The #t4conf

Saturday was a good day for learning. Jaimie and I did our morning walk earlier than normal, I grabbed my coffee and got ready to do some learning at to learn about “The New Normal”.

The pre-event advertising indicated that 50 000 people had registered but the indications were that it was over 100 000. There were a number of options to join the conference – Facebook, YouTube, or on the site itself. I elected to use YouTube.

Scheduled to start at 8am ET, I got connected at 7:45 without any hassle. Guests were invited to indicate where they were watching from. The chat window was just flying by with most people checking in from Europe, Africa, and South-East Asia. At the time I checked in, I couldn’t see any other Canadians but I’ll admit that I quickly went full screen to avoid headaches. Things were flying by so quickly.

You can check out the details of the planning for the event at Vikas Pota’s blog with details at the event site.

The five and a half hour event is archived here.

I was impressed with the content and the messages. I had kind of expected it to be all about technology but that was a side player. The messages of hope and inspiration came through with the voices of the session leaders.

We were encouraged to share this message on social media…

Early in the day, my wife came into the room and wanted to know why Formula 1 was on a Saturday – she could hear the British voices from down the hall! Once I explained what I was doing, she got it.

Conversations continued from the participants all day long in both the YouTube chat and with the #t4conf hashtag.

Keeping an eye on the technology side, I noted the following, since online conferences may well be in our future for a while. I went in hoping that it wasn’t going to be just a session of talking heads. I wasn’t disappointed.

My observations…

  • the event was free – no travel expenses – no hotel expenses – no registration fee
  • the event was broadcast in English with translated versions in Arabic and Spanish all available now from the broadcast page
  • the event was simulcast on multiple platforms for ease of participants
  • Pota encouraged audience participation via chat and intermittent polls of the audience
  • presenters commented immediately on the poll results
  • presenters were prompted by the session host by conversations/questions/observations from the audience
  • the sessions weren’t just one presenter reading from a script
    • each had a host and prompted for a dialog among those presenting
  • there were overlays of the conversation feed
  • the event felt inclusive with the choice of speakers
  • each session had a producer who toggled camera views and arrangements
  • the presenters reflected the global goal of the conference including Canada
  • the audio/video was generally pretty good – there were some dropouts but that’s to be expected
  • the event had sponsors and included short clips periodically of advertising
  • the sessions themselves were shorter in duration than a traditional event. It gave the sense of really moving along
  • there were no breakout rooms requiring you to jump to different links. You could keep it on the one feed. I had it up on an external monitor while I was doing other work

I thought that the event was exceedingly well planned and executed. It felt different and yet it felt the same as a regular conference event. I spent about three hours watching it live before being called away to do other things. It was comfortable knowing that the rest could be enjoyed later.

Is this the model of professional learning going forward? It’s hard to say. I know that there are various ways of doing sessions online. I’m not sure that we want every event to be a template of each other.

But for this Saturday, it really worked well for me and I’d extend congratulations to those who organized and those who presented. It was a job well done.

Virtual Conference Attending

Without a doubt, one of my favourite computer conferences to attend is the one put on my the Michigan Association for Computer Users in Learning organization, or MACUL.  It’s held in the spring of the year and annually attracts a large number of educators.  We’ve always joked about MACUL and its love for rivers.  You see, it bounces between Cobo Centre in Detroit overlooking the Detroit River and DeVos Place in Grand Rapids on the Grand.  Both locations are world-class sites and, in order to say that you’ve been to the MACUL Conference, you really need to attend a session at both locations.

The Detroit location is most convenient for me – a quick hop onto the Tunnel bus takes you under the Detroit River, through Customs, where you re-board to continue the trip which stops right at the front door of Cobo Centre.

For the last part of the past week, however, the locale was Grand Rapids.  Due to commitments here, I wasn’t able to attend physically but did my best to stay on top of things by following the hashtag #MACUL10.  I created a TwapperKeeper here to review things but this morning, I found that someone had assembled all of the tagged tweets into a Google Docs (a big doc at 90 pages) here using “What’s the Hash Tag”.  Check out the stats…there’s no question as to when the conference was, is there?


A large part of my interest with the MACUL group is how innovative I find the things that they’re doing.  The group is very friendly and the sessions always seems to have a comfortable feel to them.  Few people are there on grants or trying to sell things; it’s largely just great educators sharing new ideas and what they’re doing with them.

