As you look forward to 2008, consider the role conference blog posts and conference blogging can play in your own personal / professional development and in the PD of other educators within your personal learning community. There are at least five different ways you can utilize and promote the effective utilization of conference blog posts for professional learning in the year to come.

  1. Regularly read and comment on blog posts shared by others attending educational conferences.
  2. When you attend a face-to-face educational conference or professional development session yourself, consider posting your own notes, summaries, and reflections on conference sessions.
  3. If you are involved in organizing an educational conference, take steps to facilitate and support conference blogging by attendees.
  4. Continue watching and reflecting on the 41 presentations shared during the 2007 K-12 Online Conference. Encourage other educators you know to do the same!
  5. In your own school district or educational organization, grant professional development credit for virtual conference attendance based on the submission of session reflections by participants.

Educators learning to blog

1. READ AND COMMENT ON CONFERENCE BLOG POSTS

Tools like David Warlick’s HitchHikr website serve as useful “aggregators” of blog posts as well as images shared during and after educational conferences. While educators certainly can search the web and the blogosphere independently for posts related to educational conferences, HitchHikr is an outstanding place to visit regularly to catch up on recent conference posts since they are “tagged” with common keywords that are indexed by blog search engines like Technorati. The 2007 National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) is one example of an “intensively blogged” conference event in the past year. Hopefully we’ll see even more conferences and professional development events, including many NOT specifically focused on educational technology, which will inspire a similar quantity of blog posts and blog-powered conversations. The Conferences and Workshops forum of the Classroom 2.0 Ning is also a good place to learn about educational conference opportunities and share ideas, but Ning does not currently (as far as I know) aggregate individual blog posts from different conferences in the same way HitchHikr does. (It’s possible to set up an RSS feed for conference blog posts with specific tags, but I don’t know of a Ning that focuses on all educational conferences the same way HitchHikr does. Maybe this is a Ning opportunity for an enterprising educator out there!)

I include “AND COMMENT ON” in this recommendation, because providing written feedback to someone about a blog post they shared has positive potential to take professional learning to a different level. We all passively “consume” media and information in various forms throughout the day, but we less frequently take some of that information and media, synthesize and apply it to our own context, and then share that out with others in a public, global format. This ACTIVE process of synthesizing, applying and evaluating information as well as communicating it with an authentic audience “out there” on the web potentially has intrinsic as well as instrumental value. Not only can this process benefit you as a learner, helping you think more deeply about ideas and how they apply to your specific context and background knowledge, but they also have the potential of influencing other educators who may follow the comment discussion thread you’ve added to.

Conversations change us much more than passive consumptive media experiences. Resolve to periodically “check in” with other educators blogging about educational conferences and professional development events around the world, via HitchHikr and other tools, and (as Emeril would say) “TAKE IT UP A NOTCH” in 2008. Taking it up a notch in terms of PD blog posts means actively participating in conversations about the information and ideas being shared, rather than remaining a relatively passive “fly on the wall” simply consuming content.

2. BLOG EDUCATIONAL CONFERENCES AND PD EVENTS YOU ATTEND

As a percentage of the total number of teachers, edu-bloggers are small group. Despite that current reality, the impact of the edu-blogging community (whose ranks are open to anyone who wants to join) is far reaching and can be even more so in the year ahead. Because we are steeped in face-to-face learning experiences, I think many times we tend to overvalue F2F learning and undervalue virtual learning opportunities. As cell phones capable of accessing data streams from the Internet continue to proliferate, and the available access to various Internet-based data streams continues to grow, I think the impact and relevance of the ideas shared by the edu-blogging community will also increase. While the number of educators using free tools like Google Reader as a “digital newspaper” to access both mainstream media as well as user-created content media streams is still relatively small today, I feel confident those numbers will only grow in the months and years ahead. Choose to place yourself on the cutting edge of thinking and conversations about learning, learning resources, and the ways digital tools can be most effectively used to support learning by becoming (or remaining) an active POST contributor as well as COMMENT contributor to the edu-blogosphere.

