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Online Learning Institute 2012--Reflections

NOTE: I'll clean this up and add some pics soon. Wanted to get it down as my train is pulling toward Ventura, my final stop on this lovely ride up the coast of California. And as I mention toward the end, I intend to do a similar treatment of the ISTE Conference proper. It was stellar and it deserves the same attention to reflection. Bear with me!

Here on the train on the way to Ventura, California, after ISTE 2012 in San Diego, I promised myself I would reflect on elements of the conference that struck me as "reflectionable." Funny, at my former job I forwarded the notion that all teachers/staff from the school who benefit from travel funding should be required to share a report of their trip with colleagues who have not, or those who may have travelled to another conference in another location. This was 'way back in 1996 or 1997, at the outset of the Read/Write Web, and it wasn't so easy to share online as it is today. Heck, today one need only pop a wiki up and populate it, or a blog, or a Voice Thread, or...or...or...

Administration didn't support that notion, and my current employer doesn't require that either, but that cannot stop the sharing addict from doing his nefarious work. Here goes. I'll be all linear about it. No, let's, blog-like, travel backwards. ISTE 2012 through the eyes of a seasoned ISTE/NECC-goer:

1. I'm on a train. from Oceanside, near Telecula (I think that's how you spell it) where I stayed last night with dear friend Lisa Linn and her husband, Steve. I'll be riding all the way up to Ventura, a 4 or so hour train ride, where my dearest friend, Jimmy Morrison (known to his movie, theatre, television, and concert fans as "James Morrison, the actor"), will pick me up and take me up to Ojai, where I'll have the pleasure of staying with Jimmy, Riad, and my godson, Seamus for 3 nights before flying home from LAX on Sunday. I'm sure I'll be posting pics from there as well. FYI my flickr stream from the conference is at the previous blog post, if you want to go visual. I may pop some into here as well.

2. Last night at Lisa's we just sat and talked with Steve and talked, Actually, Lisa and I had each taken a nap once we hit our house and exchanged pleasantries. I think I got around 3 hours of sleep then, which turned out to be a good "thing, since we powered through the final two episodes of ABC's Revenge" on their DVR and were up until nearly 1 a.m. Slept well, up at 7 for an hour long run (well, an hour long little old man jog-jog) through the beautiful suburban neighborhood (HILLY!). We had some gnosh then met Andy/Spiff in Second Life in order to join in on a discussion with an educator (search Hudsongirl and offer friendship) new to Virtual Worlds.

3. Thursday I saw nothing at the conference proper since I had committed to facilitate a round table discussion at this year's Online Learning Institute across the street in a beautifully appointed (if cell signal starved) meeting room there. I ran into friend David Warlick at the crosswalk heading over and he asked me if I were leaving, since I had all my gear--huge suitcase, rolling briefcase, backpack, and REI day bag--with me. I told him I was heading over to the all-day, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., OLI and he laughed and said that he had considered it but there were still sessions he wanted to attend at ISTE. I agree it was a trade-off, and I missed several sessions that I really wish I could have caught, but you know what? I'm pleased with how it turned out.

OLI is a function of EdTechLeaders Online, an online organization providing "capacity-building, research-based programs, courses, and services to enable organizations to build successful online and blended learning programs that meed the needs of their teachers, administrators and students." Their considerable agenda is impressive--four keynote talks, three 45 minute sets of roundtable discussions (13 topics each), and lunch (a really delicious 3 course sit-down meal, incidentally).

My own session was to be in the second group, and I tentative planned to maybe ditch the 3rd round table discussion. Interestingly, by the time mine was over and I had experienced the second open. casual but serious discussion with impassioned online educators from around the country, I was hooked. I stayed the course and I'm glad I did. Look at the agenda, and note (heh-heh) that at the end of each table's information there is a "notes" page where you can visit for more information about what was discussed. I did not get the name of the kind individual (a charter school representative) who took notes in my session, but I'll thank him here and will do so in person if he will sign his excellent notes. OLI always does this, and it should happen at every session: we received a paper handout with contact information with every attendee present. The only thing potentially cooler would be if that sheet had pictures attached to the names so I could match up my visual memories with names and email addies.

