Extending Conferences — Thoughts from behind the Steering Wheel

I finished my work for the Maryland School Boards Association around 11:30 yesterday, so I spent the rest of the day driving home.  The rental was comfortable enough, though I’m probably the only person in America who isn’t thrilled when I’m upgraded to an SUV.  Under normal circumstances I would have been happy to take the Chevrolet Aveo (tiny and the only thing they had besides SUVs), but with the 10+ hours of driving in front of me, I opted (reluctantly) for the larger car.

A Conference Scene I also had a good book for listening, William Gibson’s latest, Spook Country.  ..and I got more than half of the way through before overdosing on his rich, poetic, deep, and incredibly demanding prose.  Just too much to decode in every sentence.  So I caught up with some podcasts that had been sitting for weeks in my phone.  The one that got me thinking the most was an EdTechTalk show, I think it was 21st Century Learning #7.  They were talking about how to expand conferences using Web 2.0. In their case it was NYCIST, the New York independent schools technology conference. 

Alex or Arvind mentioned Hitchhikr, but this is a very generic, every conference tool that only points to some possibilities.  So here are some ideas that occurred to me, while I was listening to this very engaging podcast.

  • I think that their discussion of setting up a Drupal page for the conference was great, especially as you could draw blogs, Twitter, and probably Flickr artifacts of the conference into pages using RSS.  It’s been a long time since I’ve played with Drupal, but as I recall, it did have the ability to aggregate feeds.
  • I thought that what Jeff Utecht did with Ning for the Learning 2.0 conference in Shanghai was brilliant.
  • In the podcast, Alex and Arvind suggested that merely aggregating every photo, every blog, and every Tweet would be way too much information, and I agree, though this is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • One of the goals of giving voice to conference goers (and classroom learners) is that the focus experience (conference event or classroom lesson) is extended in many different directions, and that this extension is trainable (RSS aggregation tools), and it is archived.  Meaning that you can syphon off content, insight, and conversation for a long time to come.
  • But overload of information is still an issue.  So what occurred to me is a page on Drupal (or Ning or whatever) that is maintained by a conference editor (or classroom editor).  The editor would scan through the waves of content being contributed by attendees, and pick out just those articles, photos, and Tweets, select those that are of most immediate importance, and then feature them, or experts of them on that Drupal (or Ning) page.
  • I think that one aspect of this desire to extend our conferences is that the organizers of many of these conferences are simply not capable, for many good reasons, of putting together these information landscapes.  So another direction is ways that enterprising attendees can contribute.  This is what Hitchhikr is about.  Anyone can register a conference and suggest a conference tag(s).
  • Steve Hargadon exemplified this model of conference attendee structuring the conferences cyberlandscape by suggesting tags for each session at NECC (NECC 2007 Session Tags and Feeds!), an enormous task that was enormously useful, and continues to be useful.
  • The fact is, with a little knowledge of RSS, and access to a free wiki engine (PMWiki), a person could ….. (hmmmm — more later).
  • I think that the ultimate will be when we have the tools for each of us to shape our own extended conference experience by aggregating only the speakers, topics, and conversations that are of most value to us.
  • 2¢ Worth

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.