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Archive for the ‘Back channeling’ Category

This year ISTE put on what appeared to me to be the biggest education extravaganza to date. The number of participants was said to be somewhere between 20 and 22 thousand educators. I never verified that number but based on the food lines it seemed likely to be true.

Of course there was apparently a huge number of connected educators in attendance. I say apparently, because in reality I don’t believe it was so many. Many connected educators volunteer to do sessions. Many are also bloggers. A natural gathering place for them to gather, interact, and network is at the Bloggers Café, or the PLN Lounge. Twitter has added a whole new dimension to these education conferences where educators connected to other educators through various Social Media can meet up face to face. This enables real-time collaboration with people who have had a virtual relationship with each other for a while. Even if there were a thousand connected educators meeting at the Bloggers Café all at once (and there weren’t), It would seem to those gathered that the entire conference was connected. Of course this ignores the 21,000 other educators who were not connected.

I guess my take away for this is that being connected networks you with more people to have a good time with, as well as extend collaboration, but a majority of educators have yet to discover this. One would think that would be a lure for more educators to connect, but of course the only people who recognize these benefits are those who are connected. I imagine most of the people reading this blog are connected as well, so I am probably and again spinning my wheels on this subject.

I found this year’s conference to be a bit overwhelming. To me it seemed that many of the events and some sessions were trying very hard to create an atmosphere that was experienced with smaller numbers from previous conferences. That intimacy however, was lost with the numbers of participants this year. There were some invitation only sessions, as well as paid sessions with smaller numbers that I did find more enjoyable, but again, I attend many conferences and do not view them through the eyes of a new attendee. I might be too critical here.

I loved the fact that connected educators were actively backchanneling sessions and events. Tweets were flying over the Twitterstream as the #ISTE2014 hashtag trended on Twitter. Photos were much more prevalent in tweets than in past years, because that process has been simplified. That picture process has both good and bad aspects attached to it. It is great to see the session engagement. The pictures from some of the social gatherings however, may paint a slightly distorted view of conferencing by educators. It may give an impression that the social events outweighed the collaboration and interaction. The social events were fun, but it was as much a part of networking as any of the conference.

The vendor floor was beyond huge this year. It was quite the carnival atmosphere at times. If anyone would benefit from collaboration at these conferences it would be the vendors. There is a great deal of redundancy in education products. I wish more vendors would take a pass on the bells and whistles of their product and talk more about pedagogy and how their products fit in, as well as how they don’t. That requires an educator’s perspective, and not every product designer seeks that out. Those that do seek that perspective however seem to attract me more than the others.

One vendor had a closed booth with dollar bills being blown around inside. People lined up for a chance to step inside to beat the airflow for the dollars. The attraction was obviously the lure to get folks in, but who paid attention to the product? There were some products that I will address in a subsequent post, which I rarely do. These products were exceptional and should be recognized.

As ISTE came to a close this year, my reflection was that bigger is not always better. I was also mystified by the choices in keynotes. If one was to judge by the tweets about the keynotes, one was somewhat of a miss, one was on the mark, and one left many wondering why it was a keynote at all. I must admit that I did not view the keynotes in the lecture hall, but on screens in the gathering places in the conference. I enjoy the keynotes better when I can openly comment and yell at the screen if I have to. It would seem that I was not alone in these endeavors.

It should be noted that ISTE this year did have people’s Twitter handles on their name tags, an innovation. Of course mine was messed up, but who am I to complain? Now I wish they would take another suggestion and do an unconference, or Edcamp segment in the middle of the conference. This would allow educators to further explore those subjects that they learned about in earlier more conventional sessions. It would also break up the “sit and get” mentality of a conference. It would take as little as an hours worth of sessions.

For as much as we hear that we need and want innovation in education, I would expect to see it first in Education conferences. They are hyped to be conferences led by the innovators in education, but there is little that changes in conferences from year to year. We are still sitting through lectures and presentations with limited audience engagement. We are not yet directing our learning, but attending sessions devised and approved a year in advance. I realize that change is hard and takes time, but our society is demanding that we as educators do it more readily and now. We need to change in order stay relevant. How does an irrelevant education system prepare kids for their future?

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A few years back I spoke at a conference and experienced first hand what a backchannel was. Twitter is probably the best tool to do it. I did write a post on that experience back in November of 2009 and later reposted on my blog, Twitter’s Effect on Presentations and Presenters.

Backchanneling happens when someone on Twitter uses a hashtag to tweet out to followers what is happening at a conference, or more importantly, what is being said by a speaker at a conference session. THE BACKCHANNEL by Cliff Atkinson is a great book source for understanding the process.

