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Pearson Learning Executive Forum, September 2012


decade or so ago, working in a private school setting as Lower School Technology Coordinator at University School of Nashville, I forwarded the notion that any of our esteemed faculty and staff who benefited from funding to attend professional development workshops should be required to share what they learned from the experience. That suggestion was never formalized, though I did my best to hold myself to that standard here at my blog. Previous posts as far back as 2006 shared my travels in learning with the world, and the fun part is that they stand as a lasting archive. Here's the most recent addition to that body of work.
Thank you for attending 2012 PDL PreK-12 Executive Forum “Common Ground and Higher Expectations” in Orlando, FL. 
We hope you enjoyed the opportunity to meet educators just like you and discovered exciting ways to reach your destination and tools that will help navigate you toward your goals of higher student achievement.
Your input is important to us! If you have any questions or wish to discuss digital solutions available to you and your students, visit
Thank you again for attending the 2012 PDL PreK-12 Executive Forum! 

Chris Dragon,
Pearson Digital Learning

Last Wednesday I hopped aboard a Southwest Airlines flight with colleagues (also esteemed) Adrienne McNew and James Witty to soar down to Orlando, Florida at the invitation of Pearson Digital Learning to attend a two day conference they were calling an "Executive Forum." I've never thought of myself as an executive, but if we stretch the definition to one that includes one who is executing a program to offer online learning options in a public school setting for the first time in history to secondary (and eventually K-12) school students in Tennessee, well, okay.

The flight was filled with chat, as we, missing our middle Bs boarding group and ending up at the second to last row of seats in the 737, at least were able to sit together. Adrienne, self-professed aviophobic, had told us that she usually sleeps on flights, but our talk was so lively that proved to be impossible for her. This congeniality would set the stage for the rest of our trip. I came back to Nashville more than ever convinced that I am blessed to work in the company of these folks.

We hit some fairly serious turbulence about an hour out, and it was good we were laughing. I don't like that stuff either but I'm glad we had established a light tone. I think the shaking was serious enough that anyone standing might have been tossed around a bit. Luckily, everyone in the plane heeded the pilot's warning and was buckled up. Once we landed, we all laughed when the pilot heaved a dramatic heavy sigh over the intercom and exclaimed, "Yay. We made it!"
Yay. We made it!
We grabbed a cab to the hotel, and wow it was hot and humid. I had to ask the driver for more AC, which he did provide, and we got to the Renaissance Hotel Sea World safely, if a bit sweaty. As we entered the hotel we ran into Sharon Anderson from Putnam County, TN schools, a program which has been around considerably longer than ours (though we are the first recognized actual virtual School in Tennessee). Her group was on the way to a dinner Pearson-hosted for the Tennessee contingent. We retired to our respective rooms and changed clothes, then all met and snagged another cab to the hotel. We almost didn't get into the van, as the cabbie reached back from the driver's seat to open the side door from within but failed to take his car out of drive and only corrected his mistake when we yelled that his car was rolling!

We made it to Roy's Restaurant in one piece, or three, and had a wonderful dinner with lively conversation. Back at the hotel, we retired for what looked like a full day the next day.

I was up early as always and did an hour or so on the stationary bike in the wonderful Fitness Room then hit the whirlpool for a limbering up soak. I intended to plop into the pool but the water was really chilly so I deferred, headed up to my room, then down to registration. The first thing on the agenda was lunch! It was a wonderful meal, and I chalked up my second good meal of the trip. First up, a welcome by Pearson Digital President Chris Dragon, then I tweeted:

