My big fat NECC brain dump

As I exited the NECC conference by exploding a cherry coke all over the Blogger Cafe, I knew I would have to take some time to provide a brain dump of the experience. I know that many discussions will continue to force me to reflect deeply over time. Hanging around with that many smart, passionate folks will do that you. So here for you is my reflections on the people and the ideas.

The People:

Of course the danger here in singling out people is the fear of leaving someone out so I’ll just begin but apologizing right off. These are just a few thoughts about people that I managed to spend a varying amount of time with. Some quite and others just a brief conversation.

Bud Hunt. I spent quite a bit of time with Bud. He’s one of my longest online connections and there’s a reason for that. He makes me think. Bud has a way of framing ideas and throwing curveballs that have just enough spin on them that you better pay attention. There’s only one complaint I have. He needs to publish more.

Scott Floyd and the Texans. While I was vaguely familiar with Scott, I didn’t really know all that much about his work and thinking. He’s smart and extremely politically savvy. He helped me understand much more deeply about the issues facing US schools and in particular why we need to be watching companies like Pearson like a hawk. I consider Scott one of my great discoveries from NECC. In addition to Scott, Paul Wood, Mike Gras, John Maklary and Brian Grenier put on an amazing BBQ and made me and others feel incredibly at home. So much so I almost was going to stay here for 11 more months. Paul went out of his way to pick me and and drive me to their hotel where I was whisked into a live netcast and stayed to have some great talks. Texas hospitality is alive and well.

Ewan Mcintosh. Ewan’s international perspective (I actually was considered international…but don’t have a buttery Scottish accent so I barely count) and fresh look at education always provides me with enough fodder for about a year. I just barely have gotten over talks from a year ago. This time I only have 6 weeks.

Jeff Utecht....model extraordinarreJeff Utecht. He is batman. He’s everywhere. Even on the plane ride home I grab a magazine and who’s face is staring back at me? I actually had to crop him out of the Texas boys photos. He’s unstoppable. His energy and passion are electric. He just does stuff. I’m sure he’ll be in Bangkok before the technicians can return all his hacks and tweaks back to normal. Although if my idea takes root, he may still get away with more.

Me and SherylSheryl Nussbaum-Beach. She couldn’t be any nicer. I know she’s also brilliant and a tremendous facilitator but she’s all about people and helping others connect. What a treat to have a meeting on the river walk with Wes Fryer and Darren Kuropatwa. That was truly a highlight.

Konrad Glogowski. I’ve been reading Konrad for a while and although he lives 2,500km away from me, I can’t help by feeling pride that he is also Canadian and really exemplifies so much of what good teaching is all about. We had a great chat Saturday night about his upcoming travels and work in Africa with Sharon Peters. I’m sure it will lead to more highly reflective and challenging writing.

Craig Nansen. Craig lives about 4 hours from me in North Dakota. He was kind enough to invite me out with some other Distinguished Apple Educators for a lively discussion. Nice to know he and Chris Webb are just down the road.

Old friends. Will Richardson, David Jakes and Chris Lehmann continue to provide me with a solid pedagogical leadership. I rely on these gentlemen more often than most. It just so happens we have a lot of fun together too.

The blogger cafe was an ongoing series of “Hi-how-are-you-good-to-see-yous” and time was often the enemy of moving beyond that. I wanted to especially thank Lisa, Maria, Brian,Vicki and Julie who contributed in mentoring students and teachers. These folks do a great deal for me.

More acknowledgments and thoughts as my twittified brain goes into full gear about the week that was. Here we go.

Mark Wagner kick started my brain with a frank question…Laura Deisley will be a new and trusted friend…Brian Smith is older than he looks apparently…Wendy Smith is married to Brian Smith…Lisa Thumann sometimes shuts down like me….Did you Know Karl Fisch is very quiet but did throw out a great one liner (see what did there?)…Gary Stager never stops and is highly entertaining…Everybody loves Clarence….Having NECC in your hometown has its disadvantages…Doug Johnson is a funny guy….I think I’m stealing this paragraph style from Scott McLeodKyle Stevens isn’t sure if Chris is Christ…..Diane McCordell is short….Kurt Paccio is not…Lee Kolbert likes Plurk…Marcie Hull wants people to be afraid of her, but I’m not…Mark Pennington needs to post more photos….I saw the Tech Chicks but didn’t see them together…Was Al Upton sick or is his voice that raspy?….Stephanie Sandifer lied to me…I owe Jennifer Kraft $4….I’ll never remember everyone I met….Wes Fryer is also batman….I’ll never mention boiled ribs again…Barbara Barreda will stop at nothing to help kids….the riverwalk is awesome……John Pederson, Darren Kuropatwa and Christian Long shouldn’t be allowed to stay home…I wonder if I overuse the dot,dot,dot?…Ken Pruitt leads a nice session….Christian wins as best blogger not be be present at NECC….you can’t use a loonie to buy coffee in the States….flying first class isn’t that great…I used the phrase, “throw under the bus’ too often…I bet the Aussies would have been fun to hang with…Wagner broke more iphones than my dog chews electronics….I saw Jeff Boulton, who I work with once randomly Friday night and never saw him at the conference…Do you have any idea how long it takes to link to all these people?…Chris Lehmann started say y’all quite a bit…David Jakes likes Bill Lamineer….Will Dan Meyer attend NECC or any conference that has the word technology in it?….Joyce Valenza was surprised when I told her I read her blog. I didn’t know why…Wireless at conventions suck unless you have your own or know Mark Wagner or Scott Floyd…I saw Will Richardson demo Geopedia 17 times…. people are nicer than I imagined.

