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Is ISTE like Disneyland?

I suspect that Australian teacher-librarian, Jenny Luca, if she is reading this, is worried that I am calling her on the carpet for calling ISTE10, “a Disneyland.”  No worries!

Ian Jukes and others are high energy presenters, not lecturers. There are many styles of communication.

I believe that it was the queen of EduBlogs, Sue Waters who introduced me to Jenny, where-upon I asked her how she liked the conference so far. She said that it was not like the conferences she’d attended in Australia.  She continued, mentioning the stage band at the opening keynote and the speakers she’d already seen, and stated that there seemed to be a need to entertain or to be entertained — that it was almost like Disneyland. Then she gracefully softened her statements admitting that she’d only seen two presentations and the opening keynote and that it was probably a cultural thing — and now here I am blogging about it.

No worries, it’s actually something that I’ve been wondering about for a number of years. First of all, it is important to note that the two presenters she’d seen were Ian Jukes and Steve Dembo, two fantastic speakers, who are both high-energy performers — in my opinion.

I have only recently become comfortable with the idea that this is what I do much of the time.  I perform, and I do not think that this takes anything away from the importance of what I talk about or degrades it in any way.  Someone said once that public speaking is a contact sport.  You have to connect with your audience and there are a number of ways to accomplish this, many of them involving performance.

But I use to worry about it, beginning with a NECC, a few years ago, when Terry Freedman, from England, mentioned that in his country, speakers always left time at the end of the speech for questions. I rarely did this and admitted to myself, a little ashamedly, that I’d not really thought about it much. Sometimes there was time for questions, and I’m always happy when there is. But it’s always after a full hour or more of presentation.

So I started to wonder if an hour (or more) was too long.  But as I’m planning my presentations they always seem to settle on that time frame, an hour, and there never seems to be anything that I can leave out without breaking the story — and it simply goes way against my nature, as a southerner, to talk faster.  The story is important.  I’ve seen too many speakers who get up and simply tell us what we should be thinking and often without any logical sequence.

I want my presentations to run, with a beginning, some fun as background, and some twists for tension and suspense.  It needs to surprise but not be entirely unexpected.  There isn’t anything I can share with you that you haven’t already thought at some point.  It needs to come full circle and it needs to evoke ideas, rather than just deliver my ideas.

I found this video cleaning out my office, and clipped together some tidbits with iMovie.

I worried about my style of presenting when I started working abroad, wondering, Should I lecture? Should I stay behind the lecturn? Will I lose respect if I get out and start walking around? Should I not tell stories? ..or should I be myself?  I am a former middle school teacher and entertainment/performance was part of the job for me, because I didn’t want to scare the tikes and I certainly didn’t want to bore them.  ..and I find adults to be little different. They are typically more motivated (mostly). But we all deserve to have a good time, and if I can make you laugh, or bring a jolt to your understanding through a surprise ending, then I think that’s part of teaching — and I do not feel any less professional in the process.

As for the conference, I think it possibly has more to do with its being huge than its being in the U.S.  When you get that many people of similar mind together in one place, with so much at stake for educators, administrators, and exhibitors and so much kinetic energy being generated by the sharing of so many important ideas — well a little bit of glee is necessary, stirring it in with all that vigor. ?

That said, there may be one more factor that, sadly, is an American thing.  I get the impression that teachers in the U.S. are not held in the same regard as they are in other countries, especially Europe and much of Asia.  We are second class professionals, and unfortunately that has become part of our professional culture.  With this in mind, we do what we can, when we can, and with what ever we can afford, to make teachers feel special.

You think the four-piece stage band was wild.  You should have been with us in New Orleans!


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  • http://jennylu.wordpress.com Jenny Luca

    No worries David! I knew you’d write about it pretty much as soon as the words left my mouth. I see you there, taking notes and pictures and know you’re interested in seeing what you can take away and write about. I think those of us who blog all do that. If your readers are interested, they can visit my ISTE reflection, where I wrote about this discussion with you. http://jennylu.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/iste-2010-reflection/
    Like you, I think my teaching, and my presentations when I deliver them, are performances. I think you move into a space and do your level best to bring your audience with you. There’s nothing wrong with that, and as you say (and as I said too) we all have our own style. You have identified something very different that happens in Australia. As presenters, we are expected to field questions and offer time at the end of a session for just that. I think it brings us to account; if we can espouse our thinking and expect others to adopt it, then we should be able to come up with the goods when the naysayers throw you a grenade!
    We all bring what we can to the table to try and move our colleagues with us. I still can’t come at the stage band and their intros though! Cringe-worthy : )

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      I think that the Q&A is important as well, though I’ve only come to realize that as I’ve worked abroad. As you say, it holds me accountable for the ideas that I’m sharing. But it also helps to grow those ideas, and I often learn something from what people say and from where their questions push me — my own thinking.

      I find that much of this happens in the backchanneling. When I use Knitter (which now integrates tagged Twitter messages) and then go in and read the conversation afterwards, I see the agreements and also the push back — and I learn from that. I respond where appropriate, and I hope that others from the audience return to read or re-read the conversation with my comments. It extends that conversation way beyond the time and place of the event, and turns that conversation into content.

  • http://stager.tv/blog Gary Stager

    The food is better at Disneyland and I will never forgive you for causing me to remember our “band” in New Orleans. I’m having a post-traumatic stress flashback.

    It’s a good thing that the ship literally sailed away from our performance or some of us would never work again :-)

    That said, let’s do it again – this time with practice, music and talent.

    PS: Like Disneyland, ISTE is not real.

