I have always enjoyed attending educational conferences. I have been an organizer, committee member, presenter, moderator, panelist, and attendee for various conferences over my career as an educator. Educational conferences were always more than seeing the latest and greatest gadgets and gimmicks being offered to teachers to involve students in learning. I always recognized the energy that comes from these events. Educators who attend conferences get to listen to other ideas and share their own. They network and collaborate. They are introduced to new ideas, as well as stretch existing ideas to new dimensions. Conferences also provided best practices examples that many school districts lacked in their Professional Development. Teachers often returned to their Districts recharged and eager to put into practice that which they were exposed to at whatever conference the last attended.
I must admit that I was also critical of some aspects of educational conferences. I understand the high cost of putting such conferences together. That fact limits the number of people any District can send to a conference. It also seemed to me that many districts focused on sending administrators more often to conferences than teachers. I understand there are very good reasons why administrators need to attend conferences, but the ratio of Administrators to classroom teachers was always out of whack. It seemed to me that the administrators outnumbered the classroom teachers. Considering the number of Administrators to teachers in any district, there should always be more classroom teachers by a 10 to 1 margin. Of course this is not possible. Teachers cannot leave their students for extended periods of time. Vendors whose table fees make these conferences profitable, much prefer the movers and shakers of education to be in attendance in larger numbers. Buying decisions are not usually made in large numbers by teachers.
Districts interested in making the most from conferences will rotate their people to conferences. They will limit the same people from going to the same conferences year after year. They will encourage teachers not only to attend, but encourage them to present. Districts need to consider branding their schools with educators whose best practices are shared with other educators, locally, statewide, nationally, and globally. This recognition builds pride and expertise that benefits everyone including the students.
Now there seems to be new models of educational conferences emerging. It is yet to be determined if they will become permanent fixtures in the world of education. The new models are a direct result of today’s technology. Social Media has connected a great number of teachers from around the world. It not only brings educators together virtually and intellectually, but it enables them to organize and plan face to face gatherings without the need for professional organizations. The development of webcast applications is also enabling people to organize and present to large groups of educators who are securely nestled in the safety of their home cocoons and the comfort of their pajamas. The U-Streaming and archiving applications enable presenters to record presentation for those who could not attend in real-time. It time shifts professional Development for convenience.
These online symposiums, and unconferences or camps and webcasts are beginning to happen more and more in many locations around the world. Educational Ning sites are having more and more webcasts with both educational luminaries, as well as classroom teachers offering best practices for professional Development. People are being accepted by what they have to offer in the way of ideas and not by what their title is. These conferences are for the most part free to attendees. They bring together educators worldwide. They are allowing Higher Ed teachers link up and interact with K-12 educators. Authors are no longer just faces on a book cover, but participants in the discussion. Contacts made from these conferences become continual with social media allow connections to stay connected. The energy is renewed on a weekly or daily basis as opposed to months or years at a time.
Time will tell if these tech-assisted conferences help us move professional development to a point where the new literacy required to learn, teach and communicate with technology can be mastered by a majority of educators. This may be at best a gateway to educational reform and at worst an idea expanding experience. I guess that falls in the category of a win/win situation.
I needed to finish this post today for tomorrow I am meeting up with Eric Sheninger, @nmhsprincipal and Steve Anderson, @web20classroom to drive to Philadelphia for the #ntcamp. That is an Unconference for new teachers. It was organized by teachers for new teachers. The word went out over social media and many members of my Personal Learning Network are coming together in Philly to work with any of the new teachers who will be in attendance for no charge. This could be something or it could be nothing. Knowing the people involved I would bet that it will be something. Take a look at the site. http://www.ntcamp.org/2010/ntcamp-update/
Your Thoughts are most welcomed.