Instructional Technology Council 2010 Annual Conference

The ITC 2010 annual conference was a revelation for me, and in many ways exactly what I needed to re-light my fire for instructional technology. I first heard of the conference last year when I saw that the Briyans were presenting there, and when I saw that I was wondering why I wasn’t attending. Listening to either one of these cats is a treat, but both is a veritable feast. So when I had the opportunity to come to ITC this year I jumped at the chance, and I’m ever so glad I did. What I have to say first and foremost about this conference is that it attracts some of the nicest, fun, and open people I’ve yet to meet in EdTech. Everybody is genuinely excited to be there, to learn from one another, and to share what they’ve learned. It’s truly a learning community in the best sense of that word, and being a part of that for too short a time—I could only stay a day and a half—almost made me regret having a third child 🙂 If you don’t have ITC on your radar, I think it’s high-time that changed.

The conference started out with an opening session by Jared Stein and Marc Hugentobler titled “Late Night Learning LIVE!” (link to full presentation on Mediasite here). The amount of time, energy, and work that went into this presentation is belied by the the brilliance with which it was pulled off, this presentation was superb. The format of a late night talk show eases everyone into the conference, makes it relaxed and fun all at once, while at the same time throwing bomb after bomb at the audience. When I realized how mercilessly Marc and Jared were dogging the LMS and pushing for alternatives like the loosely coupled approach characterized by Personal Learning Networks, I felt like a chump. They had hit almost every point I wanted to make, but using a format that was not only more entertaining, but framed in a style that allows for the audience to laugh at an important critique. An approach that is,  in my mind, the best way to effectively get people to consider your ideas—comedy is still the hardest and highest of art forms. And, truth be told, most people would prefer a comedy skit to a sermon any day of the week, and therein lies the importance of an experimental presentation like this one that pushes the bounds of how we communicate a series of new ideas at a conference. This presentation was a masterful example of engaging the audience while at the same time challenging them on just about every assumption we approach the LMS with.  So, in short….Bravo!  And kudos to John Krutsch who both Jared and Marc recognize as the originator of this format, you can see him doing the original “Late Night Learning Live!” here.

Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t detail some of the highlights of the session (and there were many):

Jared Stein’s interview with Jon Mott was brilliant. Jon, as usual, eloquently discusses the power and possibility of decoupling the management elements of the LMS from that system in order to afford his campus the ability to explore learning across a variety of domains and tools. Jon really does frame his argument beautifully, and as much as I scream and yell, what he is doing at BYU right now along with David Wiley (and I’m sure many others I don’t know) is nothing short of revolutionary, primarily because they can frame their approach as moderate in relationship to the “LMS is dead” crowd while at the same time realizing a very powerful initiative towards encouraging, enabling, and supporting faculty and students who want to pursue and cultivate their own personal learning networks on the open web at BYU. As for this video, I think it is my favorite of the presentation because Jared’s subtle use of a BlackBoard mug while interviewing Jon is the best kinda of on-camera gag you can imagine—simple and brilliant. You must see this one, it comes at about 11:00 minutes into the presentation.

And then there were the commercials, the brainchildren of John Krutsch, and oh how good they are. I can’t find direct links to them online, so be sure to just watch the whole presentation, the commercials are brilliant.

Up next was Diego Leal discussing how he ran an entirely online course using an aggregated approach with blogs and wikis. He blogged about his setup here—which is impressive—and hearing him talk about the class and the challenges and triumphs was heartening. Being an educator in Columbia, the back and forth about the LMS is not really of issue, from what I understand they don’t have a major, all-encompassing system like BlackBoard, which makes the dependence on a small pieces approach that much more vital. And when done right, like Diego does it, it becomes apparent that our institutional dependence on the LMS for distributed, online learning is most clearly linked to the bottom line: scaling, efficiency and limited effort and investment in the learning design for both faculty and students—all of which comes at a price, on several levels.

And finally, you had an interview with Tom Woodward and I acting like survivalist lunatics offering tips for preparing for the rampant “zombification” of higher ed. This was fun to do, but a bit hard to watch while at the session because it simply re-enforced what I already knew, namely just how much funnier Tom Woodward is than me. We filmed these clips one evening from our respective garages—it was a blast to do and just further proves that their are few more willing to go bat shit nuts for a presentation than Tom Woodward.

