WOW. 18,000 (Count those zeros) edugeeks in one place. That's 6,000 more people in the Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center in San Antonio Texas than there are residents in the "big" town I drive 12 miles to for grocery shopping.
The National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) is the annual conference put on by the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). This year over 1,000 workshops, one hour presentations, topical lounges and playgrounds were offered for the attendees. The daily events schedule, used to choose the sessions to attend, was a spiral bound book!
The edges of the conference were a little blurry. While, for me, the conference kicked off with an opening reception Sunday evening, there were a number of events earlier on Sunday - affiliate gatherings, membership welcome and the opening key note address. A day earlier many attendees participated in EdubloggerCon. I think I was the last attendee in the conference center Wednesday night when the tech guys came to unplug the amazing wired and wireless network that supported hundreds of event computer- and thousands of participant laptop- activity. I was uploading and tidying my posts to the sl-educationblog.org blog for which I was conference correspondent.
Imagine food for 18,000. Yes. We were fed at the opening reception! Already I'm thinking, "Great conference!" There were long lines at first - at the scores of tables set up through out the convention center - as we all feared there could not possibly be enough food for the slow and weak. But there was actually enough guacamole for the masses, and more than enough tacos, chalupas, tomales and frijoles to fill our bellies.
To my amazement Second Life was featured everywhere in the conference.
Though most of the sessions were on other educational technology topics: multimedia, blogging, podcasting, tech in math, tech in social studies... Second life was prominent in the opening celebrations, in the closing keynote, in a number of workshops and presentations, and was displayed on very large screens throughout the convention center.
During the opening reception (remember those punch bowls filled with guacamole) a band called One Horse Shy performed rockin' alt-country for our dancing pleasure. On a platform to the right of the stage sat five people, vaguely like judges. But they were not judges. They were, as their name tags indicated, digital rockstars. Each was assigned a band member. For the entire concert each drove the avatar of their designated band member who performed live (with sound streamed from San Antonio) iSL at ISTE's replica of the Alamo. The digital One Horse Shy played for the dancing pleasure of those who couldn't make the trip to San Antonio, and for those conference goers who were too shy to dance iFL. (Honest. There were people in the lounge nearby dancing their avatars iSL.) To the left of the stage on the larger than life projection screen, the digital lead singer swished her yellow flexi skirt and leaned into the microphone (remarkably like she did iFL).
Shall I admit that during the four days I attended exactly one workshop - the one I co-presented? Does that mean for me it was a bust? Oh no. I talked with incredibly creative people, networked, connected with people I have only previously met iSL, learned things that blew my mind. For instance, I met a woman who is a tech coordinator in Australia for a k12 school where all the students are required to carry cell phones. That's right - they are not required to drop their cell phones (and iPods) in the box at the front office; they are required to have them in class. They take pictures, record interviews, take notes, and get called at home to take quizzes by speaker phone when they are out sick.
I learned how a third grad teacher uses his blog as a course management system (like Moodle). He posts assignments. Kids get into their blog, and follow the assignments like an adventure - which leads them to podcasts and youtubes and math problems... Think of the reading and writing those kids do!
I learned that Sketch-up, Alice, Active Worlds, River City and increasingly Teen Second Life, are used all over the country (and in others) to engage kids, to teach advanced computer skills, to develop collaboration, problem solving and communication skills, to teach science and language arts. I learned that Texas, a place where intelligent design is taught as a legitimate scientific theory, requires all high school students to take a course in Microsoft Office apps and are taught to create access databases. Vermont did not look so good.
There was surprisingly little about higher education.
I worked for half a day in the SL Playground, where conference attendees could sign up for an SL account and learn the basics. And one night back at my hotel... I assisted at an SL wedding between one of the conference attendees and the desk clerk. Before you get the wrong idea, let me explain.
I was minding my own business catching the wireless in a pleasant lounge on the second floor. I over heard lots of giggling and guffawing from the floors above and below me. A man and women scrambled past me repeatedly going between the lobby and the third level. During one of their passes they asked me if 1. I was a conference attendee and 2. if I had heard of SL. I was informed that their group, from a school district in Ohio, had been assigned by their tech coordinator to have some kind of "authentic" experience iSL while they were at the conference. They had enlisted the help of the lovely desk clerk, who had on his own time, made an sl account and become proficient enough to participate as the groom in this staged wedding. I got to join in the fun and provide a freebie wedding gown from my 150Megapack. And when the vows were said and the groom wanted to kiss the bride, I quickly dropped them a hug script. Members of the Ohio team performed the roles of minister, photographer and witnesses. There was apparently much dressing up (don't know why the bride did not have a dress as all the men were in Tuxes and the women in lovely outfits), venue hunting, script writing etc, before I arrived on the scene.
I haven't even begun to mention the warmth that passed between those of us who had previously only met iSL or the smells, sounds and much needed breeze that met me on the River Walk. I had a damn good time.