I was part of the professional development collaboration at New Milford High School in New Jersey yesterday. It was organized and run by my friend for many years now, Eric Sheninger. If you are active on Twitter, you know him as @nmhs_principal. As I attended this conference, I tried to figure out why this felt a little different from other conferences. It was not an Unconference, yet it was clearly not a typical organization-led, schedule-driven conference of the past. It seemed to be a blend or a hybrid of the best of both types. Where Unconferences are social media driven, this was premeditated and planned. The preparation of the workshops however, did not push topics of the tried and true, tired topics of tech in education like many of the organizational conferences. The topics were relevant, cutting edge, and somewhat social media driven. Most of the speakers were from the ranks of social media. I think every educator/speaker on schedule is in my Professional Learning Network. Many are stand-outs to me. They are people I go to with questions. They are bloggers who I follow. They are people I seek out for conversation.
I think it is important to note that the history of social media as we have come to know it, doesn’t go so far back in time. Yes there were list serves going years back, but they were generally populated by Tech-savvy individuals. FaceBook, Linkedin, and Twitter becoming integral parts of what we are calling Professional Learning Networks only started gaining traction three to four years ago. That is the time when many of the social Media stand outs began their collaborative trek.
The other speakers on the schedule were provided by Teq, a company that provides technology to education, as well as the training to maximize the use of that technology. Teq was the corporate sponsor of the event. Education should take note of how businesses are beginning to take positions in Social Media spaces. More and more companies are beginning to sponsor or provide Free Webinars, Podcasts, Discussion Groups, and Seminars online. They are developing and owning content on the web other than advertisements. Sponsoring a conference of Social Media-driven educators is another way in. Please don’t get me wrong, I see this as a good thing that should be encouraged. The more we educate educators, the more we can educate our children. It is all about continuous learning, and that needs to be promoted. It is that Life-long learning thing, that so many profess to kids, but fail to follow on their own.
Tapping into the collaboration for learning seems to be the key to success for many conferences today. Of course, the key to success can also be the Kiss of death for any conference, or workshop that is not relevant, or meeting the needs of those who attend. Social Media holds a mirror to the world in that respect. It reflects to other educators the good, the bad, and the ugly. As a presenter, I must say we all have our bad days, but we can only hope it will be a day with few Tweeters in the room.
The Edscape conference was very well received. Some blog posts began to spring up even before the event ended. This was one such enthusiastic post fromThe Lamp Light. One Ironic note to the program however, was that even with so many of the speakers being Twitter devotees, only one included his Twitter handle (hold over term from the CB days) and that was @teachpaperless. I know I will include @tomwhitby on my stuff for conferences moving forward.
It should be obvious that the name Edscape itself is a blending of words. Of course the challenge to me and the way I view things, is to figure out if it is a blend of Landscape and Education, or Escape and Education? I guess I am leaning to escaping education as we know it today. I would like to think that Social Media is allowing the collaboration and transparency to do so. I do have to keep reminding myself that there are 7.2 million teachers in America and only a tiny portion are trolling the waters of Social Media trying to net learning and collaboration.
I had a wonderful time at #Edscape. I would love to see more of these conferences spring up around the country. We are seeing more Edcamps and that is a good sign. We as teachers often do a good job with what we do. Where we fall short is in telling people about it. We need to be better marketers. We need to market what we do, and how we do it. We need to involve other educators as we do this. My surprise in attending these collaborative gatherings comes not from how good they are, but from the surprise in others who are experiencing this great collaboration for the first time. 7.2 Million is a big number when you have to win over one at a time.