I could go on and on about this presentation, but let me stop here to say it was one of the best I’ve yet to see at an EdTech conference, and Jared and Marc set the bar extremely high for my presentation the next morning, and I can’t say I answered the call. But, if I came even remotely close—which I didn’t—it was because of the people at this conference. In particular, busynessgirl, A.J. Williams, Dr. Donagee, Howard Beattie, Hannah, and several others whom I hope someone helps me fill in the details for in the comments. I’d like to give everyone credit because these folks made my presentation.  In short, the night before my presentation busynessgirl approached me and asked if I would be interested in having a choir for my Sunday morning sermon. I initially thought she was kidding, but it turns out she was dead serious. She recruited more than 10 people to actually march through the ballroom during my presentation and sing “I saw the light.” And for me, that made my talk (it as all downhill from there) and it captures what was so excellent about the ITC conference, the participants were not afraid to have a lot of fun. I talked about the coming reality of an educations based on small pieces loosely joined, and as usual built my presentation on the back of UMW’s finest faculty. Here’s a clip Barry Dahl took of the first 8 minutes of the presentation, which is pretty much all you need, and for an even more abbreviated version go to minute 4 for the stars of this talk: the EdTech choir.

As I mentioned already, it was depressing to leave the conference as soon as I did, and I really only got to see the grand debate and bits and pieces of various presentations on Sunday. I spent most of the time talking with folks in the hallways and finally sitting down and rapping at some length with Nancy White, who is a complete gem and has an uncanny ability to make you look closer at yourself and think hard about what it is we are doing in the field of edtech—even though she wouldn’t call it that. I finally got to see first-hand Nancy work her magic, and it’s no surprise why she is valued so dearly by so many. We talked about a range of things, but one of the issues that came up that has me thinking about things is the “massification” of education (Nancy’s term), the idea that increasingly we are seeing a push for open access to content across wide regions of the world without necessarily considering the ways in which the resources can be facilitated around specific, localized networks of learning. I think this is where Nancy’s ideas and practice with facilitation and community begin to dovetail nicely with Siemens and Downes‘ example of the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) on Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Course. I’m beginning to connect more dots in this field after finally “connecting” with Nancy, and I’m feeling re-invigorated as a result. We all share concerns about turning open access to open educational resources into feeding lots of taylorized education (thank you for the metaphor, Gardner) rather than powerful examples of how we might harness complex networks of connections to start re-imagining the future of education that is open, affordable (if not free), and provides a sense of quality that is not germane to a resource as much as to a series of relationships around a resource, therein repositioning the idea of quality that all to often is associated with a material rather than the thought and ideas around it.
Image of Nacy White at ITC10
Image credit: Barry D’s “ITC10 FtWorth 010”

And while I didn’t see Nancy’s presentation in-person, I did watch it soon after it was published and her presentation beautifully models the introduction and facilitation of a new tool, watch how she masterfully and gently introduces Twitter in the first 10 minutes of her presentation at ITC10—so much to learn from her. And the way she uses Twitter to consciously break the wall between presenter and audience is extremely impressive, refocusing the idea of the speaker to a facilitator of a group of 300 attendees through a distributed tool such as Twitter—which becomes a lens through which to talk about and at the same time visualize the changing nature of networks using what she calls a “safe-fail experiment”—small experiments like a presentation that allows us to see what works and what doesn’t work. And more than that, she pushes back on the blogo-centric logic of my discussion, suggesting the “me” and the “we” need to dance between old and new structures, and experiment and explore the “me” associated with blogs as well as the “we” associated with wikis, forums, and even twitter. A discussion that links me back to John Maxwell‘s talk at OpenEd 09, wherein he brings into question the blogo-centric logic I’ve been promoting for a few years now—as have many others—by thinking about how the social creation of knowledge through wikis is a skill that in many ways challenges some of our assumptions about the primacy of the individual in all modes of writing and learning.

As you can see, this conference was as powerful for me as it was because I cam away questioning and re-thinking a number of my assumptions, and I have to thank Barry Dahl particularly for recommending me to speak at ITC 10, and Christina Mullins for being so cool in making the trip possible for me. Until Florida next year for ITC 11….

