Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Conferencing with ed tech folks: what's hot and what's not

(cross-posted at BlogHer)

Blog conversations, Twitter, and wet t-shirts, oh my!

Those were just some of the highlights of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (ELI) annual conference, which concluded today. Overall, the conference was as all conferences seem to be: some useful sessions, some not so much--but terrific camaraderie and first-rate opportunities for networking with higher ed faculty, faculty development specialists, and ed tech folks from around the world.

And yes, you did read that correctly: I said "wet t-shirts." Allow me to explain. . .

How not to talk to higher ed professionals
If there's one thing I can tell you about faculty, it's that we have little patience for speakers who are tone deaf to the needs and concerns of their audience. We are, after all, people who are committed to research. So, for example, if you're speaking to a room that's at least 50% women--and savvy, intelligent women at that--you probably shouldn't include a "funny" photo of a faceless woman having her bra removed or a reference to "wet" Unless, that is, you want me to stand up in front of 75-100 people and ask you why all your examples of successful folks in the conative domain (e.g. striving, will, desire) were male adventurers (male astronauts, male pilots--and oh yeah, Christa McAuliffe, who died while striving), while at the same time you included references to women's bodies instead of their minds. And when you tell me gender doesn't matter in this conative domain after you gave gendered (male) example after gendered (male) example, you can forgive me for not being satisfied with your answer. (I'm gratified to all the folks--men and women--who approached me after your session to thank me for asking that question and continued the conversation.)

Also: Even if you are a jaded Baby Boomer professor, you're probably going to lose your audience of educators and educational advocates when you say things like, "We need to stop telling young people they can be anything they want." That's not giving us tough talk. That's showing that, again, you don't get the gender (and race and class) thing.

And if you're going to talk to us about educational publishing in the 21st century, you probably shouldn't use phrases like "damned idiot students." Unless, that is, you want the conference cool kids on the Twitter back channel to ramp up the snark to unprecedented levels. We went from initial disbelief to giggles to abject depression within 45 minutes. Some representative samples:

"I can get published on the Internet, yayyyyy!"

"I got a long tail for you right here pal."

"I can see the headlines now: 'Red Hat Co-founder Stoned at Ed Conference' Twitter stream under investigation."

"There's obviously something interesting about his experience, but he doesn't seem to have prepared to share it with us."

"I believe this man was scarred by this teachers. Badly scarred."

Laura Blankenship hit the nail on the head with her blog post about the divided audience at ELI. Admittedly, even though we all see ourselves as active learners and we tend to be more curious about technology than your average Jane on the street, we're a tough crowd because, as Laura points out,

I think a conference like this tries to strike a balance between reaching those who are unaware or only vaguely aware of the bleeding edge and those who are standing right on it.

In short, at ELI you're speaking to two very different audiences at once. We all care about pedagogy and technology, but we're at different places in our journeys.

How to talk to folks in higher ed
Engage us with ideas. Tell us about your project or program or research, but also let us talk. (Tip: letting us speak makes it harder for us to Twitter about your presentation.) Most of the conference sessions I attended gave participants time to chat with one another about what's going on at our home institutions. A+ to those panelists.

At the risk of seeming self-promoting, I wanted to highlight a session in which I was a co-presenter: "Who's Afraid of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and the Big Bad CMS? A Digi-Drama About Fear 2.0." The session description asked a difficult question:

Web 2.0 tools have the power to transform education. Such a transformation requires that faculty, students, and institutions take risks. With those risks comes fear, which is often unarticulated. How do you tackle this fear and make real change? Join us to face this fear together in a multimedia, interactive miniplay.

You can view the video and Voicethread presentations created for the session by bloggers Barbara Sawhill, Barbara Ganley, Martha Burtis, Laura Blankenship, and me. Following a viewing of the videos, we led participants through a brainstorming exercise. The audience participants generated many fabulous solutions for helping faculty, students, and IT staff overcome their anxieties about the collaborative web. Solutions ranged from offering one-on-one tutoring of faculty in tech tools to, er, ending nationalism. Laura provides a full list of the proposed solutions on her blog. (Thanks to all who participated--especially since our session was concurrent with a presentation by Michael Wesch of "The Machine is Us/ing Us" fame.)

What made this session a success was not only the incredible expertise and insight of my co-presenters, but also the quality of audience participation. If you know your audience, you can initiate lively conversations that extend well beyond the session's time slot.

This session also modeled the kind of connections educators can make by blogging. Many attendees were shocked--shocked, I tell you!--that we hail from five different, geographically dispersed colleges and universities. We were asked how we met, and we all said, "We blog!" (In fact, I first met the Barbaras and Laura at BlogHer 2006.) Like the conference's unofficial Twitter stream that provided an additional venue for commentary and critique, blogging was a unifying thread among many of the conference's most provocative and revolutionary thinkers--men and women alike.

My questions for you
How do you confront speakers who incorporate sexist, racist, or classist representations into their presentations, or who make assumptions that you find asinine? Do you prefer to address the issue in public on the spot, speak privately with the presenter following his or her talk, and/or blog about it?

How can we make the more revolutionary, provocative voices heard at conferences in industries (like education) that can be slow to adapt to changes of all kinds?

tag: ELIAnnual08


Dustin Edwards said...

I agree, I think that referencing women's bodies instead of their minds, and generally being a sexist pig isn't exactly going to propel the educational world in any useful direction. It sounds like that guy should be in business instead of education.

Crimson Rambler said...

Um, dustin, that may reveal an assumption about business, and the people who do it. Trillwing, great question, good on you, we need more "you're not getting away with that, Buster" folks at these conferences.
Back to the business thing -- had to go rent scaffolding for some outdoor maintenance at our church. I explained our needs to the man-at-the-counter, and he said politely, "I'm sorry, but I need to talk to someone who is authorized to make such decisions." I just unzipped my jacket, revealing COLLAR. And before I could say a word, he clapped his hands to his face and exclaimed, "AAAAAAH! Sexist assumptions! Sexist assumptions!" It was funnier than an apology...