Saturday, June 6, 2009

My conference recap: Innovations in E-Learning

I paid $300 to go to the Innovations in E-Learning conference, run by George Mason University and DAU, in Washington, DC. I got a hotel room at the conference hotel through Priceline for $60 a night. But without question, the experience I had at the conference both in sessions and with the other attendees was priceless. I didn't attend any of the workshops on Wednesday, but came in Wednesday evening to meet in person two of my favorite people in my Twitter network. Dinner (sushi & Sapporo) was excellent but the conversation and face-to-face time was even better, worth the entire trip.

Thursday was my first official day at the conference and it was kicked off with a keynote by Vint Cerf, who was one of the two guys who really did invent the Internet. He started out a bit slow (I'm pretty sure he insulted Twitterers as "twits" early in the presentation) but as he progressed through his presentation, things got more and more interesting and frankly, more and more surreal. Google Mars was very cool, but the Interplanetary communication plan, IPN (InterPlaNet), that's he's working on in his spare time made me feel like whatever I accomplish in my life, its never going to be as cool as Vint Cerf. And it was only 10 am.

Next up was Mark Oehlert's (@moehlert) pinch hit for Intellagirl (@intellagirl) Sarah Robbins, who couldn't make it to present. I did my best not to pipe up too much, but the topic was on virtual worlds and sometimes I have some opinions on that topic. Good thing Mark is smart, both in what he said about virtual worlds, but also in not making eye contact with me to give me an opening to talk.

One of the things I find fascinating about conferences is how much interesting conversation happens outside of the conference. I took the next session "off" and instead hung out with a group of smart friends to talk about various aspects of the morning's keynote, mobile learning, and other various geeky topics before heading over to lunch.

The keynote after lunch was...Will Wright. Um, yeah. He's developed such little games as SimCity, The Sims, and Spore. As a simulation and game developer, I'm not sure if there's too many people that rival Will Wright in sheer idolness for me. And his keynote? I don't know when I have spent an hour thinking more about simulation, game design, and learning. He made my head spin, not only from the pace but also from the sheer brilliance of the information he was sharing. I hear that his keynote will be up online soon. When it is, I'll provide a link.

I then had the pleasure of sitting in on Aaron Silvers (@mrch0mp3ers) session that focused on a case study of how Yammer was subversively integrating into his current organization. Some great observations and lessons learned about how social media adoption CAN be viral, but that sometimes viral demands an executive push.

Final workshop of the day was supposed to be on blogging for educators and learning, presented by Robert Scoble (@scobleizer). Honestly, I'm not sure how we all fit in the room with all of the names that were dropped, but we did get a sneak preview into how Scoble works at filtering his information and news streams to determine what is worthy of him to post about. That said, I was annoyed with his lack of focus on learning, oh, and his COMPLETE lack of focus on blogging. It does appear that Twitter and FriendFeed have taken over the relevance of blogging, at least to some extent. Who knew blogging was so old-fashioned ;)

After the workshops, there was a reception to announce the winners of the GameJam contest, awarded by Dr. Alicia Sanchez, Will Wright, and Dr. Brenda Brathwaite (who had presented a workshop on Wednesday). So there I was, having made fun of a certain friend for idol-geeking out all day...and I had to not only introduce myself to Will Wright and Robert Scoble, but also ask for pictures with each of them. Me=shameless.

Dinner and drinks congregated old friends and new ones to talk more about the mind-blowing awesomeness of the day. Its absolutely fascinating when you think you can't possibly take any more information hear the perspectives of shared experiences and suddenly the learning continues.

Day Two started with Gen. Frank Anderson presenting about how the DAU is implementing innovations in learning. They train A LOT of people. Not that I didn't already know it, but it made it all the more impressive that an organization as large as DAU had people with titles like Innovation Evangelist and that they are actively looking at how to incorporate virtual worlds into their curriculum delivery mix. It was also pretty cool to see the Tandem Learning logo up on one of General Anderson's slides, even more so because it was unexpected.

The next session, I just couldn't decide what to do. There was an impromptu meeting in the coffee shop; a few people were gathering to talk about overcoming institutional obstacles to implementing new technologies. What it ended up being was a rich discussion of how innovators and internal evangelists across verticals (government, enterprise, academia, K12, and yep, even vendors) all share similar obstacles. The result was the formation of the Black Swan Society--a group focused on helping each other address the issues facing innovation and organizational adoption of (and adaption to) technologies and processes that more accurately affect how we work, communicate, and learn. I encourage you to come contribute to the conversation.

I had to get on the road after the first unofficial meeting of the Black Swan Society...but my head was full. Perhaps this conference, more than any other I've attended, represented for me the best of what conferences can be. Brilliant and inspirational keynotes, engaging workshops, challenges to my pre-existing assumptions, strengthening my network, meeting amazing people who are facing my same challenges AND with different perspectives, and a plan for continuing the conversation after the conference.

And I got to meet Will Wright...


  1. So that's how Black Swan Society got started. I knew you guys were up to something when everyone went for coffee...

  2. Coffee can be very subversive...

  3. At this or any conference you attended was Twitter used before/during/after any particular session. In other words did the presenter(s) encourage the Twitter conversation about their topic before the session or had audience tweets shown to entire audience during his/her speech?

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