I have spent the last two days with some really wonderful educators exchanging ideas and in many cases changing ideas. Solution Tree Publishing sponsored a three-day conference highlighting 99 of their education authors in presentations, panels, and intimate, informal gatherings with attendees. Solution Tree had the foresight to invite a number of Social-Media-using educators to attend the conference, all expenses paid with no instructions, or restrictions other than to attend the conference, tweet and blog. It was a great opportunity for us, but it was a big chance taken by Solution Tree. They were asking us to control our own learning and create content as we do it. That certainly is a unique thought among some educators.
The educators selected to represent the social media community of educators were all bloggers who are also very involved with Twitter. In addition to me, the others were: Steve Anderson, @web20classroom; Kyle Pace, @kylepace; Nick Provenzano, @thenerdyteacher; and Angela Maiers, @angelamaiers. We were all familiar with each other after being connected through social media and many face to face meetings at conferences over the last few years. For all five of us this was a dream assignment. We got to do what we love to do, and we did not have to pay to do it as is usually required.
I made a major assumption about the conference entering into this assignment. Not having access to the registration data, I assumed that most, if not all the participants, would be administrators. Since there were no vendors other than Solution Tree, the ticket price was a bit steep. The return on investment however, was very high. Instead of going to a conference where speakers would do presentations quoting and espousing ideas from the most recent books on topics of education, this conference provided the actual sources, the authors of those works. This was a premiere conference that was being done for the first time. My assumption was that with today’s economically strapped school budgets, most districts would send a limited number of their lead administrators. In two of the sessions that I attended however, a poll was taken, and it was apparent, that in those presentations, at least a quarter of the audience was made up of classroom teachers. There were 1,500 educators in attendance.
The conference was kicked off with a keynote by Daniel Pink on motivation. I was familiar with much of what Pink had to say after reading Drive and viewing several of his videos. Two parts of his speech really reached me. The first was a big negative. Pink used the targeting term of “Bad Teachers” needing to be fired. This is a hot button to many creating an atmosphere that scapegoats teachers as a group to be removed in part, in order to reform education. That is the part I did not like. What I loved was the fact that Pink highlighted the accomplishments of Josh Stumpenhorst, an educator named teacher of the year, and a social media user who connected with Pink through Social Media. I felt pride in the recognition of one of our own as well as a guy I am connected to. A great part of this conference involved the authors taking part as participants, as well as presenters. After the keynote, it was off to the sessions.
We began tweeting out reactions from the very start of the keynote, and we will still be tweeting about things after it ends tomorrow. The idea that we were providing a view of many of the sessions to educators who were not in attendance, was new to many, who knew little of the application of social media to education. Many audience members took notice as the Authors presenting recognized the tweeters in their presentations. Most authors are aware of the impact that social media is having. It was the participants at the conference who were beginning to recognize its effect; many for the first time. Each of our group members experienced people discovering or at least taking Twitter serious, or discovering it for the first time. It was then that it became apparent that a room for people to go to during any conference was a necessity. It could be a place for novices to learn how to travel the conference with Twitter. Twitter back channeling could add a whole new level to presenting. Those of us, who have experienced this, understand it. A backchannel screen for a number of sessions would soon make this apparent to many more educators. The Twitter tutorial room could support that to make it happen more successfully.
The response from many educators, who did not attend in person, to our tweets was overwhelming. The numbers came back indicating millions of tweets and retweets on #authorspeak went out each day. Tannis Emann was able to do a Blog Post on the conference based on the tweets sent by us since he was not physically in attendance. Wes Freyer, @wfryer is credited for the photo,#authorspeak. It was an impressive showing of the effect social media can have on a conference. It extended the reach of ideas to those who could not attend. This was accomplished with a focus on only five “Teachers a Tweet’n”. Imagine the possibilities of communication, collaboration, and creation once we get all 7.2 million educators “a Tweet’n”? Professional Development may become more relevant and focused to move education reform forward in a positive way. I am looking forward to what next year’s #authorspeak has to offer whether I attend in person or virtually through Twitter.