Your Conference Session Is The Appetizer. The Internet Is The Main Dish.

ISTE just wrapped. NCTM wrapped several months ago. What was accomplished? What can you remember of the sessions you attended? Will those sessions change your practice and in what ways?

Zak Champagne, Mike Flynn, and I are all NCTM conference presenters and we were all concerned about the possibility that a) none of our participants did much with our sessions once they ended, b) lots of people who might benefit from our sessions (and whose questions and ideas might benefit us) weren’t in the room.

The solution to (b) is easy. Put video of the sessions on the Internet. Our solution to (a) was complicated and only partial:

Build a conference session so that it prefaces and provokes work that will be ongoing and online.

To test out these solutions, we set up Shadow Con after hours at NCTM. We invited six presenters each to give a ten-minute talk. Their talk had to include a “call to action,” some kind of closing homework assignment that participants could accomplish when they went home. The speakers each committed to help participants with that homework on the session website we set up for that purpose.

Then we watched and collected data. There were two major surprises, which we shared along with other findings with the NCTM president, president-elect, and executive director.

Here is the five-page brief we shared with them. We’d all benefit from your feedback, I’m sure.

Featured Comments

Marilyn Burns on her reasons for attending conferences like NCTM:

I don’t expect an NCTM conference to provide in-depth professional development, but act more like a booster shot for my own learning.

Elham Kazemi, one of our Shadow Con speakers, tempers expectations for online professional development:

I have a different set of expectations about conferences and whether going to them with a team allows you to go back to your own contexts and continue to build connections there. Can we expect conferences and the internet to do that — to feed our local collaborations? I get a lot of ideas from #mtbos and from my various conversations and conferences. But really making sense of those ideas takes another level of experience.

About 

I’m Dan and this is my blog. I’m a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.

15 Comments

  1. Interesting analysis. More and more of my actionable PD comes from incorporating ideas from Twitter & blogs. So, I definitely think a new direction is needed in NCTM Conferences.

    Although not all sessions could be shown live on the Internet, it would be great to have some of them shown live. This would allow people who can’t afford to attend in person the ability to attend some talks virtually. Of course, there would need to be a cap on the “room” and a small fee could be charged. These talks would be the ones that could have Pre-conference mini calls to action. Perhaps at a Global Math Dept session.

  2. Fred Harwood @HarMath

    July 14, 2015 - 5:31 pm -

    I think these are good ideas that will lead to more transformative action/reaction. While true that some will be transformed by something as brief as a tweet, it is more true that an ongoing conversation and then a cycle of posing, applying, reflecting, reposing, reapply, re-searching will be more likely to change practice. I especially like the concept since only a limited number can attend an NCTM conference or even the regionals. Expanding the audiences will allow for more to be included and to give a voice to those who are more isolated in their practice. Tweets with blog/site links are great but sometimes need to be re-sent for those not connected 24-7. Plus! the cool Shadow Con name just makes me want to be a member.

  3. Hi Dan,
    I really appreciate the five-page brief and that you’re paying attention to what it takes to make use of ideas together. I have a different set of expectations about conferences and whether going to them with a team allows you to go back to your own contexts and continue to build connections there. Can we expect conferences and the internet to do that — to feed our local collaborations? I get a lot of ideas from #mtbos and from my various conversations and conferences. But really making sense of those ideas takes another level of experience. The summer institutes and conferences that I’ve been a part of designing these days tries to wrap teacher or even coach learning around student learning, which really changes the ways we engage with ideas. You don’t have to wait until you get back to try things out. Elham

  4. Right off the bat, I’d say you can integrate the twitter conversation into each talk’s website by adding in a live twitter feed for that talk’s distinct hashtag. This would solve the problem of having multiple conversation streams through both the comments section and the twitters. And it would give non-twitterers access to the much richer twitter conversation and perhaps inspire them to drink the twitter kool-aid and get more connected.

