Random Thoughts

EdubloggerCon and my need for Beta Time

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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!

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.


  1. Thank you for the post and there is that Shareski video again. I am new to all of this, but can hear your frustrations. I have gone away from Wetpaint, but need to try it again, and I’m hoping to get there early for the Jakes/Shareski PowerPoint show! Have a great night Jeff.

  2. Admittedly, I was hoping that the Unplugged sessions would be held in a location other than the Bloggers’ Cafe.

    While I can still hope, the outlook looks bleak.

  3. Jeff,
    Thanks for capturing EBC for us who cannot attend. While it may seem different than our experiences from last year, the breadth and depth of the snippets of conversations in the video make me wish even more that I could have joined you all there.
    Enjoy NECC. Look forward to connecting to the conversations from afar.

  4. It was impossible for me to be with you this year and I really appreciate this post Jeff. Keep it that way… You seem to be in a great mood for all those guys like me who needs some beta participant!

  5. Patricia Young Reply

    It is 10:25pm and I am trying to find things that I missed out on today because of my late arrival. Thanks Jeff, to posting this and also telling me awhile back who to follow on Twitter, it sure does make things more interesting. Are there any more unplugged sessions planned?

  6. Enjoyed following you all from EBC to the Blogger’s Cafe. It was fun to see you work and learn together. That’s the best kind of learning – informal – unplanned. Thanks for posting your reflections. I agree.

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  8. Jeff, I wish that I had joined you at the real unsession. It was what I was hoping for myself, but was not able to get. There were other factors as well that made the day different and not seem like the right energy as was experienced last year. One you touched on, was that no one took the initiative to break down the rows and make a circle. A second was that everyone was so concerned with setting up back channels and streams, that many of us forgot the charm and importance of using this time to have actual, physical, f2f conversations. We are in the same physical space and time so infrequently that we need to take advantage of this time together to reconnect and strengthen the bonds that we have forged online. It took me back to the time when I was at junior high, trying to navigate and figure out which “group” to belong too, which group had the coolest toys. A mentality which asks us to see how cool we can be by bringing in as many others in the group via other methods.

    I want to add one more concern to your list, that the back-channel that I was fortunate to have the opportunity to join with you last year at NECC, will also consume many, who will be trying to “catch up” with others in sessions to participate, rather than having time to listen to ideas, reflect on them, let them peculate, and then share them. Just like your need for beta time.

    I look forward to sharing beta time with you, Brian, and others. Let’s kick the unplugged group out of the bloggers cafe. Or better yet, lets find a spot where we can share without the structure.

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  12. Jeff, it’s been great interacting with you the past two days. Sorry you didn’t get much out of the leadership session on Saturday. Glad you voted with your feet!

    I thought the Blogger’s Cafe today was fabulous. I don’t know what NECC Unplugged is going to do that atmosphere, but we can always decide as a group to dump it or move it if need be. I liked your note that we could’ve taken better control of Edubloggercon but didn’t. If we need it, we have a second chance on Monday and/or Tuesday!

  13. Jeff,

    Thanks for linking to my blog. I appreciate your thoughts about NECC. The ease of watching Saturday and Sunday from home was awesome. Now that I’m here, it is over the top!

    Oh, and I love the idea of “Beta Time!”

  14. Jeff, as always was really good to see you. Thanks again for your help with my blog … when I redo the image you helped me with to a bit snappier one I’ll let you know!

    • Same to you Brian. Great to see you again and spend some time learning with you. Have a great 08-09 and we’ll see you on the network!

  15. I enjoyed seeing you again and wished we’d had more time to chat. I just think it is time for some of us to help Steve w/ this. It is grown past what one person can do. He is wanting to form a group of people to help w/ next year and hope you’ll join in.

    I applaud him for what he’s done w/ basically no help from anyone. We need to help it go to the next level and maintain the unconference atmosphere we all cherish.

    I guess the think I disliked most was that so many people had criticisms of edubloggercon but so few people talked to Steve directly. Who would know so many wanted to come?

    It is time to grow and move ahead but we’re going to have to pitch in.

  16. I love this idea of Beta time. Especially when coupled with a group of educators discussing their practice. I have sited this post as a part of the confluence of influences to my post “Teaching: In Beta”, my attempts to gather a group of local educators who can come together to discuss their practice in Beta time. Our own little edubloggercon, minus the blogger part, maybe more educon. Thanks for the inspiration.

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