I saw this early this morning from The Principal of Change and it really struck me as I reflect over my attendance yesterday of the Upstate Technology Conference sponsored by Greenville County School District (Grenville, SC). I love this conference as much as some other ones I attend. It has a sense of community that I don’t always get from other professional development opportunities.
Equal to or better than the paid conferences
I almost didn’t get to participate in this year’s conference. It has been growing annually since it began and why not? It’s free and really does rival our annual state technology conference. The only difference that is visible is because its not hosted in a conference like venue, but instead a local high school, there isn’t really a vendor hall or a large number of exhibitors. But that’s not really a drawback as even at my state conferences, the number of exhibitors has dwindled. I do appreciate them so always try to visit and thank them for bringing content to my favorite pd opportunities. UTC had a fair number present. I know some friends who have opted totally out of the state technology conference for this one due to level of presentations (always good) and that it’s FREE. Attending our state conference incurs costs due to a registration fee and the need for a hotel room.
I learned a valuable lesson this year
When it was time to send a proposal to UTC, I got too busy and missed the deadline. I registered late to be just an attendee at the encouragement of friends. Alas since it is so popular an event and I did not respond to repeated requests for acknowledging my lunch plans (I was brown bagging so ignored the requests) I was dropped from attending. To try and get back “in” I offered to fill in if any presenters unexpectedly had to drop out. I was picked up finally as a replacement session! Yay for me, I was back “in!” My lesson: Read those reminder emails thoroughly. They had said I risked being dropped as a an attendee for not responding. Sigh.
My friend is the Keynote
I really wanted to attend this year since day one (which was the only day I could attend) was featuring my friend Chris Craft as keynote. He shared and inspired us with his journey as a forward minded educator. Who knew he began as a PACE candidate? ( PACE teachers in our state are those who have a college degree outside of education, but are hired to teach while working towards SC teacher certification.) Dr. Craft has grown into a model educator who truly embodies engaged and authentic learning for his students. I feel inspired no matter my interaction with him. I predict eventually he will be a motivational speaker even at the national level, like maybe a future ISTE keynote. He already does quite a bit as a Google Certified Teacher and more on the national front. He even shared with us he has a gig in South America coming up.
Can’t beat social interaction!
My favorite part of my one day at UTC surprisingly was lunch. I sat with friends new and old who always inspire me. Sometimes the best learning at these PD events happens in the more informal spaces. My lunch mates, Heather Loy, Chris Craft, Kitty Tripp, Russ Conrath, Donna Thompson, Debbie Jarrett, Julianne Kaye, Kelly Knight, along with several others made for great conversations, all pedagogical in nature and great takeaways to apply to my own practice. Can’t beat the learning there!
But what should the focus be?
Back to my picture above. Some may have noticed my excitement came primarily from my interactions around friends and experiences and not so much from sessions. Don’t get me wrong, there were great sessions. But I’m tiring of attending sessions where I already have a solid understanding of the tool and its application, and find the focus in the session is primarily on the tool. I get that many out there still need this introductory level understanding about tools and such, and there are many tools I stlll need low level introductory type information for as well. I tolerate many of these sessions as I walk away (silver lining) with IDEAS more so than how to use a tool. I really enjoy seeing actual student samples best.
This Edcamp logo brings to mind a new kind of conference that largely my contacts seem to be unfamiliar with. Edcamp is an unconference type event. It is called an “unconference” because by and large it is unscheduled until the attendees (in this case educators) come together and decide on the topics for the conversations that will happen. There is no promise of presentations that take place in a room with a projector and a screen, but rather the promise of solid pedagogical sharing of ideas through interest where ever is convenient at the site. The sessions will be focused on those conversations instead. South Carolina is having one September 7. The focus of EdCamps I’m familiar with tend to center on “the right answers” as shown at the beginning of this post above. Plan to join me in Rock Hill September 7, 2013 at Sullivan Middle School, for our state’s opportunity (EdCampSC) okay? You won’t be disappointed.