#DML2012 – The Experience of Listening. Was (Too Often) All.

One of my takeaways from the DML 2012 conference is that the messages of connected learning have not quite caught up yet with the practices of academic conferences.

It’s a common complaint – both that I hear and that I sometimes make – that the learning spaces that we want for children should at least attempt to be modeled by the conferences/meetings where we go to talk about and explore learning possibilities. And while I get that there’s a culture or cultures to academia, and that much of the DML community is rooted in research and dissemination practices that are fairly formal, well, I’m struck that the medium and the messages of the event seemed to be in slight conflict. Even on the mothership, the interesting stuff was still rather on the edge.

Having run conferences and meetups and managed the learning of others’ both grown ups and children, I understand that it is a most difficult undertaking, so I should say right here that I found the DML event nothing short of wicked good. I learned a bunch and will be processing some powerful learning for a while to come. And yet. I’d gently suggest to the organizers of DML 2013 a few small points.

The first being a softball. I’m sure that everyone noticed that the space where the conference was held seemed far smaller than the people of DML. I think the folks there were the right folks – it was a fascinating mix of students and teachers and professors and researchers and makers and geeks. ((That said, I didn’t see lots of IT folk there – but perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough. Or maybe operations types aren’t the crowd of DML. Oh. That’d be sad if it were true.)) But the way the conference was set up – or at least my version of it ((Everyone, you know, has their own conference experience, a collection of what they saw, with whom they spoke, and a variety of other factors. No two people have the same experience, of course. I may well have had the “bad” one.)) – the sessions were overcrowded and packed into too small rooms and I couldn’t get to many of the things I wanted to see. Even when I could get a seat in a room – and to do so I had to stake out a space early – there were two or three other concurrent sessions I didn’t want to miss.

Here’s the tricky thing. At an event where the messages from the community and presenters and panelists were all about experiencing powerful participatory learning, well, we sure were expected, by design and practice and custom, to sit still and listen a lot. Certainly, we were listening to fascinating stories of promise and practice and learning and teaching and exploration and study and wonder – but we were listeners, and that’s a very particular kind of experience.

I listened to Super Awesome Sylvia talk about making things that mattered. And I really enjoyed hearing from her, particularly when she raised the differences between her learning at home and at school. But might we have made something together?

I listened to Jess Klein explain the potential of a HackJam. I love the tools and mindsets that Mozilla is building in that space. Having experienced a HackJam ((That was masterfully facilitated at ISTE 2011 by Chad and Meenoo.)), I know they are transformative. They are a Big Deal. Might we have done that together? At least a little bit? Perhaps this happened and I missed it.

I came to one session where a presenter began to read from a paper – the same paper excerpted in the conference program – on the power of media for engaging students. The presenter read from the paper that was provided to me already.

Even in our session on the multiplicity of composition – a session that we intentionally attempted to do differently than a talking head panel – we struggled to make it an active learning experience ((The during that session, I thought, is worth more of my time.)). I don’t know if we were struggling against the Internet access in the hotel, or the expectations of the audience, or the limits of our imagination. Or maybe something else.

There’s work to do.

I thought the idea of the Mozilla Science Fair – an hour and a half long reception showcasing many of the institutions and organizations doing important learning work – was a great idea. But an hour or so of crowded tables meant we got short looks into thoughtful work. Those same twenty or so tables should’ve been parceled out over the entire event, with five at a time running engaging events modeling their fascinating and engaging practices. There was a big empty space in the conference area that cried out for us to use it for playing and making and exploring and doing together. ((The impromptu Occupy Badges session – a spillout of the overcrowded session on Badges – was a good example of what might’ve happened in that space.))

How can we collectively do a better job of modeling the structures, habits, and aptitudes we want to see of learning and learners, particularly when DML learns together? And what can we do with the listening we’ve done to improve the experiences that are to come? Yeah, I’m saying “we” and “DML,” because, like Chad, I’m willing to say that I am engaged by this group of thoughtful people. I’d feel lucky to be counted as a member of the DML community. I so want them/us to do well.

And there’s room to grow.

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