I really missed not going this year physically but did tag along virtually.  Even though we were headed into our March Break, Thursday and Friday were very busy for me but things had calmed down as schools closed up for the break.  I was able to hop in and at least connect to the Hall Davidson closing keynote.  A couple of Tweets reminded folks that it was being covered live via live blogging using CoverItLive here.  You can replay the session any time to get a sense of what was happening.  Interestingly, I sent out a Twitter message to anyone who wanted to follow along and was immediately direct messaged by a couple of people in the audience who wondered if I was in the room and wanted to meet up.

The session appeared to be classic Hall.  He always tries to engage his audience is the activities.  I remember at ECOO when my friend Nazreen nominated me to come up on the stage so that Hall could demonstrate some green screening.  The effect was less than stellar as I was wearing my green and blue plaid shirt!  But, the show goes one.  Yesterday, there was a couple of things that I saw, er visualized, happening…one was an experiment creating the American national anthem via audience cell phones and Google Voice (I really wish I could have seen that – live blogging didn’t do it justice – perhaps a reader of this entry was in the audience and could share…) and an attempt to talk about a “dream lesson” using a collaborative document posted here.

I did send those links out live but was trying to visualize just what was happening in the audience.  The live blogging was the next best thing to being there.  Many thanks to those who kept the stream alive for those of us who were following along – Ben Rimes, Steve Dembo, Pam Shoemaker, Kevin Clark, Steve Dickie, and Tom.  I really appreciated your efforts in making this real conference virtual for those of us who couldn’t attend in person.  I do hope to attend next year when it’s back in Detroit.

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After ECOO

Well, it’s Friday night after the ECOO Conference and the shouting is all over. Had a nice supper with my wife, The Boy, and Deb Barrows. Nice chatting and now it’s back to the hotel room and time for a little reflection.

In general, I really liked the new location. The exhibit hall seems like an exhibit hall. It’s nice and big and you get a chance to see the vendor displays in a presentation mode and not squeezed into hallways. I saw a couple of interesting things in the exhibit hall to follow up when the dust settles and I get a chance. Really noticeably missing are the big hardware providers. It would have been nice to see the latest and greatest from Apple, Dell, IBM, or any of the other big vendors. It was good to see HP on display there and Recycled Computers. I’ve got to give credit to the software companies that have already provincially licensed their wares but want to support Ontario teachers and so are there.

The OSAPAC booth is always a centre for folks to collect and chat. Their knowledge of the OESS process range from former members, to people who actively use OESS software, to people who had no idea that the Ontario Ministry of Education licenses great software for all publically funded Ontario schools and most titles have Teacher takehome for lesson prep licensing. Even worse are the folks that don’t know about the OSAPAC Learning Object Repository.  So, it’s important that OSAPAC maintains a presence at this event.

Mitch Resnick finished the day with incredible eloquence.  He’s not ramming his opinions down your throat; he makes reference to Piaget and Papert but then gives practical examples of what it looks like.  No forcing the message; just the pleasant art of getting you onside by example.  It made me feel good as a Computer Science teacher as he relates the success stories of students using Scratch.  There is a special feeling that only a CS teacher has when your students finally “get it”.  Resnick would see all students enjoying that success.  You can’t argue with it.

I spent some time with Hall Davidson in his sessions today.  He was classic Hall and shared lots of interesting things about his work with Google today.  It was one of those sessions where you know 90% of the content but you enjoy the review and especially appreciate learning about the other 10%

I had the opportunity to co-present with DW about “Freshly Minted Software 2008” and to share with the group the newest of the titles licensed by the Ministry.  We squeezed our full-day session into the obligatory 60 minutes and then chopped out things on the fly.  I felt bad for the audience as we were right next to a portable wall with someone playing student work and it went right through the walls.

I was disappointed in the lack of wireless internet access.  I’ve become accustomed to using Coveritlive to live blog sessions that I attend.  I even got a dig from TheCleverSheep today about my lack of blogging.  My apologies.  I did take paper notes, if that helps!

The true litmus of a conference is always watching to see if there is a change in practice as something new comes to mind.  I’ve got a few things that I want to try out and see if they work.  I also got some great ideas but I know that I can’t use them with our students because of content filtering.  The educational world needs to find a suitable compromise with YouTube because there are so many opportunties that are blocked from so many schools.  We need to find a way to use the good stuff.

It’s the last ECOO for now hosted by NM.  She went way out on a limb in her innovations to the conference format.  Big kudos have to be given for taking on this task.

I’m exhausted.  I throw everything that I can mentally into these things, soaking up new learning, and spinning on how to make old experiences more exciting.  I’m now worried because Hall pointed out that we have extra brain cycles available during existing thoughts.  I do think that I’m starting to use them.  Hope they make those who I touch as excited as I am with these things.

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