Brief notes from the day:

Chris Dede's talk was nothing short of personally validating. Clever, passionate, and funny at times, Dr. Dede has grazed (and graced) my life in several ways. He keynoted my first OLI, 3 years ago, where I met him and exchanged business cards. He was just beginning to work on his EcoMuve project then, and I was producing a podcast for Vanderbilt University, so I asked him if I could interview him for that. He graciously acquiesced but though that interview never gelled, we have run into one another ever since, and I did feature a bit of his Keystone Conference talk in Snacks 15, November 15, 2005. .kept up with him over the years, only to bump into him in a meeting room in Nashville, Tennessee early on in my new work as Online Learning Specialist for Metro Nashville Public Schools. He was part of a sort of star-studded consultant panel for our online learning planning and it was reassuring at the beginning of this current professional adventure that Chris was informing the effort. His clear demonstration of his work both in virtual worlds (built with Unity game engine) and in augmented reality (built with a platform which is to be released for others' use soon, his reworking of the buzz term "lifelong learning" into "life wide learning," his wake-up call to educators that in 15 years every student, not only the affluent, even the poorest child, will be coming to school with a device whose powers and potentials we cannot yet imagine--these things caused me to stop just short of proclaiming "amen" upon hearing and seeing them. Say "Contextualized Learning Networks" a few times over and you can get some feel for where he's going. He even mused whether this set of projects, modified for content in any discipline, could actually replace (or relegate to a support role) the "classroom." The combination of virtual worlds assessment via successful task completion at EcoMUVE,, with augmented reality outdoor versions in a real environment is pretty amazing. All the senses, all the learning styles, all the objectives, all the amazing student work. Beautiful.

The first roundtable session I chose was the one on Open Source for Online Learning. It was a robust conversation with tool sharing and I managed to share Dr. Yong Zhao's new platform which makes use of free and open source tools to power its amazingly facile set of tools. Check it out yourself at Free to teachers, the hosts plan to offer it for 1 dollar per student annually. It's very cool, very intuitive, kind of a walled garden Facebook/MySpace/website for educators and students. With it, any user can create an online course and market it for free or for profit, so there's this very very neat entrepreneurial piece to it.

The second Keynote was termed "remarks" with "Remarks by Leslie Fetzer, SREB/iNACOL National Online Teacher of the Year" and "Remarks by Matthew Wicks, Vice President, iNACOL, Overview of National and International Online Learning. Ms. Fetzer has been at this a while and in fact due to her high status amongst online educators will be moving up into a national presence soon. She is a lovely presence and clearly passionate about what she does in North Carolina"s Virtual School.

The next set of roundtables was my session, and I won't over-detail that one. Just be sure to check its notes page at We shared some interesting points with one another and I hope to stay in touch with some of my new friends from that session. I was pleased to meet Florida Virtual School's Director of Global Services at my table. We will be talking more soon.

The lunch was delicious baked chicken, a sit-down affair where we carried on more work discussion, and I was happy to chat with several educators, especially Myk Garn, Director of SREB, the Southern Regional Education Board. I believe we'll be talking soon as well.

The post lunch keynote, Dr. Curt Bonk, was wild and invigorating. He flew in from Indiana just for his keynote and flew back right after it. He likes to consider himself a bit of a wild man and I'd allow that there is some degree of accuracy to that classification. Over 30 minutes he railed on about the future, sharing tool after tool after tool and reminding me that iPads have only been around 2 years. What's next? Part of his energetic presentation was walking around the room with million dollar bills and handing them out to whomever could volunteer one new word that characterizes a successful online learning environment. Mine was "sharing," which he interpreted as "communication" in his own schema. Not exactly the same thing, but I do have the million. He also tossed out a couple smiley face stress balls and I snagged one of those. Nice. His information, and much much more--does Curt ever sleep?--can be had at one of his several resource-filled websites with the admirable url of I have his card and I'm looking forward to adding his blog,, to my readings.

The final table session I chose to sit with the EdTechLeaders Online group discussing online professional development. This was the money shot for me, yielding as it did a webinar from them for ISTE SIGOL, and also establishing first contact with Intel in the form of Steve Andrews, toward looking into the possibility of obtaining free online learning courses for teachers from them for both SIGOL and my District.

My train is approaching my stop now, so I'll have to wait for the plane ride home to Nashville, likely, to do this same sort of treatment for ISTE at large. With a wildly successful SIGVE Virtual Environments Playground and a wonderful SIGVE EduMachinima Fest, and with one fantastic keynote by Dr. Yong Zhao, and with a potentially game-changing introduction to OBA, Dr. Zhao's new global platform for teachers and students, I'm ready to share. Stay tuned.


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