I had the opportunity to attend some amazing conferences this summer, the most recent of which was BbWorld, the annual Blackboard user conference. As I look back over my summer, I started to reflect on the real value of attending professional conferences. Sure I got to visit some neat locales, but I was also away from the office (meaning more work to catch up on) and I missed some valuable summertime with my family (kids are in college so the summers are fleeting). Of course, I attended some really interesting sessions and keynotes, but now I have pages of notes (digitally) to sort through and decide how best to integrate in my real life. But neither the change of scenery nor the sessions are what I carry with me everyday as a reminder of my conference experience...
It’s the relationships that I formed while attending the conferences that are constantly on my mind. The real learning didn’t happen in the sessions* and keynotes (Adam Bellow’s (@adambellow) #ISTE13 keynote is the exception here), the real learning happened in the halls between the sessions, at the social events, in the exhibit hall, during meals, anywhere that people who were fueled by the same interest as me to attend the conference were congregating, talking, and networking. It’s the tweet in the morning from someone I met at #BbWorld13 that gets me thinking about how I can be a better educator, not the weeklong workacation in Las Vegas in July (heck, I’m still trying to clear the smoke from my lungs).
No, the real value in attending a conference is the opportunity to get away from our home base, our comfort zone, and expand our thinking by networking (and yes, that means no more #tweetfrom10ftaway). Sure, it’s totally awkward to speed date with a guy wearing Google Glass (@jdferries), or be interviewed by a puppet (@wokkapatue), or scream C-A-T-S** (@shanodine) in a public place when you are a diehard D-A-W-G (that’s SEC humor for those Big 10 folks I know), or just walk up to someone you know from an online persona (@tweetsbyvivek and countless others) and say “Hi”, but in every case it’s totally worth the risk! These are experiences and people that I carry with me everyday and they challenge me to be a better educator and leader back at my home base. It’s in these unique moments that I built relationships with folks who challenge me, inspire me, help me, and in return I get to do the same for them - they are my superpower, my #PLN!
So I have a few recommendations for future conference planners and educators from my conference epiphany:
To conference planners: Stop using the cookie-cutter conference mold. Build in more networking time and opportunities. And no, I don’t mean lame ice-breakers!!! What I mean is have an un-conference track for those who are willing to make the conference experience more intimate and personal. EdCamps (@edcampusa) are a phenomenal success because they capitalize on the needs of the attendees and place networking and relationships in the foreground of their planning.
To educators: If the real learning happens, for adults, in the relationships, don’t you think the same can hold true for your students? Are you building in time for them to collaborate, discuss, and connect their learning with their peers? Think about how you can make your classroom into more of an unconference experience to improve the relationships and learning within your classroom. Remember, it’s not about how much we teach in a 50-minute period, it’s about how much they take with them and use over a lifetime.
With that I will leave you with my new mantra:
*Please note that this isn’t to say that if I attended your session I walked away with nothing.
** Couldn’t bring myself to mention my new BFF (@shaylamsb) is an Alabama girl for fear of losing my official UGA license plate!
@StacyHaw on Twitter