The gem of a conference that was ICICTE 2016

Gorg ICICTE.jpg

Image by Gorg Malia, cartoonist, instructional technologist, and one of the incredibly interesting ICICTE organizers and attendees.

A couple of weeks ago I had the great privilege of being the keynote speaker at #ICICTE 2016 in Rhodes, Greece.  I’ve got a couple of posts planned about the keynote and what I learned from the great presenters there, but first want to share some thoughts on what I thought made this conference a really fantastic 4 days.

I’ll admit to having had a fair bit of conference fatigue for the past few years.  In the past 15 years I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a lot of ed tech-related conferences and the topics, the format, the discussions are starting to make me feel like somebody who has lived long enough to see fashion cycles come around the second time.  Being at ICICTE allowed me to reflect on the good, bad and ugly of conferences and their relevance to our professional development as educators.

Good conferences are about the people: I tweeted that ICICTE was a lot like an international ETUG…friendly, small, and full of interesting people.  ICICTE is a small conference where people keep coming back year after year and as a first timer I felt like it did a great job of a couple of important things. First, it was very good at embracing new people and making them feel part of the community.  This is easier to do at small conferences, but it is also easier to do when there is a community ethos where egos and self-promotion (yes, edtech, we are guilty of that) are buried and every participant is treated as a really interesting contributor.  Second, ICICTE recognized that socializing together is as important as the actual conference presentations, and both activities seemed to be attended by almost everybody. This is especially extraordinary given that the conference was held at a beautiful resort on a beautiful Greek island where there were no shortage of interesting distractions.  There were almost as many socializing together opportunities as typical conference opportunities, and since they were so well attended it allowed new people to feel like they weren’t being left out of any of the alt-conf-socializing that is inevitable at larger conferences.

Good conferences create space for families: Location helps, and obviously Greece was a nice location for a family holiday.  But as somebody who has dragged one of my young children to a conference on at least 2 occasions (and considered it for at least 3 others), I can tell you that there is a difference between a conference that assumes that families will be there and conferences where that isn’t considered.  The conference organizer – the fabulous @npyrini, – has brought her 9 year old daughter to every single ICICTE and she is a familiar and well loved part  of the conference to the people who attend every year and have watched her grow up with the event.  It was suggested to me that I should bring my entire family of 5 to next year’s conference, which is the first time an event organizer has done that.  And of course there were families with kids there, attending the Greek night banquet in old Rhodes City, and milling about the pool and the breakfast buffets at the hotel.

Good conferences have long lunches and good food:  ICICTE provided two hour lunch breaks where we were able to sit together and learn from each other over lunch.  It meant less presentations could be crammed into the day but provided a different kind of space for creating community and connections. I also think it made us listen more – instead of focussing on tweeting every sound bite and showing up but not really paying attention, the non presentation time spaces were really about extending the conversation over lunch or drinks.

Good conferences don’t necessarily have busy Twitter streams: Related to the above point, I really appreciate a good conference hashtag when I’m NOT at the conference.  But I’ve really started to dislike the attention given to tweeting and sharing at the expense of conversing or listening.  ICICTE was one of the only conferences I’ve been at where there was consistently more questions than time after every presentation.  I interpreted this as a  good level of engagement and interest in everybody as a presenter.

ICICTE certainly stood out among other memorable conferences I’ve attended, including the recent  SKIP conference , many ETUG conferences, a few OpenEds and a very memorable CALICO conference.




Ed Tech, you need to try harder: innovators, keynotes, connected learning and connectivism

I’ve become accustomed to ignoring distilled lists of anything these days on Twitter, but the Chronicle article on 12 innovators has inspired me to reflect on my largely discontented reaction.  I don’t dispute that these people are deserving of their nomination, but the 12 best list is symptomatic of what I feel are some disturbing realities in our beloved ed tech field.

In explaining the selection of these 12, Jeff Young, presumably from Chronicle explains in the comments:

We relied on reporting — talking to our sources — as well as people at conferences whose ideas appeared to be gaining traction. We also looked at social-media and blogs. Essentially we wanted to make sure we heard about as many people as we could, so we looked for ideas wherever we could find them.

