers who asked the question:

“Where do you find the time to blog?”

My anwers:

I schedule it into my work day. When I was hired and again the first week of school I told my administartion that I will be blogging during working hours. That blogging for me is about learning and reflecting. Blogging is not just writing, it is the act of reading, thinking, reflecting and writing. As a technology person in a school helping teachers, I need that time to reflect and learn about what’s happening, and I make a point to schedule that into my work day.

Question:

“So you close your door, make yourself unavaliable and blog?”

Answer:

2008-09-28_1442 by jutecht.Yes! I, unlike a classroom teacher, do not have set aside prep time. So I create my own around my lunch hour. I give myself 30 minutes of reflection time every day and back that with a 45 minute lunch. I shut off my e-mail client, I shut my door (or would if I had one) and I reflect. Now if a teacher comes to my door and needs my help of course I help them, but that rarely happens during the lunch hour.

I don’t write a blog post every day. Some days I read my RSS reader, other days I listen to a podcast or watch a YouTube video. Somedays I follow links and learn, and other days….I blog.

I give myself permission to reflect. I as a learner need that time, I understand how important it is to reflect and my administrators understand that it is legitimate use of my prep time.

Make reflection part of your work day. If it is something you try and do outside of school it won’t happen. There is rarely a time when I’m not thinking about education and technology…but it’s my passion and I love it! Some teachers have other interests, and that’s great! But give yourself time to reflect on your practice. Make it a habit to reflect and make it part of your work day.

Give yourself permission to reflect….it’s OK

If you need permission from someone then you have it from me. Tell your administrator that Jeff Utecht says you need to take time to reflect. If they have an issue with it…they can contact me! 🙂

I think these pictures tell the story better than I can. I always have this weird feeling when the conference is over. Part of me is so relieved that it’s over and another part of me never wanted it to end. I was tired, running on pure adrenalin by the end of it but so excited to see educators learning together and from each other.

On Thursday night I challenged the participants to walk away from this conference with two things.

1. That they understand that learning happens through connections. Whether it is connecting people, thoughts, ideas, or knowledge just understand that learning happens when we make connections and that this conference was about creating and fostering those connections.

2. That we try and wrap our heads around what it means to learn how to learn. We say this is a skill our students need to learn, this conference was about participants taking control of their own learning and using that time so they could learn how to learn.

I wonder how many people walked away from this conference having a better understanding of these two concepts.

There are so many little snippets that I want to write about, but I’m sure they will come out over the next couple of blog posts. For now I leave you with these pictures.

If you want…and I do encourage it. You can visit the ning site where the participants once again this year came together to create collaborative notes for each session. Visit any session and you will get an overview of what was talked about or discusses.

My hat is off to the folks at Praxis Language and specifically Ken Caroll who over the coming weeks will be editing and uploading some 70+ audio files for us. We figure we captured about 70% of the conference. Not bad for handing the whole operation over to 7th and 8th graders who organized themselves and made sure the job got done.

I really don’t know what to think or feel at this time. Where do we go from here? What does the future hold for myself and the conference? As Warlick put it, I come away with more questions then answers.

Thank you to everyone who attended both near and far. Thank you to the amazing team of organizers each one of us finding our niche, playing our role that made this conference what it was.

I can only speak for myself when I say for me Learning 2.008 is a model conference. It takes what we talk about our classrooms looking like, feeling like, and being like and tries to create that feeling for educators. Get uncomfortable, get involved, and learn!

1. Before someone talks you into creating/organizing/hosting a conference make sure you’re prepared for the work ahead.

2. Once you are prepared for the work, double the time you think it will take, multiple that by two, and then you might be close.

3. Always remember you are doing this to better education (or educators) or so you hope.

___________________

It’s the day before the conference starts and big thanks to my Principal and ISB for giving me the week off to be here in Shanghai to finish planning for the conference. I really don’t know how I would have done it otherwise.

There are about 6 main organizer and then about another 6 helping us out on the ground. We have a total of about 550 people coming if we include everyone even the 60+ middle school and high school students who will be helping out with tech support.

