I am in the air over West Virginia winging my way home from my sixth trip to Memphis and Lausanne Collegiate School’s Laptop Institute conference. It’s an amazing event and holds a lot of sentimental value for me as well. It was at my first LI in 2006 that my ideas about teaching and learning – and the role that technology plays in transforming the story of school – were turned upside down by keynote speaker David Warlick. I’ve been back every year since and have usually tried to bring at least a few colleagues from my district with me.
This year’s keynote was Jeff Utecht, who is enjoying a summer stateside from his posting across the western pond at the International School Bangkok. Jeff’s keynote was not just entertaining (which a good keynote should be), but illuminating and challenging. He shared his ideas, asked us to share ours and left us with a couple of questions to think about – why is it (other than the obvious fact that EVERYONE wants to go to Memphis in July during a heat wave!), when we can learn pretty much anything we want from YouTube, that we still gather together at events like LI and, once we know what we want to get out of the event by answering the why, just what are we going to do to meet those ends?
I love conferences. Most of the time I am sharing my experiences as a presenter now, but all that “fame” (sarcasm intended) isn’t what drives me to attend. It’s also not about the sessions (although many are very good I don’t get to see other people present much anymore). What does motivate me to pack a bag, investing both time and money, and hit the road to events are the conversations.
I know that in this day of facebook, twitter and skype teachers can – and should – develop and manage an extensive personal learning network where we can connect and converse using these virtual tools, but there is just something about physically sitting down with an old friend or a new one and sharing a meal or a new idea in person. It’s not even about the efficiency; it’s about the trust. Somehow the professional relationship changes after you have met someone in person.
In a session on managing successful global collaborative projects, I encouraged teachers to look around the room or around their table at lunch to build a network that they can leverage for not just their learning, but their students as well. Most of the most successful global collaborative projects I have been involved in with teachers and students in my district, with schools from Mumbai to Ft. Worth, were born from connections at events just like the Laptop Institute.
Learning from my network online is great. The constant chatter amongst educators on Twitter provides fuel for many short learning journeys, but the real tank-topper – the big high octane fuel truck that fills me up for the long haul – are the conversations and connections that come from conferences.
To all my Laptop Institute friends, thanks for the fill up and we’ll see you in 2012 for year ten!
Photo credit: Ewan McIntosh, CC license, from flickr