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Do conferences create critical consumers? and following that thought -

Are conferences the best environment to foster creative and innovative thinking?

In this post, I’m exploring the Australian conference – I make an up for opening brashness somewhere in the middle and tell you want to think right at the end – as this is panto-blogging. There’s even some audience participation – and you get to tweet as you read. 100% good times ahead for the next 5 minutes.

Bland messages, perpetual audience

It seems most of the people we need to carry the flag of the ’21st Century’ are left inside 19th Century classrooms as executives collect Mayorships on Four Square around the world. The design of learning (awkwardly called eLearning up until about 2004) was hi-jacked by internet bloggers – and previous closed discussions exploded on line.

The innovators paired emerging social trends with technology – from cyberpunk came edupunk finding new ways to broadcast it between people who know how to spread ideas. But how much of it was actually new? or actually important?

Time for invention and discussion

For me 2004-08 was time of great invention in communication between educators.

It opened up thinking about how emerging read/write technologies could be used in education on networks and platforms. Technologies which had previously been the preserve of corporations and institutions. Many discussions and presentations today however are marginally different in their message – but it has become a popular ‘message’.

Interestingly virtual audiences in Second Life or K12 Online seem to produce the best in people presenting. Perhaps it is the lack of physical audience.

So what happens when we plan conferences for real people?

Which comes first – the strategic aims or targeting people? Does someone ask “What about Henry Jenkins? Can we afford him? … Who’s Henry Jenkins?” … where as bringing Leeroy Jenkins to a conference audience is a more remote thought – but perhaps salient if we’re talking about shifts in society and culture driving educational imperatives.

On one hand, an educational technology conference has to include Web2.0, and has to bring in people who represent that as icons of invention. But this also means we still focus on Web2.0 as a key-hook.  It’s something intangible, yet seems important as we try to bolt clocks onto a curriculum toasters – or put bums on seats (yep, we still sit in rows).

Is it new information? or just a new medium? Does it make learning better and does it deal effectively with youth-culture?

If it did – you’d know who Leeroy Jenkins is. Here is an article from 1995 to illustrate that we have been asking the same questions a decade before social media brought it to a wider audience though blogs etc.

Don’t leap-frog what is sound advice – even if it’s wearing leg-warmers.

The tools and examples might have changed, but the message is re-packed into new clothes, which this time around are a lot more confusing. Being a tech-head, does not mean you are best placed to use technology. There are some terrible tech-teachers making all sorts of rubbish – just as there are great examples. “

“Forget all the rules of educational technology … including the ones I’m about to tell you” seems a convenient message these days.

Many teachers have no training or exposure to instructional design and models of such as TIP or TPAC.  They spend very little time learning about integration into their discipline itself. They are left to figure it out by trial and error – and increasingly this is via online communities. This is good – and bad – as many jump onto the tool and try to retro-fit into lessons (others claim they are too busy).  They have moved past the almighty Microsoft Office but seriously – so what?

For example: Take my simple one question quiz about curriculum and instruction. It’s not hard, just choose the answer and Tweet it. (Warning: there is personal risk here – but a Tweetable moment).

How do you know you’re good at grass-roots professional development?

Here are some very basic considerations to illustrate the kinds of questions that many newbies have and knowledge that you (as you’re reading this blog) probably already know. You’re probably more effective that some professional-presenters banging on about how big Facebook is.

Are you explaining why these questions exist and what underpins the debate that pre-exists blogs and wikis? Are you explaining the evolution of eLearning tools to new tools powered by social media and Web2.0 in a rational context teachers can understand?

For example: essential questions for teachers have revolve around quite sensational things – and tools only illustrate it, not solve it.

  • What does the technology offer students in terms of developing concepts and content?
  • How does it help students to carry out inquiry processes?
  • How will students work together collaboratively or cooperatively?
  • What is the relationship between technology and other instructional materials?
  • What new knowledge of my content or discipline, of teaching, or of technology do I need in order to foster new learning in my students?
  • What knowledge processes, and skills do students need before using the technology?

These questions genuinely create engagement with teachers. Why? Because teachers have internal knowledge of it (you are not hittin them with uni-structural, abstract ideas and terminology). Though they may not know which Web2.0 tool was invented an hour ago, they are still responsible to their students and society.

At this point – let me say that I believe that professional associations such as HTAV - put on stunning events. Why? Because they know their audience. HTAV is well organised, has community and shares commonality in their passion for history. They don’t see a conference a totem of power over their community – or a marketing opportunity (don’t get me started on vendor-shows).

In another example: MACICT - who are doing amazing things with games; but focus very strongly on the learning framework inside DET, yet find room to move and innovate consistently – providing real skills, not just messages.

There is great truth in what is said in popular comment – but there is also great wisdom in what has been said for decades.

Perhaps we’ve heard some messages too often now, and made enough SHIFT videos. The rules that are set out in TED talks have pushed people into new conversations – and seem a very good idea to filter out bland repetition – if you are looking for a keynote. If it is a presentation, then don’t call it a keynote. They are a different as Newb and N00b.

Example: MACICT had a live video conference with teachers listening to Bajo and Hex today – who quite clearly understand their audience. It was a catalyst for great conversation, not some facile debate over games and their place in learning – Debbie Evans (the Director) brings new ideas to teachers as a vehicle to create conversation and set the tone for the day. I might also point out that Bajo and Hex were talking to teachers and students.

So take all in moderation – and leave room for the crazy-heads talking about virtual worlds, games, augmented reality … especially if you are a leader.

If you are not yet involved with an association, and think you can tweet your way into the future - find out more about them – you might be surprised how well they perform and how innovative they are – all be it without the razzle dazzle and exposure of larger events.

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