Here lies problem number 1:  Social media amplifies the voices of ‘experts’, which is both good and bad.  These experts are naturally showcased at conferences, and the amplification of ideas continues.   If you’ve been attending ed tech conferences for more than 10 years you may have found that they are becoming more than a little deja vu.  You may also have found yourself seeing the same keynote more than once, despite travelling a significant distance to another country.

This leads us to problem number 2:  Only 3/12 of the Chronicle innovators are women (also pointed out by lharasim in the comments).  If conference keynotes or plenaries can be used as a barometer, this is actually a fair representation of the gender balance of ‘experts’ in the field.  Which begs the question…why do the majority of conference keynotes and plenaries continue to be far from achieving a 50/50 representation?  I’ve become accustomed to the 1:3 keynote pattern, but a brief tally of 2012 conferences reveals that most barely attempt or don’t even seem to attempt the one.  Yet when I attend these conferences more than 30% of attendees are women.  Clearly this isn’t a case of less women in a field.  In fact, in the 3 institutions i’ve worked at various ed tech roles at least 50% (and in one case 70%) of the ed tech jobs were occupied by women.  Surely this isn’t the exception?

This also begs the question as to whether a keynote should be the most well known, retweeted, blogged person whose youtube videos or webcasts you’ve already seen before you’ve jumped on a plane.  Maybe keynotes should be selected on the basis of interesting but least well known?  Or on the basis of what the person can contribute to the conversation that hasn’t been said already?  Or how about selecting keynotes that aren’t directly in the ed tech field, but whose ideas provide the opportunity to influence the field in new ways?  Why do we have keynotes anyways, since sometimes they seem to distract from the voices of other presenters who have equal potential to inspire?

Update:  Alan Levine has a good post on Flipping the Conference 

Problem #3:  Idea deja vu despite (or because of?) the edtechosphere.  When I read the connected learning post last week, I have to admit it sounded a lot like the well known efforts of the connectivism folks.  I didn’t attend #DML2012 so I have no idea as to whether they were acknowledged, and the question of how this got missed is curious.  However,  interestingly I think that both groups missed each other.  Some of the researchers involved in Connected Learning Research Network are well known sociocultural (activity theory and situated learning) theorists and researchers.  Connectivism, as I and others (Thomas Ryberg, Frances Bell)  have argued shares many  characteristics of sociocultural theories, in particular activity theory.  The manifestation of sociocultural theory or connectivism in practice naturally includes MOOCs, distributed learning models, informal learning models, and undoubtedly other yet-to-be discovered learning models that include connection in some way.  I’m inclined to agree with Tony Bates that effectiveness rather than purpose is the question to be explored, and there is lots of room for this territory to be shared by those exploring it from different orientations.

But where to go from here if conferences and the ed tech social media sphere are becoming locations of idea deja vus?  I’d like to see the conversation really widened to include those whose digital practices lie clearly outside of the usual ed tech field. For example, I’m sure there’s lots of inspiration to be found at the Eyeo Festival which is on my list for next year.  And I will definitely find myself at conferences that demonstrate they can do better than a 1:3 ratio.

TIES 2012 – how to put on a great conference worth jumping on a plane for

TIES 2012 promised to be a different conference when I found out that it only happens once every 10 years or so, which is nothing but unusual in an industry where conferences seem to be happening on a weekly basis. TIES is the third European Conference on Information Technology in Education and Society, and this year’s (decade’s?) theme was A Critical Insight.  I’ve spend a fair amount of time going to e-learning conferences in the last 10 years, and anything that promised critical insight really struck a mood with me.  I find that being critical in the ed tech field is sometimes associated with being anti-tech, instead of adopting a view that a healthy dose of critical can often push the field forward in new ways.

There were a ton of plusses for this conference. For starters, the keynotes were well selected and didn’t represent the usual keynote pool I’ve become familiar with.  The conference opened with Dr. Juana M. Sancho who presented a compelling overview of the past 20 years, highlighting how far and how not so far the field has advanced.  It’s not often that somebody provides such a thorough summary of 20 years of educational technology, and it’s worthwhile to have this retrospective.

