Sunday, July 01, 2007

NECC Reflection #1: Where were the students?

As my team of teachers and I reflected in the evenings and on the plane ride on the way home, we wondered: Where were the students? I know there were some poster sessions that had students present (although unfortunately I didn’t get to any poster sessions – too many things to choose from), and of course Tim Tyson brought a couple of students to talk about their amazing work in his closing keynote. But, overall, it was a bunch of adults talking about what’s best for students. Now, don’t get me wrong, I think a bunch of adults talking about what’s best for students is a fine thing (it’s what I spend most of my time doing, after all), but I can’t help but wonder how much more powerful it would be to have students involved in these discussions as well. Particularly at my level – high school – I believe student voices would add a ton.

So we talked about the possibility of bringing some of our students with us next year to NECC in San Antonio (assuming we go). And we came up with the usual problems – money and liability. It was hard enough to come up with the money to send the five of us to NECC this year. Our superintendent kicked in $3,000 to help out (thanks Scott!), but that’s a fairly rare occurrence. It cost us around $800 each to attend NECC (not including meals), so bringing even three or four students would be a significant expense. And then there’s the permission and liability issue . . .

So, while we’re not giving up on that idea yet, we may save that for 2010, when rumor has it NECC will be in Denver. The cool thing about that is that last year’s freshmen – who were the first group at our school to have any classes with laptops – will graduate just before NECC 2010. (I wonder if my school will look significantly different by then?)

Then we talked about involving our students much more in our own staff development efforts. We’ve talked about this some before, but I haven’t devoted the time to figure out how to make that work. That’s something I really need to do. And I’ll be encouraging my teachers to involve our students in their lesson planning efforts (for lack of a better term) – helping plan, implement and assess what goes on in their own classrooms - more on that in a (hopefully soon) future post. As other folks have said recently regarding including students in all of this, we really need to hear from “the horse’s mouth.” Perhaps if we listened to students more, we might learn a few things.


  1. Karl,

    What about having students participate virtually in soe of the sessions next year?

    Someone could be at school working with them, and they could Skype into some sessions or do a videocast or participate live in some way?

    I know they could do it at home but it seems like the feel of the "conference" would be more exciting if they were gathered together in person, and also had some "tech support."

    I think it'd be fascinating for NECC to have a student Skypecast with students from around the country participating somehow in a few sessions.

    Something interesting to think about--thanks for the idea.

  2. Hi Karl,

    I second the sentiment and think it's part of a much broader syndrome among us adults.

    For example, "Support Classroom Blogging"lists surely over 200 adult edubloggers all spinning ideas about how to make "student 2.0" possible. But interestingly, there was no heading for student bloggers among all those adult categories. I blogged about this and added a category there, and linked to a few of my students blogging in the wilderness, hoping others would add their standout student bloggers as well. Six weeks later, they're still there, unaccompanied. And they've stopped blogging for the summer.

    I have to wonder if they would still be writing if we gave them an audience, some feedback, and some peers to connect to.

    So my hope is that we broaden the scope beyond getting students to go to a physical convention, and put our energy into promoting them as equals in the increasingly insular education 2.0 conversations going on in the virtual world.

    Until we do that, we're still addicted to our "sage on the stage" conditioning, I would argue.

    And those sages are good to read, we all know. But as you say, they could also learn a thing or two from the students, if only we invited them in.


  3. Denver in 2010 is not a rumor. The next five years of NECC locations are listed on their Future NECCs page:

    Your idea of adding student voices to the conference is a great one. While it would certainly be possible for them to participate virtually, it's much more compelling when the kids tell their stories live. I spent some time talking to the kids in the robot area at Atlanta and came away inspired by their enthusiasm and sense of adventure.

  4. Karl,

    As always, great food for thought. In New Jersey, every three years districts have to submit a 3-year technology plan for infrastrucure and educational technology. This year for the 1st time, the state required student input (and had them sign off on it!)

    Student comments were the best part. They provided insight into what they liked and what they didn't. (Most wished for less network security and less site blocking).

