Feeling the Shift

edcampIS | Seattle | March 2012
4×6 index cards + tape + locker wall = schedule!

Edcamps have changed how I think about conferences. On March 2nd, after attending (and presenting at) the NAIS Annual Conference in Seattle, I tacked on an additional day to my trip so that I could attend edcampIS. (The “IS” suffix stood for “Independent Schools.”)

Edcamps are as close to spontaneously-generated professional development as you can get; the session schedule depends on who shows up and what they’re thinking/ wondering about. Sarah Thomas (@teach2connect on Twitter) and I both thought that a session on Twitter for Newbies might make a good addition to the edcampIS schedule, so when she saw my Tweet on the subject, Sarah sought me out and asked if I might like to team up. “Would love to!” I said, and in fact I had been thinking about how much better a co-facilitated session would be, so… we went from following each other to meeting each other to running a session together in the space of less than an hour! (Big ups to Rachel Wente-Chaney, whose awesome Flickr photoset from the day provided the photos associated with this post.)

edcampIS | Seattle | March 2012
Sarah and I delightedly planning our session

So here’s the shift I’m feeling. The prospect of a full day’s worth of “sit and get”-style learning feels different (and less appealing) to me now that I have deeper understanding of the range of possibilities. (Clay Shirky predicted this years ago with his story of a four year old poking around behind a newly unboxed television. When the little girl was asked by her parents what she was doing, she explained, “Looking for the mouse.” She had an instinctive sense that any screen that shipped without an input device must be missing something. See Clay Shirky’s TED talk on Cognitive Surplus for more context on this.) With the edcamp movement growing by leaps and bounds, more and more of us are becoming “spoiled.” If my experience is any guide, exchanges that have historically been built solely around passive consumption are going to need to move towards offering at least some opportunities for meaningful exchange, contribution, or creation.

Lately, I’ve started to feel this shift not just in my orientation towards learning, but in my orientation towards “stuff.” I’ve been a somewhat reluctant participant in our consumption-oriented culture for as long as I can remember, but lately I’ve noticed being pulled towards buying things in a way that feels new to me. Except they’re not really things, so much as they are experiences, or at least things with some kind of social element. I’ve increased the size of my loan portfolio on Kiva. I’ve chipped in to support several projects on Kickstarter. In Lemonade Detroit and Gayby Baby, I’ve pitched in to support two different independent films on topics that are meaningful to me. And I’ve felt myself leaning towards looking for material goods on Etsy, where it seems more likely that the transaction will include at least some small element of human connection. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still a big ol’ fan of the occasional Lands End shop-a-thon, and I was disappointed to miss out on my near-annual pilgrimage to the outlets in Flemington this spring. But I can feel my emotional engagement moving in a different direction.

Thinking about all this has suddenly brought to mind another true-life story that features a four year old… mine, this time. I was at home serving as Mr. D’s primary caregiver for the first three years of his life, so we spent a lot of time together. He was my little shadow… when I was in the living room, he was in the living room. If I was in the kitchen, he was in the kitchen. As I worked on meals, I would take out a few pots and let him bang happily about in what felt like a time-honored tradition. Then, as he approached his fourth birthday, he figured something out. The kitchen work I was doing resulted in FOOD. Why didn’t his? In what felt like the blink of an eye, our little man went from being perfectly happy taking lids off and putting them back on again to no longer deigning to do so. He wanted to help, and he was suddenly quite able to draw the distinction between “make work” and the real thing. I gave him lessons in how to safely wield a knife, and he never looked back.

It’s not a perfect analogy. Traditional conferences still have their uses. (I felt like I got a lot out of the NAIS annual conference, actually.) Retail shopping will continue to suck up a good-sized chunk of our take-home pay for the foreseeable future. And yet. I do feel a shift. Away from one-to-many “solutions” based on a presumption of consumption, and towards more human-shaped interactions that allow for or even require creativity, contribution, dialogue, sharing. I am less content than I was with the way things are… which more and more has begun to feel… like the way things were.

(Thanks for reading!
Would love to hear if you’re 
experiencing any shifts like this…)

Posted on April 22, 2012, in big picture. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thanks so much for posting Shelly. Not only was it great to meet you, but the success of edcamps is the result of intrinsically motivated educators. Being educators, we already have a sense of purpose in our lives, but I think the shift you're feeling is that with the tools we have today, we can see our little part, playing a big role. This shift to consuming what's meaningful to you has become easier, I think, due to the internet and social media. (I think your choice of supporting organizations that resonate with you is actually an act of producing rather than consuming). What seemed available only to the very privileged is now available to so many more people if they share and combine efforts. Of course, HOW we choose to use these tools, depend on us. We can consume and produce a lot of @#$% too.

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