The Ideas

Now that the NECC love fest is over. (I know I was guilty of the discussing the edublogoshpere’s favourite subject, themselves) here’s where I go from here. These are four ideas, that while not new, I think I understand better now and hopefully can articulate. There were certainly seeds of other ideas that will grow but these ones I just feel better about.

1. Online communities exist for people to be together face to face. Being online is about being face to face. Shirky talks about the the ideas expressed in Bowling Alone. The idea of a society that has lost much of what it means to develop community and opportunity to be together. As many argue against the value of online communities and question there importance, it usually points us to being together. Having fun, working, building, playing, you name it.

We gather together because we like to, and because it is useful.[pp.195]…Meetup groups for virtual contacts shows that even online communication that emulates face-to-face interaction still leaves people wanting real human contact. [pp.199]

Even as we discussed the book and tried to see the connections to learning, it was evident that we wanted to be in the same room. The energy, the passion, the body language all make for a much richer experience. I would dare say many of the folks in my community have used the most current technologies that facilitate online discussion and I can’t imagine any of those tools coming close to the face to face experience. It’ll never happen.

2.Vendors are way off. I have to preface this since I never went into the giant exhibit hall even once but from what I heard and witnessed, these guy for the most part are out to lunch. Mike Gras told me of a vendor who was selling a product that could tie all your web 2.0 apps into active directory. While I barely know what that means, it demonstrates how so many are driven to control based products. Check out this ad from the NECC daily magazine. Basically we can shut everything down as tight than a monkey fist . Now grant it, they are just responding to what schools are asking for but you have to wonder if they don’t see the writing on the wall. How long will it be before raise the white flag of surrender and simply try and work and learn in real world, DIY environments? I know, I’m too naive. I’m not discounting the commercial component of schools and technology just the context of the presentation and marketing. Don’t even get me started on clickers.

3. I need to talk about student learning way more. In the fervor of all that is edtech and wonderful, the odd dissenting voice appeared. “Where is the student learning?” That question bothered some but it’s a good one and ones that need to be asked. As I made the most of my extra night, Christine, Mike, Paul and Scott I wrote down a quite piece of logic that helps me particularly as we consider the value of social networks, online communities and more specially K12 online. Let’s start from the students.

  • We all want to help students learn more.
  • Teaching and learning is hard.
  • Professional learning is essential.
  • Schools devote way too little time and money and much of it is not applicable or specific to each teacher in their quest for improved student learning.
  • Enter online professional learning. which provides time shifted and customizable learning. Not only that but it’s about content combined with access to real teachers doing real work. This all can lead to your very own research team.

If helping a doctor become better is about improving patient care then professional development is about student learning. I’m going to be gentle but ruthless is selling that idea.

4. We have no idea how small we are. My guess is about 300 of the 17,000 attendees have any sense of what powerful online communities are all about. That would represent about 2% of an edtech community. These would be the teachers that you’d like have the best shot at building a network. Reading some of the teacher reflections in the last NECC daily made me shudder somewhat. The focus on buying stuff, teaching tools is missing the boat big time. It’s easy to understand why an average teacher would have no idea of how and why. While it’s been written about lots, when you see it in this context it’s quite amazing. If you believe in point #1 and #3 you see why I think this is important. So while I have my network who support me and challenge me not to mention the possibility of those outside my network who occasionally challenge me most of our teachers have nothing. Again, not a new realization but I got to see it first hand.

There, I feel better. (My first every blog post largely constructed from 30,000 feet. I might turn into Wes Fryer or Ewan Mcintosh if I became a frequent flyer.)

