I gave my regards to Broadway: my day at the Dell Education #DoMoreEdu Think Tank

10/29/2011 12:00:00 AM

Cross-posted on Welcome to NCS-Tech!

557 Broadway - Image © Google

It's been a full week since the fabulous Dell Education #DoMoreEdu Think Tank in NYC. I'm finally getting around to posting my reflection.

The brightly-lit, colorful, Clifford-themed Scholastic, Inc. world headquarters at 557 Broadway didn't look like the Lower Manhattan education-industrial complex forward operating base I expected. There were no towering pillars of gold, no majestic, multi-story atriums, and heck, not even any Stormtroopers standing guard. It was just a very nice, unassuming, modern office building. Taking my seat at the table with friends and colleagues (some I'd never met face-to-face) and the folks from Dell, I plugged in, booted up and logged on. Eric Sheninger got us started and would throughout the day do his usual amazing job as master of ceremonies. He explained why we were together and what we'd be doing. Bottom line, we were there to talk and listen. Here's how the event invitation laid it out:
A small group of educators, principals, superintendents, IT administrators and community members all interested in and active in social media will come together in person to discuss possible topics such as the move from print to digital, data driven instruction, access to technology and an engaged community in and out of the classroom, learning and collaborating no matter the time of day or location, the benefits of social media in education and the notion of students having more influence over their own learning.
I didn't know what to expect. This was Dell's event, even though it was held at Scholastic HQ. Would there be sales pitches? Focus groups? Mailing lists to sign up for? Product placement? The answers: no, no, no and no.
Dell Education Think Tank - NYC
There would be a series of questions, with conversation facilitated by Eric, and the essence captured graphically by Brenda (I believe) from Imagethink. Photos, Livestreaming and the social media presence were managed by Ryan and his Fit to Tweet colleagues. The whole thing would end up on Storify, too, live-blogged. All good stuff.
 
Major Takeaways
 
Dell did a wonderful job. This was a brilliantly orchestrated, smoothly run, engaging and fun way to spend a Saturday. I (and believe no one else) received no compensation to attend. Other than a light breakfast and box lunches, we had to pay our own way. (Giving up an entire Saturday was tough, but, I prefer being uncompensated for events like this, actually.) The online discussion (what I saw of it) was well managed and lively. I'm amazed so many people took part! (I shouldn't be, my Personal Learning Network colleagues rarely miss an opportunity to learn and grow.) The conversation was excellent overall. Sometimes we agreed to disagree. Points were made passionately but not in overbearing ways. The chemistry in the room was amazing (even if it was 'preaching to the choir' - more on that in a bit). That said...

Future #DoMoreEdu meetings should strive to "get the whole system in the room."

"We're preaching to the choir" is a familiar refrain in the edublogosphere circles I frequent. It's mostly true, though Dell engineered this event so that many people could join in. But (no offense intended to my fellow participants) were the RIGHT people in this conversation? In the room at 557 Broadway and online? I didn't take attendance, but as far as I can tell, we had no representatives of federal, state or even local educational agencies with REAL POWER TO AFFECT CHANGE. Don't get me wrong, everyone at the event was a change agent in some way. And, we did learn some new things, trade ideas, and inspire each other. But at the end of the day, is that it? Are we done? Is there nothing more? I have been a fan of Future Search ever since I heard about it from Sylvia Martinez and Bernajean Porter. I even had the pleasure of spending a morning a few years ago with Marvin Weisbord and Sandra Janoff at their home in suburban Philadelphia talking about the model and its implications for schools. I strongly recommend Dell Education get familiar with the Future Search model and explore how it can be used, specifically within communities where future Think Tanks are held, to facilitate meaningful discussion and more importantly - action that follows it up. As a starting point, I recommend Future Search: Getting the Whole System in the Room for Vision, Commitment, and Action (Amazon.com)

We are the .01%.

Much was said at the meeting about the importance of social media both in the classroom with/for kids as well as professionally for ourselves educators. Still, I wonder. Why are there so few of us? Why are so many reluctant to embrace social media professionally? What are the implications of that reticence for educational reform? I am convinced there is some sort of psychographic explanation as to why certain people, like those in the room, gravitate to social media (and use it so effectively to learn and grow). But what about the rest of the world? Our colleagues? Those on the outside looking in? Let's face it. We are the minority. We are the few educators embracing these tools to advance our craft and improve education everywhere we can. But back in our districts and organizations, does it matter? Are there enough of us? As Scott McLeod likes to say, "Why aren't you having a bigger impact?" Why have these conversations if real progress and change is so unlikely? (See above.) Rather than give up, we should redouble our efforts to prosthelytize about social media in schools - both in classrooms and in teacher professional development. I'm fighting the good fight. Are you?

Never underestimate the power of The Force (a.k.a. Social Media).

Think Tank participant and general girl wonder Karen Blumberg made an interesting observation. It went something like this: before she was exposed to and started using social media, she was "just a classroom teacher." Four years later, she's a changed person, having run multiple successful Edcamps, organized and ran TEDxYouth at her school, and now cultivates international network of co-learners. She's not the person she once was. She's New and Improved. She thinks globally and acts locally. She is FIERCE. Would she have become the person she is today without social media? I don't know, but I do know I consider myself lucky to count Karen as a colleague and friend. Now, imagine what change we might effect if more people got on the bus...
 
Closing Thoughts
 
The Dell #DoMoreEdu event was not what I expected (since I didn't know what to expect.) Let's be honest: Dell is a for-profit company seeking more profits. It's the American Way. I expected (feared?) sales pitches (among other things) but none materialized. What did materialize was a day of sharing, learning, networking and growing that could only have been made better if more policy and local government decisionmakers were present, and, if it happened in my home town. It's all about making a difference, folks. Otherwise, why just go through the motions? Life is too short...
 
Thanks for reading!
 
-kj- 
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