Disconnect Between Means and Ends: 2010 NCREN Community Day

Here are some eye-catching quotes (bold added) from “MCNC Looks to ‘Enhance the Learning Experience’” (Local Tech Wire, 1 Nov. 2010):

MCNC [Microelectronics Center of North Carolina] will host its 2010 NCREN [North Carolina Research and Education Network] Community Day celebration on Nov. 18 and Nov. 19 at the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) in Durham. Online registration is available until Nov. 12.

MCNC is the company and NCREN is the network, our flagship product.

MCNC is an independent, non-profit organization that employs advanced networking technologies and systems to continuously improve learning and collaboration throughout North Carolina’s K20 education community.

The North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) is a highly reliable, cost-efficient network. NCREN is one of the nation’s first and one of the world’s leading statewide regional optical networks.

This year’s theme of Enhancing the Learning Experience will paint a vision for North Carolina’s future where opportunities are unlimited through technology and collaboration.

And here’s one from MCNC’s “about” page:

MCNC is Connecting North Carolina’s Future Today.

Could any educational event be more “advanced” and state of the art than this? With “advanced networking technologies and systems to continuously improve learning and collaboration,” would anyone doubt that this is “a vision for North Carolina’s future where opportunities are unlimited through technology and collaboration”?

Sadly, the answer is “probably not.” More than likely, thousands will flock to NCSSM in Durham on Nov. 18 and 19 to be enlightened by “one of the nation’s first and one of the world’s leading statewide regional optical networks.” They will fill the freeways and skyways, streets and parking lots, hotels and restaurants, auditoriums and meeting rooms to learn all about “enhancing the learning experience.”

There’s a lot that’s right about this picture. Surely the information that’s shared will be useful if not invaluable. The person-to-person networking, too, should be fabulous. And being in Durham will be a wonderful experience.

But, for me, there’s also a disconnect that raises the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

My response is that it’s like learning to surf in your living room.

This prestigious gathering, the 2010 NCREN, has decided to deliver the message about tomorrow’s educational technology in yesterday’s medium of a face-to-face conference. The medium is the message, and the message that’s being sent is that we can look forward to more of the same old practices. The traditional school and classroom with an instructor at the podium will continue to be the foundation for change. The “change” will come in the form of ever more expensive technology and support added to this 19th century framework.

Can we make this picture right?

Yes, by turning the medium for the conference into the message, that is, putting it completely online. By doing it all virtually, presenters will begin to understand the capabilities of the new technology and participants will grasp the potential of online learning. By doing, they’ll all experience the new firsthand rather than just talk and hear about it.

2 Responses

  1. Interesting, Jim. The Sloan Consortium is having their conference in Orlando this week and while it is primarily a face to face event there is a virtual option. I’ll be attending from the comfort of my desk, couch, BarcaLounger, poolside, etc. They will be streaming live, over 40 events, and all will be available as recordings for a period of time after the conference. In addition, the virtual attendees will be able to post questions as the event is happening. Here is the site if anyone is interested: http://sloanconsortium.org/aln/2010aln_virtualoption. $90 for the 3 days.

  2. Jan, thanks for the tip! I applaud Sloan-C’s “blended” conference. Please consider reporting (live or otherwise) observations and impressions. It would be interesting to see what the differences are between F2F and online participation.

    My guess is that the online segments will be totally out of it — unless the participants really do make an effort to organize interactive events that are specifically geared to virtual participants. For example, if live presentations are streamed, online participants could set up electronic forums to accompany them.

    The forums could be left open throughout the conference for asynch interactions that should include the presenters.

    These forums would be a lot better than the tiny chat windows embedded in live presentation platforms.

    Thanks for sharing. -Jim S

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