ISTE 2014 will take place at the end of this week. The numbers of attendees will probably approach 20,000. Although that sounds like a huge number of people, it only represents a very tiny number of educators nationwide who get to attend such national education conferences. The attendance of connected educators however, has had a great effect on the transparency and sharing of these gigantic education events through social media, specifically, Twitter.

The Twitter Hashtag has played a huge role in sharing out the conference experience. Since most educators will not be attending the ISTE 2014 conference, many who are connected will rely on their connected colleagues, who will attend, to tweet out the happenings of the event. Those tweets will go from the broad events to individual sessions as well. Although ISTE 2014 is one of the most connected of education conferences, backchanneling is becoming evident at even the smaller local education gatherings. It is a key in sharing at local Edcamps

Conferences have taken notice of this new layer of experience and assign hashtags for the conference, as well as some specific sessions. Experienced connected educators in sessions will make up and share a hashtag on the spot at the beginning of the session. To broadly follow the ISTE conference this year, you need only to create a Twitter column on Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to follow the #ISTE2014 hashtag. There will be several thousand tweets coming out with that hashtag to keep you informed of: personal encounters, celebrity sightings, quotes, new ideas, new products, and even social events taking place. There will be pictures, videos, podcasts, diagrams and graphs. All will be tweeted out with the Hashtag #ISTE2014.

Probably the most sought-after tweets will be those coming directly from sessions. Thought leaders in education presenting their ideas and having people right in the room tweet out what is being said, as it is being said. This is sharing at its best. If the vast majority of educators cannot experience an education conference first hand this is not a bad second best.

As a community of connected educators we need to think of our Personal Learning Network members as connected colleagues. Those educators fortunate enough to have any experiences that cannot be afforded to all, and are willing to take the time to share, are truly collaborative colleagues. These hashtagged tweets have a range in the millions. That is a Public Relations Gold for any organization with a success.

Of course there is a downside. If something does not go well, that is tweeted out as well. It could also be a professional setback for an unprepared presenter. The Twitter Backchannel Buzz could affect the subsequent enthusiasm for any future conference by a particular group. It also underscores those conferences that are attended by the connected community of educators.

I have always believed that we as educators have a professional and moral obligation to share. In so doing, we can build a stronger and better profession of educators. If you have never done it, try following the backchannel for this year’s ISTE Conference by following the #ISTE2014 hashtag. If you attend the ISTE Conference, tweet out as much important stuff as you encounter using the #ISTE2014 hashtag. We can engage fellow educators in the conferences, which they have been blocked from because of location, money, or even an unawareness of what these conferences have to offer. If we are to better educate our kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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On June 6, 2014, almost 100 educators from all over the U.S. arrived at the United States Department of Education to participate in the first-ever Edcamp to be held there. Most of these educators paid their own way to attend incurring a personal expense of time and money, two days and $500 to $900, depending on where they came from.

The question comes to mind, why would any educator give up personal time and money to attend an event at the U.S. Department of Education? Actually, the organizers were limited in the number of educators that could be accommodated, because of space and security issues. There were over 1,000 requests to participate the day after the EdcampUSA was announced. This was a huge number when we consider that many educators are in the closing weeks of their schools and could not apply.

Most of the participants had attended previous Edcamps, and many had organized their own local Edcamps. There have been well over 500 of these conducted in the US and some in other nations. Edcamp is being recognized as a grassroots professional development movement for educators. This was suggested to the US DOE in order to involve them in some way in the movement. The whole idea of doing an Edcamp at the DOE was probably an effort not only to inform the DOE, but also to seek some form of validation for trying to fill a professional development need that is felt by so many educators today. It was also a statement that educators are very interested and invested in improving their profession by taking up that cause without any help from the very system for which they work.

My hope was for the DOE to become more than aware. I hoped for the participation of top policy makers in the sessions to observe first hand the discussions of educators and their efforts, needs, and desires for real education reform. Edcamps are known for their frank and experienced views on the problems in education. These are views that take place through a lens of experience and not theory.

My view however was not to be realized. The DOE did assign a few people to attend the sessions. Some rotated in and out during the course of the day. The policy makers however did not participate in any numbers. There were a very few at the beginning of the day, but after just two sessions they went on to other obligations in their day.

The chief liaison person, Emily Davis, who headed up the Edcamp on behalf of the DOE, was an educator working as the Secretary’s direct assistant in such matters. She was a great contributor, and participant. It was her first Edcamp and she participated with excitement and enthusiasm, as well as awe, throughout the entire day. I know that she will enthusiastically report the success of the Edcamp at the DOE, but I admittedly wanted more. I wanted the Secretary and other policy makers to experience an Edcamp as opposed to receiving a feedback report. That desired involvement however, was not to be. We were granted a very quick visit and a limited photo-op with Secretary Duncan before the opening session.

