As a blogger for only a year now, I have tried not to revisit topics and be repetitive. There are some things however, that need to be revisited at certain times of the year. Just as: Thanksgiving brings on articles of thankfulness, Christmas brings on articles of Peace and Love, and New Years brings on articles of recent loss and future resolutions, this time of year brings on articles about Education Conferences. I guess that is because plans are being made to attend the largest conferences of the year. There does seem to be a change in the approach to connections, as well as anticipation and expectations of these conferences much of which may be attributed to Social Media.
As a classroom teacher I was very fortunate to serve for many years on the Board of Directors of NYSCATE, the Educational Technology group for New York educators. For the most part many Professional Education Organizations are run by administrators. I find nothing wrong with that, because running these organizations requires a certain skill set, as well as time commitment that fits the abilities of administrators better than those of classroom teachers. I understand that. I also understand that as much as any of these groups will deny it, there is a perspective or a focus of these conferences that leans more toward administrators than classroom teachers. That is fitting, since a majority of the attendees are administrators. With budgets as they are, it is reasonable that district should get more bang for their buck by sending their technology leaders as opposed to the technology users. This all makes sense in a world of top down management in education.
Of course these organizations will point out that a many of the workshops are done by classroom teachers, and that is true. The workshops and the Keynotes are all selected and approved by the organization leadership. This is not an attack on any organization. This seems to be how it has been done for years and that is the way it worked best. The need for me to explain all of this will enable me to point out the difference that Social Media is making in the process.
The development and broadening effects of Personal Learning Networks are giving educators facts and insights in education that were never before so readily available to them. Twitter, Twitter Chats, Nings, and Blogs are providing teachers with information in greater quantities and personally delivered to them. The direct contact and connections between educators is promoting more awareness, collaboration, and reflection on topics that concern them and their students directly. All of this prepares educators for dealing with conferences as they have not been able to do before.
Ironically, the social aspects of Social Media, in regard to teachers, are often overlooked. I know from experience that I have personal connections with many educators from around the world. When I think of what is meant by “colleagues”, I am no longer limited to the people I work with in a building. These global connections are real and in many instances, very strong connections. If I was traveling, I know I could call upon many of my PLN members for a place to stay if needed. I can’t say that about most people with whom I work.
If I attend a conference, I may very well have had personal contact with many of the attendees, as well as possibly the Keynote Speaker. This is an experience I have had on several occasions at conferences over the past year. At a recent conference, I entered an auditorium to listen to a Keynote speech a few minutes after it began. I entered the auditorium at the back and the seats were all filled to see a great presentation on Blogging as Educators. It was standing room only, and that is what I did at the back of the big room. It was after a minute or so, that the speaker saw me at the back, stopped the speech, and said hello to me. Lisa Nielsen, a great blogger, speaker and wonderful person has been connected with me for quite a while through our PLN’s. Her Blog is The Innovative Educator, http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/ . This never would have happened without the Social Media connection. This is an experience that, to some degree, is common to many Twitter-Using Educators as they attend conferences. This more solid the connection with educators, whose ideas we are familiar with, and whose lives have in some part been shared, make for a more meaningful conference experience.
A greater effect that Social Media is having on Professional Organization Conferences is the whole Edcamp movement. More and more Edcamps, or Teachmeets are cropping up all over the country, or more accurately the world. These conferences are free to participants. Teachers step up and volunteer to present a workshop or a discussion in a certain time slot. Any educator interested in attending all or any part of that workshop may do so. These are organized and publicized using Social Media. I call it a movement because of the number and frequency that I am observing as these pop up around the world. In addition, to Edcamps, we are seeing more and more Free Webinars for teachers being presented through Ning and Wiki sites.
All of this exchange of ideas and collaboration prepares educators to know what they need as individuals from these conferences. It also enables them to knowledgeably tweet out comments from workshops and Keynotes to the twitter stream engaging educators who are unable to personally attend. This ”Backchanneling” holds presenters accountable to be prepared and relevant. All of these factors are enabling Social Media to give a face lift to Professional Organization Conferences.
Finally, I love meeting my PLN members at conferences. I have a problem recognizing them in person and I realize that we all have that problem. I have created my Twitter name tag to address this issue. I used my Twitter Profile Pic, and @tomwhitby on a second name tag that I wear to all conferences. The Hawaiian Shirt may also help identify me.