Why Are You Going to That?

Educon

Last week I ran into a former colleague in the supermarket and during the brief impromptu catchup, I mentioned that I would be spending the weekend in Philadelphia at EduCon. After reminding me that I was no longer working, she asked “Why are you going to an education conference?”.

I suppose it’s a valid question. I didn’t really have much of an answer at that point. That kind of encounter isn’t really designed for long-winded explanations. But blog posts are.

Ok, it’s quite true that I’m no longer employed by a school district, or being paid by any other organization. But that doesn’t mean I’m no longer an educator. At least I still think of myself in that way and I’m having a great time finding other ways to help people learn outside of the formal system. So, I was at EduCon to continue growing as an educator.

I was also in Philly to continue my personal learning. We talk a lot about “lifelong learning”, a concept we constantly try to sell to our students. Spending several days interacting with other educators at Science Leadership Academy is me putting that concept into action. Plus the city itself is a wonderful place to explore and learn from.

Finally, I return every year on a usually cold and windy January weekend for the community. EduCon is a unique event that attracts a relatively small, dynamic, diverse group of educators deeply interested in improving both their practice and American education in general. It’s refreshing to reconnect with that community for a few days of face-to-face conversations.

All of which means I already have the 2019 dates (January 25-27) locked on my calendar. Maybe you want to plan to join me?


Picture is of one packed EduCon session being streamed to the world.

The EdTech Boat Shows

Swap the boats for computers and it begins to look familiar.

Happening this week in London is one of the largest edtech conferences in the world, one that many educators in the US have probably never heard of.

It’s called BETT1 and the organizers say it will attract almost 35,000 attendees. For comparison, recent ISTE2 conferences, largest in the US, have included around 22,000 people.

Also happening this week in Orlando, Florida is another large edtech conference, one that is probably quite familiar to anyone reading this, FETC3. They usually attract around 8,000 people. So, big but not nearly the size of the other two.

All three edtech organizations, of course, want us, the common educator, to believe that the event will provide hundreds of professional development opportunities. Ones that address the “future of education” and “transforming education” (in the case of BETT).

Several days that will be an “intensive, highly collaborative exploration of new technologies, best practices and pressing issues” (FETC). That will offer “powerful ideas and inspirational speakers, while connecting with innovative educators who share your passion for transformative learning” (ISTE).

However, a large and growing part of these huge conferences is the vendor floor. I would argue it’s the largest, and likely most important, part to these three organizations. Companies pay big bucks to have a presence at these events, even more for a high profile sponsorship, money necessary to keep their budgets in the black.

BETT at least is up front about primarily being an industry trade show, rather than a professional development conference. According to it’s about page, this is the “first industry show of the year in the education technology landscape”. ISTE and FETC are more circumspect on the issue, but their literature still places a heavy emphasis on the number of companies that will be exhibiting at their events.

Ok, I’ve never attended BETT or FETC, and, based on their online programs, I really have no desire to go. (Although I wouldn’t mind visiting London. Anytime.) On the other hand, I have been to ISTE many times (over almost twenty years) and the attraction for that event has been declining.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always felt my trips to ISTE were worth while, learning much during the time and always making or renewing some wonderful connections. And almost none of that came from visiting the “massive Expo Hall”. I expect that the same would be true if I was at the big events in London or Ontario right now.

But I find that it takes more and more work to find those professional benefits at these overly-large conferences. Considering the number of people I see spending hours in the vendor hall and flocking to the “Cracker Jack” sessions, along with the volume of social media posts about the “cool new” stuff, I’m not sure that’s happening at all for a large percentage of those tens of thousand attendees.

On top of that, the dominance of the edtech industry has steadily grown at these conferences. Large parts of the formal program at ISTE and FETC are now presentations by corporate representatives and sessions by educators sponsored to some degree by those companies. Extending their marketing reach beyond the one hall.

All of which is making these huge conferences more resemble the classic boat show than an education event.


The title for this post is borrowed, with thanks, from Gary Stager. It’s just such a wonderful name for the massive and increasingly flashy vendor floors of these events so I hope he doesn’t mind me using it.