Back in September 2005, I wrote an article for the TechEdge which the editors surprisingly refused to publish, titled “Blogging TCEA 2006: Create, Share & Access.” I never returned to that article to reformat and repurpose it for a different audience, unfortunately. The idea and proposition of encouraging conference attendees to blog about sessions and their reactions/impressions of the information shared by presenters is more relevant than ever.

I was glad to run across Bruno Giussani (www.LunchOverIP.com) and Ethan Zuckerman’s (www.EthanZuckerman.com/blog) “Tips for Conference Bloggers” (a 6 page PDF) this week. This excellent guide addresses the following issues as they relate to conference blogging:

  • tools
  • location
  • preparation
  • software
  • speakers
  • style
  • quotes
  • audience
  • context
  • linking
  • tagging
  • timing
  • mistakes
  • collaboration
  • digestion

This is a wonderful, easily consumable and processable guide to conference blogging, and I would encourage anyone planning or considering blogging at a conference to review it. The only additions I’d make are:

  1. Offline software tools, like MarsEdit and Ecto, can be wonderful tools for writing and formatting blog posts at conferences. Whether you are online or offline you can use spellcheck and format posts exactly as you want them to appear on your blog, and multiple blog platforms are supported.
  2. If you cannot plug into AC power during a conference session, maximize your laptop battery life by turning off unneeded communications connections (like WiFi and Bluetooth) and dim your laptop screen to the lowest setting possible. This is also a good tip to lengthen battery life on an iPhone or other mobile computing device.

3. FACILITATE CONFERENCE BLOGGING BY OTHERS

The NECC 2007 conveners did an excellent job encouraging attendees to blog, by sharing blog sites of attendees who were blogging the conference, as well as creating and sharing unique “tags” for each session which could be used by bloggers. These tags are automatically indexed by tools like Technorati and HitchHikr (which uses Technorati), to create conversation threads around conference sessions. Steve Hargadon compiled a helpful, comprehensive list of all NECC 2007 sessions and tags, which was a great reference during and after the conference. The provision of a physical space for bloggers to gather and network, “The Blogger’s Cafe,” was also FANTASTIC at NECC 2007 and was the best learning location for me personally at the conference.

Brian Crosby, Wesley Fryer and Jeff Utech

More educational conference conveners are embracing the use of social media tools, like blogs and digital photo sharing sites, to facilitate and support conference blogging. Hopefully we’ll see even more educational conferences strengthen this trend in 2008 by actively facilitating conference blogging. At the SITE conference in March 2007, I helped present three different sessions for attendees about blogging the conference and using the organization’s team blog to post and share ideas from the conference. The provision of these types of sessions for conference blogging newbies or those interested in accessing blog posts related to the conference is a VERY good idea for education conference conveners to consider.

Based on my own experiences in 2007, it is fair to say “educational conference blogging” is far from a mainstream activity. As advocates for the appropriate and powerful use of digital technologies to support learning, I think it is up to us to find ways to further bring conference blogging into the spotlight and the mainstream lexicon of conference attendees. It’s a fact that when most educators come to any type of professional development, whether it is a conference session or a local district workshop, generally participants come with a “sit and get” mentality. When the PD is mandatory, inevitably there are also many teachers who “clock watch” through much of the session. 21st century personal and professional development should be ALL ABOUT active participation and engagement with ideas and people, rather than passive consumption. This reflects the same dynamics which should exist in the “regular” classroom as well. The proposition that workshop or PD participants should be active rather than passive represents a major paradigm shift. This change will not happen overnight, but I think conversations are the key catalysts for instructional change. If you’re able to encourage even one more teacher to read conference blog posts, or to share a conference blog post of their own, in some cases a major milestone may have been reached.

The key to changing attitudes, beliefs, and instructional practices is SUSTAINED conversations however, rather than simply “one time” or “one shot” learning moments. To that end, supporting teachers in their regular use of RSS feed / news aggregators should be a fundamental element in a strategy to help educators enhance their 21st century digital literacy skills.