It’s been a crazy conference and at the last planning meeting we found ourselves about 100 people over what we were expecting.

We started looking for more presenters and before I knew what had happened, everyone was looking at me.

Hence I’m now doing three presentations. If that’s not bad enough they’ve put me in the same sessions with the rest of our invited guess (OK, I did have some say in that part).

Now, it’s an honor to be considered to present along with the invited guests, and at the same time trying to organize and present at the same conference is not recommended.

But here I find myself the day before the conference scrambling to create/remix some presentations.

I’m doing three:

I just love this picture of my opening talk on why we’re thinking differently. It’s a talk/discussion on the theory behind what is pushing us into this new way of learning. It’s based a lot on George Siemen’s work (who was suppose to be here but couldn’t make it). Educators seem to like it as it gives them a frame to try and understand that we (technology people) are not just pushing this stuff because we like it, but because it’s our world today.

My other two presentations are down and dirty stuff that educators can take with them.

From Print to Digital: Learning to Write for the Web

10 Digital Tools for Digital Educators

I’m really excited about the 10 Digital Tools presentation. Our presentation times are only 45 minutes long. This session looks to introduce 10 tools, and then allow educators to use the 7 unconference sessions to learn more about the tools they might find helpful in their classrooms.

Many people have commented on the 45 minute time slots as not being enough time. As presenters I think when you are at a conference like this that honors conversations over presentations you have to rethink what it means and how you engage people. Use the unconference times to extend your thinking. Hit them with something hard and deep, and then take the 5 hours we give you to engage in conversations around your presentation.

Yes it’s short, but we are not looking for a sage on the stage, we’re looking for facilitators of thought and learning.

It’s a switch. It’s the same switch we have asked teacher to make, and now as a conference we’re asking conference goers and presenters to make that switch as well.

This is all “Beta” of course, but that’s what teaching and learning is suppose to be in this day in age right? We don’t have all the answers, heck this whole conference format might not work, but then again………

Ready or not……it’s time to change!

Learning 2.008 Shanghai Conference

It’s about the learner!

This conference is about allowing you the learner to take control of your own learning, to create opportunities for yourself to learn. We have done nothing more than to solicit the help of professional learners to help you in your own learning journey.

We talk about teaching students to learn how to learn. Next weekend….you get to learn how to learn. This conference is not designed for you to sit and listen to sessions for two days. This conference is designed to peek your interest with 45 minute presentations and then allow you to go explore, to grab a friend, a professional….a learner and learn together, create something new, or just chat about your classroom.

We (the conference organizers) know that the best conversations during a conference happen in the hallways, by the pool, or outside the conference all together. We have made the hallways our conference, we have provided you with breakfast, lunch and unlimited drinks (thank you Coca-Cola) and have created spaces that allow you to learn and carry-on conversations where you feel most comfortable. There is no pressure to go to sessions if you are having an in-depth discussion that is a learning experience. In fact you don’t have to go to a session at all. This is about you taking control of your learning. You decide how to spend your time, where to spend your time, and we’ll do our best to make sure you have the time you need to go as deep as you want with your own understanding of this new world we are now learning in.

If you are expecting to sit and get, for everything to be black and white….this conference is not for you.

If you find yourself wanting more, wanting time to sit and talk, or sit and play with a digital tool for hours….this conference is for you.

Bring that digital camera you have been wanting to learn how to use, bring that laptop that you know can do so much more. Bring a website you want to learn how to use, or bring a thought you would like to explore. We have done nothing more than create an atmosphere for learning.

Thursday night we will start with our inspirational speeches. Taken from the TED format our invited learners will have 10 minutes to inspire you, to push you, to help you start to think about a different type of learning, a different type of conference.

We are excited to bring you Learning 2.008. A conference like no other!

As a technology person you don’t always get to decide where you are going to start with teachers. In fact, most of the time the teachers tell you where you are going to start.

Hence my focus on parent communication. Many teachers are looking at using blogs as a way to communicate with their parent communities.

