I am sitting in the lobby of my hotel in San Antonio, waiting for the shuttle to take me back to the airport. For the first time since I arrived here, I am sitting at a full keyboard to write instead of frantically thumbing words into my iPhone keyboard. Here in the lobby, I have free wifi access, something that just wasn’t an option for me at the NCTE Convention.
I enjoyed very much having the opportunity to share work that we’ve been able to do with students in my district, as well as talking about the possibilities and logistics of tools like uStream, Mogulus, Twitter, Plurk and many others. The value of these particular tools, of course, is in modeling and demonstrating possibilities. We have so many options available to us, in theory, and we need to know what the barriers are to access so that we can begin to, or continue to, knock those down.
The Tech-On-The-Go kiosks, brainchildren of Kylene Beers and the product of a great deal of hard work by Sara Kajder and others, were a window for the conference attendees into the world of the shift that Karl and Anne and others talked so eloquently about in sessions all over the conference. Well done, y’all.
These kiosks, too, were windows into the conference for friends and colleagues and network connections of mine via our uStream and Chatterous sessions, opportunities to mix the friends that were here with the friends who were not, at least physically.
But it was just a taste, a frustratingly flighty, teeny tiny taste, of what it should have been. It should have been that we were able to make those connections in sessions and hallways, bringing in colleagues to share and think with as we learned together in conference presentations and conversations. (And, for $13 a day, I could have done so, although paying extra for what should be a piece of the puzzle for everyone rubs me the wrong way.)
I think NCTE is in a wonderfully frustrating place at the moment, looking at its almost 100 years of work and thinking very seriously and strategically about what is next, and how teaching and learning is changing and has always been changing. They are embracing the shift, as Karl has said, and it’s time for them to continue the push that they made this week.
Many of us within the organization (and plenty of folks who aren’t yet members) are willing, interested, and able to help with some of the geeky bits, as the legions of volunteers in the tech kiosks and several of the presenters in the sessions demonstrated. But it’ll take some support from the organization to make that happen.
One thing I hope next year’s organizers are already thinking about is how to provide meaningful wifi access to conference attendees so that we can not just see the possibilities in sessions and at kiosks, but can begin to practice with them in sessions and hallways. My computer, my favorite learning tool these days, sat unused in my bag as I relied upon my telephone and its connections to the outside world to bridge the gulf between myself and my learning networks who, although not all physically present, were here with me, and continue to provide me with questions and support and kind words and pushback. Through that connection and my networks, my NCTE conference, while physically situated in downtown San Antonio, reached literally around the world and all across the country.
More and more, I rely on those networks and those connections to help me do my learning and work. As I argue that we need to provide this connectivity in our schools and classrooms, I would also argue that we need that connectivity here, when teachers gather to learn and to work together to improve the learning we facilitate with our students. Shift happens, but we can and should be helping it along.
Kathleen Blake Yancey, president of NCTE, gave perhaps my favorite presentation of the conference, a stunning mix of image and speech, of thinking about teaching and thinking about technology, specifically the technologies of composition. (I hope that it is soon in video form so that I can share it with you. She has said she has interest in producing such a video, and you need to see what she did and what she said about composition here in the early days of the 21st Century. I’ll share if it makes it online.) Just before she closed, she reminded us all that, “If you are writing for the screen, you are writing for the network.” NCTE gets the shift, has defined it, and is beginning to talk about it in a thoughtful way. I am eager to see how the organization can take the talk of shifts and begin to model through actions what it says is the case.
Won’t that be an impressive thing?
I have enjoyed my time at the convention, connecting with colleagues old and new, and helping them to connect with the wider world of possibilities. I have faith in language and in language arts teachers, in the power of the written and spoken word and all the other ways we have to create, compose and share, and I know good things are coming. I also know, though, that time is short. Let us all be renewed and restored and get back to work. There’s plenty for all of us to do.