Konrad Glogowski photo by Will Richardson
Breakfast with Craig Nansen and Chris Webb photo by Kevin Jarrett

Shirky, C. (2008). Here comes everybody. New York: The Penguin Press.

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  • Hmm. “Diane Cordell (the “M” is my middle initial) is short.” We call it petite in my family, mister 😉

    I enjoyed our conversation, enjoyed all the conversations that were taking place. EVERYTHING that occurred in San Antonio will impact our students either directly or indirectly. Ideas, suggestions, attitudes and points of view will continue to evolve. Who knows what changes we’ve started in motion just by being in the same place at the same time.

    Thanks for giving me a lot of food for thought as my school vacation begins. Learning never takes a holiday.

    dianes last blog post..The Name Game

  • I was not at NECC…but hung on every blogged word…especially Christian’s…your synopsis is spectacular…very to the point and exact…I am looking forward to big things at NECC 2009 as it is near my neighborhood.

    Louise Maines last blog post..Leadership Day 2008

  • Dean,
    You may have felt that you overused the dot,dot,dot and therefore rambled, but I easily followed your brain-dump because it resembles exactly what’s going on in my head as well. Perhaps different cast of characters, but same scene.

    The whole NECC connection for me was awesome and I’m still trying to make sense of it. This was my first NECC and I really did not know what to expect. The sessions and discussions gave me much to think about but I found the most value was in the informal conversations, mostly around the Bloggers Cafe. Making connections with my online peers in person was quite overwhelming for me. I didn’t expect to “know” so many people and I was very surprised at how may people approached me and said they “knew” me. I think I will be better prepared at my next national conference and I will try to etch out more time to have at least a few deeper conversations.

    Ewan may have the buttery Scottish accent, but you were far more personable and made a much more lasting impression on me. Being a hockey mom, and therefore partial to anything from the Great White North, I suggest you not be so quick to hand over your position as *International* edublogger rockstar!


    Lee Kolberts last blog post..1

  • OK, the first thing I wanted to do was to click on every link to make sure you did them right…..I did click on a few and you’re batting 100% for me! It was great to meet you for a little bit this weekend and I wish the Darren talking head on the computer worked for me! It’s funny, we call Tim Clarke (@tclarkeee) the Computer Whisperer, sometimes I’m the Computer Freezer!
    What a network you’ve assembled and I appreciate all of your “ideasandthoughts” to help me start to find what are good tools for teachers in my area, eh? Oh yeah, I had to click on “my dog chews electronics” with a Yellow Lab myself.
    Great pics, I love how you set your blog up, thanks for everything.

  • Diane,
    Thanks for the clarification and adjective suggestion. You’re right about everything.

    Hockey in Palm Beach? You must be a transplant. Weird, I was listening the the video from the chat that occurred Wednesday just before I came and heard you making some eloquent remarks. Simply attaching a name to a face and personality makes a huge difference in how you perceive and digest their work. Context is huge and f2f matters. Hope we connect again. I’m going to work on a buttery accent but defer rockstar status to Ewan. (I’ve always been partial to the intimate settings of a club with really good jazz anyway)

    Not sure if you knew but Darren did recognize you as you walked by. That was surreal. I pride myself in my network and boast about it often, not as self promotion but rather to help folks understand it’s possible. It takes time and work but it’s possible. Also key is the size doesn’t matter. It’s the quality and reliability that makes it work. You likely already have that.

  • 🙁 How can I make it up to you?

    On a serious note, I was shocked by the number of people in the session so early, and when I realized they shut the doors 20 minutes before start time I felt two things — sadness that all of you couldn’t get in and nervousness b/c none of you were there.

    I’ll post and tweet as soon as someone from ISTE/NECC emails me to notify me that the official recording is up on their website.

    I still haven’t had time to reflect and compose my thoughts on this past week. Your summary of the week is very thorough and accurate. Well, except for the part about me “lying” — it really was an honest mistake!

    I really enjoyed meeting you in person and I hope we can find time to chat more at future conferences. Take care and be careful with those Cherry Cokes! 😉

    Stephanie Sandifers last blog post..Leadership for 21st Century Schools

  • Stephanie,

    Looking forward to watching it later. Maybe you’re not a liar but delusional. I still like you though. 😉

  • Hi-
    Mark Carls gave us a heads up on Plurk that you were doing your NECC brain dump. I didn’t go to NECC, so these reports are all I have to go on. I think your retrospective and analysis really helped me with gathering vbaluable information and forming insights by scaffolding from your teaching.

