What We Bring

(Photo by Andrew Forgrave, used with permission,
& it comes with its own fun story, too.)

This year I brought a kind of double consciousness to EduCon. It was my second year of in-person attendance, and this time I wasn’t facilitating a conversation, so I was less nervous than I might have been the year before. This greater comfort level allowed me more time to reflect on what others might be experiencing, which in turn led me to put out a call for “Tips for Newbies.” I am not generally someone who is prone to social anxiety, and I lived in Philadelphia for 10 years earlier in my life, but I was a little nervous about my first time at EduCon last year; I figured if I had felt that way, there must be plenty of first-time attenders this year who would be feeling even more nervous. I created a Google form made up of just two questions (what advice would you share & who are you?), and then tweeted out a link to the form with a request for help and an #educon hashtag. The response was immediate and gratifying; within just a few days, I had a terrific collection of tips to share with EduCon newbies.

I wanted to try to help folks feel comfortable and confident from the outset, not only for their sake, but for the sake of the overall experience; the more comfortable and welcomed we feel, the more likely we are to be able to let our guard down and truly participate and share in the experiences offered. Or at least that’s how I think about it.

I wrote last year about the ways in which EduCon’s self-definition & call for conversation proposals change the expectations, perceptions, and experiences of those who attend and/or facilitate conversations there. 2009 was, for me, a year of learning that “the genius is in the conversation,” so when I attended EduCon2.2 in early 2010, I expected that it would be difficult to choose amongst sessions. I also anticipated that I might feel intellectually and/or emotionally overwhelmed by the more interactive nature of those sessions. And I was right on both counts. There was too much going on for any one person to take in. By a long shot.

Last year, as it became clear to me that many of those in attendance were already accustomed to sharing their learning journeys in some kind of internet-enabled way, I started to think that maybe all was not lost. The conversations I was so sorry to miss? Someone might share the slide deck and their notes. The people I spoke to for five minutes who I then wished I’d had an hour with? Maybe I could follow them on Twitter. “Will someone be collecting all the post-Educon posts somewhere?” I asked everyone I could think to ask. No, we don’t think so, came the responses. But that’s a great idea!

So I declared myself the unofficial digital archivist of EduCon and started collecting posts. Initially, I did it mostly for me, although I shared my work out because I am beginning to internalize the idea that if something is useful to me, it might be useful to someone else. Over the course of gathering posts, I became more invested in my collection of posts becoming a community resource. And this year I decided to reprise my role as “totally unofficial digital archivist” even before I set foot in Philadelphia. I was hoping that Liz Davis (@lizbdavis on Twitter) might also reprise her self-appointed role as “curator of the Twitter list of attendees,” without which my digital curation of EduCon-related content would have been much more challenging. I checked in with Liz, and I was in luck… like me, she had previously seen a need and taken on the work of fulfilling it, and also like me, she had decided to reprise her role at EduCon 2.3.

Conferences remind me a little of weddings. You think about the big event for months ahead of time, you’re all excited to make your little toast and see the people you know, and then with most of them you have these hurried five minute conversations that just end up reminding you why you wish you were spending more time with them. And then you go home. For the educators who have come to look forward to EduCon as an annual re-fuel & re-boot, the built-in limitations of the experience are a challenge.

Based as it is on the premise that conversations & connections are at the heart of what we do as educators, EduCon represents several distinct types of experiences every year. In some cases, newcomers and returnees might was well be attending separate events, as their reflections show. Questions of who is “in” and “out,” who feels welcomed or ignored, are part and parcel of any human gathering with the kinds of limitations of space and time that EduCon wrangles with. What I’m trying to do, with my digital archive work, is to put a little stretch in the space-time continuum in order to create more space/time for the conversations that we want to be the heart of EduCon (or TEDxNYED, for that matter). Our time together in physical space may be limited, but our time connected in cyberspace can help us extend beyond those limitations.

I had a great time at EduCon. Then again, I came with baggage. I expected that I would be welcomed, and hoped that I had already contributed in my own small way to the overall success of the event. I came prepared. After having adjusted the previous year to people looking blankly at my name but grinning with recognition once they saw my Twitter handle, I took a page from Tom Whitby’s playbook and brought a copy of my avatar photo to tape to my nametag. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to take it all in, but I also knew that LOTS of people would be there working to make their own meaning from it all, and that a significant portion of them would make an effort to share their work out with the larger group.

And now, a victim of my own success, I STILL haven’t finished reading all the Educon 2.3 reflection posts, over a week after the official end of the conference. It’s a nice problem to have. I’ll definitely be bringing some new ideas back into my life & the lives of my colleagues.

(My thinking around creating space for connection
has been inspired in part by the work of Heather Gold
and her band of merry tummlers.
Her January conversation with Tom Coates
gave me a chance to hear him say,
“The more you start finding the edges of
your philosophical view, the more you start spotting
how a new technology that comes along can fix or improve
something that’s broken or doesn’t work properly.”
Among other things, EduCon for me
represents a great space for finding
the edges of my philosophical view.
Special thanks to @lizbdavis, @aforgrave,
@chadsansing, @chrislehmann (birthday boy!)
the cast and crew of SLA,
and all the EduCon folks who push my thinking
and share their own.)


Posted on February 8, 2011, in review. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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