  5. I’ve been attending and speaking at NCTM annual conferences for about 30 years and your blog post pushed me to think about (1) why I go and (2) what I hope for by giving sessions.

    (1) Two reasons why I go: I learn from sessions, both from sessions that inspire me and sessions that disappoint or even disturb me. The sessions that inspire me generally confirm my beliefs and practices and extend them in some way. I leave with new tools. The sessions that disappoint or disturb push me to think more deeply about what I do and why. The other reason is that I connect with people face-to-face, including some people I only see once a year at the annual NCTM and others who I meet for the first time.

    (2) Just as I believe that writing is how I work my way into a subject and make it my own (to paraphrase William Zinsser in Writing to Learn), preparing for a talk gives me the same opportunity. It requires me to think about what I’ve learned in the previous year, choose what’s most important, and decide how to communicate. I hope that attendees either will be supported by hearing a talk that confirms and extends their thinking, or will be disappointed or disturbed that think more deeply about their beliefs and practices.

    I agree with Elham’s comment about her expectations for what conferences can do and what is important to build locally. I don’t expect an NCTM conference to provide in-depth professional development, but act more like a booster shot for my own learning. I admire the effort of Shadow Con, and I enjoyed watching all of the videos of those sessions—they gave me a helpful context for their Blog and Twitter posts. And I applaud your efforts to search for ways to make the conference experience more widely available.

  6. I attended the conference and the Shadow Con. Marilyn Burns and I are in the same generation of over-50s or 60s? I, like Marilyn, have always considered conferences as a “booster shot”. I think that is because that is all it COULD be for us. We heard new speakers whose book we could buy. We took notes (on paper!), took handouts, and, if we were really on the ball, organized them when we returned. At the opening session of the NCTM conference, as the people responsible for organizing the conference were presented, I did not see many who were under 35 or 40. There is a dividing age (that is creeping up slowly) between those who have “drunk the Twitter koolaid” (thanks for that great metaphor, 5jkern!) and those who have not yet partaken. Most of us are comfortable with email and posting on blogs, but have not made Twitter a go-to form of communication, much less learning. I applaud the Shadow Com crew for pushing the age divide upwards. We need all the help we can get! There is an amazing MathTwitterBlogosphere out there just waiting for us to jump on the wagon. Now, does anyone want to tell me again how to use Twitter???

  7. Another partial solution to concern a)”none of our participants did much with our sessions once they ended” could be to provide what I will call a “download session”. The idea being that presentations (keynote, regular, etc.) is the upload of information and the download session would allow participants to talk, question, propose, reflect, and connect ideas by talking with other participants. No presentation. No “real” structure, just time to digest the info. The session (or sessions throughout the conference) could be open to anyone, regardless of the speaker that they heard. Each participant could prepare something that they are still questionning and something that they think would be interesting to share. The start of the session could be like an Ed-Camp- ideas, topics, questions, speakers, etc. are shared, organized, voted on? then people get together into tables of 8 or so and talk, exchange, etc. People would be free to move about the tables as they wish.
    I know I would appreciate this sort of session- when I got out of some sessions this year, I had ideas bouncing around my head but “had” to run off to another session and get my brain filled with other great ideas. I could have talked for an hour about things I heard and wanted to know more about.
    I would like to submit a proposal to NCSM or NCTM for this type of session, but I believe it is too late…

  8. Chester Draws

    July 15, 2015 - 5:28 pm -

    The problem with Twitter is that it’s brevity makes it quite hard to give extended thinking, you are just getting going when you run out of

  9. Chester Draws

    July 15, 2015 - 5:32 pm -

    … characters.

    I am not young, but I’m far from tech unfriendly. I run a couple of web-sites, have tried a blog etc. But Twitter just doesn’t give me any intellectual stimulus, except as a means of directing me to more reflective resources.

    I also like to set quiet time aside to do some reading of blogs, research etc to further my teaching. The immediacy of Twitter is not a bonus when the information you seek takes time to quietly digest.