  • Thank you for the brain dump! I think you did an excellent and concise job of recording the key points from all the discussions I heard around NECC. I hope that we can all continue these through online tools until we can get the gang back together at DC – or who knows maybe sooner. The big difference for me between other conferences (even other NECCs) and this one is the fact that the learning is not going to stop now that the conference is over. It is through postings like this and all my new twitter friends that will keep my brain thinking. What a great network to be a part of! It was an honor to meet you and get a chance to jump into the discussion.

    Thanks again!

    p.s. Hockey rocks! My oldest plays in the Dallas Stars Youth Hockey league – yes there is ice in Texas too!

    Christine Voigts last blog post..1

  • Tim Childers

    Dean, thanks for another thoughtful post that covers both the tech and personal side of NECC. I saw you a few times in the blogger cafe, but didn’t introduce myself because…well…you just don’t do that sort of thing to rock stars! 🙂

    I agree that we run the risk of losing sight of the fact that everything we do is really about student learning. One of the reasons I think that is true is because that 3% who are creating, finding, or using great Web 2.0 technology also find that most of it is blocked in their school system (as it is in mine). As a result, often these great tools get used to create VPLNs to connect us to others who share like passions. IMHO, ISTE should be doing even more to open the tech gates at the local level.

    Thanks again for a great post.

  • Christine,
    I apologize for not linking to you in my post but for the life of me I couldn’t remember you last name. You definitely struck me as yet another thoughtful, reflective practitioner that contributes greatly to the conversation.

    Rock Star? (wish I could emulate the sound of blowing a raspberry I wish you would have said hi. Didn’t we have an exchange during FETC? Great point about your situation. Another great learning for me was understanding more clearly the barriers and BS that so many of you deal with. I think continued efforts by folks like you will one day open the gates. At least that’s my optimistic personality speaking.

    Thanks for the comments. I realize there was a myriad of inside jokes and comments but it’s nice to hear there was also some value here for non-attendees.

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  • Great to finally meet you in person. Seems like forever a go that I was taking you on a virtual tour of Shanghai. 🙂 It’s always good to connect face to face with those we spend so much time reading and learning from online.

    Not sure about NUCC…..Learning 2.008 is giving me enough work. 😉

    Take care friend and I’ll see you on the network!

    Jeff Utechts last blog post..Thoughts on conferences

  • Thanks Dean for your blog and particularly this post. I love a good brain dump. I had to check my feed reader to make sure I was watching the blogs of all the people you met up with. The important part of the conference was the people. That was clear from your post. Thanks for all your hard work.

    Nadine Ns last blog post..Keeping up with my PLN (Plurk Learning Network)

  • Dean, this was a very enjoyable post. I do have a different view of many of my online friends now that I’ve met them. It seems more real, if that makes sense. Being able to put a real person to the blog or Tweet makes it more personal for me. As far as us being small – you’re absolutely right. In my school, I don’t think there’s anyone who knows what Twitter, Google Reader, Flickr, or Web 2.0 even are. It’s up to us to help them learn. I hope to do that by participating in K12 Online with some of my colleagues.

    Chad Lehmans last blog post..Reflective Thoughts – My first NECC

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  • Dean

    Your post did a great job of reflecting my feeling toward my second NECC. For me it was all about the network. While I gathered some new ways to use tools I am familiar with using, this year was more on how to share those ideas. Your session with the rest of the K12Online organizers gave me great insight into how to share the tools and ideas I have been forming over the past three years with the rest of my school. Bud’s comments gave me ideas on how to share those ideas with everyone. Most of what I am taking away from NECC is meeting and getting to know personally some of the people who spark my creativity. Thanks for inviting me to play golf and I look forward to a full round in D.C. next year.

    Enjoy your day,


    Kyle Stevenss last blog post..Powerful Learning Practice: Creating Online Communities for Professional Development

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  • Dean,

    As I gave Willy Kjellstrom my perspective on NECC today, I found myself telling stories about the wonderfully authentic conversations and developing friendships that being f2f with my network enabled. Our conversations were not about the tools, but they were about the ideas and what the tools might enable. It was a passion that “there is more” and we believe our students deserve to experience it.

    Thank you for your kind comment above–being a new trusted friend is an honor. I look forward to lots of learning together!


    Laura Deisleys last blog post..NECC 2008 Social Objects #2

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  • Hi Dean,

    I came across this post via a tweet from @bengrey. Though members of my company have attended NECC in the past, this year will be my first time attending.

    After reading your post, I am energized and excited to participate in this event and meet leaders passionate about education an technology. Perhaps I’ll post my own “Big fat NECC brian dump” after the conference.


    Carleigh McKenna
    Twitter: @Cramster

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