It’s amazing how fast time goes by. I haven’t blogged in about two weeks now and finally got the chance to sit down and do some writing after the first day at eTech Ohio, Ohio’s state tech conference.
I wasn’t sure how to start this so I searched Technorati to look for blog posts about the conference, and ran across an old one by Chris Lott, called “Improving Etech Part I – Conference Sessions and Formats“. His main argument is that
One of the problems with Etech is that at the same time that the content is about innovation in technology and– essentially– communication, the format of the conference sessions themselves are incredibly traditional. The rare speaker that deviates from dispensing the traditional Death by Powerpoint cocktail most likely does the same with Yet Another Lessig-style Powerpoint.
He continues by challenging presenters to use some different presentation formats, and this is what made me reflect on what I did and saw today. My first presentation (with my colleague Karen Swan) was about student response systems, and was pretty much a straight-up PowerPoint, were it not for the fact that we used clickers to make the presentation more participatory.
I estimate about 80-90 people showed up to see the session. Why? I don’t think it was because the technology is so innovative, student response systems have been around for quite a few years. Instead, I think many educators are looking at student response systems as a way to prepare students for high stakes testing in a way that is engaging and motivating. While we have found from our own research that response systems motivate students, the question becomes what we are motivating them for.
Our second session today was titled “Ubiquitous computing: Creating 21st Century Learners“. While the premise was good, we only had 4 people who showed up, because the session had been left out of the program. As a result, we ended up with an hour-long discussion without PowerPoint slides, which was very refreshing. It’s not very often that educators get to sit around and just talk and brainstorm.
So what am I getting at here? I think that conferences suffer similar problems to what we run into when we are looking at using technology in schools:
Issues of access (will there be stable Internet access; how filtered will it be; is it free for all participants; will participants bring wireless devices, etc.).
The perception that a traditional presentation is the best way to get a lot of ideas across quickly, because we only have an hour with the audience we have, and this becomes increasingly pressing as the audience gets bigger; I’m sure those of you who have done large-audience keynotes can vouch for this one. (eTech Ohio is a large conference, with 6,500 participants in 2006).
Teaching to the middle. Conferences, like classrooms, have participants with a wide range of abilities. I think we tend to present to the middle because that’s were most people are. As a result, many of the innovative educators (and others) get turned off by the average session (esp. if it is a traditional PowerPoint lecture), and educators who’ve just began to use technology feel like they’re in over their heads (this is one that has bothered me for a while, because I’ve noticed that I’m less and less interested in going to sessions at conferences and as a result I try to present more, or be active in other ways, to make attending worth my while).
Solutions? That’s a toughie. I’d love to see more hands-on, workshop type sessions that more flexible both in space and time (the recent Connectivism Conference is a good example). A conference should extend beyond its location and the days on which it is held. How to sell this to educators and presenters is another question, but I think some kind of blended approach would be workable, depending on the number of participants and what kind of tools participants would be able to bring (some kind of wireless mobile device being the key).
In addition, this could increase the number of participants as those who would not be able to physically attend could still participate. You would run into issues of registration fees that would have to be resolved.
Anyway, just some reflections on day one of eTech Ohio, which just goes to show that those of use who are not or no longer classroom teachers deal with very similar issues when it comes to using technology for teaching and learning. I’d love to see your thoughts on this one.
Image Credit: eTech Ohio: