Embracing The Edge

2/16/2008 03:49:00 pm

It was the worst presentation I have ever given. It's all on a wiki.

Embracing The Edge
or getting comfortable with disruptive learning technologies

Uncomfortable with technology? This is for you ... you will have your boundaries pushed. Explore the changing face of teaching, learning and professional development in an age of rapid technological change. Probe the intersections between leadership, change and fostering good pedagogy. A very interactive session. Bring your own wireless laptop. Download & install skype (skype.com) VOIP software before you come; it's free.


It was advertised, because the plan required — followed up with "reminder email" — that everyone present have a wireless laptop. 40 people registered for the workshop, maybe 30 showed up. Only about half of them had laptops. Also asked for high speed wireless internet at the venue. Access wasn't high speed, then, there was no access.

I had arranged for Chris Lehmann and Dennis Richards to join us as guest speakers. This was a presentation for school administrators and leaders. I wanted them to hear from two outstanding leaders. When Dennis connected via skype I was booted offline line within minutes. After the break only about 1/3 of the attendees came back.

I tap danced for 2.5 hours.

When we couldn't get connected I did my offline introduction and asked my host to see if the on site tech support folks could help us out. During my intro the tech support guys came and a few people were able to get online. I continued my introduction. When that lead to requiring net access it wasn't there. I tried to get folks organized for the learning activity I had planned and again asked for some help from the tech support guys. The hotel manager(?) (at least he was dressed like the manager) came in and said he'd restart their server. He did. It didn't help. I was about 45 minutes in now so I switched to the slides for the second half of my presentation thinking I might be able to do that bit entirely offline.

We went on break for 20 minutes. I moved the laptop around until I found a spot where I could get online. I preloaded a few pages and crossed my fingers. My plan included both a "low impact workout" and a "high impact workout." I switched gears and decided we'd go with only the low impact workout and move to a show and tell presentation; instead of the "do and reflect" I had planned. I had intermittent access at best for the last 90 minutes of the presentation. Basically, I kept dancing.


First, I wanted to give these school leaders some hands on experience using web 2.0 tools to:

  • »get connected with a local network (the folks in the room in a skype chat).
  • »bring in experts from around the world "just in time" using twitter and skype.
  • »understand the power of a professional learning network.
  • »learn the basics of a few different tools like skype, flickr, pbwiki, and voicethread.
  • »learn the engagement that comes with collaboration.
  • »experience the excitement that comes with creating artifacts that share what you know with a global audience.
  • »learn that you "don't need to know it all" to be able to use the tools to create and learn.
  • »expose them to thinking about how to use new tools to amplify kids learning and teachers teaching.

Second, I wanted illustrate how a suite of free online tools can be woven together to create engaging hybrid (online and offline) learning experiences for students in the classroom and teachers ongoing professional development.

WHAT I'VE LEARNED or, what I'd do differently next time

I'm not sure it was such a good idea to plan a technology intensive workshop for a conference that wasn't specifically an Ed. tech. conference. I think people end up in some presentations by default (as opposed to preregistering) and the laptop requirement may have been an unreasonable expectation on my part; regardless of any reminder email.

I should assume the net will go down. I know this expectation is unreasonable in the business world but in the world of education it's perhaps more common than not. This being the case, I should structure my slides to allow for an easy transition to "show and tell" even though I personally hate when it's done to me.

Some ideas to access my online content are:

  • »download all video content using KeepVid.
  • »archive/download all websites that are critical to the presentation as web archives in Firefox.
  • »capture all streamed slideshows using Jing and save to my desktop instead of online.

And, on top of all this, I think I would also have a "back up talk" that I could share if all else fails and I find myself doing a lot of hand waving as I felt I did on Thursday.


For all this, I have to say that my hosts at the conference were very gracious and accommodating when I arrived. The folks that did stay until the end of my session were also very kind. It couldn't have been all bad. Several people complimented me on the "tap dance" I did, one asked if I've considered walking away from my teaching job to be a private educational consultant, and a few asked if I'd be willing to come out to their schools or divisions to give workshops on education and technology.

Maybe I'm too hard on myself but I expected so much more of myself than what I delivered on Thursday. I learned a lot from this. Next time (if there is one) will be different.

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  1. Anonymous17/2/08 16:07

    Hey Darren,

    I feel your pain! Probably the worst part of your digital bombshell was that you were in a room full of school administrators.

    Chances are that the network failure that you experienced will become an "I told you so" for some of those school leaders---especially if they aren't predisposed to technology as a teaching tool already.

    I'm finding in my work that many educators are looking for the first excuse to walk away from technology. They understand that teaching and learning must change, but don't want to be the change agents themselves because of the amount of work that change incurs.

    So when the network goes down or a tech tool doesn't work, teachers see one of a million reasons why "tech won't work for us." Digital resiliency just isn't a part of the fabric of most teachers yet.

    I'm jazzed by your suggestions for future backup plans, though---and honestly, I hope you have a network failure in your next session too! That way, you'll have the chance to model what teachers can do to build a "safety net" for tech-heavy presentations.

    Those teaching strategies are probably something we all need to begin thinking through---and those capacities are things we need to build in our less-tech-driven colleagues.

    When we do, we'll finally get to the point where peers can embrace technology driven lessons without fear of failure!

    Thanks for making this thinking public...


  2. Thanks for sharing your honest account of what sounded like a stressful session for you - we had a similar training session for a client where my trainers only had access to the web for 90mins (the client paid for a full days social media immersion session).

    Was interested to read about your 'back-up plans' as well - something we're looking into :-)

    (In a couple of years time we'll all be doing this through our mobiles though - bring it on!).


    MediaSnackers Founder

  3. Darren:
    The hardest part of ed tech presentations are going into an unknown situation (hotel or other locale) cold.

    I had a presentation a few weeks ago and luckily brought my own projector. I did spend a good two hours at the site the week before so I could find out what would and wouldn't work. I know that's not always possible.

    The day of the presentation, the other school's projector would not show my desktop icons. I didn't check that out the week before. I'm sure I could have figured it out, but not with 30 minutes to go before the teachers arrived for the presentation.

    I also thought about the need to have "Network Not Available" materials (but hadn't prepared them). It's something I need to do for next year. I was lucky the Internet worked all three nights and had adequate bandwidth.

    Thanks for sharing "the edge" with us. Mostly we just hear about the grand slams.

    I want to offer a presentation to our local diocesan office and was thinking about requiring a wireless laptop. It may be unreasonable and I may need to rethink it.

    If you do another similar presentation, please share how you end up preparing differently. As I approach my own edge, all reflection is welcome.


  4. Darren,
    I feel your pain too. I have been there in my nightmares. :(
    Thank you, Thank you for your transparency and the willingness to share it. I can't emphasize enough how MUCH this helps other teacher not to feel that situations like yours only happen to them. Maybe these administrators did not learn from you what you intended, but WE are learning something very valuable from you that you might not have intended teach.
    Thank you.

  5. Anonymous17/2/08 20:14

    While I applaud your efforts to create an engaging, interactive experience, I think the fact that it's not an Edtech conference might be important. Even if it was that may not guarantee access. (See a recent post by Wes Fryer).

    I've got a similar presentation upcoming at 3 provincial Showcase sessions. (Showcase is a once every 5 year deal that is a teachers' convention for all 12,000 SK teachers) While I'd love to do the things you've tried, I'm comfortable with a more "sit and git" format. I realize that it often contradicts the type of learning environment we espouse in our schools, this is a different scenario. I have no real means of followup and so it must be a stand alone session, intended to shake up, inform and in general create awareness.

    My error in the past is trying to do too much in 2 hours or whatever time I have. Like you, I want them to see for themselves the power available to them but have lowered my expectations somewhat due to time and also access issues.

    I feel your pain as you write and it helps solidify some of my own instincts.

  6. Anonymous18/2/08 00:20

    I'm guilty of the same thing: trying to do too much in the time allowed. But 2.5 hours is more than a "sit and git" session; or at least it should be. It would make me nuts to sit and listen for 2 hours unless the speaker was really talented and captivating. I don;t think I'm that kind of speaker. More than that, I am reminded of how some professors of education would lecture to their classes of student teachers not to lecture to their students. I expect more from a PD experience and if I want that from the receiving end, when I'm up there delivering the PD I want to "walk the walk" and not just "talk the talk."

    You said: "I have no real means of followup..."

    That's not true. You do. Twitter, skype, your blog, a wiki you can set up for the presentation with an archive of material for participants to further engage in after the live event. In this case, I had intended to preserve the skype chat and archive it on the wiki where I would encourage people to continue to add to their voicethreads by perhaps sharing them with the home school staff, highlighting interesting snippets from the chat archive and maybe starting a discussion in the "comments" on the wiki or on a new wiki page, adding images to flickr and tagging them with a unique tag so I could aggregate them in a slideshow on the wiki that updates automatically using RSS, and ... well, there are lots of ways to move away from "one shot" PD that's here today and forgotten tomorrow.

    If anyone can do this sort of thing Dean, it's you. You're a network blackbelt in my book. ;-)

  7. Just today I did my very first 'Possibilities of using Web2.0 in the primary classroom' staff meeting. I turned up two hours early- just in case! I needed every minute- I had pre-bookmarked my websites on my home network before I left home in tabs in case all else failed.

    I had to change computers as no one knew how to connect my Apple to the network, got the PC out- waited for it to install updates and got it connected via a really long ethernet cable that I had taken- just in case wireless wasn't got to work.

    Mozilla wouldn't connect so had to feverishly re-tab using Internet Explorer.

    Now to the data projector- no long power chord. Searched and found one- needed a double plug! Seadched and found one.

    Podcasts and movies were pre-downloaded at least so no problems there as I had remembered to bring speakers of my own.

    Three o'clock bell went just as I got the data projector going and I ate my lunch and pretended everything was as smooth as custard ready for the teachers to stagger into the staffroom after a busy afternoon!

  8. Anonymous18/2/08 09:47

    When you consult and do presentations for a living it becomes clear very quickly that 50% of the keynote/workshop is done before you arrive and 50% is done during the actual presentation.

    I have a check list I use with conference providers. I always contact hotel staff in advance and build a relationship with one of their geeks. When I get there the night before I have arrangements to meet my tech person and we visit all the rooms from which I will be presenting. We also make plans for how I will get him/her to my presentation room during my presentation time if something were to go wrong. The relationship building always pays off.

    All videos are resident on my machine. I never trust the bandwidth I will be given at the remote site. I always use *my* laptop (because of plug-ins) and I always bring my files backed up on an external drive. I always defrag before the conference, especially if I did a lot of creating before I went.

    I test Skype and any guests the night before in the room, with the equipment (speakers etc) I will be using. I always ask for a hardwire- never wireless and I tell them it is because I will be using memory intensive applications.

    Be of good cheer. We have all been there. I remember, back around 1996, when I was traveling with Classroom Connect I had to do a 6 hour preworkshop (the ones they pay for) on online PD without any connectivity. Having survived that session with good evals instilled in me the faith I could do this for a living. Maybe that was what your recent event was all about.


  9. Hi Darren.
    I agree with Sheryl - if I must be online for a presentation I test as best as possible ahead of time on the exact equipment. I've learned the hard way to try it out and write down the specific steps that make it work.
    I love Sheryl's idea of building a relationship with the on-site tech.
    I've also downloaded entire websites (with permission) to bypass the online requirement. And have screenshots ready (now I would use Jing).
    And don't forget that reflective table talk is also a way to engage participants. We've used clicker technology in these sessions - the table has to come to consensus on a question and then votes. Great for table engagement (quite the debate ensues) and works well with large settings.
    Post-conference wiki's are tough if the participants aren't already tech-savvy. But if they're seeded they're great to go back to.

  10. I wasn't even there but I started to sweat bullets just reading about it. I suppose if this stuff was easy then ANYONE could do it - THEN where would we be?

    Several years ago I head an adage that I've used many time in situations just like you describe. When you realize that you're in a crash and burn situation you say, "There are two words that strike fear into the hearts of every elementary teacher. 'INDOOR RECESS!' And the two words that strike fear into the hears of a techie are, 'LIVE DEMO!.'"

    Chin up. We've all been there - and suffered just like you. :-)

  11. Anonymous18/2/08 23:21

    Thank you Darren and all who have commented. I've not had a disaster on that scale, yet.

    I try to learn from other peoples mistakes. You've provide a lot for me to learn.

  12. Anonymous18/2/08 23:45

    @Allanah: I couldn't help but laugh out loud as I read your last sentence. ;-) You're one cool (in both senses of the word) cucumber.

    @Sheryl: In the past I've always tried to visit the site and check things out before doing any of this sort of thing, but your 50/50 rule really crystallized it for me. I've never quite broken it doen that way before. I do now. Thanks for that.

    Your final comment is encouraging and the wheels are spinning. I have to admit I was quite flabbergasted to have someone suggest, after such a fiasco, that I could make a living at this. ;-)

    @c seibel: Sheryl oozes professionalism in everything she does and she's a master relationship builder. I have added all her suggestions to my cart, as well as yours. I tend not to work in enough time for people to reflect on what they are learning. I was trying to overcome that this time. I will definitely keep you "table talk" suggestions in mind for my next workshop. Hopefully it'll will be a planned thing and I won't need to resort to them because of an impending crash and burn.

    @Jim: Thanks! I couldn't help laughing at the examples you gave ... still chuckling. ;-)

    @Willis: Glad to oblige! I hope I won't be obliging in quite the same way in the future. ;-)

  13. Thanks for post Darren, it's been the scourge of education to usually only put out the best case scenarios when we all know that in teaching (and especially tech teaching) you never know what's going to happen.

  14. Anonymous28/2/08 12:59

    You're right Kern, you never do know what's going to happen. In my mind, beforehand, this was the best workshop I had ever given. ;-)

  15. Darren .... came to this late, so it has all been said. But yes - been there, done that, got the t-shirt on the back from the self-flagellation.

    I do all the backup stuff too now - but it isn't the same as walking that tightrope and too easy to settle for safe.....

    And it is ALWAYS the challenging audience that you need to show how easy it is that it screws up for, big time.

    Some time I should tell you about being on the road across the UK with Alan November - with hotels without internet access on the crucial days.... But in the UK at least we did have the advantage of good 3G coverage, a suitable phone card, and the wonderful Glyn B to anticipate Alan's every next move and save the day - which you clearly didn't!

    Thanks for the honesty - and for uniting the community in a shared moment of pain and recognition.....

  16. Anonymous4/3/08 00:04

    Hey Tony! I think you're right when you say: "it isn't the same as walking that tightrope and too easy to settle for safe". It also feels inauthentic to talk about technology in education and being globally connected without modeling that in some way.

    I wish you and Glynn had been there, if for no other reason than to go for drinks afterwards. ;-)