My “Best of NECC” Post

I know I’m late on this but I spent the weekend getting caught up on my real life and doing some prep for this week.  But, I wanted to highlight some of the things I learned at NECC.  NECC is always overwhelming for me and all the digital stuff (blogs, wikis, flickr, twitter, etc.) really just make it worse.  Too much noise.  So, my strategy this year was to pre-register for sessions and to volunteer, both in an attempt to make NECC smaller and more manageable.  It turned out to be a good strategy…I didn’t have to worry about getting a seat and I had a chance to really connect with new people. I found the poster sessions at which I volunteered on Monday morning terrific. The presenters were all HP grant winners, and their enthusiasm about their students ‘ learning was intoxicating! Real teachers, real students, real stories with some excellent action research to show that their students had not only been engaged but learned something as well.

At the last minute, I ended up doing two hands-on workshops to fill in for another presenter. While it took away from some of my own time at NECC, I found the experience quite enlightening and encouraging. Both the sessions focused on a tool and its connection to content. In my hurry to pull together the sessions, I focused on the tool with less concern about the content. (In my defense, one workshop had participants making videos in just three hours so I was a little worried about getting it done.) What I am pleased about was the excellent feedback I got from the participants. Most were happy with the experience, but several reminded me that there had been content and that was really why they came with their interest in the tool being a secondary concern. Good for them! I certainly agree and was reminded of how easy it is for techies like me to fall into the tool trap, forgetting that we are dealing with educators. If I have a criticism of NECC, it sometimes seems to be more generally focused on technology tools rather than how teachers might make effective use of them in their classrooms.  Maybe that’s the point of a tech conference, but for those of us who have to go back to K-12 teachers, the difference between twitter and plurk are probably not that important.

The best session I attended was the Technology Leadership Forum. Its focus was on emerging technologies but most of the speakers were from school divisions that had adopted the technologies so they could talk about how the tools intersected with teaching and learning. I was particularly intrigued by Camilla Gagliolo’s presentation on using Nintendo DS2s in the elementary school.  I’m not a gamer but may have to invest in one of these as they have curriculum related software and some potentially powerful applications.  (OK, see how easy it is to slip into the tools discussion!)

The keynoter for the forum was Richard Baraniuk, Rice University, talking about The Future of Open Courseware.  This is a topic close to my own heart since I sit on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Open Education Foundation (VOEF), begun by Mark Burnet, who is even more passionate about it than I am.  Rich began Connexions, an open courseware compendium.  It’s an amazing collection of online materials, mostly written in the form of textbooks.  They can, if you like, be printed and bound, for the cost of about $20!  It’s an amazing example of collaboration, and I found myself babbling to him about our Virginia project.   I sat on a Joint Commission on Technology and Science Committee last year where we discussed the possibilities of open source textbooks and this year, the work continues with anyone who is interested encouraged to get involved.

VOEF has established a pilot site where we are collecting resources related to Virginia standards.  If you’re intrigued and would like to get involved, just send me an email and Mark and I would be happy to talk to you.

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