Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Conference 2.0 Thoughts

This is in response to the Will Richardson's recent post The Ultimate Conference Attendee. I know Will's original post was tongue-in-cheek, but I think there are serious and interesting thoughts here. It is, of course, way too long...

At the 2008 IL-TCE conference, where much of what is being discussed here was going on, there was no central information space for the ad-hoc collaboration and media creation taking place. So to start with, I've created a wiki at:

http://conference20.wikispaces.com (or www.conference20.com)

to serve as a repository for specific real-time links for conferences. For example, since the CUE.org conference starts tomorrow, if you go to the CUE 2008 link (http://conference20.wikispaces.com/CUE+2008, and the only one there now), you will see I've added areas for backchannel chat links, for tags, ustream links, twitter, etc. I've populated those links as much as I can for CUE and the CUE "EduBloggerCon" taking place tomorrow. I've also posted links to this blog post and to a post I wrote after a "collaborative conference" in San Francisco last month.

As it turns out, I flew into Palm Springs today to get ready for the CUE conference and EduBloggerCon "West," and while checking in I ran into Mike Lawrence, the executive director of CUE. I told him about this discussion, and asked his thoughts--especially about whether these technologies in any way threaten their conference model. Mike was quick to respond that he's not worried at all about it. He said: if the physical conference can't stand up to the podcasting or streaming of sessions, then the conference shouldn't be held.

I, too, think there's a ton that takes place physically at a conference which we'll still want to experience. At the same time, I also think that the conferences which promote more collaborative sessions and have more time for face-to-face connecting with colleagues will be most attractive to the "highly-connected" attendees. Look at the TED conference and even our own EduBloggerCons for good examples. But we're forgetting a significant issue, which concerns permissions. At IL-TCE, this was all taking place in among the highly collaborative and sharing group of Web 2.0-ified presenters who are very much in experimental mode and very open to sharing. We didn't ask for permission from the conference organizers to do what we were doing, but I'll be if we'd tried to UStream a keynote session, there might have been some hard questions to answer. What will happen when someone tries to video-stream a session and they haven't asked the presenter--who then objects?

On another note, I think we may tend to overestimate the number of folks who are ready to have a remote conference experience, and who even are using these tools in sessions. Kymberli mentioned the session at IL-TCE where nobody was responding in the small auditorium to my questions--I left that particular session more convinced that the general conference attendee at IL-TCE wasn't really prepared for highly give-and-take dialogs, real-time or electronic. I attended other sessions by Lucy Gray, David Jakes, and Vicki Davis and saw what I thought was a little bit of "deer-in-headlights" reactions as well, and concluded that much of the audience was just trying to absorb a lot of material about Web 2.0. (IL-TCE deserves a huge amount of credit for really bringing in a lot of folks to talk about Web 2.0 in education, I think.)

There's another issue which I think will play out here: too much content. It's going to be a tidal wave, since we're trying to teach everyone we know how to do it themselves! All the recording and streaming and chatting around sessions will only increase, and it's already pretty-much impossible to keep up with it all. Add that to the Twitter stream and our RSS aggregators, and I think we'll relish the chance to get together with others to teach and learn in time we set aside for that purpose. Again, I don't think we'll do that for lecture-style events, but we'll crave highly-engaged, collaborative meetings.

Backchannel chatting and "Ustreaming" were the grand experiments for me at IL-TCE. I think backchannel chatting has huge value and potential and will be a great addition to our conference experiences. Vicki Davis recommended www.chatzy.com, which has the added bonus of keeping a log, and while you cannot embed the live chat somewhere else, it was a good experience to use it. (Since CUE doesn't have the bandwidth--expensive!--to have Internet in their session rooms, it will be interesting to see how many have broadband cell services to do this. Twittering can be done from the cell phone, but hard to manage reading others' "tweets" that way.) The first use of a backchannel chat is to have a chat room specific to a session, and I found that the dropping of web links and the making of other connections was very valuable in this environment. However, it was much more valuable in a larger session than in a smaller one. During a keynote it really adds to the experience; but in a smaller session it seems to be distracting to both the speaker and the attendees. Vicki Davis did lead the way here as well by having assigning someone to serve as a "Google Jockey" to post links in the chat, and someone else to serve as moderator and bring to her attention questions coming up.

The second use of backchannel chatting, which surprised me, was when a chat room hosted folks who were in different sessions. I really like hearing about what was going on in the sessions I reluctantly chose not to go to when there were several that I wanted to. I'm not even sure why this was true, since getting one or two tidbits from another session is clearly not a replacement for being there. But I did feel my experience was enhanced when this took place.

