There were some highlights for me at TLt 2008 in Saskatoon this weekend, and I thought I should go public with them.
First of all, TLt offers a chance for me to connect with dozens of former and current students, colleagues, and even a lot of people I’ve gotten to know in my online network, but had never met face-to-face. I got to finally meet D’Arcy Norman, Jennifer Jones, Kyle Lichtenwald, George Siemens and Brian Lamb – what a treat, even though I didn’t have the endurance to follow them to watering holes around Saskatoon (sounds like that may have been the best part!). And I also had the pleasure of meeting a couple of students who will be coming into our program in the near future. That’s special, and that would be enough to bring me to the conference every year. But as it turns out, this is also one of the best academic gatherings I attend each year. Like a lot of academics, I go to quite a few conferences that cost a great deal in terms of travel and time, and few are as satisfying as TLt. Remarkable, really.
The sessions were excellent from beginning to end for me. I want to mention a couple of favourites, and yes, they happened to feature some close friends. But is that really a surprise? Dean Shareski had a few good sessions, but really dealt me a body blow with “Lesson #1: Share Everything”. It’s the mark of a wonderful session that actually changes the behaviour of someone in attendance, and I think this one did just that. I try to be open, but due to the role I play, time, some bashfulness, and even a wee bit of the “imposter syndrome”, I haven’t always put my stuff out there the way some of the people I admire do. I don’t Ustream as often as I could/should, I don’t slideshare all of my material, and I haven’t posted much to YouTube or other public venues. Sure, as a hardcore academic, a lot of what I do finds its way to a different (and much smaller) audience through refereed publications. And that’s appropriate for someone in my role. But formal, juried publication takes a lot more time to put out a lot fewer ideas, and while I do think there is value in having a carefully vetted outlet for research and development projects, I find myself more and more attracted to free and open pathways. Okay, Dean, I’m making a promise to myself to do much more to put my stuff out where a more open audience will find it.
Another knockout session for me was by Alec Couros and Rob Wall, where they described their experiences with EC&I 831, a course on social learning and networking they developed for the University of Regina with financial support from the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) program. I already knew a lot about the course, eavesdropped on it regularly, and even participated a bit. Three or four graduate students from our program were taking the course too, and their excitement was palpable. Not only was the course chockablock with great content and feature speakers, but the pure energy that Alec and Rob poured into it, along with the support of Kyle Lichtenwald, gave it an urgency and vibrancy that one seldom finds in formal university courses. Sustainable? Scalable? We’ll see, but that doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned. This course, and the session that described it, is a gem, and I’ve taken to calling it the “best course in our program” even though it isn’t even in our program. I’m going to keep encouraging our students to take it. Hmmm… is it possible to make a course from another university a “required” course in your program? This invites a post on breaking down the walls of universities—the walled fortresses of learning—to build combined programs that build on the best that each of us has to offer to meet the individual desires/intentions/aspirations of our students. I’ll write on this soon.
The keynotes were all interesting in their own unique ways, which is a very good measure of a successful lineup of keynotes. Each was different in content and style, and each had something strong to offer. Alan November provided some engaging and practical challenges to educators of all stripes. Stephen Downes performed a high wire act that combined very challenging visions of the future with a live backchannel conversation from the audience playing out on screens beside/behind him. But my personal favourite was George Siemens, who set my hair on fire the first evening of the conference with his deep appreciation and articulation of large historical trends. I’ll never think of change in quite the same way again. He made us see the power of social change and technological change separately, and the incredible force they exert when they collide – as they happen to be right now. I’ll never again confuse things being complex with things being complicated. A clear and important distinction between the two is that things become complicated when we look for a correct solution or solution set; complex things don’t invite solutions in quite the same way. I’d encountered these ideas before, being a bit of a George Siemens groupie, but to hear him chase down these ideas in person, in his engaging staccato and penetrating style, was a treat that I’m going to treasure for a long time. And to top it off, he is an exceptionally nice and gracious guy.
One of my biggest disappointments was that I missed most of Brian Lamb’s presentation, which distressed me, because he was one of the folks I was most looking forward to seeing at the conference. Next time, I’ve promised myself, and him, to be in the front row for the full session. What I saw was wonderful, and I can see the reason why he attracts such reverence from near and far.
And in the interest of being open (see, Dean, it is working), I’ll include the link to the slides from my keynote (the download includes a few notes, links, etc.), and a Ustream recording of the talk that Alec Couros was so kind to engineer. It starts a little way into the speech, but you can sort that out, I’m sure.
Oh, and I finally received an EdTech Posse mug! I’ve been the only member without one, and Rob and Alec finally succumbed to my constant whining about it. Now I can enjoy my coffee in style, and in the comfortable embrace of some people I’ve come to admire very deeply: @shareski, @robwall, @courosa and @mctoonish.
And thanks to the organizers of TLt. I know there were many people who made this conference happen, but Stacey Rutzki and Phillip Cameron are two people I want to single out for applause. This is a great conference, and I do hope it continues to mashup the k-12 and the post secondary streams. There has been talk of dividing them, and for the record, I hope that doesn’t happen. Some of the most inspirational stuff I encountered this year came from the sectors I’m not employed by, and it would have been an impoverished conference for me if it were focused more narrowly than it was. Please keep us together!