New Podcast: Why Have Conferences?

The genesis of my latest podcast is the reflection I’ve done on last week’s TCEA conference in Austin, and on some of the Twitter conversations that took place last Friday after the conference ended. The discussion centered upon the nature of most conference sessions, and whether or not they could get past edtech bling and focus upon how we teach and learn. Here is a sample exchange from some folks I hold in very high regard.

Jon Samuelson (ipadSammy) on TwitterJon Samuelson (ipadSammy) on Twitter-1

I share my thoughts on this discussion in the podcast. In Readers’ Digest version, I agree that we need more focus on pedagogy, less on the tools, but I don’t think the tools discussions are completely unworthy of our time or attendance. I’ve ranted against the “list” sessions myself, but I still manage to see a few things that I can use in almost every one I attend. I always try to imagine how the resource might help a student as they work on a project or promote a skill (creativity, critical thinking, empathy, etc.) that students need. I also think we have to remember that effective and desirable teaching practices (in contrast with what we use to teach) can’t possibly be covered in a typical conference session. We can pick up or share small pieces, but real change in terms of classroom practice takes lots of time, practice, collaboration, coaching, etc.

I also share a few thoughts about some sessions on project based learning that I had the chance to attend. Sometimes, you can learn more from mistakes than successes–I’ll leave it at that.

Please take a few minutes to give a listen, and I always relish your thoughts, questions, arguments, whatever!


  1. Randy,
    First a couple of caveats for anyone reading this who does not know me. I am an area director for TCEA and I do judge proposals for the convention.
    I became disenchanted with “list of tools/apps” presentations several years ago–although I have been guilty of doing that kind of session in the past. I have not been presenting at the TCEA Convention for the last several years as I don’t want it to look like my sessions have been chosen because I’m on the board.
    When I present at other venues, even when I’m talking about tools or apps, the focus is now on the nature of learning. You can read something of my views on this here:
    I don’t, of course, judge all of the proposals for sessions at the convention, but I see about 200 of them. I’m always looking for some direct relationship, not only to the classroom, but to solid, well-researched learning theory as much as I can tell from a very brief abstract written by the person proposing the session.
    There is always a temptation to put the stamp of approval on anything that mentions “iPad” or “app,” but I’m looking for something that has real value to the teacher who attends, and especially for math, science, social studies and ELA teachers. I’m especially looking for proposals that allow the teacher to be hands-on with a project, which is really easy to facilitate now that almost everyone who attends has a device in hand.
    I do love getting to visit with people like Randy Rodgers at conference, since our paths don’t often cross anywhere else. I find it much easier to plan for events for the TCEA members in my area at convention as well, since I can often be face to face with great presenters and keynoters.

    • Thanks for the insight from the perspective of someone inside the process, David. I was responsible for reviewing ISTE session proposals last year. I can’t testify as to the amount of weight my evaluations and recommendations carried–that was beyond my pay grade. However, I know I aimed for significance, grounding in research, and potential impact. Fluffy presentations didn’t make my cut. That being said, those kinds of sessions did and will get selected. I think it’s likely that some executive privilege by organizers does get enacted. However, as I stated, I don’t have an issue with that, just as I have no issue with sessions by vendors. Both are important ways to keep the lights on.

      I think the best approach might perhaps be to do a better job of goal-setting with attendees. Just why is this teacher, technologist, or librarian going? I could then offer some input into topics, speakers, or even vendors whose presentations might be an impactful fit.

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