4. PARTICIPATE IN THE 2007 K-12 ONLINE CONFERENCE

The 2007 K-12 Online Conference took place in October, but as in 2006, ALL 40+ sessions from each year of the conference remain online to enjoy, share, and reflect on. In addition, in 2007, it became possible to earn PD credit for submitting a reflection about a conference session. I’ll be revisiting that online database with our volunteer developer in early 2008, so printable certificates will be available as promised.

The opportunity to BLEND personal and professional development learning with online resources is open to ALL teachers at ALL levels, irrespective of content area or geographic location. Personally, I have not yet made time to watch and reflect on even a quarter of the K12Online07 sessions, and I plan to do so this spring. I would love to have access to a Google homepage widget or Pageflakes tool which could serve as a checklist for the K12Online07 sessions I’ve watched and responded to. I will pursue finding or developing that type of tool in 2008, and if you have ideas/suggestions along that line I’d love to hear them.

Continue to participate in and share the K-12 Online Conference! The K-12 Online Ning is a great place to continue conversations about the conference as well.

5. GRANT LOCAL PD CREDIT FOR VIRTUAL CONFERENCE ATTENDANCE

I am a big fan and advocate for high-quality, face-to-face professional learning opportunities. Here in Oklahoma where I live and work, however, and likely where you are, funds for teacher travel to conferences are in short supply. There has been a great deal of discussion in the past year in our state about lengthening the instructional day and the number of instructional days students attend school, as well as further limiting (by state education department mandate) the opportunities teachers have to attend face-to-face conferences during the school week. This would essentially force most or all educational conferences in our state to take place on Saturdays, so teachers would be “off the clock” and “on their own time” when attending, rather than being able to attend conferences while a substitute teacher covered their class.

I am not personally supportive of these instructional time initiatives in our state, but in our current climate the idea of virtual conference attendance does invite more attention than it might have in the past. Ultimately, I view a LACK OF TIME as the number one obstacle to any type of effective instructional change proposal in schools. Teachers perceive they have too much to cover and too little time to cover it, and as a result MANY “good ideas” for technology integration or other instructional change are discarded at a practical level because “I DON’T HAVE THE TIME.” As a related aside, this dynamic encourages me to advocate for FEWER curricular standards and mandates for our teachers and students. We cannot teach our current mandated curriculum with the depth and time it requires TODAY, and the quantities of information we’ll be facing in the years ahead are only going to increase. REDUCING curricular mandates in thoughtful and purposeful ways is our only viable path forward. I plan to post more on this topic over on my Obama Support Blog in the next few weeks.

Given our current educational realities of “too much to do, too little time to do it in,” how can we move forward to encourage educators to blend their personal and professional learning with digital sources? Part of that answer comes down to “carrots and sticks.” I encourage a focus on CARROTS.

carrots - lots of carrots

Teachers are required to earn a specified number of professional development hours per year. Procedures and processes for getting professional development “approved” at a local level vary widely between school districts, states and providences, and countries, as members of the K12Online07 professional development committee discovered this past year. One “solution” to the confusing morass of differences among school organizations about “approved PD” is getting local school organizations to grant credit for virtual conference attendance. In the K12Online PD credit model, participants are not merely awarded credit for WATCHING a presentation and “warming a virtual seat,” but rather for ACTIVELY creating a reflective product about the information and ideas shared during that session. For more details about this process, please refer to the K12Online07 Credit Wiki.

There is a LOT to look forward to in 2008! Blended personal and professional development learning opportunities figure high on my list, and I hope they will figure prominently on your list and those of other educators with whom you have contact. Our best hope for thriving in the increasingly digital information landscape of the 21st century is to build and expand our own personal learning networks. Hopefully this post has given you some new ideas and links about how you can practically do that in the weeks and months ahead.

As always, I will welcome any thoughts and feedback you might have about these ideas. Happy New Year! :-)

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