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

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I had all intention of writing a final blog post from NECC on what I was thinking the last day of the conference and where do we go from here, but you know what…it’s summer time and right now my priorities are with spending time with friends and family. We’re down to just 3 1/2 weeks before we fly out to our new home in Bangkok and just trying to prepare for departure has me running around. So much daily life stuff to take care of when really I just want to sit and enjoy the summer.

So today I’m doing just that. I’m sitting here on the porch with my mom getting stuff done.

NECC:

It’s been interestings reading what everyone has posted about the conference. Some people agreeing with my take on the conference and others saying that my posts are “rather scathing“.

I mean no disrepsect to ISTE or NECC. Trust me….I know the work it takes to pull off a conference, and not one near the size of NECC. My thoughts on the conference are just that, my thoughts and what I was needing or looking for from my experience there. Learning is individual and we all learn in different ways and in different formats.

For me NECC is a time to play with new tools, to have disucssions, and most importantly to meet my network in person. I get four days a year to meet the people I communicate with online, people I consider real friends from all over the US and world. Last year Blogger’s Cafe gave us a place to play with tools and have conversations. It was out of the way and there were no expectations of things to happen there. It was just what the name inferred. A cafe with a relaxed feel and friends new and old popping in and out. Last year Blogger’s Cafe was working for me. I would go to a session come back, blog the session, and have conversations. On top of that….the Starbucks stand was just a short walk away. 🙂

I was looking for that same feeling this year and never did find it. Many people did find it in different places and I’m glad they did. I just never found my grove.

I enjoyed my time with friends and meeting new people in my network and just people in general. I taught four people how twitter works and had some great conversations about international schools and things we’re doing Internationally.

There is a teacher shortage internationally right now and if you are a teacher who understands the changing world of technology and would love to travel for a couple years Amanda DeCardy wrote a great post on getting you started. You’re also a step ahead as you know you can call on your international network of teachers to help you out along the way. 😉

I gained a lot from NECC on conference formats and trying to meet the needs of all learners. That’s what we are at a conferenc; we’re learners and being a conference orgainzer is not much different then being a classroom teacher and trying to meet the needs of all the learners in the class/conference.

It just didn’t happen for me this year….but it’s about trying things new. NECC tried somethings new and now has an opportunity to go back, reflect, and see if the conference worked.

For my part I took away some valuble thoughts on conferences and creating spaces. Not what I went to NECC for, but still came away with something useful that I can use.

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.

Back from EdubloggerCon for the day and taking a break in the hotel room, catching up on the latest NECC chatter and reflecting on the day.

I was worried before I got here of two things:

1. That EdubloggerCon this year would be different, to big, to scripted, and not unconference enough for me.
2. That the NECC Unplugged sessions would over run the Blogger’s Cafe and leave us no place to converse.

I hate to say it but my worries about #1 came true today. Last year in Atlanta it was small, we had three break out sessions with the largest session having about 30 people in it. This year we had three break out sessions with each group having 50 to 80 people in it. Much like Twitter these days, EdubloggerCon failed to scale in size and voices, learning, and conversations were lost.

I think two things happened that we (as we all must take responsibility for EdubloggerCon as we create it) over looked.

David Jakes brought up the point that we overlooked the physical space of the conference and what we were given. The large room we used was not set up, nor did we ever take the time to set it up to really be used in a way that included/engaged people in a conversation. I went to 1 1/2 sessions in the room. Look at the picture to the right…does that look like an unconference, conversation session to you? I walked out of the second session as I was way off to one side, had a hard time hearing, and was not engaged in the conversation titled: If the Leaders Don’t Get It, It’s Not Going To Happen.

Secondly, I think we need to remember who we are…who this is for. We talk all the time about getting outside the echo chamber and let’s face it, EduBloggerCon is one big echo chamber. I look at the title of the session above and think: Yeah….we know that. We (90% of us here and watching live) know that leaders don’t get it and if they don’t get it it’s not going to happen…I know this already and the discussion did nothing but tell me that others get it too, that there are many ways to solve this issue, but all our schools are different and we solve the issue in different ways.

By 1:45ish a bunch of us who were frustrated started heading to the Blogger’s Cafe. By 2:30 it was the unconference many of us were hoping to find. The picture to the left shows what happened. It started with about 5 of us and ended up being a good 30 people in the Blogger’s Cafe. Here’s the difference….although there were 30 people there there were probably 5 or 6 different conversations happening. People grabbed chairs, computers, camera and just started talking. I would engage in a conversation to my right, over hear something on my left and turn and join that conversation. I watched (and filmed) Will Richardson jailbreaking his iPhone as I talked with Bud Hunt and Will about Mogulus, a live streaming service I had never heard of before.This is what learning spaces should look like, this is how learning happens, and what many of us were expecting to find. Too bad we found it late in the day and outside of EdubloggerCon.

So my second fear is that this picture above will not be the norm of the conference as it was last year at the Blogger’s Cafe. I’m scrolling through the NECC Unplugged planning wiki and as of Monday there isn’t much time for these conversations to happen. I’m worried these type of get out the tools and play sessions where we are all learning and teaching will be forced out of the Blogger’s Cafe. They are unplanned, unscripted, great discussions around tools, ideas, and just plain old good fun.

