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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What's Important in a Conference?

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I don't have any money.  Let's put that right up front.  My district?  We're in Texas - no money there either.   So today I'm attending TCEA 2012 and I'm spending the day with folks I have met through twitter and folks I haven't had a chance to meet yet but am glad I'm meeting.

I'm here planning on buying absolutely nothing.  Wait!  Actually, I might be persuaded into buying an app or two for my iPad.  But nothing more than about $10.  So when I walk by the Vendor check in and I see all of those tables/booths in the Vendor area I know I'm not going to give them any of my money.

There is a part of me that really questions why there is a Vendor area.  Don't teachers learn about new products from other teachers via twitter or in blog posts?  Heck, don't teachers keep up with their favorite "vendor" on twitter so that they know the latest upgrade or change to the product?  Of course the answer is no.  And that's too bad.

I'm here to learn from educators who are using technology in the classroom.  Already I've heard a great session by Kevin Honeycutt on using devices for the arts.  He even got a member of the audience to jam with him .  Kevin is on his guitar (with an iPad velcro'd to it) and John Maklary is on an iPhone.  There is no pressure to buy anything.  Kevin did share out some of his favorite apps for music and then other educators shared some of their favorite apps for art and music. Those in attendance are all part of the conversation.

Right now I'm listening to Carolyn Foote discussing eBooks.  She's sharing various platforms/devices and various apps for creating and reading eBooks.  There's about 20 educators in her session and they are all actively involved in the discussion.

The common theme in these first two session?  Conversations - teachers are sharing information.  Yes, someone is facilitating and, yes, that person is the main "expert" but their main focus is to lead a discussion about their topic.

10 days ago I was in Philadelphia at Educon Philly.  Chris Lehman set up this conference at his school and it is wildly successful.  And, it is totally created around conversations.  There are no vendors.  But, you can bet that there were things bought after listening to discussions with educators using something interesting in their classroom.  I know I spent some money on some apps during that weekend.  But I went to the vendor - the vendor didn't have to come to me.

I like to think that as more and more educators become active in social media and as they start sharing more of the technologies they use in the classroom, we will see a reduction in the number of conferences centered around vendors.  With no vendors and a set number of attendees the size of the conference can be reduced as well.  And then, hopefully, the cost of attending these great events will come down to something teachers (and school districts) can afford.  Of course, if we just had more "Edcamp" style conferences we could bring the cost down to the bare minimum - but that's something for another post.