I was looking forward to Neil Selwyn, who didn’t disappoint, but I was really surprised by an outstanding Punya Mishra  who was engaging, smart, and had something new and fresh to say (at least for me).  I only caught the last part of the evening keynote Xavier Prats Monne  but a chat over cava and tapas  afterwards was one of the most engaging I had at the entire conference.  Dr. Monne is incredibly knowledgeable of higher education systems across the world, including those in Canada, as well as tertiary, non-university institutions, which is a huge interest of mine.

The conference was impressively blogged by Ismael Pena-Lopez in series of several posts, and there was constructive twitter chatter throughout. Keynotes – mainly in Spanish- and photos have been captured and posted over on the TIES website, which I should add is one of the better conference websites I’ve come across. A pdf of all the abstracts is also up, and since we were asked to submit 2 pages, they give a good overview of the topics without having to attend the conference to get the gist.  The research presentations were solid – mainly representing a Spain and Latin American pool – and totally reinforced my growing suspicion that if I want to be inspired and hear something new I need to get off my continent.

I’m not one to be a stickler for details but the organizers deserve huge applause for the A-Z organization of this conference. Not a single session started a minute late, the wifi and technology worked, all the necessary info was provided…what more to ask, really?  There was a really nice community feel at TIES as well, and I got the impression that the Spanish colleagues know and like each other quite well, which definitely spilled over to the non local attendees.

EDEN research workshop

I’ve been meaning to gather my thoughts on the European Distance Education Network (EDEN) Research Workshop that I recently attended in Paris.  It was my first time attending a European conference, and there was a lot to like. Paris is one of those places that you have to visit at least once in your life, so the location got top marks.  Actually being inside the UNESCO building was admittedly surreal.  The airport-like security to enter the building was one thing, but once inside, the combination of the highly preserved mid-century artifacts and architecture (photos coming) along with energy that only a world organization headquarters can provide made the epic adventure in and out of Charles de Gaulle airport worth the trouble.

I have mixed feelings about the EDEN research workshop itself, partly due to my own inflated expectations.  Research workshop suggests less presenting, more discussion, neither of which happened.  Keynote panelists went way over their time, creating a domino effect that lead to confusion during the workshop sessions, where presenters rushed to get through their presentations at the expense of discussion periods. Some keynotes were also left with no time–I for one would have like to have heard more from Sara Guri-Rosenblit from the Open University in Israel. There was a lot of talking to, at the expense of discussing with (and way too many government officials saying very little in too much time), which lead me to feel extremely frustrated by the end of Day 2.  Plus, this being Paris, and conference fees in the 500 Euro range, I expected a little more quality coffee and snacks, neither of which seemed to be available in any sort of abundance.  On the plus side, the wines from Bordeaux at the end of Day 2 were a nice touch.

The theme of the conference was Open Access, and the big takeaway for me was realizing that many of us are talking about different things when we talk about Open Access.  In fact, one of the keynotes from the US even ranted a bit about individuals not respecting copyright agreements, which had a few of us shaking our heads and wondering whether she’d travelled to the wrong conference, and had me wondering what exactly about the semantics of open and access lead her to adopt this position.  However, there is value in recognizing how vastly different we are, and I realized that perhaps the Canadian in me has lead me to adopt a view of open access that is undoubtedly left of centre.

On the plus side, I had the pleasure of meeting some key distance education people who have made such a contribution to DE that I consider them celebrities.  This is the really nice part of attending a conference in person, and the informal conversations that came with this were the highlight of this conference for me, and are one of the reasons that I’ll attempt to attend the next one.

Some of the sessions were recorded (I’ll try and post the link when I can find it), and the papers are being made available, but only temporarily and only to members, if my information is correct, which seems like a bit of a contradiction in the context of the theme of the conference, and the considerable effort that went into the excellent Six Journals Call.

CNIE 2008

The CNIE conference in Banff was all round the best conference I’ve been to. Great organization, great food, and every presentation was worth going to. I’m happy that many of the presentations I would have liked to have seen are being posted over at slideshare (tagged CNIE2008). The two that I co-presented are embedded below.

Online classroom or community in the making? Instructor conceptualizations and presence in online discussion forums. Abstract here.

Learning and teaching at BCIT: The myth of the digital learner. Abstract here.