The Ustreaming was compelling enough for me that I ran out and bought a better webcam right after IL-TCE. (I got the Logitech Orbit AF, since it has a good lens, a microphone, and can be moved via motorized controls--seems like the perfect webcam for a conference session.) One real downside is that because there is a chat window for Ustream.tv, it divides the chat between whatever else is being used for chat an Ustream. And if participants on-site want to take part in the chat, they have to go to the Ustream show page, adding to the bandwidth issues as video of the very session they are in starts to stream down. I can see video streaming as a huge bonus to those who cannot afford to attend, and the recording of sessions will give us the opportunity to potentially accumulate a great library of content.

I did find that Twitter-out tidbits from a session (a la Andy Carvin) was enjoyable--kind of like taking notes gives you more incentive to understand and pick out important thoughts. But because everyone's twitter "clouds" are unique and depend on others paying attention, you never really know who is reading what you are writing, and how much to "relay" to others in your own cloud. Twitter was also terribly erratic during IL-TCE, so added to the aforementioned was not even knowing if Twitter was up for others when you sent a "tweet."

In summary (can you summarize rambling thoughts?), I do think that ed tech conferences are an imperfect mirror of what educators think should be taking place in the classroom, and so if the ideas discussed here are mind-stretching, just wait until they begin to more regularly hit the classroom. I've really appreciated Chris Lehman's approach to IM at Science Leadership Academy: promote the use of it in positive ways, and help the students learn together how to do so. It was also interesting to me to have just recently completed the two-day collaborative Classroom 2.0 workshop we held in San Francisco before going to IL-TCE. For all of the fun things happening at IL-TCE, it was still very much a traditional format--lots of sessions with just enough break time to get to the next room. Lots of note-taking to be filed away and looked at when? (Vicki Davis told her attendees: write down three things you want to take away from my session since you'll forget them otherwise. That's just sad.) The experience in San Francisco, with everyone involved, with facilitated discussion sessions, and long breaks between them for drilling down, was like making and eating ice cream. Being at IL-TCE (with all due respect, really) was like being taught how to eat ice cream and watching others eat it. :)


  1. I have read and re-read your blog. SO much there. I'm particularly fond of the last half of your last paragraph. It's a great analogy, and -- while I thoroughly enjoyed my ice cream experience -- I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment of the IL-TCE conference. Maybe future years will be different. This was, according to attendees on all levels, a "much better conference" than in years past. Perhaps the expectations of attendees and presenters will be closer in future years...

  2. I completely understand the overwhelming aspect. In this fast paced Web2.0 it is easy to get caught up in the "stuff" and forget about the "common" teacher who is still trying to figure out email. As much as I want to move staff forward and have grandiose ideas, I know that many of those ideas would be lost in the ether. The deer in headlights would be all I see. I did a recent survey on just the terminology of Web 2.0 with my staff. NONE knew anything about RSS. Very few even knew about Digital Storytelling, and yet I know there are at least 5 out of 45 that use it in their classes on a regular basis. For all the great new things that come out, I would like to just tell everyone to STOP! Remember who we are trying to educate. It isn't just students, it is teachers. Teachers who feel they have little time to check email, and are proud when they can create a PDF and attach it to a message.

  3. The "three things" weren't their NOTES -- they were the THREE THINGS to DO in the next 7 days.

    The problem w/ conferences is in translating learning to action!

    So, if they go to 6 sessions and do three each -- that is 18 things they will do or check out when they get back -- an 18 item improvement from most conferences.

    I think the struggle w/ beginners (I feel like one still) is in knowing where to start -- if they can decide where to start they won't suffer from analysis paralysis.

    And we all were a "deer in the headlights" at some point on these things.. it just takes longer for some of us.

    I hope that we all will be patient with those who don't understand it yet and see that as an opportunity to help beginners.

    Much of the fault of presenters is that sometimes we forget that we must speak to beginners and experts as well and that every audience is a mix. That is the usefulness of the backchannel!

    Good luck at CUE!

  4. kmulford: I've got to make sure that I really give some kudos to the folks at IL-TCE, as they did a great job bringing the ideas of the collaborative web to their conference. It was a great event, and in using IL-TCE as a springboard to talk about Conference 2.0, I don't mean to diminish in any way what they accomplished this year.

