I experienced the most powerful professional development of my life this past week at the Digital Learning Spring Conference in Vancouver. I attended as a co-presenter, along with my Elementary Connected Classroom (ECC) colleagues. The three of us gave a 45 minute presentation sharing our work in the ECC project, and while that was a powerful learning experience in itself, it was only one tiny piece of my overall experience.
The keynotes, Dr. Alec Couros and George Couros, were fantastic. These guys understand what education is all about. They know that the students come first and their passion as educators is inspiring. The keynote was one of the best I’ve seen, mixing insight and wisdom with humor and sibling rivalry. Their keynote, another piece of my learning, is here and well worth looking at.
Usually, good keynotes, being a presenter and other workshops would be enough to make for an intense pro-d experience. And they did, most definitely. But, the thing that transformed a regular conference experience into a powerful learning experience was social media itself.
Before the conference, I sent out a few tweets to people I wanted to meet face to face. I’ve been building a digital identity for five years now with blogging, Flickr, Slideshare, Twitter and more, and I’ve carefully selected certain educators to learn from and with online. The conference was my first chance to connect with some of these people, and it absolutely transformed the conference experience. I met some amazing people and enjoyed wonderful conversations. Some of those conversations were backchannel tweets during workshops, some were face to face over lunch or later at night, and some were just plain silly (at one point I felt like the girl sitting in the back of the classroom laughing with the troublemakers, just like high school all over again).
The lasting impression is that without careful, purposeful use of social media to build relationships with like-minded educators, none of those connections would have happened. I would have attended the conference, been inspired, and gone home like I have dozens of times before.
Instead, I went, I presented, I was inspired, I socialized and I left with new friends and acquaintances. I left feeling connected to some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. I left with the feeling that I’d found a few more of my ‘peeps’, as Dr. Kelly (from my MEd) calls those who you can really learn with and from in life. I left feeling empowered by deep, meaningful learning connections that will continue after, rather than end with, the final keynote. It was the most powerful learning experience I’ve ever had and it would never have happened without social media.