This past month I attended an international education convention. There were 63 keynote presentations and 370 sessions from 62 countries. How many different people attended for at least part of the week? 15,028! The total number of session hours (people attending X time in session)—8,372! I met a scientist who studies polar bears with a webcam showing two males frolicking in real time as he spoke! I attended sessions by prominent educators with global themes, leaders in their fields. I met some new people who share interests with me. And I did all of this without leaving my home!!!!! How? It was the first online conference of its kind—The Global Education Conference and it is a glimpse into the future.
All you needed to attend was a computer and access to the internet. The platform for the conference was Elluminate, which allows individual attendees to participate in the sessions and, best of all, records all of them. Staging this conference was an enormous undertaking, the brainchild of Steve Hargadon and Lucy Gray. They produced the conference with the help of over ninety partner organizations and 219 volunteer moderators. Amazingly, it was FREE!
Web 2.0 technology means you can participate from anywhere. I felt that it was very important for Ink Think Tank, to be a presence at this conference. Since the theme of the conference was globally-connected education activities and initiatives two of our authors, Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and April Pulley Sayre, discussed how to cherish nature and the planet. Their session was called, “Everything Is Connected,” and they presented with Dorothy in Hawaii and April in Indiana. I few of us attended the session from our various locations. All I can say is that they did us proud! Their presentation was a perfect follow-up to Steven Amstrup’s earlier session describing the plight of the polar bears that are the “canary in the coal mine” alerting us to the perils of global warming. And if you’re interested in what education needs for the future, I strongly recommend tuning into Dr. Howie DiBlasi speaking on Education, Innovation and Creativity. [Note: to view these sessions you have to download Elluminate software, which runs on Java. (It comes up automatically when you click "play" on the session.) If your cookies are blocked, it will ask you to allow it to be downloaded. I had no problem doing this repeatedly. Also, it takes a few minutes to load a session, so be patient.] The conference website is up permanently and if you click on “Sessions” on the homepage you can see the threads and descriptions to find sessions that interest you. Then you can go to the Recordings page to listen. Not only will you hear some terrific people but you’ll become familiar with the possibilities of net 2.0 for professional development and for students.
I sat in on a number of sessions and went through the catalog carefully. Interestingly there was almost nothing on reading materials for the classroom. There were many sessions about collaborations between students of different countries. At the sessions I attended, I asked the presenters specific questions about what they gave their students to read about the countries they were interacting with. I discovered that it doesn’t occur to them to give their students anything to read besides the assigned textbook (which I was reminded would soon be digital) or magazines. Several presenters had no clue that nonfiction literature for kids even existed!!! (They know about it now :-).) I did find one presenter (Dr.Cris Crissman) who conducts a book club for her graduate students in education on children’s literature (mostly fiction) in Second Life, an online virtual game. We “met” at the conference and followed up later when she gave me a tutorial in Second Life where my Avatar, Vicki Lamplight, chatted with hers, 2B Writer. Avatars can chat via message or audio. (We did both). I am literally entering another world.
At the beginning of each session of the Global Ed conference, the moderator put up a graphic of a map of the world. Attendees could put a dot on the map to show where we each lived. It was extraordinary to watch flashing dots appear all over the world and to be able to hear people speak in real time as if they were in the room with you. As you might imagine, a lot of the sessions were on technology and on collaboration between people all over the globe. It was about possibilities that still have to develop. This kind of interactive global communication technology is a tool and we have yet to see what its impact will be. I make no predictions but if history has taught us anything it’s this: advances in technology do not end war or poverty or ignorance by themselves and they can also be used to the detriment of the human race and the planet. But they don’t go away. Once the genie is out of the bottle, only those who participate have any influence on its use. I am happy to say that we are part of that conversation.