Jul 22, 2010
Reflecting on Podstock
One week ago, Doug, Phoebe and I were hanging out in the lobby of the Hotel at Old Town in Wichita, Kansas. We were sitting with Kevin Honeycutt, primarily, but at the same time, we were meeting people I have known for months now through Plurk.com.
We talked, laughed, and there were many folks shouting, "Hey! It is so great to finally meet you!" It was very much like a family reunion - you recognize many of the faces, and you instantly feel at home. And, that is exactly how the rest of Podstock felt.
Podstock (http://podstock.ning.com) is an annual event where educational technology comes to the forefront of presentation and discussion. Topics this year ranged from Google Docs to iPhone/pod/pad apps to robotics to policy. At each time slot, there were up to five presentations along with an "un-conference" session for each slot. Yes, you read that correctly. Unlike many of the educational technology conferences out there, Podstock plays the minimalist card. And it works beautifully. There were 102 people at the conference, which was a great number - big enough to fill the rooms, but small enough that you could meet and greet everyone if you put yourself out there.
The "Un-Conferences" were essentially round-table discussions around a particular topic or topics (chosen when the participants attended the session, in many cases). The breakout sessions had a lead presenter, but in EVERY session I attended, the presenter gave their demonstration and presentation (about 20-30 minutes) and then opened the floor for sharing, discussion, troubleshooting etc. Instead of "attendees," audience members were truly PARTICIPANTS! I know, you are shaking your head in disbelief right now. I can see you. But, it is true! And, brace yourself here, the presenters (or better yet FACILITATORS) were not in the least bit interested in forwarding their own agendas or selling you something they had made or written. They simply led the program for their allotted time (about 50 minutes).
Unlike just about every conference I have been to, we were allowed, nay ENCOURAGED, to surf the web, share in real-time with our professional learning networks (plurk, twitter, blogging, facebook, etc). It was incredible to see (and be a part of) this amazing living learning community. Folks attending virtually asked questions, shared their thoughts and resources and were part of the program without physically being there. In fact, Howie George carried a MacBook (Pro?) around signed into Ustream and streamed several sessions LIVE as the "Virtual Participant!"
I had the amazing experience of helping a virtual attendee with a question about images and Google Docs! It was incredible to be sitting in Wichita, Kansas, answering (and showing how to solve) a question asked from someone out "there" somewhere!
But the learning and sharing was only half of the Podstock experience! Like a family reunion, there was a lot of hanging out, socializing, and getting to know each other "in-person." One misconception held by some of the folks I talked with was that one had to be a "Plurker" to be part of the program or part of the "insiders." But, it did not take long for them to realize Plurk is just one social network we like to use. And, soon, everyone (so far as I could tell) overcame the "outsider" feelings and became part of the 102-person family of education technology integrators! And, of course, with the relaxed atmosphere, we had LOTS of fun!
This was my first Podstock trip, and I felt like I had been to every single one of them. And, I mean that in a VERY positive way. I mean that I felt like I had known folks for years and also made some brand-new friends and acquaintances! On top of that, I learned so much about so many different things! I hope I get to go back each year from now on, and I WHOLE-HEARTEDLY recommend anyone in education attend. It doesn't matter if you are fully integrated with technology in your classroom or are wondering how you could even start, Podstock will give you resources, contacts, and friendships that will last far, far beyond the two days the conference lasts.