Now, before I go any further I say they “use blogs” but that doesn’t mean they are blogging. I do believe there is a difference. Teachers find the ease of which you can setup a web site and post new content using a blogging program simple and straight forward.

So blogging and using a blogging program as a website…are to different things. I do believe, however, that you can start using the blogging software as a website for communication and as you get comfortable with how it works, how to create conversations, and how students/parents can and will respond that you can move from a blog as a website to a blog as an actual blog…..does that make sense?

I saw teachers make this transition at SAS: kpower, spower, adecardy just to name three who starting out using a blogging platform and ended up blogging.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve been working with the 1st grade team here at ISB in creating a portal for their parents. Vu, the technology leader, has really embraced the digital tools with the rest of the 1st grade team. They use a Google Doc to plan their meetings, and a blog to communicate with parents.

We talk about making it easy for teachers to use these tools so when I walked into Vu’s room the first day and he told me what he wanted to do I said:

“OK, we can do that….and what if we can do it all from your desktop? You, and the team, won’t have to remember passwords, or sites….you can just put content where you want it.”

Needless to say the Smartones are off and running!


So here’s the setup on the first grade teacher laptops.

  • ScribeFire: Still my favorite client for blogging. It’s simple, straight forward and teachers pick it up quickly. I showed Vu how to install it and connect to the blog and he helped the rest of the team get theirs set up.
  • Google Calendar Sync with iCal: This is different than just subscribing to a calendar. You can write an appointment into iCal and it syncs back to Google Calendar.
  • FFXporter iPhoto Plugin: Vu found this great plugin for iPhoto that allows you to select a picture (or group of pictures) and upload them to Flickr.
  • FlickrSLiDR: We created a FlickrSLiDr slideshow and embedded that on a page of the blog. Now when the teachers upload their photos to Flickr and put them in their set they automatically appear on the blog. From there parents can click on a picture that takes them back to Flickr where they can download it and keep it if they so choose.

So that’s the basic setup…so invision this.

You take a picture of a great project in your class, you download the picture to your Mac which automatically imports it into iPhoto. You select the picture and export to flickr. When it is down uploading the pic it automatically opens the picture on Flickr where you can name the picture and save it. Next you click on ScribeFire, write a post, drag and drop the picture from Flickr into your blog post where you want it, select your categories, and click “Publish”.

You want to add something to the calendar during a team meeting? No problem, while your iCal is open just select your Google Cal add the event and your parents know about it instantly.

We talk about what Web 2.0 can do for a teacher, how about making the web seem like it’s just on your desktop.

At Monday’s after school help session I was talking with a different teacher explaining how she can get Flickr pictures to show up on her blog. My reply was simple:

“You have to understand that the Interent is created by connections or links. Once you understand that it is connections that run the web, a whole new world opens up to you. By connecting people, places, and websites we can push and pull almost any information anywhere.”

There were a couple comments left on my last post about communicating in this new digital landscape. Blogs and wikis might not be the best solution. I agree they might not be…but then again they might be for a particular teacher or school. I do believe however that my thoughts on communicating digitally do not apply to only blogs, or wikis or Web 2.0 tools. I believe it’s just solid advice for communicating digitally period!

(If you want to hear more on that subject you’ll have to come to my Learning 2.008 session!)

These tools are here to make our lives simpler. If teachers can not find that simpleness they will not use the tools. At a technology person in the school you have to find ways to make it simple and help teachers to understand that this is not “just one more thing” but actually replaces some of the old things they were doing. This isn’t deep change, but it’s a start.

So the first full day of NECC 2008 comes to an end and I find myself thinking more about conferences, how to create them, manage them, and make them relevant to participants then I thought I would. Have I mentioned the conference we’re doing in Shanghai? 🙂

I’ve been thinking a lot about spaces and how important it is to create spaces for learning and conversing at the conference. Today I ran into cognitive overload. Ewan McIntosh does a beautiful job of explaining exactly how I was feeling today.

At one point I literally had to find a quiet corner in the Hyatt to just take a breathe and relax. I felt like calling a time out and just pausing everything for a second.

So here are my thoughts on designing and organizing a conference.