The picture is from the Detroit Boat Show.

1 From the original name the British Educational Training and Technology Show.

2 Anyone else see something wrong about an organization with “international” in it’s title that’s never holds it’s major event outside the US borders? Sorta like the “World” Series.

3 Which started life as the Florida Educational Technology Conference. It was changed to the Future of Educational Technology Conference when the event was purchased by a media company that operates many other business conferences.

EduCon 2017

Last weekend was one of my favorite times of the year.

I spent a couple of days in a nondescript office building in center city Philadelphia masquerading as a school. This was a small but powerful conference knowns as EduCon, held each year in the depth of the mid-Atlantic winter at the Science Leadership Academy.

When I tell people about my trip, one of their first questions is why? Why do you continue to go to conferences like this? Aren’t you supposed to be retired?

The simple answer is, I’m still an educator and this event is a large part of my learning community.

Discussion

This was the tenth edition of this conference, which is very different from most. Here it’s all about conversations around the idea of changing education, attracting some of the smartest most creative people I know. I’ve been there from the beginning, leading or co-leading discussions in about half of them, and I always leave with a long list of books to read, ideas to investigate, and new people to follow.

The theme this year was sustainability and, considering all the local and national crap going on around us, I was half expecting the mood to be rather pessimistic. There certainly was an undercurrent of apprehension (how could there not be?) but, overall most everyone was positive and determined to help fix the broken.

Robot Controllers

One great part of EduCon is that the faculty of SLA, many of the students, and even some parents are active participants in the discussions. Many of the sessions are also lead by staff and students, talking about their work and the inquiry driven process at the school. It’s even more remarkable when you remember that this is a public school, working with the same limited budget as other high schools, with a representative cross section of the city’s population.

I have a couple of posts in the works based on some discussions from the conference, but to close this one I’ll just recommend that you plan now to be in Philly next January 26-28. Dress warm, wear your walking shoes, and I’ll see you there.

Sunday Panel

Find more images from this year’s conference in the EduCon 2.9 Group on Flickr.

Conference Overload

Did you ever think that there might be too education-related conferences? Especially edtech-related?

You probably don’t know the half of it.

Twice a year, a consultant from Toronto assembles a list of “selected events that primarily focus on the use of technology in educational settings and on teaching, learning, and educational administration”, to be held in the next six months, all over the world.

And it is a very long list. I didn’t bother to count the number of items in the current edition, but the information is distributed in a 102 page Word document. Each entry given two or three lines of 10pt type.

Some, like the International Workshop on Content-Based Multimedia Indexing (next month in Bucharest, Romania) and WorldFuture (presented by the World Future Society in DC in July) don’t exactly strike me as education conferences. And the list likely misses many state and local conferences.

However, my overall feeling as I scroll (and scroll, and scroll,…) through this list is: Are all these meetings really necessary? They all cost someone money and time to assemble; are they worth the costs involved? Do participants at these events really learn something that improves their practice, and, more importantly, positively impacts their students?

As someone who attends and presents at a few conferences a year, I always leave them asking those same questions. I’ll be in Denver for ISTE next month (attending, not presenting) and I know I’ll learn from the people I meet, as well as having a good time. But that doesn’t mean I won’t question the value of both the conference and my participation.

Anyway, just something to think about. If you’re interested in scrolling through the conference list yourself, the 35th edition, covering mid-May through December 2016, is now available.

Picture Post #5, VSTE Edition

A few of my favorite shots from the Virginia Society for Technology in Education conference from a few days ago. More are in theVSTE 2015 album on Flickr.

Dean

Dean Shareski was our keynote speaker and reminded everyone about the need to keep joy in our work. He was watched over by Yoda himself.

Jumping for Joy

And later Dean and some friends jumped for joy.

Selfie

Margaret takes a selfie, from my point of view.

Hackerspace

With Josh leading the way, the Hackerspace playground at the conference was usually busy.

Social Media Board

I was surprised that so many people liked this very analog way of capturing digital information.