  10. Fred Harwood:

    While true that some will be transformed by something as brief as a tweet, it is more true that an ongoing conversation and then a cycle of posing, applying, reflecting, reposing, reapply, re-searching will be more likely to change practice.

    Chester Draws:

    The problem with Twitter is that it’s brevity makes it quite hard to give extended thinking, you are just getting going when you run out of

    Just to clarify: this proposal doesn’t depend on Twitter. Like Chester, I tend to prefer the space constraints and the conversational pace of blogs. That’s why we were a bit blindsided to find out that, no, to the extent people wanted to talk about the Shadow Con sessions, they wanted to do that on Twitter.

    So Joseph’s recommendation seems promising to me:

    I’d say you can integrate the twitter conversation into each talk’s website by adding in a live twitter feed for that talk’s distinct hashtag.

    I’m obliged also to Elham, Elaine, and Marilyn (quoted below) for articulating their purposes for attending conferences.

    I agree with Elham’s comment about her expectations for what conferences can do and what is important to build locally. I don’t expect an NCTM conference to provide in-depth professional development, but act more like a booster shot for my own learning.

    I wouldn’t want to place an effort like Shadow Con on the same par as continuous, site-based PD like Elham describes. (It will mostly suffer by comparison.) Or to suggest that there is a right way to participate in conferences, and it’s the Shadow Con way.

    But if a participant wants more than a booster shot from her NCTM experience and she wants to follow-up on ideas from the conference, NCTM has a vacuum where they could have a centralized forum. Shadow Con has me wondering if a centralized forum is the wrong premise, though, if our ad hoc networks of blogs, tweets, and emails are sufficient.

    Pierre Tranchemontagne:

    The idea being that presentations (keynote, regular, etc.) is the upload of information and the download session would allow participants to talk, question, propose, reflect, and connect ideas by talking with other participants. No presentation.

    Hi Pierre, I’m wondering if you attended any of the networking sessions at NCTM and if that captures the value you’re seeking. (Love the upload / download metaphor, also.)

    Tammy Dunn:

    Is it possible to have access to the link to ShadowCon?

    Sure thing.

  11. Well played Chester, well played.

    I actually don’t like a lot of Twitter’s constraints. One of them is that it filters out many posts with hyperlinks, so your helpful tweet may not show up in a hashtag feeds. I always run into this at conferences, where I know of something helpful to share, but my tweet never appears in the live feed. I usually end up just tweeting it @ the presenter. It’s a bit undemocratic, and it kind of defeats the purpose of collaborative tweets for a conference.

    Still, there is great benefit and low cost to adding twitter feeds to a website. Maybe scrap the idea of using the feed to replace the comments section.

  12. I always feel a bit like I’m at a 3-ring circus when I go to big conferences–there’s so much going on at once and I’m worried I’m going to miss the big attraction because I’m looking at the wrong ring. I would love to have more sessions videotaped for viewing afterwards.

    I have to wonder though if the attendees for Shadow Con were truly representative of the overall attendees at the conference. The way I first heard of the session was through twitter–I don’t know that it would have really stuck out at me if I were just browsing through the listings on the NCTM website or conference booklet. If others were like me and learned about it through twitter, there may have been a disproportionate number of twitter users at the session to start with which would explain why so many chose to tweet about the session after the conference.

    I appreciate the thorough analysis–I’ve recently joined the board of my local affiliate and it definitely gives me a lot to think about for our future conferences.

  13. I was fortunate enough to attend with a team. We spent a great deal of time going through what we learned and made a plan to share it out and train district employees. My biggest take aways were from Karen Karp’s preconference full day session. It has helped me make a plan for math interventions and what I should do with “those kids.” After any amazing conference I always turn around and try new things, but going as a team has proven instrumental in getting deeper into what we learned and training others. We see ourselves as the middlemen and women between the nation’s experts and our staff.