#SITE2011 Post-Conference Reflection

I always look forward to and enjoy sitting down to write the final "here's what I think and will take away from this conference" reflection.  In fact, that's the first thing I thought of this morning when I woke up - and I made a point to myself that I would have my laptop out and ready on the plane so that I could go ahead and capture my thoughts nice and fresh, right at the end of my conference experience so that it won't be too clouded.

The conference was in Nashville, TN and it was the SITE Annual Conference (SITE = Society for Information Technology in Education).  Overall I wasn't very impressed with Nashville - but the folks at my hotel (Marriott Fairfield Inn near the airport) were absolutely amazing (shout out to those folks - they were awesome!).  I can't say too much about Nashville in general though because I wasn't even there but for 36 hours. And the weather didn't help any - cold and rainy.  Blah.

SITE is usually a fairly good conference with a decent mix of people.  I've been twice before (I think) a few years back so I knew what to expect and was looking forward to some of the sessions. I also had two presentations to do (one with TJ Wolfe on our preliminary work with TPACK and the other a poster session for the online journal Meridian) - so that was honestly the impetus for the journey.

I was able to go to a good mix of sessions focusing on a few select topics - so I want to share about those and then general themes of the conference.

I sought out presentations on TPACK, folks working in/with virtual worlds, and anybody else that stood out as something new and different and on the cutting edge (i.e. mobile learning).  But, other than a few lightbulb moments, many of the sessions left me underwhelmed.

Take virtual worlds. There were two sessions that I attended, both on opposite ends of the spectrum.  In the first I sat at a table of some virtual schooling powerhouses whose roundtable discussion seemed to continually devolve into politics and barriers.  The other was also a roundtable but was more of a SecondLife 101 For Beginners.  Hrmph.  All of those involved with these presentation were pretty nice and extremely knowledgable ... but I continually found myself thinking, "This is SO not what was written in the program, and SO not what I thought it was going to be."  Which makes me wonder - why the heck did we have a review process for conference proposals again?

The few sessions that I did go to on TPACK left me feeling like research seems to be stalled a bit with the theory.  Let me explain.  In 2006 we've got the original framework starting to emerge from Mishra & Khoeler.  TPACK exploded in the research field and everyone started to develop their own measurement surveys and other ways to evaluate TPACK.  And now in 2011 we all gathered at SITE in Nashville to look around at all the instruments and scratch our heads.  One session - which was actually really helpful in building the context for where we are right now with TPACK was a panel with researchers from across the globe who shared some of their instruments and their findings and made suggestions about next steps.

This pseudo leads into the work that TJ and I shared at our roundtable Thursday evening.  Whereas many are wondering and working towards assessment of TPACK within pre-service teacher education and graduate education, we are approaching TPACK as a research paradigm/framework to help us evaluate coursework and professional development of teachers.  We had a really great group of people at our session and both TJ and I left the session feeling really good about our time together.  They asked really great questions and even helped TJ and I stretch our thinking a bit.

What stole the show for me, however, was the MobileLearningSig panel from Wednesday afternoon.  They provided me with the few "wow" moments that I had at the conference - robots going to school for kids who are too ill to attend, holograms in learning, and (though they didn't call it this) ubiquitous learning via mobile devices (they did, obviously, talk a lot about mobile stuffs).  This is where the excitement was for me.

The other really interesting session that TJ and I both attended was from two professors at University of Indianapolis who had transformed their MAT program and in particular their student teaching experience to include "at home" student teaching as well as "abroad" student teaching.  Their presentation was subsequently about how they are using technologies to assist them in virtually mentoring their student teachers - wherever they are in the world doing their student teaching.  Now how cool is that?!

The rest of the conference was really "Eh" - the number of sessions that sounded cool and new and different in the program that turned out to be old news (or the same old, same old stuff we've been talking about for a decade now) would have surprised you.  In some cases I thought, "Really? You're talking about blogs and wikis like you discovered them and their power for teaching?  In 2011?!?!?!"  Note to self = start writing more presentation proposals like them.  Second note to self = scratch first note to self, keep doing what you're doing.

Another observation that stood out on the positive side was the incredible amount of global participation - especially from the Asia/Australia region.  Very nice to have their perspectives present and represented.

Meals were at the top of the positive list. :)  Wednesday night a group of NC State folks (Lori, Bethany, TJ, his wife Donna, myself, and Claire) went to this place and had flatbread pizzas (which, I'll have you know had tomatos on it and I ate it and it was good!).  Thursday lunch I was able to sit down with Lisa Grable and have a great time catching up and comparing notes in preparation for my session with TJ.  And Thursday evening TJ, his wife Donna, and I went to the Old Spaghetty Factory for dinner and it was really very good.

So - all in all a decent trip.  I'll write another post in the next day or so that includes links to some of the work I saw at the conference.  SITE next year is in Texas, but we'll have to see what next year looks like.  I wouldn't mind mixing it up and trying out a different crowd though.  Get some new ideas and some new viewpoints. :)

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