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18 Responses to Instructional Technology Council 2010 Annual Conference

  1. Nancy White says:

    Jim, it was so great to hang out with you and the ITC10 gang in Ft Worth. It was particularly wonderful to both see the ‘persona” – the greatest artist in N. America in action – as well as get to have a great conversation with the human being behind the persona – to gain an even greater appreciation for both your insight and your range. I say “continue to liberate and let both shine and shine and shine!!!!”

    Fab recap and you echo my appreciation of the great folks on stage and behind the scenes, in the chairs and everywhere at ITC10. Methinks they have been pretty darn modest about their work!!

  2. Donna says:

    Hi, Jim…

    Thanks for the great writeup and nice words. I was most anxious to attend the conference and you being a keynote was a big part of that. During the conference last year, your name came up (probably mentioned by the Bri/yans) so I started following you. For a year, I followed you on twitter and could not really remember why. So, after watching your posts for 365 days, I was anxious to meet the real Reverend in person. Your sermon and personality did not disappoint and now I feel I have a lot more basis for understanding some of your posts and your perspectives.

    As to the choir, @busyness girl was definitely the brainchild on that as you indicated. The rest of us just followed her able lead. Others you may have interacted with the eve before your presentation probably included @goamick.

    Cheers and hope to see you at ITC next year.

    Donna (a.k.a. Dr. Donagee)

  3. Nancy White says:

    Oh, darn. Forgot two things.

    First of all, “Safe Fail” is from David Snowden of

    “Massification of education” is also not mine. I learned it from some University Administrators from Africa at a conference last year. As I said in our conversation, it is an interesting concept, both with amazing potential and as well, horrors. Go figure. Everything interesting is like that, eh?

  4. Stein says:

    Coming from such an important American artist as yourself, what can I say in either protest or agreement? Anyway, none of LNL would have been possible without all the generous contributions of you, Tom Woodward, Jon Mott, Diego, etc. Indeed, I better say that the impetus to make this thing go came as much from your crazy-funny Ed Tech Survivalist videos as from the original LNL.

    As for your presentation, I said it on Twitter, I’ll say it again: engaging, cogent, intelligent, necessary. The examples from UMW (and elsewhere) need to be shown. It’s one thing to talk about the future of technology-enhanced, life-integrated learning, but quite another to see it in action. More examples, more experiments, “More of everything”.

    Too bad you missed Nancy’s keynote; it was also spot-on. I hadn’t seen Nancy present before, and was entirely impressed with her style, narratives, and message both on the stage and in person.

  5. Matthew says:

    Thanks for the kind words. It was great hearing you speak. Now that I have seen your blog, I will be sure to continue following you and the great innovations that you are bringing to UMW!

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  7. Patrick says:

    My bad for not pushing through the throng of admirers and getting to meet you in person. Thanks for a mind bending keynote. You, John Krutsch,Jared Stein, Nancy White and Jean Engle are moving at the speed of light. As an extended learning administrator, you’ve caused me to rethink my leadership style when it comes to instructional technology… I need to lead, follow or get out of your way. I need to make sure I’m not the reason that great educational innovations don’t occur. I spent the long ride back to Montana thinking about how best to “de-zombify” my institution and get us moving at high speed on a creative plane. Thanks for the wake up call.

  8. AJ Williams says:

    I am not sure which was the high point of this week’s ITC experience. There are many equal ingredients here:

    Being among The Reverend’s “minion” choir (as coined by @cogdog),
    Getting a shoutout during the Bava talk for my tiny WPMU implementation,
    meeting @jimgroom in person
    sharing in the twitter backchannel during Nancy White’s talk
    thoroughly enjoying myself with Late Night Learning Live

    Stir in all of the other speakers, sessions, tweet up and overall good fun and I have a recipe for some kind of energy food that will get me fired up back at my campus.

    Thanks for the kind words and I am glad you had a good ITC experience.

    Now, if I can only figure out how to get to Northern Voice and OpenEd…..

  9. Nancy White says:

    AJ, DO come to NorthernVoice – and buy your ticket now. They sell out FAST!

