The Nouveau Geek

One of the highlights of the recently concluded Bring IT, Together conference for me was having a chat with Peter Skillen and Brian Silverman during a break at the Minds on Media event.  Brian came up to me and said “We met in the early 80s, didn’t we?”  Come on, brain.  Fire some synapse and make the connection.  Very, very vaguely I remembered.

I do remember a lot of things from the early days of ECOO Conferences.  It’s where we nerdy, geeky types converged once a year.  Complete outsiders within the traditional school community, we were on a constant mission to make these computing boxes do something just because we could.  It wasn’t just ECOO; I can remember going to a similar series of events at MACUL just through the tunnel in Detroit or across I-96 to Grand Rapids.  I remember being in Cobo Hall at the huge Apple booth when Lisa was shown to we educators, wondering if this thing with the mousey and graphic interface would ever succeed in a world of computers with command lines and a second language learning of DOS.

I remember leaning against a really hot radiator at OISE listening to a presenter talking about the concept of electronic mail connecting university classrooms in Toronto with those in South Africa.  The talk wasn’t about the reason for the connect; it was about a network of computers passing the information along from one to another, check bits and more to ensure that the message was delivered so correctly.  This was excitement; this was computing; this was why we do it.  My inner Geek loved it.

I might even have my geeky glasses around here since I never throw anything away.

During our morning walk, Jaimie asked me how this year’s conference went.  He had a vested interest – he had given up five days of walks with me while I was out of town.

His question made me think about the overall quality of the sessions.  There was nothing that even remotely resembled the early days of ECOO.  Probably the closest was repurposing old computers with Ubuntu for student home use. (although Ubuntu runs well on newer computers like this one too!)

I think it’s a strong indication of a field of education that has matured.  Yes, there are things that are on the cutting edge but that’s not the focus of our learning any more.  In fact, they might not even be part of the program.

Instead, Jaimie and I decided to call the folks in attendance the “Nouveau Geek”.  There was the same level of enthusiasm and devotion that there was back in the 80s.  It might actually even be more frenetic.  The focus, however, is considerably different.  We know so much more about student engagement, how students learn, where technology politely fits in the classroom.  We know that the real learning comes from setting the table and letting students dig in.  We know that, the teacher standing there at the front of the classroom, sharing a concept and expecting students to hang on every word belongs to another time and era. 

We know much more about the conditions for learning.  Sue Bruyns caught and shared one of Ron Canuel’s thoughts…

The Learning Space was a perfect space for the Nouveau Geek.  It wasn’t a place to sit around and play with the latest toy.  It was a place to talk about the issues surrounding education.  It was a bull ring where there was no front of the area.  It was what the original edCamp model was about before it derailed and became a collection of workshops.

Throughout the conference, though, the focus whether during sessions, keynotes, or Learning Space was on improving learning and instruction.  At times, it seems like technology was almost an after-thought.  People “got” the how-to technology part and were there instead to learn and talk about the how and the why.  If they didn’t totally understand the “how-to”, they knew that they could always search for it or reach out to their network.  I kept sticking my head into rooms to catch a flavour of what was happening.  It really was affirming – the Nouveau Geek was there for best practices in teaching and learning. 

And they were getting it.