Int. Education

Changing Conference Models

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In a weeks time I’ll be in Manila, Philippines to attend the EARCSO Administrators Conference. This will be the third year I’ve presented at the conference…guess it a good thing they invite me back every year. 🙂

This year though I’m trying something different. With the permission of the head of EARCOS. I asked if I could set up a cohort of administrators who might want to go deep in learning about leadership in a digital world. Of course I didn’t even know at the time if any administrators in the region would want to do such a thing. Imagine being stuck learning with me for three full days….who would put themselves through that?

In the end I was given permission to send out an e-mail to the administrators in the EARCOS region (about 100 international schools total). If I could get 20 administrators to say they would like to try a cohort model of learning that was embedded within the conference schedule I could trail this concept and see how it goes.

Within a week we had 25 people and ended up with a total of 33 administrators from Heads of Schools to Principals, IT Directors, and VPs. Needless to say I am very impressed!

So the concept is this: During the first session we’ll meet as a cohort for 90 minutes and do some investigating and hands-on computer work to frame our thinking for the conference. Then the cohort will be able to choose between two technology learning focused sessions to attend. After attending three sessions we will meet again to debrief our learning, reflect, and discuss what we’re thinking and how what we learn can be used in our schools when we leave the conference. We’ll follow this same format all three days.

I’ve been working with Andy Torris on this, my good friend and Deputy Superintendent of Shanghai America School. This year Andy and the IT team have rolled out some 1500+ laptops as they start their 1:1 program in grades 6-12. Andy also has more experience running PD sessions with administrators, making us a good team to lead this first cohort.

Andy and I were talking about how to engage the administrators in the conference, and have decided that what we want to do is give them options on how they can be active participants during sessions and the conference.

With that idea in mind I set up a blog for the cohort. Each member will have an account and if they so choose will be able to blog their thoughts through out the conference. It might be notes, ideas, or rambles…we really don’t care as long as it’s about their learning within the conference.

We also want to give administrators ideas and allow them to explore how some communication tools might be used in schools. So, we’re setting up chat rooms for each session, and if they so choose they can engage in a bake channel conversation during sessions.

Andy also pointed out that some administrators who might fill overwhelmed with blogs and chat rooms might prefer a simple form that they can fill out with leading questions so that they can share their thoughts with very few clicks. So, we’re creating a Google Form that, if they so choose, they can fill out during or after a session. We’ll make the Google Spread Sheet public so that their thinking, like the other methods will be public as well.

Three different ways to engage in learning during the conference. All you have to do is decide how you want/what works for you during the conference or a session.

That’s our message…that engaging in learning and what technology allows is differentiated approaches to meeting the same outcome. We don’t care how you engage in the learning process, just as long as you do.

We’ll see how this goes…it could be a total flop…but taking a risk and trying something new is way more fun than the same old conference year after year.

Of course there is a long range plan to my madness as well…..if this is successful we’ll look to replicate a similar cohort system in the teachers conference in March which all leads to a revolutionary conference format we’re working on for Learning 2.010 next September. Buckle up…as we’re about to get innovative!

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


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  3. Jeff,

    I just had a lengthy conversation with my boss regarding the nature of conferences, and frankly, we are done with the traditional technology conference. In short, our feeling is that by continuing to have conferences that are labeled and billed as “tech” conferences, we continue to ostracize the tech as an external force in education. It’s not anymore. We rarely do anything in our work lives anymore that is not touched by the advent of technology.

    Your model is more along the lines of what we were talking about, except that what every administrator I work with wants to know is “what next?” if we want innovation in our schools, and we want equity in our schools, what are the leadership steps we have to take to do that? Do you plan on addressing the nature of leadership and the role technology plays in it?

    • That’s our hope. Our hope is to talk about and discuss how schools and what schools are moving to a 1:1 program as many schools in the Asia region will be going 1:1 by 2012. So I know we’ll be focusing on leadership issues around 1:1 schools.

      I hope to also touch on what’s next. Thinking of pulling in the Horizon Report:

      Really what I’m hoping to help answer their questions. They will go listen to presentations but we’ll have time to get together and talk about what this all means for their school and give them time to discuss as a cohort what they are thinking. Really….it’s just time for them to have the conversations we always wish we had time to do at a conference….I’m just forcing them to make the time….or so that’s the plan. 🙂

  4. Barbara Barreda Reply

    Great concept Jeff. Yesterday morning in discussing TELL we begun thinking about the administrators also and wondering what we could provide for them and how to draw them into more active participation.
    I like your three ideas for interaction, blog,chat,form. There were many things that worked well on Saturday but one thing I thought was noteworthy was that during your talk many people who had never experienced a chat or back channel were online reading or participating in the chatzy.
    Conferences like the classroom can not be places to simply “fill up” our heads… but when there is no structure for reflection and conversation for many that is what happens.
    I will look forward to hearing how it goes.

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  7. Jeff,

    I’m excited to hear how the experience works out. It sounds like a method to help dig deeper and add context to the many different sessions that the administrators will attend there. In the last few conferences I have attended, I have left feeling somewhat disjointed and I think maybe some joint processing and reflection opportunities might be helpful to many conference attendees. It’s an interesting concept with a some great potential – best of luck with it!

  8. So, Jeff – how did it go? Was the new model a success? I am very curious to hear how it went from your end, and what the feedback was. Conferences — and EARCOS is no exception — need an overhaul when it comes to how tech is integrated. Kind of like some school systems. 🙂

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