On Thursday, I took the opportunity to participate in a day of learning with Michigan educators at MACUL 11. The MACUL Conference (Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning) is held annually and bounces back and forth across the state. One year, it’s in Grand Rapids and the next year it’s in Detroit. This year, it was in Detroit amd so it’s a no-brainer to attend. $5 for parking; $3.75 each way for the Tunnel Bus and you’re dropped off right at the doors of Cobo Centre.
Just a word about Cobo Centre – I know that there were news reports about the North American International Auto Show and others wanting the facility upgraded. There are some places where a coat of paint wouldn’t hurt but I would hate to see the character of Cobo destroyed. Unlike the new shiny conference centres where it’s one square room after another, Cobo is truly unique. Once you master the concept of the zones, it’s a wonderful place to explore. Even when there’s time between sessions, you can spend all kinds of time looking at the plaques of the Michigan sporting greats. Sneak behind the curtains and you’ve got a great view of the Detroit River.
Back to the conference. The only hitch for the day was not receiving my name tag in the mail before the conference. When I asked at registration, I was referred to the “Help Desk” behind me. OMG, the lineup was huge! I had timed my arrival for 8:15 in time to hear the opening keynote, Rushton Hurley, at 8:30. I did get the recommendation to avoid the lineup and just enjoy the keynote. Problem solved and about 75 minutes later I was also legitimately registered. I also have another green MACUL Conference bag to take home…I could hear the complaints already.
The opening keynote was a reflection about technology in the classroom. “What Technology Has and Hasn’t Changed with Teaching and Learning” could easily have been a full day of thoughts and reflections. It’s also one of those topics that has a million different angles that may be different depending upon your perspective.
Between sessions, while everyone was seeking a coffee, I decided to sneak in and bug Leslie Fisher before her presentation. Leslie and I go back many years and it’s always a pleasure to have a conversation with her. We did have a chance to chat about golf, wine, family, and children while her A/V was being set up. The night before; she had tweeted about not bringing any green to wear for the MACUL St. Patrick’s Day event but that was OK. With her high level of energy, nobody will notice. I spent the next session with her talking about “Google – A Bit of Education, Entertainment, and Discovery”. Like any Leslie presentation, no matter what you think you know, you’ll find that she’s way ahead of you. I did walk away with some things to follow up on! I was impressed as well – Leslie does use social media as well as anybody and has made RockMelt her browser of choice and used it during her presentation.
In advance of her presentation, I had sent out a Tweet commenting on how quickly her session was filling up. I didn’t realize that this was an invitation for a couple of Tweeps that were trying to find me. Stalking? As I was leaving the room, Jeff Trudell cornered me to introduce himself and we had a nice “get to meet you chat”. I was also invited to join the SIG-TC annual meeting as his guest. (I couldn’t vote but they had food) He also indicated that Gina Loveless was looking for me as well… In fact, as I tried to get down the hall to see the last part of Kevin Honeycutt’s session, I got stopped in the hall and had a very nice chat with her as well. What a couple of great people to meet.
MACUL then kind of shuts down from 11-1 to let you enjoy a lunch at Cobo or the restaurants in the vicinity or to visit the vendors. I headed off to the vendors. It was an interesting exhibit hall compared to others that I’ve attended. With negotiated pricing on technology materials, there was a lot to learn about educational pricing on products. There was the mandatory SMART and Promethean displays but also a number of other interactive whiteboard vendors. If there was a focus on technology, it was about things that display images in the classroom. The highlight for me was to visit the TechSmith booth to see the latest with Jing, SnagIT, and Camtasia. There’s so much that can be done with these tools.
The real star of any show, however, is always the kids. Just outside the vendor area, there was a display area where students had set up info areas about various projects. I get a kick from this – there are whole teacher led sessions in the conference proper about how to podcast or make a movie but you could spend 10 minutes with a Grade 5 student and get up to speed! I visited the area and a few students showed me their electronic portfolios, enjoyed some digital stories, learned about a new tool to me called CrazyTalk, and watched some Grade 7/8 students show off some of the mobile applications that they had created using XCode. It was exhausting as the kids knew that they had a limited time to show off their learning and they threw their hearts into it.
