I had a wonderful day today sharing and learning at the TechCon 2008 conference in Naperville, Illinois, just outside Chicago. If the 36+ pages of backchannel chat conversations are any indication, it would appear a lot of dialog and discussion took place as a result of the presentations and networking opportunities afforded by the conference! This was the first time I’ve setup a Chatzy room for use by all the participants at an educational technology conference to use as a space for backchannel discussions, and I think it worked VERY well. I created the Chatzy room (for free) the evening prior to the conference, but created a TinyURL for everyone to use (tinyurl.com/techcon08) so it would be easy to get to. I created the room with a simple password also, to demonstrate the way Chatzy access can be limited and controlled. We ended up having over 60 different people login to the chat and participate during the course of the day, but not all were face-to-face attendees at TechCon.

Chatzy - TechCon 2008

I was impressed that about half the attendees brought laptops to the conference! There were some wireless network options in the hotel, but I wasn’t able to connect to any of them prior to my keynote, so I connected to the AT&T cellular network with my 3G data card and then shared that connection openly with participants. I’ve used this configuration previously with my family members on trips and in the car, but this was the first time to do this at a conference event. It worked well.

I’ve created a wiki link for the Gabcast voice reflections shared by participants, the VoiceThread I created at the end of the day in the closing session integrating many of those reflections, and links to my own presentation materials.

I posted about fifty photos from today as a new Flickr set. Here are a few of the highlights.

It was great to see, briefly visit, and hear presentations from both Charlene Chausis and David Jakes today.

Wesley Fryer, Charlene Chausis, and David Jakes at TechCon 2008

I was also glad to meet Ben Grey, a former teacher and now technology director in Barrington, Illinois, who is the proud new owner (he actually got it yesterday) of a BRAND new MacBook Pro. It was/is very slick looking.

Proud owner of the VERY new MacBook Pro

Here’s his computer with our conference Chatzy backchannel displayed:

The new MacBook Pro and our Chatzy room for the conference

Several folks were proudly using a few different mini-laptops as well. This one is from ACER:

ACER mini-laptop

This was a EeePC:

New EeePC at TechCon08

I didn’t see anyone running Linux today, however, and no one had an OLPC. I should have brought mine, but I didn’t think to before I left home.

This is one of my favorite photos of the day: Administrators in my session “Guidelines & Instructional Applications for Cell Phone Use @ School” using Gabcast to record some reflections about their learning points during the day:

Participants using GabCast in my session on Cell phones for learning at TechCon08

All our Gabcast-recorded reflections (there are currently 14) are available on the free Gabcast channel I set up for the TechCon08 conference. At the start of my keynote I asked how many people had laptops, pencils or pens, and cell phones. I shared the toll free number for Gabcast, our channel number and password, and had participants write it down. Then during the day people recorded reflections. Many of these were recorded during my session on cell phones for learning, but others were recorded at different times. I suspect the experience of actually using GabCast firsthand was memorable for participants.

I was a little concerned that my keynote and presentations at the conference were a little too curriculum-focused for the audience, which included technology directors, principals and superintendents, but also included CTOs and business office administrators. The ideas seemed to be well received, and feedback was positive, but I still wonder.

I did learn some sad news about the fate of the technology immersion pilot initiative in Illinois. The project lost funding after two years, and evidently the evaluation phase which was to begin in year three never started. Politics, politics. Because the laptops purchased for the immersion pilot all have Absolute tracking and theft recovery software installed on them project administrators know exactly where all the laptops are (thanks to WiFi triangulation technologies) and the fact that over 1000 of them are not being used AT ALL currently. In some participating schools, lots of bureaucratic roadblocks stopped the laptops from being even rolled out to teachers and students until March of the first school year they were to be deployed, and the professional development plan teacher-leaders from the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy were prepared to share never was fully implemented.

On a positive note, I did learn about a great Ning social network for Illinois administrators created and managed by Rich Voltz, the IASA Associate Director:

Illinois Association of School Administrators - Technology for Administrators

As I shared in the opening keynote for the conference, for many topics our peers are our best assets when it comes to ongoing learning. It’s great to see so many Illinois educators are finding ways to bring the power and benefits of social networking technologies directly to administrators. Hopefully positive experiences with these social networking environments will eventually “trickle-down” as more open policies for moderated social networking environments being available for teachers and students in Illinois schools.

My other two blog recommendations for administrators which I didn’t mention in my sessions but should have are LeaderTalk and The EdJurist blog. Of course I did share and promote participation in the free K-12 Online Conference, which has already started with the pre-conference keynote and gets underway fully this coming Monday. I didn’t get to the slides for K12Online08 in my keynote but did talk it up in my closing session.

One of many highlights from today was meeting and visiting with James Gerry of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, who was formerly the school’s chief technology officer but now is heading up a new group focused on creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship, and designing a new collaborative space at the school to foster creativity. I didn’t know previously the inventors of both PayPal and YouTube are IMSA graduates. Many IMSA grads work for Google. James recently visited Google to gather ideas about how to design the new collaboration and creativity spaces at IMSA. He worked at Bell Labs for ten years, so he certainly has a fantastic background to lead a team which is imagineering new learning spaces for schools. I’ll publish my interview with James here soon as a podcast.

To learn more about IMSA, besides visiting their website I’d recommend listening to my podcast interview at NECC 2008 with Scott Swanson and April Hope. IMSA’s website byline is:

Igniting and nurturing creative, ethical scientific minds that advance the human condition.

Does that sound like a GREAT place to teach and learn or what? I hope the next time I’m in the Chicago area I’ll be able to bring at least one of my kids to IMSA for a visit and tour. The idea of one of my kids not living at home for high school does NOT appeal to me at all, but who can say where creativity and innovation in a school like IMSA could lead? The sky’s the limit.

Many thanks to all the educators in Illinois at TechCon08 for a fantastic day of learning! :-)

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  • Mike Swanson

    First, you were great! Second, I thought I would let you know, while I had my MacBook Pro with me, as well (battery died early), I had a Linux Asus Eee that I was using and there was a Supt next to me that was using it, as well. I just thought I would share that with you. Again, you were great as well as the other speakers.

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