Saturday, October 27, 2007

Tech Forum - F2F vs. Online

Yesterday I attended the TechForum Conference in New York. It was the second tech conference I have attended in two weeks. The first was a small conference on Long Island attended mostly by Long Island teachers just starting to use technology in their classrooms. So I was anticipating much the same for this second conference. I was happily proven wrong. This was a much larger conference with people from all around the tri-state area, as well as surrounding states. The presenters were not local teachers. They were big names in the ed. tech world. And I "knew" many of them. But more on that later.

As I was driving to the conference, I was listening to a podcast of a recent edtechtalk show. In this show, Jeff Lebow interviewed Sheryl Nusbaum-Beach & Darren Kuropatwa about the K12 Online Conference. They talked about how the conference was going, how it was created and organized, where the idea came from. One of the last things discussed, was whether or not having online conferences would hurt face to face conferences like NECC. Considering the cost (free for online, costly for NECC), the inconvenience (going to workshops on their time or your time), and the drawback of having to chose among presentations for f2f conferences, I came to the conclusion that, yes, online conferences would indeed begin to eliminate f2f ones. And then the day began.

Upon arriving, I grabbed my breakfast and headed for a table near the front in order to get a good view of Alan November, the keynote speaker. I fully intended to ask him if I could record his speech on UStream. (I did, he agreed, and it can be found at When my colleague Christine Southard arrived, we chatted about the presentations and then were asked to leave the room for the sound check. While waiting outside, I spotted my first "celebrity". Ryan Bretag passed by. My heart started pounding. I began to get excited. Of course, I only recognized him because of his tiny little twitter picture.

We were allowed back into the room where I quickly spotted Steve Dembo. Yes, it was his new twitter picture that enabled me to recognize him, too. Thank you, twitter.

So before the keynote began, I make my way around the room. First to Steve Dembo. I introduce myself and he actually recognizes my name (at least he pretended to, which was so nice). Then on to Ryan sitting next to him. And, next to David Jakes, with whom I had spent some of the weekend, in a manner of speaking, thanks to John Pederson and his back channel room. My heart is racing. I can barely contain myself. I get introduced to Gwen Solomon, who I discover is a celebrity in her own right.

Back to my seat for the speech. I start my UStream, send out a twit, and 15 people show up from around the world to view Alan November. Christine sends out periodic twits about the conference and one twitter friend comes back saying he is sitting in the back of the room. We wait until the keynote is finished and head to the back to meet Patrick Higgins and his friend, David Gorecki. Now I am flying!

The rest of the day went well. David Jakes and Jon Orech gave a great presentation about digital storytelling that gave me some fantastic ideas for the classroom (see the wiki for the presentation). Later David led us through a presentation on Google Earth. Again, fascinating. Can't wait to start playing around. I introduced myself to Peggy Sheehy. I won a site license for my school from NetTrekker. I met with some DEN members afterwards for an IMAX movie and dinner. And I drove home listening to the rest of the edtechtalk conference.

But the best, absolute most fantastic part of the day was lunch. Christine and I ate lunch with all of them. David Jakes and Steve Dembo and Gwen Solomon. Ryan Bretag, Patrick Higgins and David Gorecki. Our twitter friends, our chat room friends, our webcast friends. And it was comfortable and fun and exciting all at once. Like chatting in a chat room, only right there, face to face.

So I take back what I said about online conferences making f2f conferences obsolete. I would gladly pay the money to connect with my friends. I think David's workshops were all the more powerful and enjoyable because I knew him. And, as Ryan said, (forgive me if I don't get this exactly right but I wasn't recording the conversation) "Now I will have more vested in the reading of your twits simply because I know you better." And Steve pointed out that, because we meet online, "I know you better than I know some of the people I work with."

So I am working hard to find the means to get to NECC next summer. And forgive me if, when I see you, I point and stammer and stare. I am so anxious to meet more of my twitter friends, my chatroom friends, my PD friends. I can't wait to meet you all face to face!


NJTechTeacher said...

I totally appreciate what you wrote. I teach at a tiny Catholic school and PD development money is zero. I didn't even know about the TechForum Conference until I saw a pjhiggins Twitter last week. I'll be happy to meet people in person someday.

I've only been a part of this for the last couple of months. The connections that I am making through blogs, twitter, and shows like WOW2 really take the feeling of isolation out of the classroom.

It must be amazing to have had the experience you had the other day. I'm jealous in a good way.

Claudia Ceraso said...

I felt so lucky yesterday. If it hadn't been for your presence in my network, I think I would have missed part of the experience.
I must say I like your UStream style. I really enjoyed it when you asked David to approach your screen and contact the chatters in the virtual room. You acted as a connector and not just as a camera or open window to the world. That moment made me think of the future of conferences. The backchannel wants to have a presence in the main room. Somehow, things are going in that direction.

Thank you for sharing those exchanges during lunch. I don't know if you notice, but they could well make tweets, don't you think?

I do not think that f2f conferences will be replaced. We will probably choose where to go with a different criteria. Personally, I would choose places where I can meet part of my Twitter network.

Regards from Buenos Aires,
(with apologies for the length of this!)

Cathy Nelson said...

Okay once again I am going to say this. I am SO JEALOUS!! Hey, I had dinner with Chris Craft Thursday evening, along with many other SC DEN friends. But that is no consolation when I consider the twitter royalty you had fun with. Green with envy.

Patrick Higgins said...


It was great to connect with you and Christine the other day, as well as Ryan, Steve, and David. While I field that question from teachers all the time ("will teachers be replaced by online tutorials?"), Friday proved the power of F2F meetings for me. I just dropped a tweet to that effect: twitter is changing for me now that I am meeting some of these people in person. I have a deeper interest in their thoughts, and their well-being. That cannot be a bad thing.

Steve said...

Couldn't agree more. The more I explore ways to connect and collaborate online, the more I appreciate the F2F opportunities when they come up. Without a doubt, the online connections are getting better and more powerful, but they just can't substitute for talking to people directly.

Oh, and for the record, Ppfpffffffftttt... Yes, I recognized your name! Recognized Christine's too, but not when introduced. It's funny how I recognize csouthard when it rolls across the screen, but not Christine Southard when she introduced herself to me f2f!

Really drives home the point that I need to start making sure I learn the names behind the nicknames as well.

jorech said...


I'm glad you liked the DST stuff. We enjoyed putting it together. And I really had a great experience at Tech Forum NY. I'd be interested to see how you adapt the ideas to 5th graders. Also, I'm working on some more "visual vocabulary" ideas fo help make better stories.


Allanah said...

Even from down here in the South Island of New Zealand we get to meet up with great people. This year I have met and enjoyed the company of Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, David Warlick and Ewan McIntosh- I feel like I have struck the trifecta!