True confession time. I did not attend many of the sessions at NECC in Atlanta. And while I felt a trifle guilty about this at the time, I had to firstly remind myself that my own schedule for presenting made this a bit difficult, and secondly, once I discovered the Bloggers’ Café, my desire to attend the sessions evaporated.
For those of us who have been paying attention to the edublogosphere in the last year or two, the Bloggers’ Café offered an opportunity to meet exceptional educators from around the world face-to-face. It was particularly exciting to look around the area (really just open area slightly set apart from the main thoroughfare on the way to the exhibit hall) and see so many of the great folks who have appeared as guests on our WOW2 show since October. Every time I visited, I met someone new – someone whose name I recognized, or who recognized me. Conversations that had begun earlier, whether on a blog or in a webcast or podcast, were continued and updated.
But it was much more than just rich conversations.
What I call The Bloggers’ Café Phenom was much more than that. It really drove home to me how online identity, even with all the media supporting it, is still limited in its dimensionality of presentation. Possibly it was the live social dynamics within a group that cannot be supported in an online environment in its current state. There was an instantaneity and spontaneity that I have not witnessed in online exchanges. One wanted to be *there* in person, not virtually, to participate in the discussions and laughter. A person could read the situation by interpreting body language and eye contact. Even with video, I doubt if this could be replicated.
On the last day of the conference, Dave Warlick went around the Café with his recorder and asked us who we were and our blog name. Then he asked us a question that really got my neurons all fired up – “What have we learned here about the Bloggers’ Café that we can take home with us and use in our classrooms?” (probably a decent paraphrase). I have spent a few days thinking about that one! For me, I think it reinforced my belief that a blended instructional approach (both face-to-face and online) is best to optimize learning for students. With all the current focus and attention on online learning environments (moodles, wikis, blogs, Second Life), we cannot dismiss the importance of that immediacy of face-to-face contact and the power of group dynamics. Discourse of ideas can take place in many ways. Online environments certainly augment and enhance discourse and further the learning process. We should be careful in the design of our instruction that we find a balance between face-to-face and online instruction that is seamless and transparent (i.e. not all about the tool, but about the discussion or task). I hope this is the kind of response you were looking for, Dave.
I learned much more about those special people than just what we talked *about*. I learned that John Pederson has a great sense of humour (sorry John, just didn’t pick up on it in the same way on your blog), that Karl Fisch was a delightfully modest and self-effacing man, that Chris Lehman does a great interview at the drop of a hat, and that Dave Warlick has seemingly boundless energy – particularly with audio device in hand!
Yes, it was obvious from the demographics in the Bloggers’ Café that the edublogosphere is still primarily peopled by white well-educated men (from North America? Well, the conference WAS in Atlanta!). As my husband points out, this does, after all, reflect the reality of the technology sector in general. As a woman who has worked as an educator of technology for a number of years now, I can say that just as I have discovered through my online relationships, the men in the edublogosphere have ALWAYS been inclusive and welcoming. And so it was in the Bloggers’ Café. There was utterly no sense of gender discrimination and, if anything, women’s voices were particularly welcome. There were a number of really terrific women who were there hanging out in the Café as well: Sharon Betts(whose session I *did* attend!, Cheri Toledo, Alice Barr, Jen Wagner, and Cheryl Oakes to name just a few.
Jen Wagner and some others are continuing The Bloggers’ Café Phenom by creating an online portal – TheBloggersCafe (not yet live). Even if you weren’t there in Atlanta, please join us there!