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Share the Infinite by Bob Sprankle

A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune of once again attending the Building Learning Communities Conference (BLC), put together by the November Learning group. This incredible conference attracts educators from around the world. It's my third year attending and it just keeps getting better and better.

Conferences are invaluable opportunities and are essential components in my professional development. The presentations provide intense immersion in pedagogy and practice. Even just having the chance for the "Face-2-Face" exchanges with other educators in between the presentations fills me up with plenty of ideas and inspiration.

It used to be that when I went to great workshops or presentations, they were mostly finite. By this, I mean that they were confined to a particular place and time with no "extensions" that could be taken away, carried home. Perhaps handouts were given, but the responsibility for taking notes and capturing the essence or the message of the presentation was left to the participant. It was difficult to bring this back to the rest of one's district or building. Presentations also used to be finite due to physical space which puts a limit on how many people can actually be allowed to partake. Add to that the cost of attending, and presentations can further be restricted. There have been many times that I have left a great presentation wishing that my entire school could have been there, but of course, financially, that was impractical.

All of this has changed.

The walls and limitations of most conferences can now be removed with the use of social sharing tools such as Twitter, Blogs, UStream, podcasts, collective note-taking tools, etc. Time and place restrictions have eroded as presentations now spill out across the web and have the potential of reaching a limitless audience.

At BLC09, for instance, I was given permission to record (with audio) every keynote or workshop presentation save one (you can find them all HERE). That means that out of the 12 presentations I was able to attend, I was able to share 11 of those with people from all over the world who weren't able to attend the actual event. I always ask permission to record and respect those who decline the offer. Most people say "yes" when I ask and are extremely grateful for the opportunity. (Stephen Heppell told me that he'd be disappointed if I didn't podcast).

Many presenters record their own presentations and publish them on the web. This includes those who make their living by giving talks, as they recognize that the more they offer up for free, the more it "brings back to them" in future "gigs". The actual conference/presentation in real time will always be the best way to attend; live presentations won't go away. But being able to share in other media extends the shelf life... perhaps indefinitely.

Not all of us can go to every conference. Those of us who are lucky enough to get a "ring-side" seat have the choice of either keeping the experience to ourselves or sharing it. I believe that we have the duty to share. (Check out David Weinberger's excellent keynote, “Knowledge in the Age of the Internet” to hear his thoughts on social/public learning: "give back" or share rather than be a "selfish twit"). Today's tools make it incredibly easy to do so. You have plenty of choices on how to offer up your "captures" of presentations, many that can invite people in synchronously at the time the even happens.

My favorite way of sharing is by audio recording, namely podcasts. I prefer audio capture because then I can really focus on the speaker rather than taking notes in Twitter or in a "live blogging" tool. Due to processing of the audio files, the sharing usually takes place hours or days later, but I personally prefer audio captures because I can listen to the content in my car with an mp3 player. Having the audio version of the presentation also affords me multiple listens and the opportunity to rewind and reflect.

Here are some tips/ideas to think about if you're interested in going the audio route:

  • You don't need an expensive recording setup to capture audio; many computers have built in microphones and you can use a free tool like Audacity to record directly from your laptop. (My own setup is an iPod Nano with a Belkin microphone attached; it fits in my pocket).
  • You don't need to have a Podcast show to record and share a conference. In other words, you don't need to syndicate (with RSS) your audio and go through all the steps of setting up a Podcast show with iTunes, for instance. You can simply host the audio on the web and provide a link to it. (There are many free hosting sites to do this; my favorite is drop.io).
  • Get to the presentation early to get set up. Front row seats or near the speakers ---if the presenter is using a sound system--- are great to get your best recording.
  • Ask the presenter for permission to record. As mentioned above, you'll find most people give an enthusiastic thumbs-up. This is the hardest part of the entire process. Not because of presenters saying no, but because when asking, you want to be as unintrusive as possible. Remember, the person you're asking is about to do a presentation! He/She may be nervous and most likely has other things on his/her mind than your podcast plans. Again, showing up plenty early helps with this. There has been the rare occasion when I've asked permission after the presentation, assuring the presenter that I will delete the recording if they decline permission. I've only done the "asking after the fact" when it was obvious that asking the speaker before the presentation would have been intrusive. (I've never had a speaker ask me to delete the file.)
  • Let the presenter know where the audio will be published on the web. It's also great to follow up with an email to them when it is actually published.
  • If the presenter denies permission, don't try and convince them of all the wonderful benefits that sharing affords. That's a conversation for another time, not right before this person has to go before a crowd and be entertaining.
  • Let people who are sitting around you know that you are recording. I've found that they appreciate this and help in keeping extraneous noises to a minimum. Also, if your presenter asks you to share your ideas with the person sitting next to you, ask that person if they'd like you to pause the recording while they share their ideas. Respecting their wishes to be recorded or not is as important as respecting the presenter's wishes.
  • Even if the presenter is publishing his/her own recording, ask to capture it anyway. Your audience will be different from his/hers and publishing the recording in two places rather than one increases its accessibility to those who weren't able to attend.
  • If you are the presenter and you are allowing others to capture the talk, remember to grant permission at some point in your presentation.
  • Once your capture is published, get the word out (Twitter, Facebook, email, blog, etc.). Let people know it's out there!

No matter what tool you use to share the conferences or workshops you go to, I hope many of the above suggestions help. The rest of us thank you for sharing your captures and the presenters who gave permission. You've given the content an opportunity to live on and reach ears and eyes that didn't have the opportunity to experience it live. Restrictions of time and place have been removed and replaced with infinite possibilities.