Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Things I hate about conferences

Posted by lpearle on 29 June 2009

For years, I’ve been hearing about the annual NECC conference: all the cool people went… it is the conference to go to for computers/education… you’re going to learn soooo much at NECC… etc. Unfortunately, the timing often competes with ALA’s Annual Conference, and many of us are forced to choose between the two (not to mention forced to try to convince our schools/districts/wallets that we can afford to go to two conferences in two cities so close together time-wise). This year, ALA is later than usual, and NECC is close enough to NYC that I decided to bite the bullet and attend. Expectation levels are, of course, very high… higher than it was for ISE2006.

Yesterday was the opening event, the Member Welcome/Conference Orientation. I’d found Kristin Fontichario as I was heading in to register, and we decided to check the event out together. Luckily, we think a lot alike, so the following reflects one’s comments/thoughts as amplified by the other:

  • The set-up for the room was auditorium-style, with a Big Screen up front. On the screen was an Oscar-style card and Oscar-style music was blaring from the speakers. K and I wondered if ISTE had paid for the rights to all that… and wondered again when a StarWars theme appeared (the music, the opening crawl, the MC dressed as Darth Vader). We weren’t just being cranks, it was honest concern about copyright and fair use and the conviction that we, as leaders in our schools, should be doing the right thing, not the convenient thing. (sorry, Doug, but that’s just how I feel).
  • Unfortunately, the space was not large enough for the crowd, and the Twitter feed had a number of comments from people that were turned away at the door. This has happened at a number of different conferences and I just don’t get it. An opening event, a popular speaker, an information session for newbies (not to mention ticketed events with pre-sold tickets): how do you not plan for overflow crowds??? Organizers, listen up – you’re creating bad will from the get-go when you do that stuff.
  • One of the goals of this event was to introduce ISTE’s leadership. Great! Would it have been too much to ask that these leaders spent a little time looking at their speeches, so as to not appear to be haltlingly reading from their scripts? Or that someone coordinate the scripts so that the same information wasn’t repeated over and over redundantly? It’s a quick, easy way to lose audience interest.
  • We kept hearing about the great ISTE presence on social networking sites – but nothing that made it easy to find them. How easy it would have been to say “we’re ISTECONNECTS on Twitter”, etc.. And there was an over-heavy, over-promotion of Second Life and the ISTE Ning. Now, I’m not opposed to either of those social sites, but I’m not going to go there, either. Why? Because at some point, you have to say “enough”. I read a lot of blogs and other professional literature. I’m on Twitter and Facebook. I’m involved in my local and national associations, and I’m keeping up with the help of a great PLN. And I just don’t have time, energy or desire to add different Nings to that mix (I can think of four that I’m “supposed” to be active on, including this one). There are only so many hours in a day, and I’ve allocated all I can to this thing I call being a school librarian. If that makes me a bad person, if that means I’m not one of the cool kids, well… I’m totally ok with that.
  • While I understand that many attending a conference may not have the same comfort level that I do with technology, that they may be newbies to the conference, and that they may need a little hand-holding, there are certain limits. One basic expectation should be – must be that attendees can read and follow directions. (And don’t throw ADA at me, ok, I’m talking about the vast majority of attendees and not the few that have legitimate problems). If a group of teachers, administrators, technology personnel and librarians cannot be expected to read what’s on a slide, well, I just give up. Kill me now, ok? Yet time and time again, that’s what happens. At this event, to increase audience participation, they had remote voting devices and at several times the MC would say “pick up your response card and vote for…” and then read the words on the Big Screen Overhead. Maybe it’s me, but if the majority of people in that room couldn’t read, education is just doomed.
  • Finally, and perhaps most important, there was a lot of talk about past-tech and future-tech (eg., a few minutes spent comparing StarTrek’s technology to the stuff we used today, or asking how many remembered Atari). But there was nothing – nothing – about assessing technology, reflecting on its use. Technology is not a goal, it’s a tool. Our role is to help evaluate the tools, deciding which will work best in our particular circumstances (Kristin, for example, works with elementary students and her needs are vastly different from those of my Upper School students). To celebrate technology “just because” is doing us all a great disservice.

Ok, that’s a pretty long rant/tirade. My hopes and dreams are that the sessions I’ve planned to attend are filled with interesting ideas, provocative thinking and inspiration. One opening session does not a conference make, right?

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