Growing Pains at NECC’s EduBloggerCon 08

Yesterday was the second EduBloggerCon which I have attended. Unlike the first one I attended at NECC-Atlanta, I was not anticipating this as much as I did last year. Part of it was wondering if this event was overly hyped and would not be able to meet the higher expectations. My experience this year was one which was mixed. I enjoyed being able to connect with friends, both old and new, and I did participate in a few sessions, such as the discussion of Clay Shirkey’s Here Comes Everybody, that captured the essense and excitement that I felt last year. But there was an undercurrent during the event which was unhealthy and threatens this event.

While processing why the experience was different, I began to think about what was different. First was the increased number of people who attended. Rather than being a smaller group of 80, it was a larger group of nearly 200 people. As you scale up a project, you have to wonder what the critical mass is before the conference becomes more unwieldy. Maybe the limit was crossed yesterday. There were fewer sessions in each during each block and there were more who wanted to present. The idea of voting using technology got in the way of just a simple raising of hands scheduling on the fly. As a result, Sylvia Martinez’s session on the reflective teacher researcher was got canceled in mid-day because of a the high demand of another session. It was unfortunate and a conversation that I will personally regret not happening.

A second factor was the venue itself. Like last years, the room was set up in industrial model rows. But what didn’t happen like last year is that the main room was not reconfigured into a larger circle where everyone could be included in the conversation. I don’t think that it was intentional to try to exclude individuals, but rather grew. Instead, their was a closed circle of insiders and a place for lurkers to sit outside the circle. It really felt like junior high all over again. In the second room, the tables remained in straight, industrial period model rows and the conversation seemed to be directed at us. At Web 2.0 smackdown, there was a desire to allow multiple voices to be heard, but the standing room only nature of the space lost the intamicy that we experienced last year. Only in the sessions held in the Second Life space did it resemble an open discussion forum where ideas were freely shared.

Thirdly, there seemed to be a desire to twit out the sessions, create streams (audio and video) of the conversation, and create back channels to facilitate the conversation. At Atlanta, the focus was on having conversations with people without the intrusion of these other methods of communication. For me, it prevented people from being fully engaged and authentic. It happened a few times, such as the Shirky discussion, where there was a stream, but it did interfere with the connections and conversations. The back channel, which took root three days after EBC Atlanta, got in the way.

Lastly, there seemed to be more individuals who came with a personal agenda of self-promotion. There seemed to be more commercial connections and individuals concerned with being there and making a name. As discussed many other places, the presence of Pearson’s film crew added to this feeling.

I do not blame anyone for this. It is part of the growing pains that can occur as more individuals become interested in participating. I hope that all of us who are participating will be inclusive and supportive of others. We have to expand the conversation beyond the echo chamber. There will always be missteps and lessons which care learned. Let’s continue the conversation to make EduBloggerCon DC an event woth attending.

I want to thank Steve Hargadon for all of his efforts to make the event happen. Without his leadership, we would not have something to complain about. But instead of just complaining, why don’t some of us offer to help make this better, become involved in the solution, rather than being part of the problem.

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7 thoughts on “Growing Pains at NECC’s EduBloggerCon 08

  1. I cannot comment on NECC’s EduBloggerCon 08, since I was on the RiverWalk with friends ;-) but after reading your interesting comments here, I can’t help but think of Surowiecki’s advice: “Be careful of talkative people, they become hubs, they shape the way the discussion is going”.

    I am quite sure this feedback will help make the next EduBloggerCon even better. Growing pains lead to sustainability and the people driving this event will surely want to do better what they already do well.

  2. Vinnie,

    well articulated post. I did NOT attend last year so I can’t make a personal comparison. But, like you and many others, it felt just like another conference. I didn’t really know what to expect but I certainly did NOT expect what I saw on Saturday.

    Your call to help organize and help is a noble one. But in doing so, aren’t we still propagating all what is not right with a pre-fab un-conference? Why not just let it flow without much planning? Just give the space and let it happen. No planning, no schedule, just space for people to gather, share, and learn.

    I’ll see you in the cafe this week.

  3. Vinnie: I agree with many of your points– especially the layout of the rooms. Just like in our classrooms, the physical spaces we occupy in many ways define our interactions or at least influence them strongly. In my own session on digital storytelling, I was surprised by how many people were there. I wanted everyone to come to the front and put their chairs in a circle, but that was not possible given the space constraints. I think one way we can address this next year is to break into smaller groups, offer more sessions, and utilize smaller rooms.

    On the recording issue, I think overall it was a compliment that Pearson wanted to record, share and amplify some of the ideas shared at this event. I agree that if you’re trying to record a session that can detract from your ability to listen, process, and reflect– but I also think it can be a great value for others who can’t physically attend the event to have it recorded. It also can permit other voices to participate. One of the students at SLA participated in our leadership discussion because of the Ustream channel, and Chris Lehman was able to bring some of those points into the discussion. That couldn’t have happened with just a face to face discussion that didn’t involve any streaming.

    With this group, I think it is natural that people are going to push boundaries. That is what innovators do. I also think change is inevitable, and growth is a good thing in terms of participation. Hopefully our dialogs about these issues will lead to an even better EduBloggerCon next year, and in the months ahead which will take place at different venues. I agree Steve deserves lots of thanks for all his work in coordinating this. I personally found the event very worthwhile and fun. Some things can change, but I was very glad I went and participated.

  4. Wes, I did have a good experience at EduBloggerCon. As you may remember, I was one who stayed and participated the entire day. Rather than simply talk about the experiences, I wanted to try to identify the elephant in the room. I do think we allow technology to sometimes get in our way and agree that we cannot always at events. I know this is why I subscribe to your podcasts, because you do take the time to record them. However, watching you moderate sessions, you never seem to let this get in your way.

    Pearson’s presence was a good idea in my opinion. I did not mind that they want to amplify the possibilities (hey, this sounds like a great conference theme ;) ).

    I want to help shape a great experience.

  5. Thanks for this Vinnie. You have helped me to understand some of the undercurrents I thought I was picking up, although it is hard to be completely clear when you’re reading tweets and watching streaming video.

    I wasn’t at the edubloggercon last year, but I enjoyed the bloggers’ cafe enormously. I think the difference this year is partly the numbers, and partly a loss of innocence: lots of good things happened by serendipity last year, and because nobody was expecting anything, nobody seemed to have hidden agendas like self-promotion — which I don’t know is objectively the case by the way.

    Perhaps everyone is just trying too hard to make it exciting?

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