Leadership · Curriculum · Lifelong Learning

Hats off to the North Carolina Technology in Education Society (NCTIES) Board on a great learning experience all around! Hey, Friends. I just got out of my third virtual conference in as many months, and I can’t believe it’s already finished–or is it?

As a fellow learner, attendee, and presenter, I love the entire conference experience. Yet, the virtual format is a different kind of ride. Would you agree?

At least three things stand out to me about the virtual conference format. I can’t wait to share them with you here, and I hope that you’ll share your thoughts, comments, and feedback, too. But first, a little context of comparison:

Why I Love Face-to-Face Conferences

I absolutely love the face-to-face conference experience. To me, there’s just nothing like it. Learning from people in person energizes, inspires, and motivates me. Because I invested so much into these opportunities, they’re more than static memories and finish lines; they’re starting lines to extend learning and connections with people. And that is the real return on investment, so to speak.

As an educator, I always wanted to get the most out of each professional learning experience–especially conferences. I would stress to others about the power of preparation: Have you researched the schedule? Do you have every minute planned out? Have you included networking time and connection-building opportunities? With whom will you share and how will you apply what you learned to make teaching and learning better upon your return? How will you be intentional before, during, and after to transform the one-time conference event into an ongoing, meaningful, learning experience?

With so much time, energy, and resources invested into conferences, they can be the gift that keeps on giving. And I found that to be similar in the virtual conference format, too. Here’s why:

The Virtual Conference Attendee

Did you register, yet you can’t attend in the moment? Most virtual conferences record most sessions and keep them “live” and accessible for an extended period of time after the main event. Therefore, if you can’t attend a specific session as scheduled, you can always watch it later. Extending synchronous sessions into asynchronous learning opportunities is a game-changer for so many reasons. As an attendee, I can:

  • Attend more sessions than I’ve ever attended at any face-to-face conference
  • Remote control” sessions: play, pause, rewind, replay, fast-forward
  • Access anywhere, anytime–which matters a lot in pandemic times
  • Dig deeper into each session, embedding my own time to process, reflect, apply, transfer
  • Provide more meaningful feedback to presenters and conference venues over time
  • See (and synchronously participate in) the live chat with fellow attendees
  • Better invest in the moments, resources, and people
  • Extend the 3-day conference into a 30-day conference, for example
  • What might you add?

The Virtual Conference Presenter

When is the last time you saw yourself present? This particular presenter feature reminded me of my beginning teacher days when I recorded myself with the huge VHS tripod and all, and then viewed it and critiqued myself for evaluation purposes. Video is powerful. Microteaching opportunities are powerful. Whenever I watch myself on any recording in any context, I can find a few positives and so many negatives, or things I want to change for next time. Without the recording, my “playback” context is limited to my own memory and any attendee feedback shared with me later.

In the past, I was lucky enough to have a friend or two record me presenting at conferences. Occasionally, the conference venue itself might share its professional recording with me. But this virtual experience was different. Archiving and sharing synchronous session recordings for asynchronous learning opportunities is a game-changer for so many reasons. As a presenter, I can:

  • Watch my own presentation(s) to critique myself
  • Go back to see the “live” chat in full
  • Circle back to follow-up with attendees who wanted to connect
  • See many people who attend: name, location, role, interest
  • See how my session piece(s) fit the whole conference puzzle
  • What might you add?

The Virtual Conference Infrastructure: Board, Venue, Logistics

When you’re face-to-face, you can read the audience. There’s 3D context, situational awareness, and all the nuances of human connection. And there’s also sensory opportunity to adapt your presentation on-the-spot.

How would this happen in the virtual setting? I mean, what about the logistics? In my most recent virtual conference experience at NCTIES (#NCTIES21), Board members were there. Providing strong technology, pedagogical, and personnel support like this is a game-changer for so many reasons. As an attendee, presenter, and educator, I appreciated how NCTIES board members:

  • Communicated with me as a presenter and attendee before, during, and after the conference
  • Logged on with presenters many minutes before the session for tech checks and support
  • Opened each session with a positive, inspiring, official welcome
  • Attended sessions as co-moderators to address any logistical challenges
  • Concluded each session with a positive, summative, official farewell
  • Invested extra in the details, such as pre-conference tech checks, creating and sharing promotional presenter graphics, offered digital badge templates, moderated supplemental twitter chats, and even an asynchronous edcamp on Flipgrid
  • Broadened session topics, including its first Equity Panel
  • Demonstrated courage and flexibility in trying new things moving forward
  • What might you add?

While I’m heart-broken that I didn’t get to see my people face-to-face or exchange high-fives, handshakes, fist bumps, and hugs, I want to applaud NCTIES on their motivation and boldness in providing a wonderful learning experience overall. Needless to say, my expectations were far-exceeded, and, it makes me wonder…

What might the next conference or professional learning experience look like?

What are your thoughts? Comment here!

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