In reading over many of the blog posts and tweets during the first day of the conference, I can’t help but notice the number of individuals who have found it difficult to work the “back channel”. The lack of open wireless on the conference side has been noticed by some and completely unnoticed by others. By this I am referring to attendees who are connected electronically and those who have yet to make this transition. This has led me to this reflection and a NEW CHALLENGE (also linked at the end of this post).
As you have noticed, many of the conference themes center on networking, connecting and collaboration. Tomorrow, we will hear from two individuals who, without the connectivity of the Internet, would have a very different story to tell. We have become so accustomed to being connected everywhere we go that it feels different when we arrive in a place where our electronic connections will not work.
I wanted to assure you that has not gone unnoticed in the past and it is certainly recognized as an issue this year as well. So, I wanted to provide a little background context about hotel/conference centers and Internet access. For those who have not had to organize a large conference at a convention center or large hotel, Internet is big business to them. Now this may seem strange to those of us who may see open Internet like electronic water or air. We are not charged for the air we breath, the air that carries the energy of sound across a room so that our auditory messages can be received by others in the room. Why in this age of highly connected individuals is the Internet still big business for conferences? I personally place this into the category of “holding on to old models”. In this case, old revenue generating models for conference centers.
Let me tell you a story. A few years back, our school hosted a state sized conference for universities and K-12 schools that used the LMS Blackboard. Now, this state is Texas and as you may have heard, everything is bigger in Texas. So The TBUG (Texas Blackboard Users Group) was to meet in Dallas at one of the larger hotels in the area. We offered hands-on workshops as a preconference and needed to place 80 computers on the hotel network for the first day. After that, we would reduce the numbers to 8 presentation rooms and a cyber-café for the remaining two days. We were not asking for wireless for the attendees as we knew that was out of our budget. So, we simply needed single drops in each room and we would supply the switches (for those tech type folks) to set up the labs. When we first got the bid, we nearly fell out of our seat. The conference was scheduled, the hotel booked, the food secured, entertainment booked and a $50,000 bid for Internet. YES- I said $50,000! Needless to say, we went back to the table and because of the time of year and some issues with the quality of their internet service, we were able to get this reduced to about $5000 which is still too much in my mind. However, that is where we found ourselves and the show went on.
Now, I understand that NAIS had explored the possibility of wireless for attendees this year as they have also done in past years. Now, before I give you the bottom line, are you sitting down? Ok…Now that you are seated, I understand the bid for two and a half days of wireless at the Gaylord on the Conference side of the facility was $75,000. Now I don’t know about you but that number makes my head spin. Oh…but there is more. You see, hotels and conference centers will quote a price which includes chokes on bandwidth and limits on the number of IP address that can connect. This means that they can dial the Internet traffic up and down according to what you pay as well as limit the number of devices that can connect for $75,000. Now, as I understand, that number included somewhere around 3000 IP addresses. Now look around the place and notice the number of connective devices we each carry. I know that I bought three to this year’s conference- SmartPhone, Netbook and Laptop. That means that I would have taken up three of those addresses just by being here. Now multiply that by the number of attendees who have some form of connective device and you can see where this would lead.
This scenario of high cost Internet for online at conferences is universal. Some venues have employed an additional revenue model that would likely have worked well for the still relatively few connected conference goers- Pay as you go Internet. This is a plan where you as an individual can purchase Internet by the day. However, this was apparently not an option this year.
So as I look back at this experience, several things come to mind.
- Schools may be slow to change but hotels and conference centers are slower. With 3G/4G, SmartPhones and Internet cards for computers, many of us have had wonderful Internet service and have not paid the hotel a dime for that service. I believe this will become more the norm as time passes as more devices integrate 3G and more municipalities provide free open or minimal cost connectivity.
- This is a chance for us to innovate. I have heard of several individuals using MiFi devices to provide Internet to those around them. Others are using their Internet cards and SmartPhone with 3G or if you are lucky enough to have recently upgraded- 4G
- This is also a chance for us to innovate with our process. While we may miss the immediacy of the backchannel, this is a chance to also explore asynchronous approaches to community interactions during the attendance of a conference. This is not unlike explore asynchronous techniques for distributed learning environments. These interactions have different characteristics than the immediacy of synchronous interactions. However, they are not less effective. In many ways, this is where deeper learning can occur. Use local devices to record your thoughts as you attend then work them into a reflection for the greater community to explore. This interaction of ideas is the social space where learning, understanding and new ideas is born.
So….Here is another challenge. During my last visit to Washington D.C., I took the family through the Holocaust Museum. At the end of what I can only describe as a sobering emotional experience, participants are asked to make a commitment to one thing they will do to reduce the amount of hate in the world. The part that caught my attention is that there was an ACTION associated with this commitment. Now it may not seem like much but it involved simply writing your commitment on a card and dropping it into a box. The catch was, they wanted you to write the idea with a LiveScribe Pen. For the uninitiated, this records your commitment digitally. I notices that most walked past this challenge. I was on my way out when I stopped in my tracks and thought- How can I simply walk past personal action moment after I just experienced the most tragic human story I know? I turned around and made my commitment and the simple act of recording that commitment has made me bolder in standing up in the face of hate. So here is YOUR CHALLENGE. After this incredible experience…
What have been your big takeaways this year? How will you change your practice or implement change in your school? What ideas and approaches to teaching and learning will really make a difference for you? What steps will you take to increase your public purpose in this national debate? What are the things that you do which will really make a difference? What is the one Big Idea you want to leave for the community that you think will be transformative for your practice and community? Follow This Link to leave your response on this public document. Let’s see how many ideas we can share then commit to explore.