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Sunday at NECC09--Opportunites for Input

Today at NECC I reconnected with the real reason for coming to these things. It's not the opportunity to present on a topic dear to my personal and professional heart. It's not the odd, virtual, but also real in the "real world" celebrity that my blogs, my podcast, and my virtual worlds networking seems to have brought my way. It's not the food or the drink, or even the chance to be in a distant city--in this case our nation's capitol. It is, in short, the people.

I was talking with Scott Meech and Judi Epcke, just before exiting the convention center for the Metro (subway) to go change clothes for the President's Reception, and in those 20 minutes I enjoyed sharing opinions and insights with them so much that I knew I had to write this post. Much earlier, first thing in the morning, I spent 4 hours with 300 or so of the most influential people in the International Society for Technology in Education. After some very inspiring talks from an invited panel, and prepped by two documents we had been charged to pre-read, we broke out into 5 topic groups based on our expressed interests, from the following field of options:
  • ACCESS TO HIGH-QUALITY LEARNING EXPERIENCES - What role can technology play in broadening access to high-quality, rigorous learning? (Including students living in poverty or in rural areas, learning English, and coping with disabilities?)
  • IMPROVED ASSESSMENT - What role can technology play in developing and delivering high-quality assessments of the skills and concepts needed for college and careers?
  • DATA-DRIVEN DECISION MAKING - What role can technology play in facilitating data-supported continuous improvement processes?
  • TEACHER DEVELOPMENT - What role can technology play in enhancing the professional growth of teachers and improving the effectiveness of their teaching?
  • STUDENT ENGAGEMENT - What role can technology play in promoting the engagement and success of students, including those from at-risk populations? (i.e., the kind of system innovation needed to dramatically improve high school graduation rates?)
I was assigned to my first choice: Student Engagement. Among my colleagues in that group were David Warlick, Peggy Sheey, and Bernajean Porter, three individuals I consider close friends, and all of them celebrated (and rightly so) innovative educators. David has been, for years, telling us many of the things we are revisiting in our deep sessions at this conference, telling us for years. I remember hearing him saying in 2000 that the internet has become one big conversation. How prophetic was that? And how is it that so many people don't "get that" yet? Peggy was just this very day awarded a coveted "pink jacket" as a symbol of her "Making it Happen" award from ISTE. She is fearless and unstoppable, lucky to be supported by her visionary administration and the huge organization that is ISTE. Bernajean wasn't at the awards reception to receive hers, but I understand that she gets one this year, based on her unflagging pursuit of her vision for digital storytelling as the foundation for learning, and for making the products of learning eternally contributive to the dialog in digital formats.

Once we had broken out into our 5 groups, those were assembled into sets of smaller groups of seven each, and the only one in my group that I already knew was Lisa Linn, my wonderful co-facilitator of the Second Life Playground and a longtime friend first from SL and then from NECC. She's an educator in Southern California and under serious constraints that limit her potentials for innovation, and her frustration with that is often palpable. Others in my group included one from Africa, one from the Virgin Islands, and one from Thailand. Another was from California, and two vendor/educators, one from OneText (the First Class email folks) and one from Smart Technologies. Toward the end of the experienced we were joined by a New Zealander. We were asked to pick roles for our group in standard breakout session manner, and I was chosen facilitator. Andrea from OpenText, was the reporter, Kimberly from Smart was the timekeeper, and Lisa reminded the rest of us to speak loudly and slowly for our international guest. What transpired over the next two hours as we pursued our directives to reflect, discuss and arrive at consensus on several topics was nothing less than inspirational.We were treated to some results reported in the NetDay Speakup survey from 2008 then set to work. I quote the charge:
"Imagine that the person who controls the purses strings one level higher than you walks in your office one day and says, "We need to transform the way we do business. I have access to stimulus dollars and other federal funding to invest in technology solutions that will provide along term pay off in improving our productivity and student outcomes. How can we leverage technology to promote the engagement and success of all of our students, including those from at-risk populations? How can technololgy help us innovate and dramatically improve our high school graduation rate?"
We were asked to reflect upon 5 questions, and given 2 minutes to do so. Then we were asked to discuss them, focusing on numbers one and three, and achieve something like consensus on brief contributions to the document that will eventually go to the Obama administration as our organization's recommendations for a National Educational Technology Plan. Wow.
  1. What will the transformed system look like in the end?
  2. What Barriers need to be removed (in addition to having access to sufficient funding?
  3. What steps must be taken to achieve the goals?
  4. What metrics will you use to measure progress?
  5. Who will you cite as examples of progress toward this goal, demonstrating that the concepts have been tested?
The final exercise was for the reporter to use the provided laptop to access a document at etherpad.com. If you don't know that tool, investigate it. My friend Jeff Aganemoni first shared it with me, and it's one I'll use in my computer labs next year. The reporter was to distill consensual group responses. Then each table reported those out and against all odds, it worked. Our report-out was incomplete, but the essential message we agreed upon was there. There must be a radical paradigm shift, at all levels of participation--student, teacher, administration, family, community, and government. We must teach concepts in ways that are relevant to their lives and which encourage and reward students for their demonstrations of cognition through reasoning, intuition, and creativity. New assessments must replace current ones, which assume that it is the job of schools to teach everyone everything, regardless of interest or learning style. NOTE: all of this is reconstructed and essentially inaccurate, as I was too busy facilitating and contributing to take notes, but the bottom line is that I feel we contributed substantially to the document which will eventually go to the Administration, the top one, as our recommendations for the National Educational Technology plan. Do you want to contribute as well? Visit http://edtechfuture.org and state your views. It's got to change. It's "broke."

I'm sittin in a the Old Dominion Brewhouse 10 minutes before the President's Reception and I'm not really up for hitting the 30 minute subway trip up to my hotel to change clothes, then doing it again to come back down and again to return to the hotel after. I do like the DC Metro, but not that much, especially at the end of a long and taxing day. Long in good ways, taxing in spectactular ones. My apologies to the President's Reception, which I'm sure went swimmingly without me.

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