This is prime time for applying to speak at educational conferences and every time “conference application season” rolls around the tug-o’-war in my heart and head begins anew. Looking at the educational technology sessions which “sell out” at the big conferences such as FETC (Florida), TCEA (Texas) and ISTE (International) there are continuing trends. Sessions which are simplistic or have a product-focus continue to be rampant and packed with people whilst those dealing with deeper projects, higher level implementations and philosophical discussions seem to languish with smaller groups. Google-this and Smart-that, 60 of these in 60 minutes, 10 ways to use this in your class, etc. usually draw huge crowds… I have done these sessions and they are fun, but the deeper conversations are often missing.
I know that it is important to reach everyone. I know that conference planners have a tough job. I also know that this is the reason for my internal tug-of-war. Apply to speak to the masses and provide entertaining, moderately educational, fast-paced stand-and-deliver sessions OR dig deeply and suggest sessions wrapped in pedagogy, curriculum, integration, and participants as, well, active participants? Most presenters will tell you that if you ask the people in your session to DO something – talk to each other, share something, get up and move – they scoot out the door to other sessions. The very pedagogy I want to model pushes away the people I hope to reach. I know that there are people who go to conferences and end up sitting in a lounge area blogging or tweeting with others, many of whom are not even there. I understand the thirst to talk to others and to network and to meet, and I do a lot of this when I go to conferences, but why doesn’t it work in sessions? What is it about us that makes us outwardly passive in sessions?
My experience in presenting at conferences began back in the dark ages, before Internet. Even then I struggled to figure out the balance between what I thought was important and what I thought would “sell”. I often misjudge the balance. A session on the pedagogy of using technology in literacy was thinly attended but a session on “10 software titles for early readers” was packed. A session on top apps for learning is packed while a session on criteria for selection of apps for different learners is almost empty. A session on “beyond searching with Google” overflowing, a session on “guiding student research in the 21st century” is not well-attended. The rush of filling a large room at a conference is not to be denied nor is the energy-sapping nature of a large room with many empty chairs.
It is like determining if my sessions should be edutainment or educational… what will each conference’s attendees (or each conference session selection team) want? My personal and professional philosophy has always been to try to model what I believe is important, good, and right. To try to be and do what I want others to be and do. How do I do what I believe is right in a climate which seems to reward the more shallow topics and formats? THAT is my tug-of-war.
On the eve of the application deadline for ISTE I feel like I am at an impasse. Hot topics are likely to be the flipped classroom, Common Core Standards and (___fill in the blank___), infographics, Google this and Evernote that… with a little IWB mixed in. I want to talk about how to leverage student interests in our curriculum. I want to explore the developmentally appropriate use of technologies with young learners. I want to examine a collection of “top selling” apps for an age group and dissect them from an educational viewpoint. I want to group source the best of the best for early elementary learners. I wish to help others think about file management in a shared tablet world. I wonder about how many people still think about PowerPoint as a linear presentation tool and how I can help them see other possibilities. I struggle with how to help app developers and users meet to share needs, wants, desires and limitations. I yearn to help beginners get off to a good start. I struggle to figure out what “they” (the ISTE session reviewers and the attendees) want.
The tug-o’-war continues… substance and pedagogy or flash and fun…. which will win? What are your thoughts?