Tuesday, July 7, 2009

NECC 09, Relationships & Reflection

I'm entering my twelfth year in education, and just attended my first National Education Computing Conference with a colleague. There were immense differences between this conference and other national conferences I've attended. What made this one so different? Relationships & Reflection.

Never have I attended a national conference were I feel like I know hundreds of attendees and presenters. I haven't met them face-to-face before, rather have an on-line connection with them via blogging and twitter. I feel like I know them professionally through 140 character tweets, and I have open access to their writing and thoughts on their blogs. Many of them also share snipits of their personal lives so I know (and through pictures may have seen) where they live, their kid's names, their classroom environments, or where they took their last vacation.

These on-line relationships propelled NECC to offer NECC 09 Unplugged. This unique design set it apart from other national conferences. Not only were there regular conference sessions via lectures and panel discussions and BYOL (bring your own laptop) sessions, but also informal learning opportunities through playground areas and a blogger's cafe. The playground areas were set up with a presenter to share some of their learning and where others could gather, ask questions, and get some advice on implementation strategies. In the blogger's cafe conversations focused on wikis, how to create interaction on a blog through comments, what individuals might want to present at next year's conference, or how to use their new Nikon 60 cameras, to name just a few. On a personal level, people spent time making face-to-face connections and just talking. Networks deepened and friendships formed. I took as much, if not more learning from these informal conversations. This means extended and richer learning for me far beyond the convention walls.

Relationships also had me selecting sessions differently. In the past, I would pick solely on the title or content listed in the program, but this time I selected based on whether the presenter was part of my PLN, Personal Learning Network, through Twitter. Attending sessions with presenters from my PLN offered many benefits, including that I can have dialogue with them far beyond the hour session, and I know if I want to learn more later, I can go directly to the source.
In addition, at other conferences, once sessions commenced, the colleagues from my school and I would find a dinner location, and share our session debriefs. I wasn't really sure what other participants were doing, but I would venture to say, the same thing we were. Not at NECC. Because people were networked and connected on-line, they would meet at Tweet-Ups, go bowling together, meet in large groups for dinner (most meeting face-to-face for the first time), or tour our nation's capital. The groups formed because of common interests, and though some may have been pre-planned (through twitter), many were not. It would take one shout out through twitter to bring a group together. Again, forming relationships that will last far beyond the convention walls.

Reflection was also a natural part of this conference. After leaving other national conferences, I would take time to reflect on my learning and decide how my new learning would shape the way in which I work or deliver pd to teachers. After NECC, I not only have my own reflections, but the reflections of hundreds of other attendees. Many are bloggers and through their on-line communication I can read a post much like this one, that tells me about their own shift in thinking. I can also access many posts that were live blogged during the conference, much like the blog my colleague and I contributed to, Live from the Creek, and I can read about sessions I was not able to attend. To me, a significant change in the way we do business.

If you are reading this, you are part of my PLN, and you attended NECC 09, you already understand. But, if you are not part of my PLN, and this conference intrigues you, I would suggest that you attend ISTE 10 in Denver next year. My advice would be to get connected now so you will fully benefit, like I did, from being networked by the time you arrive. To get started, go to http://www.twitter.com/ , create an account, and search for me at @shalls under the followers tab. Don't feel overwhelmed in getting started. Start small and your network will expand. Once you meet people face to face next year at ISTE 10, you will be glad that you did.

For those of you who are networked and attended NECC 09, what do you see as the differences between this conference and others?


Sean Nash said...

Nice wrap up... You and Holtsman look like the perfect greeting committee at the Tweetup in the pics above.

It was nice to put a face with the online presence. You have a fun group of people you work with. You guys should feel lucky!


Melanie Holtsman said...

I love this post Suzanne. I agree wholeheartedly with all you shared and I think your advice is very wise. I LOVE going to NECC to connect f2f with my online PLN, but I learn just as much all year from these same folks. I choose my sessions to include these friends, but also found myself looking for new and interesting people this year that now I feel like I can contact if need be. You sum it all up perfectly by saying Relationships and Reflection!

Thanks for being a great roomie!