Connections not Conferences?

I had the fortune to be able to take a couple of days away from the coal face to attend ictlt 2010 in Singapore last week. And as all conferences should do, it got me thinking…

What makes a great conference?

The people who attend it or the content it presents?

I started thinking why I went to the conference in the first place. Would I have went if I had not known that I would be meeting some valued members of my PLN when I was there? I couldn’t get my hands on a program before I got there so I was flying blind; the only name that stood out for me was David Warlick (part of my PLN ;)).

At the end of the day I can’t say the conference invigorated me or left me with any real addition to my mindset regarding what education should or should not be whilst talking and chatting to my PLN during the conference gave me more insight and enlightenment on a wide range of issues. And it was done in a fun and informal manner!

Why didn’t this conference work for me?

I’ve approached this as I would if I was asked by the organisers what I found wanting at the conference.

Sales pitch slant to most breakout sessions:
Example: The title of one session was called “A Classroom Without Walls: Using Web 2.0 Tools to Become 21st Century Global Citizens“. When you looked closely this was a presentation by Brainpop. I like Brainpop but Web 2.0? So this session was a look around Brainpop and what it can do. Does it break down our classroom walls? Does it make our students 21st Century Global Citizens? No, sorry.

Too many breakout sessions:
12 sessions running at once at the same time as “Spotlight Speakers”. Just too much options and in the long run the quality gets diluted.

Similar feel behind most keynote presentations:
(e.g. we’re not in the 18th Century anymore we need to be teaching 21st Century style). I don’t have a major issue with this theme and as David Warlick showed it can be done in an entertaining and highly inspiring way. So I must admit that David’s presentation did strike a chord with me but there were so many going along the same lines it got slightly repetitive.

Quality of breakout sessions was questionable:
I’ll give one example of this. I went to a session called “Enhance Students’ Analytical Skills with Podcast (sic)”. This was 30 minutes long. The presenter felt that the guts of 10 minutes would be best spent showing us an example of a student’s video review of a movie. Fine I’ll take an example, a SNIPPET of an example will do though! The presenter did not go in to how they enhance students’ analytical skills rather show us the tools they use and the websites you can host on. No, no, no. If this was called “An Intro to Pod-casting” I would have ignored it.

The Positives (and The Connections)

I like real stories of schools who have tried to incorporate innovative and relevant teaching and learning practices.
One short session entitled “Creating Seamless Learning Spaces with 1:1” was about how a local Singapore school introduced their 1:1 Tablet PC program. This was an excellent and practical presentation on the successes and failures experienced by the teachers and the school during this period.
Another session entitled “Blogging as a Journal of Learning” was a very open and candid account of a teacher in a Singapore Polytechnic institute who requires his students to blog as a journal during his course. He showed an example of a particular student’s blog from his first expletive riddled post towards his last entries which opened up his thinking and feelings to the world. Lessons learned from everyone involved. Awesome.

Twitter and Google Reader have opened the world of like minded (and more articulate!) educators to me. In my time at ictlt2010 I met up with and made new Twitter friends and we had numerous thoughtful discussions regarding working on the ground level at our respected schools and the realities facing us every day. This is real and this is learning and sharing from and with your peers.
The fact of the matter is that I got more inspiration, resources and links from PLN over the couple of days (and indeed Monday morning) than I did at any of the presentations.

What does the future hold for me and conferences…am I a spoiled little brat now who wants and needs relevant and tailor made information more accessibly and efficiently?

I think I’m beginning to feel like the students that we are educating in these highly trying and evolving times where technology is by my side 24/7 but when I’m in a structured, controlled environment where the information is fed to me I am left feeling somewhat unfulfilled…


  1. Hi Colin,
    Thanks for your very insightful comments. Thankfully the face to face networking is what makes the value for many offline-world gatherings.
    I hope our Apple ITSC in Adelaide can do better with the seminar sessions. I know what you mean though. I’ve seen parallels to your recent experience a bit too.
    Cheers, Peter B.

  2. As one of the lucky people who connected with you at iCTLT, I agree with you that the connections made and conversations had were far more valuable than the conference content (and more humour-filled too!).

  3. Colin,
    well thought out-post. I’ve been trying to sit down and spend some time hashing out what I am taking away from iCTLT and having a hard time doing so. I’m beginning to realize that the difficulty is for some of the same reasons you mentioned in your post. I think for me, the f2f meeting of some of my pln (you included) was the most useful take away for me.

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