BLC: Imagining the Possibilities

7/21/2007 01:22:00 am

Sitting here in the Boston airport waiting to board a plane to Toronto then home. What an amazing three days! Here's why:

First, the people. Joyce Valenza, Tony Parkin, Glynnis Barett were in "my posse" when I was here last year. We had the opportunity to see each other again and spend some time catching up on the last year. Missing Alan Mills.

I was about to begin this sentence talking about new friends but that wouldn't be accurate. I know so many people via their blogs that when we get a chance to meet face to face like this it feels more like old friends picking up where we left off: Dean Shareski, Bob Sprankle, Ewan McIntosh, Will Richardson (who has become completely twitterpated), David Jakes, Christian Long and Chris Lehmann. I also got a chance to meet Barbara Bareda, Vince Jansen and Sharon Peters. There were so many more new names and faces. BLC continues to be a warm and inviting experience where everyone is welcome in every conversation.

Dean, Christian and I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon getting chased out of the dining room and down the hall. (We didn't realize how loud we were talking as each of us took turns challenging each other to clarify our thinking.) We were having a passionate conversation and pushing each other to figure out what are the bare essential tools needed to amplify learning and success for our students. At least we started there and rambled far and wide ending at a place distant from where we began. Then Dean went for a nap. ;-) I think it was Chris who said his wife has a "control-alt-delete" button for Christian ... or was it an energy shield. ;-)

Last night Chris, Christian and I stayed up late in the lobby sharing pictures and videos of our kids. Three proud dads sharing the love we have for our children. I already respect these guys as brilliant minds but this was a bond formed on a completely different level. Earlier that evening though, David Jakes had the line I've been carrying around in my head ever since.

Thursday night at BLC was a boat cruise around Boston harbour. A bunch of us were standing on the upper deck outside talking about our kids, our students and our views on teaching. The passion was palpable. Dave listened for a while, held out his arms and said "I love you guys!" The strength of weak ties Dave. ;-)

Now that's only the tip of the iceberg with this year's conference. This was, bar none, the best conference I have ever attended. There was a breathtaking array of talented speakers; but that's not what made it. The attention to detail that Christine Bridge and her team made of absolutely everything was of the highest calibre; but that's not what made it. The tech support provided by the good folks from Apple, Lester Ray and Cindy Everest was outstanding; but that's not what made it. The participants made it.

Read David's blog. You'll find a series of posts he calls chatcasts: Fire up skype and invite everyone in the room to participate in a live chat while the presenter speaks. Open it up to the folks who aren't physically there on your twitter and skype networks and you begin to get a sense of what participating in this conference was like. As the presenter speaks pictures are taken, uploaded to flickr and shared within seconds. The speaker says something that a member of the chatcast challenges, finds the source and drops the link into the chatcast. Dean starts streaming the audio live via a skype conference call. Invite students into the chatcast, have the presenter respond to questions in the chatcast as they too participate, and .... it was intoxicating! People from the UK, Canada and the US, who weren't physically there, were there.

Today, David and I took the bus to the airport together. It felt like we were drunk. We talked about a lot of things but both agreed, this is what future conferences should look like. What the presenter has to say is just a prompt; it's fodder for the people in the audience to reflect, to push back, to wrestle back and forth with and develop their own thinking. Slides are available via slideshare for anyone anywhere to follow along. Photos uploaded to flickr so the remote participants can see what the room/presenter looks like. Technology really amplifies learning. Physical space just slows everything down. But when you marry the two together ... the possibilities are limitless.

I gave three talks this year; all either podcast, chatcast or both. (More details coming soon.) The slides for every presentation are online at slideshare. I had a computer meltdown just before the conference so my last presentation, Developing Expert Voices, was a rough draft of what I really wanted to say. I felt that I had talked too much and come across rather flat. I failed to factor in the chatcast. Before I started I told everyone in the room (about 50 people) to download skype and contact either David Jakes or Sharon Peters to join the conversation. (I think David got 20 requests within 2 minutes.) In the silences between slides or as I waited for a site to load (the net was running really slow) I didn't factor in the breadth and depth of the conversations going on in the periphery of my talk. I think the periphery became the centre. Skype wasn't designed to do this but this is what it was made for. On the bus David and I agreed, this is something to do with our students.

Imagine a 20 minute lecture where all your students back channel about what you're saying. Outside guests or experts are invited in. Someone acts as a "rudder" to keep the conversation on track. The discussion is displayed on a SMARTboard or with a projector. The chatcast is immediately dumped into a wiki. The rest of the class is devoted to reorganizing the wiki clarifying what was said, answering questions (student to student as well as teacher to student; and don't forget the people, students, teachers, mentors or parents beyond the glass walls of the room) summarizing the big ideas, reframing the discussion in terms of what needs to be explained again and where we're going next. Imagine the possibilities ...

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