When you are at NECC, sometimes you miss things that happen, and only catch them in passing from the comments of others. Comments about some tweets seem to be making the rounds and focus on the idea that this NECC just doesn’t have any new cool tools coming out of it. Since I’ve been participating in NECC, I haven’t been keeping up with the twitter blow by blow, so I will just state now, I have no idea what was said, or who said it. Frankly, I don’t really care (but you’re welcome to drop a link in the comments to elucidate matters for me if you choose). What’s been interesting is the conversations that have sprung up around this idea. One person pointed out that there was less “new” stuff, but also with twitter, we’re finding about stuff faster than we ever have. Another suggested that that really wasn’t the point, we need to learn how to use what we have better. I think that we are moving towards a period of “consolidation. We have a plethora of tools. Some tools are better than others, but really, when you get down to it, some uses are better than others, and we all should be figuring out better ways to use what we have. If you aren’t, then you’re just a technista, following the latest “trend” but sadly limiting your focus to the superficial.
My goal at conferences now is to attend sessions that show HOW to use these tools for learning, with a learning objective, standard, what have you. Anything else is a waste of time. To paraphrase Dan Meyer, if I can google how to use the tool, don’t waste my time showing me how it works, show me how you (I can) use it. These sessions are aimed at folks with at least a moderate proficiency with technology, BUT even if they are new to technology they want to know why in the heck they should be using it. You can’t get that from a session on how to create a movie in Movie Maker/iMovie. They need to see the project, and why it’s relevant. Save the how-to for programs/tools for your local/district trainings, and as my aunt would say, let’s get the conversation on a higher plane.
Photo credit: Props for Donelle on flickr photosharing
Other rumors abound about how some edubloggers were standoffish, and not friendly. Ed Tech conferences seem to be a funny thing. They are sometimes more like a Star Trek Convention than a professional organization meeting. The wonderful social networking we do leads many of us to build relationships with others we’ve never met face-to-face. Then we go to NECC, and we meet them in person. Maybe we’ve had a strong back and forth online. Maybe we’ve only read their blog and “feel like we know them” based on that. Sometimes we hit it off like gangbusters, other times it’s like the worst blind date of your life. You really never know what it will be like face-to-face. Are some big-name edubloggers standoffish? Shhhh, I’ll let you in on a secret (based on very limited observations), they’re just like you and me. What do I mean by that? Some of them are very nice, and very genuine. Some of them are funny and interesting. Some of them are unexpectedly shy. Some of them are, well, jerks. I’ve run across famous bloggers like this, and not so famous bloggers like this. You might have run into me, and I could fit into any one of those categories depending on when you ran into me. I’ve been very unimpressed with some folks I’ve met. I don’t blog about that too much because I’ve been more impressed with many others. What would you rather read about? I know what I’d rather write about, and it’s not a gossip column about who is cool, and who’s not.
Both this year and last I ended up tagging along with a group and wound up at dinners with folks I hadn’t met before face-to-face and had a great time, and some great conversations. Last year, the outing included some folks that many might recognize. This year, had lesser known folks, and some who are not even blogging at all. I enjoyed both and had some really excellent conversations. Both were nerve wracking for me (what impression am I making, am I being friendly enough, am I being too outgoing and loud?), but mostly I found someone to talk to, and had some great conversations. I don’t think one was more “valuable” because of the technorati rating of the company. In fact, there were advantages to talking to folks who are still teaching students because we have that shared context.
I can be pushy so I will go up to folks and say, hey, what you said sounds nice, but I’m trying to figure out how to make it work in my context. Sometimes folks help me, sometimes folks tell me they’re busy, sometimes folks say, “I’m tired, can I get back to you”. I don’t take it too personally. By the end of the day everyday at NECC, I was so overwhelmed by all the people I was meeting and the sleep I was missing, I could barely make eye contact. If some folks couldn’t do the same with me, maybe is not about being snooty, but more about jet lag?
On the other hand, a lot of the more well known edubloggers are not in the classroom. They are doing consulting and speaking in place of that or in addition to their educating duties. As I’ve said, not all are as charming as others (most I have to say, are). This is their chance to “sell” themselves to folks like myself, who may recommend their services to our districts. This is the one part of ed tech conferences that I attend have in common with the professional conferences my husband attends. If you are trying to have a conversation with someone who offers speaking/pd services and they are not open to listening to you, this is a mistake on their part. If you just want to jawbone them, it may still be a mistake on their part. They may be tired, or cranky, but this is part of their job to “charm” potential clients. If they are being stand-offish, they are only hurting themselves. You also have to ask yourself, should you be hiring a “big” speaker, and putting a large chunk of your PD eggs in one basket? Only you can figure that out, only you can tell if their personality indicates they will not give you and your school/district the service you deserve, and last whether their content will take you where you want to go. In that sense, the “commoners” are really in the driver’s seat. Do not forget that.
May I also suggest that EdubloggerCon is a much better place to meet up with folks? It’s smaller, the sessions more intimate (but large enough for a good back and forth). There is a leveling of hierarchy there that can’t be replicated once 18,000 of us are all there. In addition, it is at the start of the conference, so everyone is not dog-tired, and hasn’t been talked to death yet. I understand the struggle because it means more nights at a hotel ($$$), but it’s free and the experience is priceless.
The Vendors and Exhibit Floor
I generally avoid spending much time on the exhibit floor. In general, I find it too much, and don’t like to interact with vendors that way. There is an obvious plus to this. I missed “Elvis” and the pink Cadillac. Many others discussed how they enjoyed “vendors” like CommonCraft and Voice Thread, who eschewed the exhibit hall, and mingled instead. I missed the carnival, but there is a downside to this…
I didn’t manage to meet up with VoiceThread folks, which I really wanted to do since I use it a lot and have had my work recognized by inclusion in their library. Also, I do trainings on VoiceThread, and compared to other “tools” I feature in trainings, I do not have a good contact with VoiceThread. When vendors are in the “hall” you know where to find them. When they are wandering, it can be harder. This is why I did go down briefly at towards the end of the conference so I could touch base with folks I wanted to make contact with (GenYes, edutopia). Also, among the pink Cadillacs, there are many smaller booths with interesting things. ASCD was there. Since they had offered me a bloggers press pass to their annual conference–which I couldn’t do :-(–I wanted to stop by and thank them. I hadn’t realized they were there until I walked by the booth. The real find was an online program teacher ed program with a class I needed that was one-third the cost of what it was at U of Phoenix. I don’t know if I can find a justification for Elvis selling printers, but even at the biggest of displays for IWBs (and remember InterWrite and Mimeo are alternatives there), they have real-life teachers showing what they do. Ask to see their stuff. If you think it’s too canned, tell them, they can use that feedback. The point I made earlier about people, and you being in the driver’s seat is echoed by Lee Kolbert about vendors and the exhibit hall,
The vendor hall is not just a place where vultures are dying to scan you. We can and should use the hall to OUR advantage!