Recently, two California greats Scott Bedley and Karl Lindgren-Streicher have taken up a discussion on the value of professional development and conferences. Scott’s post is here and Karl’s post is here. They are both brilliant posts that speak to the triumphs and shortcomings of educational conferences.
I think that many of us have had that experience when were first exposed to educational technology when we realized that there were tons of resources, strategies, and tools at our disposal. We were overwhelmed and overawed at what we could accomplish with what was out there, and we were left astounded. As time went by, however, we adapted to these tools and learned to successfully navigate the tools at our disposal (at which point, pedagogy–not technology–became our focus).
When this saturation point hits people, the conferences become less exciting, less thrilling, and easier to comprehend. Technologically competent teachers feel comfortable with a wide array of apps, websites, and extensions and don’t feel a thrill with many of the sessions at a conference or feel a need to see everything. In a sense, the conferences can become dull.
This then begs a question: are these conferences any less valuable? Can we as more technologically competent educators (not that I am in any way in Karl’s or Scott’s level of proficiency) gain anything from large conferences like CUE or ISTE? If none of the sessions genuinely excite us, is there any point in attending?
I believe the answer is a definitive yes.
I believe that all teachers have to work really hard to get through the days and weeks of the school year. We might innovate and try new things, but we can only try so many things at one time. We might know of other new tools or strategies, but we have to put those on the back-burner as we can only do so many things at one time. Conferences are a time and place where we can take time to reflect on those ideas that have been simmering. I had heard about Adobe Voice many times before going to Scott’s session at CUE, but it gave me a chance to dive in and try it firsthand. Aurasma has been on my iPad for months, but a session at SVCUE by Anne Schaefer-Salinas and Rebecca Girard gave me the time to play with the app and really try it out. Mark Hammons‘ session on iMovie at CUE showed me things about the app that I hadn’t previously known. This time has given me the time and space to try new things and to discuss new ideas. These ideas can come from actual sessions, but they don’t need to. After the first day of CUE, I had a conversation in a bar with Moss Pike about how to run a Minecraft server for a fraction of the cost of purchasing Minecraft for the school. These brief discussions (called by some “HallwayCUEs) are often more valuable than any official presentations at conferences. I also believe that these informal talks can best happen in face-to-face conversations. Yes, we can discuss ideas over Twitter or Voxer, but sometimes we need the real interaction to fully grasp these new and innovative ideas.
And this–more than any official fifty-minute talk in a room–is why I enjoy conferences and believe in their potential.