Pace: The pace of the conference is an important aspect to consider. Chris Lehmann and I talked about this for a bit yesterday. How much time do you give between presentations? How many presentations do you have during a session? Both of these help to determine the pace of the conference. At NECC this year the feeling of many (including me) is that the pace of the conference is just to fast. Many sessions are closed to participants 15 minutes before they are do to begin. One person in the Blogger Cafe today talked about showing up 30 minutes early to get into a session and the line was already forming outside. Here at NECC the sessions run 60 minutes with varying start times in between sessions. With sessions filling up so fast, people feel an urgency to get to sessions quickly and then once there, feel like they can’t “vote with your feet” and leave a session because there is no guarantee that there is another session with space.

Scale to Size: I talked about this in my last post and I think it is something you must make a priority if you are planning any type of conference. Your conference venue and the number of sessions you run per hour are two factors that you need spend time thinking about. At NECC this year I saw a sign that stated there were over 13,000 participants. A quick count of the number of presentations that were offered at 11am this morning was 33. A little simple math 13,000/33=394 people per presentation. 394 people per presentation means you need to have a venue that can hold 33 sessions at a time and each room must hold 394 people….good luck!

I don’t know what the perfect size of a session is but close to 400 people per presentation seems a little big to me, and some of the rooms here were never made to hold 400 people (some have been closed to participants due to fire code violations).

There is such a thing as to much: We get excited about trying new things, trying to expand these conferences to meet the needs of everyone. 13,000 educators have a lot of needs, and us in the edublogosphere have needs we want met as well. Last year NECC set up the Blogger’s Cafe for us and it was an amazing area where conversations flowed, people connected, and ideas were spread.

This year the Blogger’s Cafe has not been that for many. The placement of the Cafe this year has a lot to do with it. Last year (as many of us in Atlanta will recall) the Blogger’s Cafe was out of the way, down a long hallway. You had to make an effort to get there, you had to want to go there to engage in conversations. This year the Blogger’s Cafe is on a many thoroughfare. People are coming and going constantly and many people grab a chair real quick to check e-mail as they are passing through. In between sessions the space is very crowded and over flowing with people. Twice today I went and couldn’t find a place to set my bag down. Could NECC have put the Blogger’s Cafe in another spot? I’m not sure, from the looks of things they are pretty crammed into the conference center here the way it is.

Secondly, NECC Unplugged is also being held in the Blogger’s Cafe. Would it be better in another spot? I think we all agree it would…but where? The Blogger’s Cafe was never made to hold “sessions” of any type. The conversation atmosphere does not lend itself to even quick 7 or 10 minute demos of programs. The Blogger’s Cafe serves a purpose as a place to converse face to face. Trying to make the space something it isn’t adds to the cognitive overload that I think many of us are feeling at the conference this year.

There is such a think as doing to much and I think we found that this year at the Cafe. Not every great idea needs to be played out.

As I continue to think about the Learning 2.008 conference I can’t help but hope that I have learned some valuable lessons from NECC this year.

  • We’re hoping for 500 people meaning we need about 20 presentations a session to keep our numbers around 25 people a presentation
  • We need to manage the pace of the conference. We try and do this using an unconference model where conversations can go for days and there is no obligation to ever stop a conversation giving a relaxed feel to the learning space.
  • Expand without over doing it: We will use Twitter this year again, tweak the way we used it, but continue to use it as our synchronous communication tool during the conference.

It’s been great as people have come up to me during the past couple of days and have wanted to know more about our conference and how we run it. I don’t think you can directly compare Learning 2.008 to NECC between the size and the fundamental belief in conversations being the main focus of learning the two conferences are just different. But I do believe we can learn from each other on what a conference in the 21st Century needs to feel like.

While visiting with Ken Caroll at the Praxis Language studios before I left Shanghai, Ken and I sat down and just started talking about the conference. The format, who was attending and just had a conversation around the idea of what we’re trying to do.

A great 17 minute listen if you want/need more information about the conference. It’s funny listening back to the conversation and the excitement in my voice….I really do enjoy this stuff!