    James: good reminder. We're in a unique period of time with these technologies... I wonder what you're going to think of the blog post I just submitted... http://www.techlearning.com/blog/2008/03/web_20_is_the_future_of_educat_1.php

    Vicki: You are, in a word, amazing. Translating learning into action is more inherently a difficulty when there is little to no action at the time of the learning. What I feel is "sad" is the need to remind folks to write down those three things--as though they are on a Disneyland ride and passing through so much that they are going to forget what they saw at the beginning when they get to the end. There's no opportunity to drill down at the moment, to test and try out, when you're rushing from session to session.

  5. Before I read that post, Steve, I will say this. I found while cleaning my closet this weekend the original Illinois Tech 2000 presentation abstracts (from May 22, 2000). What was done then, and what we considered "learning" does not hold the same value today. Has the value of learning with regards to technology reached the high point, or are we still scratching the surface? And are we leaving behind those that need to help us scratch deeper?

    More questions. Less answers.

  6. Fascinating articles and comments, I am constantly amazed at the new and imaginative uses educators find for Ustream. Since my daughter is an educator I always am partial to educators problems and if Ustream can help, then I am even more thrilled.
    And it can be intimidating at first so we make it easier with live demonstrations of the technology straight to your PC, so stop by Ustream help channels; http://www.ustream.tv/channel/aeiz or http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ustream-users-community-forum and we will get you going.. and welcome to ustream.tv

  7. Look like it cut off some of the URL so try again
    or http://tinyurl.com/2zadfd

  8. I am in complete agreement with James. We just had this discussion at lunch, talking about the future of our professional development model, things we would LOVE to accomplish, and how many of those things would promote the "deer in headlights" mode. Our current dillemma is bridging that gap between providing professional development on various tools and teachers using them in their classroom. I think many of them are overwhelmed with all of the other classroom related tasks and this is "just another thing to fit in" at this point.

  9. What we don't talk enough about is teacher buy-in. We think that being at conferences and showing off our wizardry with a wiki or podcast will be enough for the "common" teacher who is content with email to make the jump. First, if they are at the conference, those are usually not the teachers we have to get to buy-in. They are the choir we are preaching to. They already have at the smallest bit a reason for buy-in. But usually these teachers, unless already tremendous technology leaders, will not make a dent outside their classroom door. I don't know of a model yet that gives teachers on a large scale a buy-in. While we talk about all this stuff, what gets lost how to build. I think in the future, I would prefer to see more with regards to training and organizing and inspiring and offering teachers a buy-in versus another example of digital storytelling or moodle.

    In fact, I think I have a topic for a conference I want to attend... I just don't have the experience.

  10. Anonymous11:01 PM

    Most schools have a budget that allows teachers, staff, and/or administrators to attend limited conferences, most of the time 1.
    I was able to attend my 1 in Springfield at the IL Ed and Tech Conf in November.
    I was able to take from that conference a rekindled spirit about technology and its utilization with teachers and students. And since then I have taken advantage of Steve's Classroom20 talkshoe discussions, ustreams from presentations by Charlene Chausis, Will Richardson, David Warlick, BudtheTeacher and others. Talk about PD. Wow!
    I have made the comment to others that I enjoy the ustream chat because I don't interrupt the presenter when I want to make a commment about something they have said. I get immediate feedback and opinion from others in the chat area.
    Will I attend conferences? Absolutely.
    Will I jump on Ustream when I get a Tweet?
    Most Definitely.

  11. Anonymous11:05 PM


    A couple of things here. After reading Will's post, I really had to think long and hard about how we are interacting with all of this information we are receiving at the conferences and while we are at conferences.

    First off, I applaud the effort that you are running on with the conferences 2.0 wiki. It is a great idea to get a single point of contact/reference for the ad hoc "conversations" that surround sessions. However, with it, we are again pulling away from the conference resources. One of the things that I felt IL-TCE did right was the use of the Ning to spur collaboration and attempt to centralize information as well as build a social network community of the participants. However, the Ning in it's setup and configuration was too limited by the hamstring that services based around discussion forums are. You needed to go into posts or sections or other places to "FIND" information... therefore you need to go searching (often for things you weren't sure were there). Your wiki idea will work well in the future, but (I feel) only if it is driven by the event, not by a participant or outside entity.

    I am sitting on the ICE2009 committee next year and this will be a focus of mine to increase the ease of back channeling and information during sessions overall. Hopefully, I can help in making some of your ideas here more of a reality for that conference at least.

    I have other aspects of your post that I would like to comment on, but my comment is getting to the length of a post itself, so I think I will get to that information in a bit more formal way on my sire, tracking back to you here.



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