or: My First Ed-Tech Conference
also: My Last Ed-Tech Conference
I'm back now from the Innovative Learning Conference in San Jose, CA. When I first bumped into Alice Mercer, she said, "This doesn't seem like your kind of thing." She's either right, and I'm just the wrong person for ILC, or else ILC should have stepped its game up in a lot of ways. Obviously, I'm biased toward the latter. Either way, I shouldn't have missed class time for this.
Therefore, a brief preface of ILC's good stuff and then my best advice for the presenters there. If you're reading this and you presented at ILC, obviously I'm not talking about you, or your session, etc., and hopefully you all realize by now that I reserve my harshest criticism for myself.
It was nice meeting Collette, Rushton, Alice, Gail, and some other folks; CUE organized the conference well, with the right number of sessions per day (five) at the right length (an hour, though some presenters didn't earn ten minutes); the catered lunch was fine, just fine.
In order to earn one seat-hour from a few dozen people, your presentation needs either:
- a compelling personality behind it;
- expertise, the sort of expertise DFW wrote about, the kind that has such a tight conceptual grasp, it can explain itself from any side, from any angle, from a macro- or microscopic lens;
- a compelling narrative, something with an antagonist, with obstacles to overcome, even if they're just stubborn network administrators; this is why I pinned my talk on math methods (back in the day) to a fictional student and gave her a photo;
- illustrative, complementary visuals; video, PowerPoint, handouts, makes no difference to me so long as they're pretty and useful;
- empathy for audience expectations, the sort of clairvoyance where you know what your audience is wondering, what it's waiting to see.
Fourteen of eighteen presentations I attended couldn't manage one of those.
There was the usual PowerPoint plague, presenters standing for thirteen minutes stock-still in front of a bulleted slide, that flat text often describing a highly visual concept1, those bullet points often disregarding basic mechanical English2.
As a guy who teaches compulsory Algebra to kids who have hated Algebra, I don't see how fourteen presenters managed to blow a scenario where an audience volunteered to attend their sessions. Where the audience is interested in the session (provided the presenter didn't falsely bill it). Where the audience is pulling for the presenter. Where the audience is eager to be dazzled, fed, or inspired.
ILC was like walking into eighteen car dealerships, pockets bulging with cash, declaring to every salesperson, "I'm here to buy," and discovering that fourteen of them couldn't close the sale.
I don't mean to be overly particular but what I saw this weekend was visual- and verbal illiteracy at a high level. I saw fourteen educated professionals put styrofoam on a plate, convinced it was steak. I want no part in that sorry transaction. I want to produce and consume the best I can while I still can.
I'm speaking at CMC-North in Monterey this December on how not to ruin entire classes with visual illiteracy. I realize it'll serve me right to have some punk kid out there in the audience, snarking about me on his blog and on Twitter.
All I can do is hold myself to this same standard.
If you're cool with some profanity and if you're even a little invested in the state of online gaming, check out this presentation from NY Tech Meet-Up. It did more to inspire, educate, and illustrate in five minutes and change than did the median presentation at ILC 2008.