Why We Go to Conferences

I just got done with a whirlwind visit to Toronto to attend and present at ECOO – Educational Computing Organization of Ontario. It was a wonderfully run conference, with nary a hitch as far as this attendee could tell. The planning and communication ahead of time and the support team in place yesterday and today made it a great experience. If you can get a chance in the future, I would recommend attending.

One of the things that the time brought home to me is that while online tools are great for connecting educators from around the world, there is nothing like face-to-face time. There is a wonderful energy that comes from being across the table from a person, whether someone you follow on Twitter or not, and talking about topics about which we are all passionate. There is a deep kind of connection that comes when I meet someone that I had followed on Twitter for awhile. These are people whose ideas I know, but with whom I have never shared a cup of coffee. Having the time to share a meal is wonderful. Friendships are quickly born on the solid foundation of trust that has been built up over time on Twitter.

My one funny, and slightly embarrassing, Connecting with my PLN story came when I met someone that I had been following for over a year. I feel very connected to this person, know his ideas and definitely consider him part of my PLN. I pay attention to his tweets when I see them. I ended up sitting at a table with him and a few others. Shortly after the session started, he tweeted that he was sitting with the others but didn’t include me. I made a silly joke about being left out. What became immediately clear was that while I “knew him well,” in Twitter terms, he didn’t “know” me. He did not follow me and had no idea who I was. Truly, there was no reason for him to know me! Like many of the people who follow me, that I do not follow back so that my PLN doesn’t become unruly, he had not made a connection with me. I was outside those he followed.

It was one of those interesting, global connections/disconnections moments. Twitter creates a sense of community that sometimes needs to be tested. It is a great place to meet and begin the connections, but it is really just the starting place. If we want to have a rich, community life, we need to do those next steps – reading and commenting on each other’s blogs, attending online and face-to-face conferences, taking the time to move beyond the more superficial relationships and develop deeper ones.

That is why times like ECOO are so important. We need to make the time and save the money to attend them and to drag along as many colleagues as possible. In places like ECOO, it is possible to learn about global connections and digital tools in a familiar setting that seems to draw many more people into making deeper connections. We can also deepen all of the relationships that get started in other ways.


8 responses to “Why We Go to Conferences

  1. Hi Hadley!

    I very strongly concur with what you have written here today. The face-to-face connections that we make at events such as ECOO and Educon are indeed the necessary next step to taking the online conversations to a new level. The strengths of the conversations and ensuing relationships can be dependent upon many factors, but there is no doubt that the in-person interactions serve to “gel” that which the online chat initiates.

    What you refer to as “my one funny, and slightly embarrassing Connecting with my PLN Story,” I might rather categorize with a phrase that would somehow include the term “mortifying,” at least from my side. As the stupified, unfollowing host-country tweep to whom you refer in your post, I can only offer an initial “out of context” confusion as my only defense in not including you in the update in question. My brain was simply not expecting @hadleyjf from Philadelphia to be sitting next to me in Toronto! While I did find it humorous that our common colleague in Philly commented “Ha ha both of you just DM’ed me!” moments after, I was surprised to find upon checking my TweetDeck that I was not following you, as I am accustomed to seeing your tweets appear in the twitter stream in various conversations. But surprise regarding “your new twitter picture” was evidence to me that I’d not seen your updates in for a while. Significant embarrassment on my part ensued.

    I will also confess that I am aware of three other tweeps with whom I only had an opportunity to exchange the briefest of “hellos” during the whirlwind that was ECOO2010, and I lament the fact that we were not able to create more time for the oh-so-necessary coffee/dinner talk. There were some first-meet F2F’s at ECOO with whom the conversation was extended, but your post here today will serve as a wonderful object lesson to me in guiding my focus for future in-person events. I have no doubt in my mind that Educon last January created some very strong, lasting connections — but extending the opportunity through a re-visit to 2.3 in 2011 has been a priority for me for several months. And so, perhaps, we can share a laugh over this in Philly, and then have a more substantial conversation? Until then, rest assured that I’ve clicked that “follow” button and remedied that one piece.


    • Andy,

      We need to develop the Twitter tool that will connect the people in our PLNs with the conference that we are going to attend, so that we can know who to look for and who is looking for us. It would be awesome to know, in those times, like meals and breaks, who to connect with. There are always going to be those serendipitous meetings, but it would be great to know who to look for. Know any programmers? ­čÖé

      Can’t wait to welcome you to Philadelphia in January! Educon is a perfect place for those kinds of meetings. Again, ECOO was a great conference. I will definitely try to get there next year.


  2. I appreciate this post, Hadley, and I’ve been on both ends of similar encounters. It’s uncomfortable for everyone.

    I’ve been struggling lately with how “real” my PLN connections are. I have lots of “connections,” but I’m not sure how connected we really are. I follow people who share a similar interest in education and make the effort to connect, but then it seems to go nowhere. Or I engage someone, but they do not engage back. The connections that I truly value and that “add-value” to my learning are those that have led to something more…tangible(?) – a Skype call (thank you), a face-to-face meeting, an on-going Twitter conversation, help in the middle of a problem, etc. It’s not that casual connections don’t have their place. They do, but they don’t become transformative connections. In thinking about these ideas, I am now considering a few steps to help me move beyond the superficial: 1) Managing my PLN, especially Twitter and RSS reader feeds, by culling the number of connections; 2) Taking the time to comment more, even when I don’t have tons to add (sometimes a well placed “Amen” is encouraging); 3) Keep tabs on folks and invite folks to connect offline. 4) Spend less time consuming and more time creating.

    Okay, this has gotten really long, but you kickstarted my brain this morning. On a personal note, I want you to know that I value your teaching, your blog, your tweets, and, most of all, your friendship. You are among the few I don’t just think of as a colleague, but as a genuine friend. Come to Memphis! I’d love to take you to Stax and share a meal of Memphis BBQ!

    • Philip,

      Thank you so much for your comment. It was very thoughtful. I think that for many of us we are beginning to move passed the euphoria of making connections with educators around the world and beginning to think about how to make those connections more than strangers passing in the night. It is a challenge, but one that together we should be working on. I too have been trying to enrich those relationships. I am trying to comment on blogs, moving beyond the stage where it is all about my learning and more about sharing. I totally agree that a simply “Amen” works.

      We should come up with a summer PLN roadtrip. Open house in different cities on an arranged route – take the whole trip or just pop in on one or two. 1-2 days with a tour of the town and your school. Then move on or head home. I would love to come to Memphis!

      Thanks again for the comment! We need to keep thinking about this or the whole community could implode for lack of depth and substance.


      • I love the idea of a PLN roadtrip. It wouldn’t even matter to me where we went or what we did. I’d just like to spend some time, break some bread, and let the relationships deepen. It’s not so much that I want a clique, but I just want something more. If the trip ever develops, please include Memphis as a stop. I’d love to show off the Civil Rights Museum and the Stax Museum along with some incredible Memphis food! (You are welcome any time!)

  3. Pingback: Rethinking My PLN « A Retrospective Saunter

  4. Thank you for your post. I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 at the University of South Alabama. I think you made a good point when you said while online tools are great for connecting, there is nothing like face to face time. I agree with this and think it is important that to fully understand what a person is talking about you need to be with them reading their lips and understanding their emotion on a certain topic.

    • Amy,
      Thanks for your comment. I think with the tools that we have today, it is possible to never actually be in the same room with someone to connect on a rich level. With Skype, it is possible to develop relationships that never would have existed before. One way or another, there is a level of connection that comes from hearing a person’s voice and seeing their face. Now we can have more face-to-face relationships with people we aren’t in the same room with.

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