Saturday After Symposium


It’s a very calm Saturday morning after a very active week in London leading up to the Western Regional Computer Advisory Committee’s Symposium 2009.  It’s always one of my professional highlights of the year.  I’ve been the chair of the committee for a number of years now and really enjoy doing it.  Other than having continual contacts with the committee, I get to make some key decisions for the event.  I get to design the timeline, proofread the program, coordinate the thank you gifts for the presenters, and much more.  I also am responsible to select the keynote speakers for the day.  In doing so, I get tap the shoulder of some of the thought leaders and thinkers dealing with issues happening right now.  Sometimes, it’s a difficult choice.  Other times, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

This year was relatively easy.  Unless you’ve been asleep the past few years, you have to recognize that a whole series of technologies and innovations that fall into the category “Web 2.0” are increasingly capturing and engaging the minds and imaginations of students.  Making sense of it is important but more important is leveraging it for its educational value.  There are a lot of bandwagons and a great deal of low hanging fruit in this areas.  I’ve long admired the mind of David Jakes has he helps zero in on what’s really important and worthwhile doing in this field.  I was so happy that he happened to be available to join us on the date.

Closely related to this was our second keynote speaker, Leslie Fisher.  Here is a lady who lives so transparently on the web and totally uses these technologies in so many ways to manage her professional life.  She also seems to have a limitless budget and shares her love of gadgets with anyone who would care to lesson.  One of the hottest areas right now for everyone is going mobile and she nails it with her iPod/iPhone class.  Even as we were connecting her computer to the projection system, she took the time to show me an application or two.

We do ask our keynote speakers to host a breakout session after their keynote.  It’s a first test to see how well they were received.  If they did a bad job, nobody follows them to their breakout.  If they do a good job, then it’s standing room only as people follow them to learn more.

Every year, I try to bring new innovations to the day.  This year, we tried to make it the most connected Symposium to date.  I was delighted when a couple of participants offered to organize a Tweetup in advance of the date.  We turned those extra hands into a group of additional stuffers to prepare our registration bags!  On the day itself, we offered free internet access to anyone with a device.  It worked out well in the breakout sessions; not so much in the Crystal Ballroom.  The sheer volume of requests in such a big area caused some problems.  Oh well; how could you know if advance?  It was great to see that people found ways to get their comments to us.  I saw a tethered iPhone and people just using their iPhone or Blackberry directly.

I tried to make the day Twitter friendly.  In addition to the standard symposium nametag, I had run some extra stick on labels so that people could show off their Twitter name with the purpose of putting a face to a username.  I’ve been to events where people would like to use Twitter as a back channel for the event.  My experience has been that valuable time is wasted determining what the hashtag for the event would be.  So, I tried to cut that out of the picture and put the hashtag right on the cover of the program.  There were folks talking before the event and so it was shared in advance.

What it does do, however, is give the opportunity to analyse what was talked about during the event.  I just went to Twitter search to follow up on the hashtag #RCAC09 and we had generated 7 pages of 50 twitter messages to the topic.  I took that data and plunked it into Wordle for a quick visualization.

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Of course, this is incredibly unscientific and I’m not here to argue otherwise.  Of course, the hashtag will be the most frequent term there.  Let me do another without it.

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Taking a look through the content is so revealing about what happened.  There are lots of Twitter names (some with @; some without) but I’m so happy to note that the biggest word to leap forward to my eyes is “Conversation”.  Isn’t that what it should be?  I’m equally as glad to see that the words “snow”, “wind”, and “cancel” do not appear.  What doesn’t show in the Wordles are the comments “I’m going to try …” which I did notice as I was putting this together.

In addition to taking a look at the Twitter contributions, I’ve been interested in looking at the blogs to see what people are talking about.  This is always dangerous because I’ll inevitably overlook someone or a post will appear after I post this.  My apologies in advance.  But, if you want to read what others are reflecting, check out:

Conversation is so important.  In addition to the original posts, please take the time to read the replies and even add your own.  Events like this should service to inspire after the event closes.  If you’re not a user of Twitter, consider getting a free account and join the continuing conversation.  If you look at the names in the clouds above, I can ensure that those people are great follows and they will be continuing the conversations started anew or conversations continued from Symposium 2009 well into the future.

One final task of the chair is to choose the desserts for the day.  I stand up and declare that the bread pudding is my choice and just caps a perfect day for me!

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links for 2009-12-11