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      You had to bring that up, didn’t you. I went out of my way not to mention it, but to no avail. That wasn’t performance. That was more like a nightmare. I think, from n ow on, I’ll stick to what I’m comfortable with, Crosby, Stills & Nash, with a little Jackson Browne thrown in.

  • http://LovelyLearning.com Gail Lovely

    Good thoughts, as usual, David, Jenny, and Gary…

    A couple of thoughts that rushed to my muddled mind… performance is okay as a verb to describe what we do at conferences, however the cautionary tale is that these performances have to have substance as well as “be entertaining”… remember in the 1980′s all the talk about “edutainment” in software? There were best selling titles which were rich in “tainment” and poor in “edu” and vice versa … this happens in the conference world as well… we are dealing with adult learners/participants/attendees and they will vote with their feet for what they need/want at the moment.

    As for questions and answers, it seems to me that most of us would support the need for classrooms to have dialog and discussion and questions and answers flying from all directions, we need to perhaps think hard about how we model and support this as we present/perform/teach/learn. I know it is something I struggle to include in my sessions at conferences as I think it needs to be overt and include not just “back channel” but “front of room” as well.

    The balance is tricky and perhaps a little risky… some people at conferences may want a mix of edu and tainment and presentation and discussion which does not match with my decision or the conference leadership’s determination about my role in the session… and we don’t get “re-dos” or “do-overs”… one shot is it… dare we take risks in such a public venue?

    Just my thoughts…

    • http://2cents.davidwarlick.com David Warlick

      I agree with you, Gail, about the substance. The performance (and I’m still a little uncomfortable with that word) has to be for the sake of the substance, not the other way around, and you have I have both seen presentations that were much more about comedy than helping educators learn something new.

      I also agree about the conversational approach to learning and that we should be modeling that. It’s just that this is a difficult thing to do when you only have an hour to deliver your message. The backchanneling goes a long way, I think. But there is a need to model this, and more extended workshop style work is where that can be done. It’s an interesting challenge.

  • http://www.deangroom.com Dean Groom

    ISTE has many attractions, I agree there all styles of communication and passion. I found the spirit among those I met (largely on the carpet) to be positive and seeking many more answers than ever before. There is a tremendous diversity in both the reasons people attend, ideologies, skills and areas of interest. Personally, I don’t believe – as some have said, that the solution to too much information is more information – or the same information LOUDER. It’s horses for courses at ISTE, and perhaps the format of submission as an ‘event’ leads people to put on a show, if they want to get on the big stage.

    To come to the aid of a fellow Australian, it is a bit Disneyland. There are so many rides and lines, the foods terrible and over-priced, and most of the characters have minders. It’s a great event, and well worth attending, but I do wince at some of the fast and loose claims made. I do believe Mr November referred to Australia as an ‘enthusiastic, developing nation’ while talking about a lack of US empathy with the world.

    It’s a great event never the less, and I am sure that the famous types get a shed load of work out of it, but it would be nice if we mentioned, or thanked the thousands of nobodies that volunteer, sit and chat, swap cards and just help – for free.

  • http://www.6traitswriting.com/ delano jordan

    This is not as it seems because of different methods of communication.

    Source: http://www.6traitswriting.com/

  • http://www.halltraining.co.uk/ Online IT Training Courses

    Teaching is most respectable profession in society. We must give credit to the teachers for what we are today and for our bright future.

  • http://theedublogger.com/ Sue Waters

    Sorry for being way behind in the conversation :( But it’s been full on since I got home.

    Yes it was me that introduced you to Jenny Luca. She and the rest of the Aussies like Dean Groom do amazing working supporting the community.

    As Jenny highlights here in Australia you are expected to leave time at the end for questions. Personally I prefer to take it to the far extreme where I’ll spend as much time as possible thorough out the entire presentation encouraging the audience to answer questions, share where they are at (so I can adjust what I say as I go along to meet their needs instead of what I assume they might be) share their thoughts, ask questions and actively participate in some form. I use a very similar approach when presenting online — more emphasis that I’m facilitating a conversation where we’re learning together.

    As an aside – I’m not sure how the other Aussie’s found it but most Americans really struggled understanding what we are saying. I didn’t have the same issues with Americans that have networked with us online. However, I wonder for most American educators how they find our accent when we do presentations? Maybe I’m too sensitive?

    Was great catching up with you again and thanks for the yo-yo lessons. I must do some more practice before we meet up again!

  • http://www.stajump.com Jerseys

    I agree with you, Gail, about the substance. The performance (and I’m still a little uncomfortable with that word) has to be for the sake of the substance, not the other way around, and you have I have both seen presentations that were much more about comedy than helping educators learn something new.

    I also agree about the conversational approach to learning and that we should be modeling that. It’s just that this is a difficult thing to do when you only have an hour to deliver your message. The backchanneling goes a long way, I think. But there is a need to model this, and more extended workshop style work is where that can be done. It’s an interesting challenge.

  • Laura Ashley

    Hi, I am a student at the University of South Alabama, and as part of my EDM310 class, I have been assigned to read your blogs.

    I have to say, I agree with you wholeheartedly. Conferences without some sort of performance or entertainment value are like taking core classes without any electives. Sometimes we need something to break up the monotony and allow us to express our individuality.

    If you would like to visit my own class blog, I invite you to click here, or you can visit my professor’s class blog by clicking here

    -Laura Ashley

  • http://www.pyxismbizbuilder.info Roger Rollins

    I did like the high energy presenters like Ian Jukes and the other high energy presenters. It true they are not lecturers. We need to embrace all forms of communication.

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