Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Conference Reflections

AASL 2009 conference has just passed and it is now time to put my thoughts on paper so that I can articulate them more clearly to my colleagues when they ask, "Well, how was it this year?"

The conference in Charlotte, NC was my 4th one, after Indianapolis (2001), Pittsburgh(2005), and Reno(2007). Somehow, I missed Kansas City in 2003!

According to an ALA news release, "A record breaking 3,950 school librarians, educators, exhibitors and guests attended the American Association of School Librarians’ (AASL) 14th National Conference in Charlotte Nov. 5 – 8, to discuss key issues that impact our nation’s school libraries. Dedicated solely to the needs of school library media specialists, the AASL National Conference is the largest gathering of school librarians in the nation."

If I had to rank my impressions of the conference "big ideas", this is how they would look:
  1. Back-channel--According to Wikipedia (hey-for social media-this encyclopedia is pretty good!), back-channeling is the practice of electronically passing notes among some or all of the audience/students during the lecture. When sanctioned, this practice is particularly useful for speakers who are attempting to dynamically modify their presentations based on immediate feedback from the audience. Twitter was prevalent at this conference and it was so much fun to meet people that I "follow" and now can put a face to their profile. Most of the speakers uploaded their slides to SlideShare or other similar Web 2.0 tools, used Wikis to gather audience feedback and encourage the dialogue to stretch beyond the allotted time frame of the 1 hour and 15 minutes allotted for concurrent sessions by commenting to the wikis after returning home. Throughout the conference, participants were encouraged to upload their photos to Flickr and take everything with AASL2009. How exciting to be able to view the collective photo album that grew as the conference progressed.

    Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

    The conference was made richer by the fact that so many of us were able to connect virtually to compare notes, share big ideas and communicate with others not able to be present face-to-face at the actual conference. Dave Loertscher, Buffy Hamilton, Gwyneth Jones, Buffy Hamilton are just a few of the speakers who relied heavily on audience participation and collaboration and the conference learning/participation was so much deeper because of this!

  2. Learning Commons--What does it mean to be a librarian in the 21st century, how do we best serve our students and what does our space look like? Dave Loertscher was at his best once again, guiding us with vision and probing questions. His quest to reinvent school libraries and computer labs is infectious and his idea of collaborative knowledge building is viral. His wiki, is a great place to begin exploring his revolutionary concepts on media specialists becoming information coaches and library media centers becoming a completely flexible learning space where neither computers nor books get in the way. Getting Dave to autograph my newly purchased, The New Learning Commons: Where Learners Win! was a bonus of this conference!

  3. Vendor Feedback--This was very prevalent this year. Companies are seeking out those of us who directly work with students to inform their businesses on how to best serve their stakeholders. We were wined, dined and pampered so that they could get us to carve out a precious time slot of our schedule at the conference. It is obvious in this economic downturn, that companies are vying for a piece of our budgets and are actively engaged in the business of providing the stakeholders with products that work for our students' learning. They did a fabulous job, questioning, probing and soliciting valuable feedback concerning their interfaces, search engines, marketing and promotion, and content of their many subscription databases and print material. Their widgets, customer support, marketing materials and updated content was demonstrated at each event. Hungry for stakeholder feedback, we were guided in a lively discussions at breakfast, lunch or dinner by a variety of vendors and it was impressive to be able to contribute to the modification or creation of products that can directly benefit the students in our schools. The exhibit hall was packed with aisles of vendors waiting to network with media specialists as they showcased their top products and demonstrated new features and products.

  4. Nings--an online platform for people to create their own social networks--this concept is starting to make more sense with this conference. I joined my first Ning at NECC 2009 with the ISTE Ning or the Media Specialist group withing that Ning. Since then, I joined Joyce Valenza's Teacher Librarian Ning and many of the contacts I am meeting, I recognize from facebook, twitter and other social networking sites.

  5. Green Conference--Yes, this conference was greener than most (but not totally!). Check here for handouts, and the b-There- Your Virtual Track Pass site has more information.

  6. Blogs--I have made a public GoogleDocs with a list of the blog posts that I could find. Feel free to add to or edit the form and please share!

  7. Personal Learning Network--Probably the biggest change in myself that I contribute directly to attending conferences is my willingness to share in my personal learning community (PLN); virtually, through a variety of social networking sites. I remember the excitement that I felt when my first tweet was retweeted by someone who was not my personal friend! That was a hallmark moment! The higher the quality of information I contribute to my PLN, the more I get out of it from my network. I contribute this phenomenon to the face-to-face conferences that nurture these relationships (although I admit, I may never meet all of my PLN!). I also put myself myself out there on blogs, facebook and nings as my network becomes intertwined like a net. I am constantly amazed each day with the quantity of new ideas and information that I learn every day via this ever-growing professional network of colleagues. This year I got to meet with Lisa Perez, Gwyneth Jones, David Loertscher, Doug Johnson, Buffy Hamilton and it was like meeting rock stars! So much fun! It makes it easier to cultivate relationships with that little bit of face-to-face.

Here are some of the mcps folks after the closing keynote as we cheer on Sara Kelley Johns for ALA President!

Joyce Valenza and Buffy Hamilton have challenged the participants of AASL 2009 to provide honest and constructive reflection on Charlotte Re-examined. Here are my thoughts on what could be at the next AASL in Minneapolis in 2011.
  • Wireless Access--Need I say more? Fortunately, I was able to connect to the Internet most of the time I needed it. Unfortunately, wireless was spotty throughout the convention center and it was far from speedy...someday when conference planners tell convention planners to be prepared for a technology heavy conference with many people connecting to the Internet, we will be taken seriously! Additionally, many presenters were forced to present from PowerPoint slides as opposed to live from the web due to this situation.
  • Electrical Outlets--This goes hand in hand with the previous comment. Along with Internet connectivity is the need to occasionally plug-in to charge-up! Unlike NECC, this convention center did not supply multiple outlets throughout the room and frequently, participants were jockeying for the perimeter of the room so that they could plug in to the wall outlets.
  • Room Configuration--I found the rooms that provided the most conducive layout for collaboration were those with the round tables or those with the long rectangular tables. I was able to focus on the speaker and those around me when I was able to comfortably situate my laptop on a table instead of my lap. This was especially important for those concurrent sessions where the audience interacted with the speakers via Wiki, Twitter or some other Web 2.0 tool.
  • Longer Smackdown Time--This fun, interactive, lively session was booked as a 1 hour 15 minute concurrent session. I could easily envision this session as a 1/2 day pre-conference and it would definitely benefit from the longer time as the audience could have more opportunities with which to interact with the presenters. If you have never been to one of Joyce Valenza's smackdowns, then you're missing a session loaded with good stuff and lots of energy. Montgomery County Maryland's own star, Brenda Anderson, collaborated with national colleagues to share digital storytelling strategies . We are so proud of her!


  1. Brilliant summary!! I was SO happy to meet you RL!!! Cheers & hope to see you in Denver!

  2. Thanks! You WILL see me in Denver...I made my hotel reservations last night! Can't wait!