I love learning. I used to love professional conference too – mostly because they were a great place to learn. But, last weekend, at our regional teacher’s conference (ETC), I made a realization, well two, realizations:
1. I get more relevant, interesting, and informative information via my PLN than I could hope to get at even the best professional conference experience – and without having to leave the country or spend a cent.
2. For me, conferences are no longer primarily about learning, at least not in the traditional sense of attending lectures, doing activities and taking notes.
Yikes! I guess I probably could have seen this coming. I mean, you can’t get as much exciting and engaging material as I do from my PLN without raising your expectations for a professional learning experience a little bit. But, somehow, before I left for ETC, I was still in the mindset that this conference would be a place to push my thinking, to expose me to new ideas, to put my learning on hyper speed.
What I realized is that I often get better information through my RSS reader and Twitter than I do via more traditional, formalized educational experiences like a conference. While I learned something new from every session I attended, there were a few sessions where I was glad to be able to sit within range of the wifi and go through my reader, finding exactly what I needed at that moment. This wasn’t because the presentations were lacking, it’s just that I’m starting to realize that there’s a limit to what I can gain from a pre-constructed session, devised for a broad audience, about something that might only be indirectly related to my learning needs.
Now, this is not to say that this particular conference wasn’t useful (I did learn a lot about teaming – although I probably could have learned all of that from a book – and saw a fantastic session on developing a classroom community led by my new friends Sam and Chad), or that I don’t think conferences in general are useful. In fact, quite the opposite. Last weekend I realized that conferencing is all about people: connecting, building relationships, finding new paths and solidifying old (or virtual) friendships.
At this particular conference, I had the absolute pleasure to meet and spend some quality time with Keri-Lee, Ryan, Adrienne, Sam, and Chris; as well as see Steve, David, Kendra and Debbie again. I had some great conversations with my wonderful colleagues Jeff and Chrissy that we may not have had the time or the energy for at school. I discovered connections with Jeff and Eduardo, and I’m sure I crossed paths with quite a few more familiar “usernames” as well.
I may not have attended every session, but I participated in deep, thoughtful conversations with people I had just met, about ideas we found relevant and important to our learning.
I didn’t find myself in awe of any specific presentations or the information I learned from them, but I reveled in the power of my personal learning network to help me make connections, push my thinking, and expand my horizons.
So, I guess what I’m saying is that I’m looking at conferences differently now. Like Jeff, I don’t like learning alone. But, I think we can make our conferences all about learning together – we just might not want to follow the pre-determined program… I guess we’ll have to make our own.
Has your perception of conferences changed now that you’ve built a PLN? What about our students? Is this how they feel while they’re in school? As educators, should we expect that students can learn more from their PLN than they can from us?