George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

The Value of Education Conferences: A Welcomed Information Overload

August 10, 2006

A month after the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC), I've finally found the time to go through my notes and unpack the many handouts and freebies I picked up. It brought back so many memories.

As a first-timer to the conference long ago, I remember there were four of us in a hotel room with peanut butter and crackers and sodas. You could say we were economically challenged. We did not have much money, but the friendship and the learning were so important. The hotel room was not so important as the linking with the friends and learning how to navigate the conference and get the most from it. We did learn to get invited to functions and meals and to work the conference.

As a newbie, I was impressed first with the vendors, and then with the exhibits. So many things that I had seen only in catalogues or online, I saw in person. I was wearing silly hats and blinking pins. I had T-shirts. I even won some prizes, and there were lots things I could take back to my class. I was so excited! I was dizzy with winning prizes and getting samples, and making deals to be able to demonstrate new ways of using technology.

My friends and I also attended workshops and shared what we learned. In the first conference, I met David Thornburg and learned about his campfire stories. The exposure to ideas from those in the conference is really important, so we attended all keynotes. I still try to attend them.

Now, as a seasoned conference attendee, I offer you some reasons you should attend local, regional, and national conferences if you can scrape together the money to go.

Shaping the Future?

At conferences, you meet and greet people you may have "talked to" online. Sometimes, people will come up to you and identify themselves as members of a listserv you're on, or even as admirers of your work! Sometimes, you'll meet people who have shaped or influenced your use of technology. As you attend more conferences, you'll make alliances with people who share similar interests, or you'll find the opportunity to explore new and evolving interests. These people can be very important to your future work. You will find out about initiatives that are not always shared either online or in print.

Eventually, you may get the idea to present your own work, which means you are becoming a thought leader. Writing the abstract can be a pain, but it's worth it. You become a part of the group and help decide the direction of the conference.

To shape what is going on at future conferences, you can join an affinity group that interests you. You'll develop new friendships that can last and make important links for you. One of my groups was one on digital equity. James Smith, Sylvester Robinson, and Joyce Pittman (from the original group) and I have kept in contact and have supported the people creating the information around digital equity and minority-involvement efforts.

Joyce actually created, as a preconference initiative, the kind of conference she wanted to see. We have separate pathways in real life, but the conferences and the technology helped us form the dream of a Digital Equity Special Interest Group of the International Society for Technology in Education. Read more about this in my next post.

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