Review of NECC 06 Published 2006-07-14

(Disclaimer: I am writing with the sounds of chainsaws in the background as our trees are being trimmed. This is my 18 month daughter’s first encounter with such noise and despite being a brave girl, she still needs to jump into my lap every other minute.)

I sat down this morning to write about my thoughts on this year’s NECC in San Diego. As a professional-level procrastinator, I found myself clicking on my Bloglines button in Firefox (more info) and reading posts from various NECC attendees. There were common themes express in many:

  • Too many sessions discussing how to use technology in today’s classroom and too few discussing how to radically change the way classes are taught and what is being taught.
  • Nothing too interesting in the vendors’ hall as most were offering tools that just augment (or automate) existing classroom practices.
  • The best part of the conference was the conversations outside of the sessions.

I share these feelings and would offer a few of my own:

There is a great deal of talk on the problem and the growing disconnect between our students’ world and the experience we provide at school. Many suggest a radical change to our system of teaching. While I may agree that such a change is needed, I am less optimistic in the plausibility of such change and see sustained incremental change more viable.

I went to one presentation by a group from a school where they have required each student to develop an e-portfolio through their four years of high school. However, I was not impressed with the quality of the sample portfolio content presented. It appeared to be rather basic and did not exhibit a deep level of understanding. Additionally, it did not reflect some of the skills I (and many other) hope schools will embrace in the future: creativity, collaboration, and reflective learning.

The adoption of the e-portfolio by this school is fantastic and exhibits an incremental change. Now they need to continue the process by demanding content that reflects higher level understanding and skills suggested above.

I was very disappointed with how each session was a presentation and less a conversation. Part of the problem has to do with the length of time allotted for each session (1 hour is too short for a real conversation). But another part of the problem has to do with the presenters. We are trying to engage our students in conversations yet we cannot do this in our conferences except outside the sessions. I would like to see more presenters continuing their sessions via blogs or wikis, and I would like to see more sessions in panel or round-table discussion format. My real motive for extending the conversation is to see some of the concepts developed further. I get the feeling from most conference session that we are only scratching the surface of a topic and more questions are created than answered.

In this theme of extending the conversation, I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet with other bloggers on Thursday night. But, the evening was spend mostly on introductions and getting to know each other. If we could have had other opportunities to meet, we could have then spent more time talking about sessions and concepts presented. I love going to conferences with a group of friends. We get to rehash the day during dinner. In fact, one of my favorite memories of the conference was sitting around with a group of friends (who did not attend the conference nor are educators) discussing the state and purpose of education in America. David Warlick has written on this subject (and has effected change through his suggestion that bloggers tag their posts). Will Richardson has suggested a "Blogger Café" where bloggers could meet and talk about the day’s happenings. After-hour parties and receptions are another opportunity for extending the conversation. (Hey vendors; spend less on swag and host a reception instead!)

This was my first NECC, and I enjoyed the experience. Well done to the organizers of the conference; now let’s make it even better.

Recommended Reading:

"NECC all over but the flight" by Jeff Utecht in The Thinking Stick

"NECC Reflections" by Will Richarson in Weblogg-ed

"The Heights of NECC and Regrets" by David Warlick in 2 Cents Worth

"Rehearsing the Revolution: Thoughts on NECC06 and NECC07" by Scott Waters in Theatre EduTech