    A "wouldn't it be nice" thought: A NSECC. National Student Educational Computing Conference of best practices of students. It could be done virtually in the blogosphere and with videoconference.


  5. Conferences (or any one time event) are just the tip of the iceberg with student voice. So many student panels are simply cases of adults listening for a bit and then the students leave and everyone goes back to what they were doing before. It's not really student voice if you only listen for an hour.

    We (Generation YES) had students at NECC this year, and try to at every conference we attend. It's crazy, logistically impossible, and insanely rewarding.

    We always ask the kids what surprised them most about talking to conference attendees, and the answer is nearly always, "they were surprised I could do this."

    Some of our students and teachers helped run a Student Leadership Symposium at NECC 2002 (in San Antonio, by the way!)

    It was great, wish that momentum had continued.

  6. The only place that I saw students at work (and they made it seem a lot like play) was at the OpenSource Pavilion.

    There were four or five Atlanta public school students that knew a ton about Linux and Moodle and several other OpenSource applications. Why? Because they were using these applications in their classroom!

    I had the opportunity to work with this group and it was perhaps the best part of the whole conference.

    The students are mentioned a little on this video:

    and on Steve Hargadon blog as well:

    If you're serious about getting kids involved in 2010 you should get in touch with the people that run NCCE in the Northwest. Those conferences are packed with kids, showing what they know, working with the IT people, being the IT people, and add a vibrancy and sense of reason to the conference.

  7. I've generally been frustrated with student presentations at conferences. Folks trot a few students out, pat them on their heads for being there and sharing their voices, and then go back to doing whatever they were doing beforehand, giving themselves self-congratulations along the way for 'including the students.' I haven't seen many impactful student presentations in the sense that adults take the students SERIOUSLY and maybe actually change their mindset / practice as a result (of course I haven't seen too many adult-delivered presentations that do this either, but the level of condescension isn't the same). So... I like the idea of including student voices very much but would encourage some very creative thinking about how to do that to best effect. I'm sure the Generation Yes folks, among others, would be glad to help...

  8. I agree, but the NECC time/date is problematic because families often go on vacation at this time. Families often do not value NECC like we educators do. Skype may be a better way, or any platform like that.
    We need a solid template to follow so we are not falling into the familiar trap. A template that shines the spotlight on the kids and any adults move into the shadows. Ideas anyone?

  9. I still maintain that students at NECC is a lapdog compared to the elephant in the living room that nobody's discussing: students in the edublogosphere.

    Privacy? A parent letter of consent for students whose voices deserve a hearing 24/7/365, not just at a (sorry) "school-y" conference where educators trot infantilized teens out for 15 minutes of fame. That still strikes me as condescending, ultimately, and disabling. The message to students should be much more inclusive than a week-long conference. They can enrich our conversations much more than we can amongst ourselves by participating alongside us in this very arena.

    I've returned to this pet peeve and hobbyhorse on my blog because it's clear to me that our thinking is way too small here. As a teacher trying to get blogging to take hold in the classroom, my biggest frustration is that there's no movement among educators to give the best student bloggers the respect they deserve by welcoming them into our ranks and affording them the same discursive and dialogical richness we adults are privilege to.

    So thanks for the motivation.

  10. Cross-Posted on

    I feel that students must be included in our conversations. I frequently have students present to my staff projects they're working on. They show teachers (and other students) what they're doing, which has a greater weight than hours of me saying the same thing. Plus few experiences are more educational for the students than when they have to present, especially to a group of adults.
    You are right though, students who are pulled from a classroom and placed in front of a group and asked to "tell everyone how you would change education." for the first time are as ineffective as the first time you or I stood in front of a group to present. They require the same practice in real settings as we do but rarely get it. It has to become something that is routine both for students to do it well, and for teachers to get over the feeling that, "Isn't it great they're speaking regardless of what they have to say."
    We run student led tech showcases, where students teach and present to students and teachers. Both benefit from exchange and I wouldn't have it any other way.

  11. If you're interested in this conversation, there's more on Scott's blog.