Erin who is experiencing NECC from Rochester, NY and watched a couple of us playing with Mogulus had this observation:

But the important thing is that they sit around and play with things. They don’t wait for the administrator to come in and tell them what to do. They don’t wait for the list of Time Magazine’s Top 100 websites. They play, they try things out and they talk to each other about what works and doesn’t work. Will had no idea why he should jail break his phone, nor did he know how. But he had the resources he needed and he went after them.

This is why I’m here! So that’s going to be the focus for the rest of the conference for me…to play with new things, to try things, learn things, and discuss things. I don’t need heavy discussion on why leader’s don’t get it. I don’t need to sit and talk about the same things we always talk about. No, I’m going to put myself in Beta mode and go out there and learn and teach.

Brian Crosby
was my motivator behind this approach as we talked about the day over a drink. Last year both Brian and I spent a lot of time at the Blogger’s Cafe. Brian learned all about RSS Readers and using Flock to publish to his blog. I spent my time wrapping my head around Twitter and back channel chats. We both used the time as “Beta Time” time to learn something new, to be taught something new, to take risks, laugh, and talk about how these tools, these ideas can be/might be using in a classroom. We were looking for something new not rehashing the old.

That’s what I think this conference needs to be for many of us (if you’re reading this you’re probably one of them!). As Brian and I talked he was telling me about some of the problems he’s having with his WordPress install and how he would just like to learn more about WordPress. I know wordpress and tomorrow will make myself available to those that want to talk about, learn, or play with WordPress. No time limits, no obligation, just “Beta Time” to share information. If you’re at NECC look for me in the Blogger’s Cafe. If you’re not here look for a tweet and if you are interested in joining in the learning we’ll try to fire up a live stream.

I personally would love to have some conversations around advance podcasting skills/software and any ideas you have about Wetpaint and how to make that product better.

Maybe this conference is about the tools, this is our time to learn, to push forward, and think of what’s next and where do we go from here. We have an opportunity here with so many of use in person to make this Beta Time a time to really push tools, push our thinking on how to use them in the classroom and then go back to our schools and help teachers use them. That’s why I’m excited for David Jakes and Dean Shareski’s presentation on PowerPoint. 🙂

The best 4 minutes of the day by Dean Shareski.

It’s all Beta….let’s treat it as such!

Landed in San Antonio today around 1:30 from Seattle. Left at 5:15am….is it bad when a 5 hour flight seems short and you actually look forward to sleeping upright on the plane?

We arrived with not air trouble, checked in and then drove back to the airport to pick up my sister-in-law. We only have 5 weeks this summer to spend time with friends and family so scheduling time is important. So this trip is a conference for me and time for my wife, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law to spend some time together (Sister-in-law works in AZ).

We went out to dinner tonight and then walked around a little before coming back to our hotel room where I found a tweet from Will Richardson who was live streaming from a restaurant on the River walk. Five minutes later I’m having a drink with Will, David, David, Dean, Brian, Laura, Bud and others.

So let NECC begin! The conversation started tonight..as it usually does when you get a bunch of us together and I know tonight was only the beginning. I’m still thinking about things that were said and will continue to reflect on tonight’s conversations as we head into the EduBloggerCon tomorrow.

So much to learn, so much to discuss, here we go with NECC08!

We had a great planning meeting last night looking at the latest numbers for the conference. Not a good sign when we have more presentations then people registered for the conference. 🙁

I’m not to worried at this point, but then again I’m not the one in charge of the money. 🙂 This is why there aren’t many educational conferences in September. The timing just isn’t good. Schools are just now really looking at finances for next year and many teachers are not sure what their PD funds will look like until they get back in August. That, with the fact that in the International system we have so many people changing schools every year that their heads aren’t on the conference, but on moving. Last year we saw some 300 people sign up for the conference in August. I just hope we see that again this year.

So those of you in the Asia region. Talk to your school heads and let’s get signed up!

Also I’m proud to announce that this year we will be running an EduBloggerCon. It will take place Thursday September 18th at 9am. Matt at Catshanghai and Amanda at From the Outside Looking In will be helping with the planning.

We’ll start at 9am and we’ll go until we’re done or until we need to leave to head over to the conference at about 4:30pm. What a great opportunity to meet other bloggers, talk Web 2.0 and just hang out in Shanghai. So come join us!

Also last night the group came up with a great idea to create a Diigo bookmarking group for the conference. This will allow people to share links to great resources before, during and after the conference as well as expose them to social bookmarking.

Last night we also took some time to play with Twitterlight. A Twitter application that runs on Microsoft Silverlight and looks really sweet (FYI…I’m sure we’ll play with this at NECC as well). SCIS where we will be holding the conference this year has 42 and 50 inch LCD TVs in every classroom and through out the school in hallways and common areas. Are plan is to have the conference twitter feed playing on these TVs throughout the conference!

The conference schedule is also coming together nicely. Two full days of intense learning…that’s what we want. We had the people at Chinesepod.com stop by last night and have a look around to help us create high quality podcasts of all the sessions (ChinesePod is one of the top downloaded podcasts on iTunes). Our plan is to release all sessions under a CC 3.0 license as well as Ustream four channels at the conference (depending on bandwidth).

The conference will kick off Thursday night with in a TED type style. Where our 8 invited presenters will have 5-7 minutes to motivate and excite the audience. Our hope is that it will push our presenters to come up with something new and different…get your point across in 5 minutes. Motivate and excite people in 5 minutes. It should be an interesting experiment for all of us.

Excited? I hope…now go register!