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

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Yes we try and make the Learning 2.008 Educational Technology conference a little different each year. We don’t just talk about changing the was we teach and learn, we try and model it as well. We don’t always succeed but it’s about taking risks and pushing ourselves as educators. We can not expect educators to go to a conference where we tell them that they need to take risks, learn something new, and reflect without us as conference organizers doing the same.

We continue to try and do that sometimes failing, sometimes succeeding. We’ve already learned a lot this year about the hassle of trying to accept Credit Card payments. It’s not as easy as one might think and then put China on top of it and…well…let’s just say we took a risk and this time it didn’t pay off. But we learned something! We learned that Pay Pal is not the answer and that if we do continue the conference in the future we’ll have to rethink some things.

We’re also rethinking how to hold a pre-conference. With over 150 teachers (at this point) flying in from all over the world for the conference during a school week we had to think about how we best utilize time. We wanted to run a pre-conference but found that many schools and educators weren’t willing to release teachers (or didn’t want to miss time with students) for a pre-conference day or two before the actual conference. David Gran one of the main conference organizers contacted Chris Smith who owns International School Island in Second Life. Together they’ve been working to create a SLearning 2.008 Pre-Conference not only for those who will attend the conference in Shanghai, but for all of you who want to participate virtually.

Chris has created an amazing setting on International School Island in Second Life for our 3 pre-conference sessions. Below you will find the dates, times, and events. I hope you can make all three events, but I’d like to draw your attention especially to the third date, Sunday, September 14th. This event, one week before the “Real Life” conference will be an open forum for our Learning 2.008 Committee to meet and talk with participants. Note that this will be 9 PM Shanghai Time.

Dates (Sundays)

Times

  • 6:00am S.L. time (California)
  • 9:00am New York time
  • 2:00pm UK time
  • 5:00pm Dubai time
  • 8:00pm Bangkok time
  • 9:00pm Hong Kong/China time

If you are unfamiliar with Second Life, its a great opportunity to log on and give it a whirl. It’s pretty easy to get started, but you’ll need to download the program from : http://secondlife.com/ . Once you’ve downloaded the program, entering the SLurl below into your browser will take you directly to International Schools Island. If you need any help at all, contact Chris Smith or David Gran.

Venue
* International Schools Island
* SLurl http://tinyurl.com/2o44dw
* http://slurl.com/secondlife/International%20Schools%202/71/172/56

Chris has done an amazing job in organizing this, and it will be a great opportunity to participate in an online collaboration in a 3D environment. I hope you’ll join us.

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.

Ken Caroll of Praxis Language (and the famous ChinesePod.com) invited me out to their new studio here in Shanghai to record some sound bites for the Learning 2.008 conference. Ken and Praxis Language will help us to record every session of the Learning 2.008 conference this year. (More on my visit with Ken later)
I worked with their sound guy David to create an audio ad that we are releasing here for distribution.
Our hope is that you will take this 19 second clip and embed it in your own educational podcasts, pass it around to friends, e-mail it to teachers in your school, or post it on your own blog/site to help spread the word about the conference. Yes, I had way to much fun recording this and editing it with David.
Please take, use, remix, distribute, and use at will. It is released under a Creative Commons 3.0 License.

As far as I know we’re the first conference to release a mp3 audio ad on the Internet for use in podcasts and other audio media. …and that’s just the beginning of firsts for this years conference. You will not want to miss it!


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