I know we often refer to Edcamps as a place for professional development to take place, but it is not PD in the conventional sense of the term. It is more of self-examination of what we do to bring learning to students. Some of it is steeped in tradition, education as it was in the 19th & 20th Centuries. Some of it is very progressive, involving the latest technological tools for learning. It is also an examination of pedagogy. It is an open reflection of the educator’s role in education today. It is an experience that gives direction to educators as to how to direct their professional development to achieve the outcomes discussed in these sessions. It is an eye-opener for many, and an expansion of progressive ideas for others. All of it is based on education experience and pedagogy of educators. These are not opinions of politicians, business people, or for-profit reformers.

The Edcamp itself was very exhilarating. It is always great to respectfully test someone’s ideas on education, as well as having your own ideas tested. It was that open transparency in examining the problems and possible solutions that I wished could have been experienced by some of the people who are in a position to make education policy.

I always come away from these experiences wondering after all this is said and done, what is the next action to be taken by all who attended. I think the educators there came away with a number of ideas to implement. I am not sure what the next steps from the DOE will be. That, after all, was the reason for locating this Edcamp at the DOE in the first place.

The DOE’s awareness of Edcamps is a big step. The positive force of social media that was evident at the event was another lesson for the DOE. I would also hope that the dedication of educators to unselfishly sacrifice for their profession was another lesson learned. I know that the members of the DOE are often targets for the wrath of frustrated educators, but that is not part of Edcamp. Hopefully, that was learned as well, so that, if this ever happens again, policy makers will engage rather than just do a quick walk through and photo op.

BTW: If you get an opportunity to attend an Edcamp, jump on it!

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I am very fortunate to be able to attend a number of Education Conferences each year. This offers me a perspective of education conferences that is not afforded to a majority of educators. When one considers the total number of American educators compared to the total attendance at these conferences and then factor out the people who repeatedly attend each year, it is easy to see that most educators do not get to these national conferences. That is a shortcoming I believe that hurts the profession. There is much to be learned and shared at these conferences that can make a difference to an educator.

Of course many of these conferences are so vast that it is difficult to report on the whole conference when one can only experience a small part of it. It brings to mind the five blind men trying to describe what an elephant looked like based on only one part of the elephant that each had physical contact with. Each description was completely different, and not one accurately described the whole elephant.

My last three conferences were Educon, FETC, and TCEA, wonderful conferences all. In each of these I met with many connected educators and participated exclusively in sessions of discussion or panel-driven discussion. I find these types of sessions more in line with what suits me in learning. I feel that I can personalize the sessions for my needs, and I can even participate in the content of the discussion personally becoming a part of the learning.  Educon of all the conferences is the one conference that focuses on these types of sessions. Of course that would make it my conference of preference.

The other conferences generally depend on “sit and get” PowerPoint demonstrations, or “bells and whistles” software presentations. There will always be a need for these sessions, but I question the balance, or lack of balance, they have when compared with discussion sessions at any given conference.

The glaring deficiency in any session is that it must be submitted and approved 8 to 12 months in advance. How does that maintain relevance? How is the latest and greatest in education even represented at these conferences, unless it is discussion? Discussion can be more timely than any presentation that is eight months old.

Discussion adds the ability to deal with topics of pedagogy and methodology as opposed to just the mechanics of a lesson. Discussions of education that do not take place in school buildings can take place with educators of varied experience to share and elaborate. This is the fodder for reflection. Reflection goes a long way in changing the way we approach things. It often prompts change and promotes reform.

I believe that the success of the Edcamp format where discussion and collaboration are the focus, and the popularity of real-time chats on Twitter and Google Hangouts are all indicators of change. Educators are personalizing their learning in larger numbers. This may be a trend or something bigger. Whatever it is, we need to adjust the way conferences are providing what educators need as a profession.

As a connected educator, I loved being with and sharing ideas and discussions with other educators with whom I am connected. Our conversations were not the same as those of unconnected educators at these conferences. As I talked with educators who were not in collaboration with others on a regular basis, I found a need to define and explain things to them that are discussed and understood online by connected educators daily. I am not saying that these unconnected educators are not good teachers, but maybe not as informed as a  professional needs to be, or as relevant as a professional could be. We are in a profession that deals with information and learning. We need to be relevant in two areas, content and education. Online collaboration enables that to happen more efficiently and on a constant basis. These online discussions are carried further in a face-to-face setting of a conference. Those not involved with online collaboration are often playing catch up in the discussion. A worse alternative is that they withdraw from involvement in the discussion altogether.

