I’m back from the ETC (EARCOS Teacher’s Conference) in Kota Kinabalua, Malaysia. Where I did four presentations as well as watched Kim Cofino pack them in for her Connecting Across Continents presentation.

It’s the first conference that I’ve gone to where I truly did not “do” the conference. Other than my own four presentations I only went to two others….one if you don’t count Kim’s.

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around why I didn’t feel motivated to go to more sessions. I like learning so what was my problem?

Then it hit me…..I don’t like learning alone!

The Internet was horrible…when it did work at the conference, and I found myself disconnected from my friends colleagues and my network of learners.

Learning for me needs to be social. I need to be able to live blog a session, to Ustream a session or have a back channel chat going with others in the room.

Without that….a presentation is rather boring. So boring in fact, that I couldn’t motivate myself to even go to a session. Learning for me happens in these social spaces. It happens when I’m able to listen, reflect, and connect with others near and far in the moment. I’m so use to this anymore that regular old sit and get learning just isn’t the same.

And then I started thinking about our students. Our students who spend there day not just in front of screens but connecting with people, learning in the moment and creating content.

I thought that maybe it was just me…but then this new study from the Nielsen Company was just released this week showing amoung other things that adults are spending 8+ hours a day in front of screens (via nytimes):

Among other surprises, the research found that young people aren’t the
only ones dividing their attention among multiple screens and machines;
people in their 20s, 30s, 40s and early 50s essentially multitask for
the same amount of time. People over 55 are markedly less likely to be
multitasking. “That’s where the generation gap, if there is one, may
exist,” Mr. Bloxham said.

So it’s not just me (thank goodness!). You mean I’m just like the rest of the multitaskers out there? Multitaskers who expect to be able to connect with people, content and ideas in a moments notice and who find such value in connections that without it learning becomes boring? Not that you can’t learn without it…it’s just so much more engaging when you do!

Once again the best part of the conference was meeting people outside the conference. After having the Twitter Meet-up bust on me in Portland at NCCE I wasn’t sure how it would go over here at a teacher’s conference. But I was impressed when we had eight people show up for a Twitter Meet-up. Some people I had met before, but most of them new faces and even some who came to set up their Twitter account for the first time.

Of course there was only one official Twitter Meet-up but I had a couple great spontaneous meet ups with mscofino, klandmiles, Skardalien in the lobby.

Once again I found that it was the face to face time that was the best part of the conference. Meeting new people, connecting with old friends, and talking about education from different angles.

So, my big take away from the conference was this: Conferences are about people and connections…and not about content. If the content is there and there is no way to connect with people around that content…then learning is boring. Learning is being social and without that social interaction I feel disconnected from the content.

I just keep shaking my head and truly feeling for our students who every day have to disconnect to learn. Even worse….they don’t get to choose which session to go to…they just have to live with it day in and day out.

Learning should be social…and in today’s world being social means being connected while you learn. Do we help create these social connections or are we to worried about the time students might waste being social and being connected?

aaahhhhh……I sit here in the open air lounge of the Magellan Resort, a soft breeze is blowing off the ocean as I over look the pool below and out across the bay to three islands. It’s gonna be a wonderful sunset tonight. I’m telling you overseas conferences are really hard….I mean it. 🙂

I’m continuing to think about the Web and how we use it to connect. Maybe this is all for nothing…but I can’t stop thinking about it.

When it comes to building social networks or online communities I think it’s clear to understand what you are and who you are trying to build the site for and what you want them to do.

For example I helped to build the community site for the EARCOS Teacher’s Conference I am now at. I choose to use a wiki for a couple of reasons.

1. Not everyone here is tech savvy….the tool of least resistance.
2. The conference doesn’t need all of the features of say a Ning or full social network.
3. Less is more.

The wiki is meant to serve only one purpose really; to create an easy way for presenters to upload handouts, documents, and such to participants of their sessions. Before this year presenters would forward their handouts to EARCOS who dedicated a person to upload the documents to the conference website. The issue became of course that people would send multiple updates of their handouts creating work for someone else to manage those documents.

My work around….put presenters in control of their own handouts. Using a wiki was the easier way to do this. Create a page for each presenter, give them accounts that allow them to upload, and get out of the way.

So far the website is growing with over 120 members of 1100 conference goers joining the site before the conference even begins tomorrow. Not bad for something that is brand new to this conference.

Of course the wiki can do much more than just hold documents….it allows people to connect to each other…or is that connect to content?

In this case I believe the wiki serves the purpose to connect people to content. It is a network of users looking for, sharing, and using content created by others. Through this common content they will (hopefully) connect to people who have the same interests as them. Whether it be someone in the same session, or just someone they happen to meet within this community.

My hope: They came for the content and will find people to connect to.

That’s different than how some networks are created. Some networks are about the content and through that shared content you find people. Other social networks start with connecting people and through those connections you find content.

Of course there are no clear cut lines here and it’s all one big ball of grey.

It’s almost:

What came first the person or the content?

When you create a Personal Learning Network it’s about both. You follow content you are passionate about but also people you know or want to connect with.

When people start using Twitter they get stuck in not knowing who to follow…not what. Twitter is about people at its roots, not about the CNNs or the BKK News. You don’t follow “The President” you follow Barack Obama.

RSS Readers are different, they allow you to follow content. A Google News search for a current topic. A specific RSS feed for a sports team, or a blog with relevant information. Through these feeds we get to know people, what they are like, their voice online, and over time we consider them friends as if we know them.

When I started my RSS reader I followed David Warlick, Will Richardson, Clarence Fisher, Dean Shareski, Tim Lauer, and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach not because I knew who they were but because I liked their content and what they had to say….over time they have become friends, people I know and now, I follow them because of who they are.

When we are creating social networks I think it’s worth taking some time to reflect on what you hope to do with it. Classroom 2.0 is about connecting people. The content there is great, but it’s the connecting of people that makes that social network so powerful.

In the end I agree with Christopher….maybe I’m over thinking this and really what it’s about is learning to filter information, whether that is a person or content. The skill of understanding how data flows on the Internet and how you can make it work for you is a powerful tool.

Example: I created the Twitter hash tag #ETC09 for the conference I’m at. I then went into Tweetdeck and started a new search for #ETC09. Now I have the latest tweets just for this conference. I did the same for #gr8t as a way to mind the data of that network as well. Those are two of my columns in my tweetdeck…all the rest are based on people.

How do you connect: People first or Content first?

I leave tomorrow for the EARCOS Teachers Conference (Twitter hash and web tag #ETC09) where I’ll be giving four presentations.

My first one is on Networks and Communities and although my Twitter Network has pointed out to me this is not a new presentation for myself…I do feel like there is something different. I’ve pushing myself to think deeper about personal networks and online communities and I need to be clear about my message and what I believe before I step into the room…or at least clear enough so that those in the room can help me push my own thinking on the subject.

Ben Grundy via Twitter helped me when we started talking about RSS vs Twitter.

RSS is about finding content, Twitter is about finding people

Not sure about that statement but it’s one I put out on Twitter and as I write this post is still being bounced around. Like others I find myself using Twitter for many different purposes including finding content…but I followed people first…not the content.

In past presentations I have focused most of my time on using RSS Feeds for both learning and teaching and less time on Twitter. Has the time come for this to be reversed? Is the “Nearly Now” taking over the reader?

More to come as I continue to think….your thoughts welcome!