As I prepare to finish the final 6 hours of my 36 hour return from Beijing, I figured I'd drop a brain dump of reflections for this week's Learning 2.012 conference in Beijing. In or particular order or significance, here we go:
The organizers have been tweaking their format since it's inception in 2007. They're constantly looking for the right mix. They really want to promote the notion of conversations and networking as a hallmark of the event. Without question they succeed. This year they offered two extended sessions each day. These sessions were not labeled, "hands on" necessarily but it was clear this was not a time for a 3 hour lecture. I still struggle with the idea that a 3 hour time slot at a tech conference should involved doing something with tech. In my session, that was pretty limited. I know many were tweeting, we used a Google form for a basis for discussion but I hesitated having participants "do stuff". Not that it would have been difficult but in the spirit of networking, giving folks time to talk seemed most important and valued. I know other sessions were more tech focused but I got the sense that many sessions were similar to mine. I always have a difficult time reading participants but the quality of the conversations were very rich.I think that was the goal. The unconference portion mixed with a few traditional workshops provided a nice variety. The mini-keynotes were awesome. I'd highly suggest to conferences to look at offering 5-10 minute talks but several people on varying subjects. A fantastic way to begin each day. I don't think they need to do much tweaking with the format of the event.
Photo by: Dave Caleb http://www.flickr.com/photos/learning2asia/8082212458/in/photostream/
Much like Educon, this conference brings with it a core group of leaders and connected folks that form the glue of the conference. There is one degree of separation for most, not only because of the connectedness but the nature of international schools. The international teacher is a naturally adventurous person, willing to tackle change and new situations. This pretty much insures success. Put smart, open minded people in rooms together with a chance to talk and share and you have to work hard to screw it up. The fact that they limit it to 400 also means a better chance of participant satisfaction. While the majority of participants were first time attendees, it didn't impede great discussion. I kept getting asked to compare this with the other conferences I attend and no question, the level of conversation was impressive. Even from folks who stated technology was not in their comfort zone, they were able to get past the "I don't get twitter" conversation to "I see the value in connecting with others and want to know more".
Wow. Western Academy of Beijing is a wonderful campus. The atrium area in particular with a river running through it sets the tone for a relaxed and inspiring few days. Schools are often, well, schools. They aren't the most inviting learning spaces. This place hardly felt like a school. (Also, when's the last time you had wine at school?)
The conference website run on Buddy Press gave a space for every participant before they even arrived. It was used for all the sessions and cohorts. I've seen Edmodo used in similar ways but of course in China they face challenges with blocking so this insured a home base that was reliable. By the way, the tech folks did an outstanding job providing a relatively unfiltered experience with some behind the scenes magic. The other thing that was interesting was the use of Instagram. It came about just before the start of the conference as Jeff Utecht was trying to figure out how to get more of out flickr. Instead we had a discussion about instagram and the community value and went with it. There were well over 200 photos submitted using the #learning2 hashtag I would definitely recommend this idea. In addition, Dave Caleb was assigned as photographer capturing high quality photos. This combination of "expert" and "all participants" models something very powerful. You can think about this concept behind conference photos and see it's potential.
Finally, nothing was left to chance. It was interesting to get a sense of the mayhem that goes on behind the scenes but participants were well taken care of and this thing ran as smooth as anything I've seen. From the well designed name tags to the lunches this was a first class event run by teachers. Well done to Madeleine Brookes and team. If the folks planning Learning 2.013 next year in Singapore need someone from Saskatchewan to lead any sessions, this is my official request for an invite. 😉
You'd be silly to travel to Bejiing and not take some time to explore and have some fun. I was fortunate to have a few great adventures with Jeff Utecht, Chris Betcher, Adrian Camm, Chrissy Helinger, Lucy Gray and Ania Zielinska. So nice to spend time outside of the "real learning" to build and enhance the quality of connections. Thank you to those folks. Here's a snippet of an adventure coming down from the Great Wall with Chrissy.