Technology has moved collaboration from a way of learning that only happened in a limiting face-to-face setting, to one that takes place anywhere at anytime breaking down the previous borders of time and space. For educators not to take full advantage of this new-found ability is a missed opportunity. We need to support, enhance, and encourage collaboration in all of its forms, online and face-to-face. Ideas that are born at conferences can be continually evolved online. The discussion need no longer end after the closing keynote. Ideas that are born online may be expanded and improved in the face-to-face collaboration of the conferences. We don’t need the opening keynote to start the thinking and connecting. We are professional educators who need to do a better job educating ourselves as educators. If we are to better educate kids, we need to better educate their educators.

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Rock Star is a term attributed not only to Rock and Roll luminaries, but also to anyone who is an exceptional standout in a profession or a skill area. One cannot claim Rock Star status. Usually, others proclaim it, for you. One needs to be recognized by others in order to attain Rock Star status. It is more fan recognition of accomplishment than any real certified proclamation.

Recently, there have been a number of posts dealing with this pop culture adoration of educators at national and local conferences. As long as I can remember we have always had such people at conferences without the Rock Star label, but certainly with all the attention that would accompany it. I remember one statewide conference where Guy Kawasaki was to speak and the line to get in formed an hour ahead of time for a standing room only crowd. That was pure star power. Back then books, magazines, and journals determined the who’s who of the profession, leaning toward the authors, who were tagged as the conference stars. Adding fans to their readership never hurt an author’s standing.

That was then and this is now. What is different? Social Media should be blaring in your head about now. Print media has far less of an impact on our society today, while Social Media however, is having a profound effect. The education thought leaders, who use social media as their conduit to transmit their ideas and opinions to followers, have no control over who or how many followers they have. The only control they have is over the ideas and opinions they put out. If the ideas and opinions are good the following grows.

The first time I encountered my own popularity in social media was when I did a session in an Edcamp in NYC.  I expressed to my session that I wished we had a few more people. A woman in the back in a sincere voice said that her friend wanted to come to my session, but I was too famous. At first I thought the woman was just making a joke, but she underscored her sincerity. Frankly, I did not get it, but that has never been my issue. I will generally talk with anyone.

I think we all have people we look up to in our profession. At one time we were limited to physical meetings but now with technology tools of collaboration we are exposed to many times more thought leaders than ever before. We can have several people to admire and look up to. Part of the fun at Education Conferences is to see these people in real life. This is just human nature. I am still impressed with most of the people I held in the highest regard when I started out in social media lo those many years ago.

Where things go awry is when followers look onto their Rock Stars as unapproachable. This is not good for anyone. Most of the rock stars are uncomfortable with that, and the followers miss an opportunity to talk and exchange ideas. Whenever I am called a Rock Star, I feel a deeper sense of responsibility. I feel I need to think more before I speak and have something meaningful to say while I am out in public at these conferences.

Of course the other extreme would be the people who want to fault the Rock Stars for having attitude problems, flawed ideas, no sense of humility, and a million other personality blemishes just to diminish their accomplishments.

This pattern of behavior is not going to go away, so let’s get it out there and deal with it. The term today is Rock Star. Next year it could be something else, but there will still be thought leaders and luminaries in the profession, and they will be called something. Some people will look up to them, and others may look for faults. I am just glad that we are in a profession where these people exist. They make us think, react, understand, collaborate, and learn.

I chose what I wanted to do as an educator, and as a user of social media. I have no choice in how people view me, or label me. I have grown to have fun with the recognition. I can also get somewhat of a feel for the social media influence on an education conference by people’s responses to me at the conference. I have several Education groups on LinkedIn, The Educator’s PLN, and #Edchat on Twitter. I also host The #Edchat Radio Show, as well as Blog on My Island View. On top of all of that I am a contributing Editor to SmartBlog on Education for SmartBrief. For this I am often recognized and thought of by some as a Rock Star. Yesterday I was introduced as the “Godfather of Twitter”. (Not my words) I am also thrilled when my wife, who is an education Tech executive, refers to me as her husband @tomwhitby. People get it. Most have a sense of humor. We can’t take ourselves too seriously, or we won’t have as much fun. It is time to get over it. I can say this because I am @tomwhitby Damn It!