  10. Diego Leal says:

    Actually, I was very surprised (and amazed!) after I saw Jared’s presentation. When we talked I couldn’t imagine what LNL would look like. So I wonder if I ended up sounding a little too serious! 😀

    Now, a couple of things about Colombia. We do have an important base of BB users (mostly big universities, including those migrating from WebCT), and the most used LMS in the country is Moodle (Or better, I’m afraid, just a few Moodle tools). A couple of institutions use Sakai, and that’s about it.

    From what I’ve seen (I might be wrong) the local discussion about openness or loosely joined approaches (concerning aggregation, RSS, etc.) is not as developed as what you find in the English edublogosphere. We’re barely discovering the path, so it seems… For a lot of people, using Moodle (or should I say just being on Moodle?) is the “ultimate” experience…

    That’s why I find so encouraging the work you all do. Last year’s OpenEd was something of a final push to me, to jump in and experiment with some of these ideas. So that’s what made LNL so special to me! 😀

    I agree with you that, bottom line, scaling is a concern (a valid one, I’d say) for many institutions. I keep feeling that we have to deploy tools that allow beginners to be part of alternative approaches using the tools they’re used to. In my short local experience, even using blogs is a quite intimidating task for a lot of people, and we have a looong way to get things such as RSS to be “mainstream”. So my permanent question is how to get people involved in this, instead of overwhelmed by all this…

    I still have to see your talk and Nancy’s, but something tells me I’ll be delighted by them. As usual. Kudos and thank you for helping others (such as me) to walk the path! 😀

  11. Chris L says:

    From what I saw from the outside, ITC 10 looked phenomenal. Hard not to with that kind of cast.

    Of course, when I can’t make a conference it turns out to be one of the best ever. That happens so regularly I’m beginning to think the common denominator might be… wait a minute, that can’t be right.

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  13. Jim – just make sure that you arrange for the extra travel for your “minion choir director” for your future presentations. 🙂 maria (aka @busynessgirl)

  14. Jared Stein rocks. Very hard. Have I said that lately?

    And i want to reiterate what he said above and what you guys have done at UMW:


    We are scraping together every last spare minute here at KSC and trying to help people build neat stuff. It’s tough. But we need the examples.

  15. Reverend says:

    You actually give credit to your sources? How bizarre 🙂 Thanks for the clarification and once again I’m still bummed I had to miss your session in person.

    And thinks for the link to @goamick, I will edit this post shortly. It was great to hang out, and very cool to have a fellow Big Love fan 🙂

    The Ed-Tech Survivalists love LNL, and look forward to the next time we can hang out for a more sustained period of time. And perhaps there is a joint presentation in out future, would be a lot of fun :0

    Thanks Matthew, and that follow is reciprocated, be seeing you on the internets.

    A shotgun is always good for “de-zombification” 🙂 Wish we would have met, but I guess this is where the internets come in, let me know here you live online so we can go forth and prosper.

    I couldn’t agree with Nancy more, you would have an absolute blast at NV, it is a holy experience for me 🙂

    Thanks for clarifying the situation with the LMS systems in Columbia, Jared, Nancy, and I talked briefly about this after his presentation and I think I was working under the wrong impression that there was an institutional push for SMLJ given the lack of larger LMS at the big institutions, my bad.

    And your points about the continued marginalization of RSS and the intimidation factor with blogs, and that where the fight seems to live. But given Facebook now owns the patent to News Feeds, none of this may be an issue 🙂

    I would like to indulge you here, but given I saw your presentation from afar along side Scott Leslie and Brian Lamb at TTIX, I think that’s a fine example to prove you wrong 🙂

    I want to thank you for being the ringleader, and making my presentation. You rule, and I am working with my agent to put you on contract so you can travel with me regularly. Your people will here from my people soon 🙂

    It struck me when Jared talked about the core of the presentation being examples, I almost take the innumerable examples we have at UMW Blogs for example, and givn so many find it useful, I think I need to do more with these. And put my head more squarely back in the RSS feed 🙂 Plus, you’ll soon firsthand get to see some many of the UWM folks behind my fire and brimstone work their magic.

  16. Sounds like another great conference. Except better with Bava.

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  18. Rachel Smith says:

    I can’t tell you how sorry I am to have missed a presentation that, in your words, made YOU feel like a chump. Since you set such a high bar for presenters anyway, it must have been truly amazing. Maybe next year…

    BTW, I like to call them the Br*ans, but your solution is also very elegant.

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