With as many education conferences that I have attended, and continue to attend, I am getting to be quite the expert at least in the ability to compare and contrast the various major education conferences. I hope I am not one of the five blind men describing an elephant, but I did seek out opinions from other experienced conference attendees and presenters finding them in agreement.
Unfortunately for educators, most of these conferences are the same old, same old with little focus for the future with the exception of vendor-driven bells and whistles presentations. These however are not the essential things that will transform, and move education forward.
In no way am I implying that Conference planners are not dedicated, hard-working, well-meaning individuals. Putting on an Education conference is hard work and all consuming for many. The result should not be having someone trash it on a blog post. As educators, however, we must recognize formative assessment in the form of feedback and adjust our lesson (conference) accordingly.
As an English teacher, I am quite aware that the order in which essays fall in a pile can affect the subjective assessments of a paper. If an exceptional piece is read first, followed by a mediocre essay, the second piece might appear even less acceptable than if it came after a paper that was poorly written, in which case it would appear of higher quality. I offer this analogy because I came to Florida Educational Technology Conference 2013 almost directly from EDUCON2.5. EDUCON: Shift Happens
It is in the spirit of constructive criticism that I now proceed, but this criticism is not FETC13 specific. FETC was the catalyst that generated this reflection. It applies to many if not too many of our national and statewide Education Conferences.
Conferences are expensive propositions. The venue and accommodations for the conferences require huge amounts of money. To offset the expense to schools and attendees most organizations recruit vendors to hawk their wares, charging great amounts of money for space and access. For this sum of money, business needs and requires some say in what goes on at the conference. They need their reps and executives to have a say in the content of the conference. They need to do presentations and they want their people doing keynotes. They need to push the bells and whistles of their products regardless of pedagogy or methodology. Most are well intentioned and certainly experts in the application of their product as they see its application in the classroom. These workshops make up a good number of presentations. These are needed presentations, but they should not be the Conference focus. Educators presenting to educators is always my preferred presentation.
The really hard questions are: How can any Education conference today expect to succeed on presentations of tools and technology without real conversations on the Why’s and wherefores? What should the ratio of iPad-driven presentations vs. the need for collaboration in education conversations. Where do we deal with the big ideas? Where was the workshop on how we deal with the Teaching learning in an environment of standardized testing? Why can’t I find substantive conversations directed by educators about the difference between Assessment and Testing?
The Connected Educator was a focus in the month of August by the Department of Education. There were few conversations about connectedness, although my friend Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach did do one presentation. Why was there no place to connect educators available throughout the conference? “How to connect and here is the place to do it” should have a place at every education conference.
Relevance is a topic I often write about. I have also stated that to be really relevant, educators need to be connected. I think I can now say that about Education Conferences. To be relevant conferences need to be connected. The folks at FETC were thrilled to be trending on Twitter. I was of the opinion that was something that needed to be explained to too many in attendance including the planners. It seemed that the Twitter trending was based on the retweeting of a few heavily connected tweeters in the conference. Original tweets generated from the conference were few. It is that very connectedness of educators, which makes them relevant, that causes that grating sound in my head with every presentation that is a year behind the conversations of connected educators.
If Education conferences are going to be relevant, planners need to plan for it. They need to be in on connected conversations if they want to direct relevant conversations at their conferences. They need to revamp, or abandon methods of assessing RFP’s to get better educator-directed, relevant presentations and workshops. They need to incorporate more conversations as in the Edcamp model of professional development. They need to focus the conversations on the big ideas of education with less focus on the tools and toys, as much fun as they can be.
Of course this piece is based solely on my opinion. I would love comments from others who are conference attendees. What are the things that you would have addressed? How can education conferences maintain relevance? I hope to continue to be invited to these conferences, even after this post.