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If we hold personalized learning in such high regard, why shouldn’t we apply it to our professional conference experience as well? Are we not attending these conferences to learn? I attend more conferences than most educators, and I try to enjoy each to the fullest. I also have an advantage over many educators attending these conferences in that I am a “connected educator.” I use Twitter, LinkedIn and many education Ning communities to reach out and connect with educators before a conference begins. It is not some privilege held by me alone. Any educator can do it, and everyone should. In my experience, when it comes to learning, personal relationships in sharing content offer much more to learners than the content alone.

Any of the major conferences usually have established websites or create special conference websites for perspective attendees to join. Usually, there will be discussions on upcoming topics, or scheduled presentations. It also enables opportunities for connections with other attendees. By establishing these connections, experiences can be shared on methods, and strategies to effect the maximum potential for learning at a specific conference. ISTE13 established a conference Ning to do that. It was unfortunate that only a small number of the 20,000+ attendees took advantage of that site.

The best way to pre-connect with folks is to use the power of Twitter. It is easy to put out a few tweets asking who will be attending, as well as identifying folks who have an ability to make recommendations based on their past experience. This is especially helpful for polling people experienced with a particular venue, which in this case was San Antonio. It certainly helps to get a heads-up on places to go and places to eat.

Recommendations from other educators with like interests are most helpful in determining the best presenters on any given topic. On some topics it is not a question of what to look for, but rather, whom to look for. Some presenters may offer a perspective more in line with your interests. A recommendation goes a long way in finding the right presenters. Being forewarned is the best way to be forearmed against disappointment. Finding a presenter’s blog site is often a window to their soul as well.

Of course the very best part of being connected at a conference is the ability to share out to others, mostly through Twitter, what the experience is like in a small way. I find that when I take on the responsibility of sharing with others, I tend to: listen a little closer, pay attention a little more, be a little more critical in my thinking, and overall, learn things a little better. The ability to share comes with the responsibility to get it right. It helps me as much as those, with whom I am sharing.

I found the ISTE13 conference to be the most connected of all the conferences I have attended over the year. The organization’s board contains many connected educators. What always baffles me at conferences is that the organizations stress connecting, but do little to promote it. They print programs with presenters’ names but no Twitter “handles.” They give everyone nametags, but again no nametags contain Twitter handles, unless the attendee uses a marker to add it. As educators, one would think that we would fully support that which we espouse. Twitter names in programs for all participants, as well as Twitter names on nametags would go a long, long way in validating connected educators, as well as providing the very means necessary to expand the growing network of connected educators.

Of course the best way to personalize any learning at any conference is to walk up to someone and share ideas face to face. That is what I like best about being connected. The very people you meet with and share with virtually walk up in person for handshakes and hugs. The perception that social media restricts an ability to have meaningful connections is always proven wrong with each passing education conference. ISTE13 was no exception to this.

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I had a rare opportunity to experience a wonderful sharing of a meaningful, unselfish, insightful, reflective, and most enlightening, and personal keynote address at ISTE13 from my friend, Adam Bellow. I was also aware of his struggles with its creation over the last several months.

I have come to believe that a thought not shared is simply a passing thought, but a thought shared is an idea. That was never more evident to me than it was yesterday as I experienced the closing ISTE13 Keynote address from Adam Bellow yesterday in San Antonio Texas.

Adam shared with the thousands of educators in attendance what it means to be a connected educator. Before he did this however, he wove a story of his personal history as a kid growing up with a yearning for learning, and what that meant to him. He introduced us to his family, his motivations, his connections, his creations, and his ideas.

Adam validated what educators are doing globally with their connections. He managed to introduce many of his connections to the audience glued to the screen enthralled with the dazzling array of interactive slides and text underscoring and accenting every thought shared and explored. He managed to pump up the audience with a cadence so fast that there was little time to reflect before the next idea came streaming in. There were well over 300 slides in support of this cavalcade of ideas.

What I came away with was a profound commitment to continue to share ideas in spite of the roadblocks and side tracks of the detractors. There is power in connecting and sharing. As educators we need to harness that power not to control kids, but to teach them and learn alongside of them.

I do not feel I was alone in my adoration of this keynote presentation. I was not the only educator moved to tears and laughter. I was not the only educator to feel validated in my efforts to connect and share. The five-minute standing ovation as well as the lengthy line of well wishers waiting to shake Adam’s hand as recognition that he did strike the chords that validated and inspired everyone in that huge auditorium.

I know that this keynote was video taped. I only hope that in the spirit of sharing, so well highlighted in Adam’s address, that it is distributed by ISTE to be shared by all educators in an effort to advance all educators in connecting, sharing, teaching and most especially learning. I will post the URL when I get it and if permitted, I will post it on The Educator’s PLN. Thank You Adam Bellow @Adambellow.

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