by Guest Blogger Ed Warkentin
There’s just something about going to a conference that is energizing, motivating, stretching, encouraging, and positive! The potency of these ingredients can vary, depending on the conference, but the DEN-NLC included an extra helping of all of these ingredients.
Some conferences are heavy on sessions that could be described as “Sage-on-the-Stage”, handout-heavy, how-to heavy, transmission model, etc. I heard some people describe this year’s NECC this way.
Another powerful part of many conferences is the informal networking (Conversation) that happens between attendees. I went to the CUE conference (CUE is California’s NECC & ISTE affiliate) last March, and reflected on this concept in a previous post.
The DEN-NLC conference went a long way towards recognizing the power of informal networking and learning from each other, as opposed to relying on presenters to be the sole source of knowledge and expertise. Recognizing this dynamic in the planning of the conference made the experience stronger, more diverse, more powerful, and longer-lasting. Perhaps this is because of some of Steve Dembo’s observations. Read his quick blog entry (Conference vs. Conversation), and listen to this podcast. Some of the ideas that he shares really resonated with me. An increasingly powerful part of most conferences, anymore, is the networking that happens. (As opposed to the keynotes and sessions, which are key to getting conversations going, perhaps, informal networking are the more dominant, change-inducing experiences.)
Back to DEN-NLC-specific thoughts: we were from all over the country – two Discovery Educators per each Field Manager. We were put into groups for our week-long project – I worked with teachers from Virginia, Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Maryland. However, we had many other opportunities to connect with people from other groups, as well. I made a point of not clique-ishly sticking to only my group. I was able to meet people from all over the country with whom I will continue to communicate with (and have already!). I hope that I will be able to have other classrooms across the country will be able to read my students’ blogs (I’m excited about the potential of having some students in China connect in this way, but more across this continent will also help to convince my students that their blogs really can be read, and are being read all over the world!) Some were classroom teachers, others were technology support people (tech coaches, site/district tech coordinators, etc.) It was absolutely wonderful to connect with these educators. The theme of the DEN is “Connecting teachers to their most valuable resource-each other!” This definitely happened at the national DEN event!! It happened by getting to know each other, exploring similarities & differences in our jobs & experiences. It continued all through the week, as we used USB drives to give each other files & projects. It continued non-stop as we informally gave each other tips, tricks, and demos of what we know how to do with technology. That’s not to say that it was just one big technical how-to session – it was about theory, when to use what, and how to plan in such a way as to make it effective for students.
We talked about how to be effective, relevant, vital, motivating, and exciting in reaching students. Because our states’ curriculum standards are slightly different, and our testing instruments are different, we couldn’t get sidetracked with some of the testing-mania that is going on country-wide, although state-specific in its details. Also, if you get a bunch of “outside-the-box” thinkers who are fired up about technology and education together, you get some GREAT conversations!
Whenever there is an opportunity to benefit from a peer’s confidence and experience in an unstructured, or at least minimally structured way, great things happen. We were away from home, so we didn’t feel the pressure of other responsibilities like our families, papers to grade, etc., etc. This contributed to this magic, as well.
As I’ve been reading some blogs and reflecting about what made this conference better or different than others I’ve been to, some additional things occur to me:
1. Paper – We didn’t use much of it! As I mentioned earlier, we used USB drives to transfer files to each other. Many notes were typed. There was a bare minimum of handouts given, etc. Many trees were spared!
2. Practicing what we “preach” (using the conference wiki) – We used a conference wiki for everything from •hooking up with each other at the various airports as we arrived to •sharing our final projects and resources. This has continued, because the way the wiki is configured, each of us gets an email when any of us adds or changes anything to it! I encourage anyone reading this to strongly consider using a wiki to keep a school faculty together on an ongoing project.
3. Blogging – Along with the conference wiki, the blogs have kept us connected since the conference.
4. Playtime! – There were lots of other activities that weren’t exactly “on task”.
You can read about several of these activities in Kim Randall’s post. She gives a great blow-by-blow of the whole conference and everything we did. Rather than repeat what she shared, I thought I’d be a little more philosophical and abstract here. She did such a great job, anyway!
For those of you that are members of the Discovery Educator Network, I encourage you to be more active & attend more events. For those of you that are not, I strongly encourage to become a member! It’s been an important part of my professional development, as I hope you can see…