Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Square Pegs - an outsiders conference journey

I've always been a Square Peg (see the TV show Square Pegs if you have no idea what I'm talking about, it was along time ago - so long that Sarah Jessica Parker had brown hair), and am OK with that. I don't exactly fit in a category, which I actually enjoy about myself, but can be a difficult thing when trying to go to conferences.  See I remember when I first came to college and I felt like I was surrounded by people that actually understood me. They had passions and quirks and I loved them all. I felt like this the first time I ever attended an ISTE conference (then NECC). I've been very lucky this year and have attended and presented at four conferences. But I haven't felt that "first-conference" moment in awhile. Sure it could be because the "newness" has rubbed off, or that the conferences haven't changed with the times, or it could be I'm going to wrong conferences.

You see, I don't teach in a K-12 school, and I'm not a professor in higher education, I'm an Instructional Technologist for a College of Education, there is no conference for me. I tried going to Educause in October and that was much more technical than I ever want to be. There were very few sessions on teaching with technology, but I did enjoy the ones I went to. It was relaxing to be in an environment that discussed my issues in higher education, but it didn't really fit my needs in teaching pre-service teachers. It felt more like a vendor showcase than a conference. Plus it was the most expensive conference I have ever been to.

Then I went to SITE, this I had high hopes for, and almost lived up to my expectations. SITE is for teacher educators that teach with technology - should be the perfect conference for me. But SITE focuses more on the research side of the house than the practical side of the house. Plus, since I'm not a faculty member, nor a researcher, but a staff member - I didn't meet anyone that did what I did. And maybe that is the crux at my issue - I haven't met someone that does what I do at at college of education. Don't get me wrong, I don't feel like I'm unique or special, I just haven't found a way to really connect with others in my field.

The next two conferences I attended were NCTIES and ISTE, both of them have a K-12 technology education focus and are great conferences. I am continually impressed by how NCTIES continues to grow and showcase such incredible sessions. And while NCTIES is my 10k, ISTE is my marathon of learning, where I just try to keep up with it all. I've been reading some critiques of the ISTE conference lately, from issues with the Keynote (not techie enough) and Spotlight Speakers (not fresh enough) to those that had issues with the cliques at the Blogger's Cafe to those that want to dispel the in-crowd myth of the Blogger's Cafe. To be honest I understand both sides of the coin. I don't really fit in at ISTE, and in the past I've been OK with that. I've (in the famous words of Tim Gunn) "made it work," and done my best to fit ISTE into what I do. I've made some great friends at ISTE, but I'm still an outsider to most in that world. I count on my PLN a good deal, I feel that I contribute, but I can only contribute so much from my perspective.

So next year I will have the big decision of what conferences do I go to, and what do I get out of that experience? In the end I need to balance my budget with my needs, and maybe I'll find another square-peg just like me.


Jenny said...

I think (based on being in the K-12 world with a husband in higher ed) that most higher ed conferences are based on subject area. That makes it hard for someone not in a department to find a good fit.

That said, the University of Mary Washington (where my husband works) holds a Faculty Academy every year in late May. http://blog11.facultyacademy.org/
It's mostly higher ed folks talking about technology in their classes. Maybe that would be helpful.

Bethany Smith said...

Thanks Jenny for the advice! I will definitely look into their Faculty Academy. Thanks!