Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Monorail Blog Crawl: Intentions for FETC 2016

Sometimes I bring my computer to really cool places and write blog posts while surrounded by incredible things. Sometimes, that's just my local Starbucks or my couch, covered by my kitties who sabotage my writing at every turn.

Tonight, my computer and I are on a Magic Kingdom hotel blog crawl in Orlando, Florida. The Walt Disney World resort is the size of the entire city of San Fransisco. It's huge. Only one third of the property owned by Disney has been developed. Another third is set aside as green space, as stipulated by Walt himself when planning for his "Disney World" in the late 60s. That means that one third of the space they own can still be developed, effectively doubling the number of resorts, stores, restaurants, parks and attractions. As it is, you couldn't possibly explore the entire property in a single holiday. In my most recent visits, I've begun exploring areas I've never been. Tonight, I hope to visit the three hotels surrounding Bay Lake, the person-made lake attached to the Magic Kingdom's Seven Seas Lagoon. The best part about these hotels is that they are all connected by my third favourite type of transportation (closely behind Segway and helicopter), the monorail. My plan tonight is to visit the Grand Floridian, the Contemporary and finally, the Polynesian, and write a blog post in each resort.

The first stop is Disney's Grand Floridian. I am currently sitting in Mizner's Lounge, snacking on a flatbread and listening to "The Pink Panther" as performed by a robust live band.

If you're wondering what I'm doing in Florida this time, you've come to the right post.

This week, I have the opportunity to attend FETC (formerly, the Florida Educational Technology Conference, now the Future of Education Technology Conference) as a member of the media. I have a chance to attend a huge variety of keynotes, presentations, poster sessions, discussion groups and visit with other educators and businesses over the next three days. I am thrilled to be here, as I've heard great things about this conference, but have never been able to attend.

Along with Sean "Magic Pants Jones" Farnum, I explored the enormous Orange County Convention Centre (10 000 steps a day will be no problem this week), picked up my press credentials and popped in on some great sessions on the pre-conference FETC Executive schedule. I got to see fellow Canadian, George Couros, invigorate a crowd of administrators with his keynote message of the innovator's mindset (also the title of his new book). As always, George punctuated his points with entertaining and emotionally evocative stories and videos. He deftly ties viral social media stories to his big ideas of passion and innovation and celebrates the successes of others. The man knows how to capture a crowd. In fact, I noticed a member of the site catering staff enter to the room to clear away food and then stand in the doorway, rapt, as George spoke. Some of my takeaways from this keynote inclued:

  • Understand your user to find creative solutions to problems. George said, "Innovation begins and ends with empathy." By thinking about your student as your user, and valuing them as a customer with unique needs and wants, you will be more inclined to empathize with them and find ways to reach, engage and support them.
  • Don't shy away from sharing your story from a few negative interactions. "We need to make the positive so loud that the negatives are impossible to hear," George reminded us. During a presentation to high schoolers, a couple of participants, after being encouraged to reflect live on social media, wrote some awful tweets. George saw them and considered asking everyone to stop tweeting. Instead, he spoke to the students about the power of social media and some started writing positive comments about the impact of his words and stories. So many positive tweets began to appear that the negatives were, indeed, drowned out. This very concrete example reminds me that the "squeaky wheel" can draw a lot of your attention, but not to shy away from something you believe due to negative perspectives or poisonous people. Instead, spread your message, seek feedback and choose what to learn from and what to focus on.

On the eve of a big conference, I try to take time to set some intentions and make a plan. At ISTE last summer, I did this in a poem.

FETC officially begins tomorrow.
My Intentions (some things that I plan to do to get the most out of my time here)