Listening to Lee Crockett and greatly enjoying his keynote at Orlando's Pearson Learning Executive Forum
Lee was spectacular. A longtime PLN (Professional Learning Network) contact whom I'd never actually met, this fiery fast talking Canadian--co-author with Ian Jukes (whom I have met and interviewed for my long-running podcast "Snacks4theBrain" ((grab episode 41)) and Ted McCain of Understanding the Digital Generation) served up visions of the future including my paraphrased  take-home from his talk, "In a very short time, anyone who needs to be managed will be unemployable." View a "presentation perspective" and by all means click that link on the last slide to subscribe to Ian and Lee's "Committed Sardine" newsletter. You'll get a free e-book, "Highly Educated Useless People" when you do.
Crockett was followed by Shawn Mahoney, Vice President, School Product Design Research and Evaluation at Pearson Digital Learning, who gave us a very detailed run-down of the ongoing processes by which courseware and curriculum are developed and tweaked for optimal performance. While a bit technical (this is a very smart woman) I found myself building trust in this organization, clearly Ms. Mahoney's intention. I heard a top level Pearson representative speak at the ISTE Leadership Symposium in San Diego last year say "Our online courses aren't very good. They are the best available but we have a long way to go to make them be what online students deserve and need in order to be educated for the digital future to come." This is  a paraphrase, obviously, but I was impressed to hear such candor from a commercial source. Clearly Ms. Mahoney is leading the development of some very good stuff, even using eye-tracking results from test students to drive design for efficacy. More power to her.

Maureen Martin shared some of the early learning offerings from Pearson, including Waterford Early Learning and Success Maker. Though our elementary education work is a bit down the road, I enjoyed the opportunity to learn more.

Steve Bane closed the day with a session on Success Maker, a powerful digital literacy platform for the middle school years and Write to Learn. The intelligent individualization features of the former are fascinating, and you can read more about that here.

Free from our seats, we adjourned to the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) "Appy Hour" in the hotel lobby. My sense was that the assemblage, 52 attendees from 13 states, were pretty over-informed by that time, though we did head over to the Write to Learn station to chat with Steve, where I learned that it can be incorporated into existing courseware as an add-on tool for high schoolers. This platform has a sort of built in Artificial Intelligence which can grade essays, a development I find fascinating and intend to pursue more fully. A student can use it to submit work, then revise that work based on its commentary feedback. Cool as beans.

Dinner at Sharks Underwater Grill at SeaWorld was excellent. We walked over, eschewing the proffered van for a bit of exercise in the warm and humid evening. Once there, we found ourselves hiking deep into SeaWorld to the restaurant, where we gathered outside for champagne and chat (and sweat) by the lake prior to being marched into the long tunnel leading to the restaurant. Dinner was wonderful, and we enjoyed lively chat with Sharon and Jan, a regional Pearson rep before strolling back to the hotel to retire. I tried to read a book and awoke around 4:30 am with the open book on my chest and the bed lamp still blazing. Good enough for that. I got up and headed down to the fitness room for another bout with the bike. I have learned that a little exercise in the morning always makes my days go better, and yes, I'm addicted.

Eric Wagner woke us up big time and here's that tweet:

Eric Wagner wakes us up at Pearson Digital Learning's Executive Forum at Renaissance Sea World in Orlando, FL 

His talk centered around the future of the future, and much like Crockett's the day before, set us up for participating in the breakout sessions which followed with a mindset in that vein. I followed his futurist predictions with interest, especially fascinated with his focus on all things mobile. His description of how GPS and databases collecting personal interests and information would work together in the future to, for example, let you know when you are near a Home Depot where you can pick up those nails you need and, more than that, order, pay, and have the service rep meet you in the parking lot with your nails and a receipt, was engaging to say the least.

Two 45 minute breakout sessions followed, and I attended Steve Bane's on GradPoint, the "son of BrainHoney" Pearson LMS we'll be expanding our use of come Fall 2013 as we wean ourselves off of BrainHoney;  and Maureen Martin's, on Write to Learn, which remains as a focus goal for my investigation over the next few months.

Steve Bane closed things down with a Writer to Learn talk, and though we were all clearly "monkey-skunked" by then (from my late father-in-law: "As the monkey said while having relations with the skunk, 'I don't think I've had as much as I want but I'm pretty sure I've had just about as much as I can stand.'") it was informative and he's such a lively speaker that we all attended, well, attentively.

We snagged box lunches on the way out, and having already checked out of the hotel Adrienne and I camped out in the lobby for a couple hours before heading to the airport in a cab, her to head home to Nashville and me to meet my dear brother Ed and take a rental car to our late brother Bill's family home to spend a couple more days visiting our sister-in-law and our nieces, nephews, and their families. But that's another story. Thanks to Pearson Digital Learning for a great learning opportunity completely in keeping with their tagline, "Always Learning."


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