*One author’s note for this post. I began writing this prior to attending the Illinois TechCon 08 conference, and that experience resulted in a major clarification in my own thinking about this issue. I’ll explain near the end of the post.*
Sometimes I feel like being in the Ed Tech community is a bit like being in a scene from Spinal Tap. Specifically, this scene.
I’ve noticed this growing phenomenon of people trying to get “that extra push over the cliff” lately. Any conference I’ve attended in the past year has been so over live streamed, live blogged, Twittered, Plurked, backchanneled, and podcast, that I’m starting to wonder if people are catching any of the content being presented. Seriously, how multi can people possibly task?
Now let me be clear about something, I absolutely believe in the power of participation and collaboration in today’s learning climate, but I also think we need to find a bit of balance. How about just keeping the dial right around 6? Your voice added to the voice of the presenter can certainly bring greater understanding and depth to a conversation, and of course every conversation is made better when it is more than one person talking to a flat wall. The problem comes when the voice of the crowd overwhelms the voice of the content.
This phenomenon isn’t restricted only to conferences. I think it’s growing increasingly more evident in podcasts as well. The last three podcasts I’ve listened to have had classic moments of pregnant pauses as someone reaches the conclusion of a several minute monologue where he/she spills their soul about something he/she is very passionate about, only to be met with silence. And then a profound statement of affirmation from one of the other hosts like “right on” or “yep.” The noise of a chat room or the lure of the web was too much temptation, and the attention of the other hosts was whisked somewhere far, far away from whatever it was their counterpart was just espousing.
I think this push to hit 11 is also an issue with emerging tools. It seems that many people are working hard to make sure they know a tool, or even a list of 100 tools in some cases, that no one else has heard of, and they present the list as such at conferences, workshops, etc. There is all this noise added, and the result is that people end up feeling overwhelmed and inferior rather than empowered. I saw a presentation by Dave Jakes recently that I think was much more fitting to the way we should be engaging all this. He spoke of the organizational approach we should be taking to collaborative tools rather than listing all the specific tools he thought we should be using. By so doing, he effectively kept the focus where it should be, and he kept the dial right around a comfortable 5.
Here’s my point. When does the use of all these amazing, emerging technologies become counterproductive to the goal? Do we really need to have 20 backchannel chat rooms for a session with 35 participants? Should you as a podcast host be trying to read everything that is happening in a chat room, while searching the web, while trying to focus on what your co-hosts are saying?
As mentioned at the outset of this post, I did have an experience recently that I feel really helped bring clarity to this issue for me. Specifically, the idea of having a backchannel set up for people to utilize. In fact, I think using a backchannel in the right way can absolutely make a conference, workshop, classroom, a much better place for learning. Wes Fryer recently set up a Chatzy chat at the IL TechCon 08, and I think the way that he did it was dead-on perfect. I plan to write more about this in my next post, but for now, I can say the way Fryer set up the backchannel at TechCon made all the difference in the way I experienced and learned from the conference. I think it could possibly be the same for students in education.