  • Share my learning, live, on Twitter. I have gotten so accustomed to using Twitter on a daily basis, that I assume every event I attend has a hashtag. If it doesn't, I create one. FETC is using the official hashtag #fetc and their social media team is very active, retweeting content leading up to the conference. Because I am attending this conference as media, I am paying special attention to the twitter feed for the conference and plan to interact with other participants, as well as tweet out my learning for members of my network who are present, and those who may be following along at home.
  • I will blog everyday. How many times have I made that promise? This week, I have incredible access to people and resources and want to take advantage of that and share as much as possible. Dozens of tweets each day help me to do that, but a blog gives my brain a little more time to stretch and my words more space to move.
  • I will carefully choose where to spend my time. Unplanned, informal hallway and Blogger's Cafe conversations were some of my best learning moments at ISTE. They remain a priority. However, I've carefully looked over the massive FETC schedule (which is available online, on paper and in app form, for learners of all types) and highlighted sessions I'm interested in. I've taken those and added them to my schedule so that I can head towards them this week, but still be happy to be caught unawares by an engaging, in-depth, surprise discussion.
  • Discerning session selection. I will choose sessions that strike me as innovative, interesting or though-provoking. I will avoid those that are device or platform specific; thinly disguised sales pitches (go ahead and sell me something, but do it honestly!); social media sessions delievered by edcuators without a discernable social media presence; ones that promise "487 ideas in 12 seconds" or any other combination of numbers. I want sessions that dig into interesting ideas and I want to learn from presenters who have a new way of looking at things, share stories and push my thinking.
  • Take care of my feet. When I wake up in the morning or get up after sitting for a long time, it feels like I have skeleton feet. It feels like there is no fleshy padding and that I am walking on sharp bones. I learned that I have Plantar Fasciitis and my feet bother me not only after getting up, but also after walking around a lot. It's really glamorous. Massage helps, so does stretching. Instead of suffering through skeleton feet, I'm going to take care of my dogs. I brought my massage ball and will pull it out periodically throughout the day and roll it under my feet, busting up the bubble wrap feeling that accumulates over the course of a day. 
  • Not worry about being a part of everything. As an introverted extrovert (I'll explain that to you later), being "on" at a big event like a multi-day conference where you know almost no one, is exhausting. If I'm not in the mood for a session or a social event, I'm giving myself permission to miss it. I like to experience lots of things, but I also need to listen to my body and give it some rest when it needs.
  • Puruse my personal passions. Learn about: teacher entrepreneurs; educational consulting; people who have started alternate learning spaces; where thoughtful educators think education is heading in the future and how and if they want that to change. 

My Best Conference Pro-Tips (mostly as reminders to myself)

  • Carry business cards with you. For easy access, stash the plastic sleeve with your nametag on your sweet conference lanyard.
  • A big conference can feel like information overload. Jennie Magiera shared the idea of writing a digital top three list. Create a Google Doc to take your notes for the day, and write the numbers 1-3 at the top of the page. Throughout the day, put your best pieces of learning in those slots. As you develop your ideas, or get better ones, replace them. You can write as many notes in the document as you like (and hopefully refer to them later), but the top three ideas are those that you can instantly see and helps to focus your thinking, remind you of actions to take and give you a shortcut to effective reflection.
  • Have a portable charger. Tweeting, Voxing, texting, using maps and immediately searching for answers of any question that pops into your mind eats phone battery up quickly. Last year, I bought an Anker portable charger for about $40 (including shipping) n Amazon. It's the best money I spent all year. My little buddy has 2 USB ports and about 6 full phone charges. It's not light, but it's very manageable (almost pocketable) and is just what I need when I'm travelling.
  • Bring snacks. This one is very simple, but it is so easy to succumb to conference hunger and chow down on overpriced underdelicious food at a conference centre. With a snack in my bag, I can stave off a growling belly and wait for something that will actually satisfy my tummy and please my palate.
How May We (some things that I am considering and want to find ways to take action on)...
  • How may we use sketchnotes as note-taking frameworks? I sat with a group of educators from Utah today who had printed copies of Sylvia Duckworth's sketchnote about George Couros' Innovator's Mindset philosophy. Remember when people created Power Point presentations and printed out a copy of all the slides (but really teeny), with lines next to them to write your own notes? Though I would now consider those a waste of paper, I really liked using them to organize my notes. How may a presenter create a sketchnote (or any visual model) and leave space for participants to personalize it with their own thoughts and reflections?
  • How may we use participatory audience behaviours from Slam Poetry in presentations at conferences? During the keynote today, I noticed people nodding their heads in agreement, chuckling and making small exclamations, under their breath. At a Slam, people call out their agreement, snap along with the poet when a line speaks to them and cheer at the end (and sometimes in the middle). What would it look and feel like if this was accepted (and expected) behaviour at a keynote or presentation at a conference like FETC? Would the audience feel more involved? Would the speaker feel more supported and learn from the immediate feedback?


  1. Wow - this felt comprehensive without feeling bloated! That's a feat! I enjoy your voice here as much as I do in your book (and in person).

  2. Wow - this felt comprehensive without feeling bloated! That's a feat! I enjoy your voice here as much as I do in your book (and in person).