But, I also had a free lunch waiting for me so it was off to find the SIG-TC / SIG-TECH room. I sat at a table with a group of technical coordinators and, after the food, we had a chance to talk about the issues of the day. The challenges are the same this side of the Detroit River as the other. Budgets are cut back; Student Admin systems remain frustrating; How do you provide adequate Professional Development; Will Netbooks really stand up in the classroom; How will you transition from Windows XP to Windows 7 in a successful manner; How can you filter the bad stuff and allow students to get to the good stuff; Does OpenOffice have a place in education as a cost effective alternative to the other office software; The big saviour seems to be cloud computing…after all, all kinds of money is poured into connectivity and there is so much free and education friendly. We talked about image sizes and protecting that image – it was a great conversation. Jeff joined our table and we did talk about the OSAPAC process. We talked about the Ontario successes in licensing the Adobe Creative Suite and Learn 360. It was disheartening to hear the penny pinching that was having to happen to successfully license a single lab of Dreamweaver.
All this took place is less than an hour and it was back to the conference floor. I bounced between Kevin Honeycutt’s session “Social Learning Networks” and Steve Dembo’s “Storytelling for the YouTube Generation”. Fortunately, they were in two halls right next to each other with a dividing door to facilitate the enjoyment of both sessions.
Then, it was time for another quick tour of the exhibit hall. Nothing had changed.
I need to plan to be in places quicker than what I do. There was a really interesting sounding session about the use of Edmodo and Social Learning in the Classroom. I probably dallied looking at the plaques on my way there and the session was SRO by the time I got there. Sigh. I dropped in on another session that didn’t do much for me. But, in the meantime, another Twitter user wanted to meet up. So, I found out where he was and headed up to a 1:1 learning session which was also SRO. But, this room had a couple of doors so I just sat in the hallway and attended the session that way. Towards the end, Mike Kaechele skipped out into the hall and we had a really good chat. Mike seems like a very nice guy and I was interested in how he was using Scratch with his Grade 6 class.
Exhibit hall again … nothing had changed.
I decided to crash one of the paid workshop sessions just to say hi. Years ago, Sally Irons used to attend all of the Doug and Grover sessions when we tag teamed at MACUL. In fact, my fondest memory was of being in Grand Rapids and Sally showed up with her new born baby in a stroller to join us. The least I could do was to say hi to her and Paula Donner as they were preparing for their workshop. It was a short reunion but great. I had to smile when Paula said “hey, remember partying at the BOB in the Rapids?”
The final session of the day was a split between Leslie Fisher’s Twitter session and Rushton Hurley’s session about why your students should take part in a video contest. I was also curious about the Guerilla sessions but it was an empty room every time I stuck my head in.
And then it was time to head home. I headed out to the Tunnel Bus stop where the promise of regular service didn’t live up. But, it was such wonderful MACUL weather, I decided to walk back to the tunnel where I found the buses. Two of them waiting to go through Customs! As they headed off for their loop through downtown Detroit, a third one appeared! Not a problem though – soon it was our turn – the back was filled with some Michigan youth headed to Windsor to enjoy the St. Patrick’s Day facilities there so there was no time to sleep on the bus.
Going into the conference, I recall Gina asking me how to get more Canadian educators to attend the MACUL Conference. It’s unfortunate but the conference seems to always hit the Ontario March Break. Maybe they need a marketing scheme to convince folks that Detroit or Grand Rapids are desirable vacation destinations! At approximately 4000 attendees, this is a nice sized conference. It’s big enough that they can provide all of what you need and expect for a quality event and yet, it’s not so huge that you get totally lost and overwhelmed. For me, I get pumped with the learning and the conversations and really enjoyed my Thursday at the conference.
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