On Focusing on “Learning” At the Digital Media and Learning Conference

Overall, I can say I was both impressed and pleased with the way the Digital Media and Learning Conference went. It was certainly one of the more exciting conferences I’ve dragged myself to in the past few years. I think the interdisciplinary nature of DML made for much richer conversations than the kinds I find myself falling into at ed conferences.

I’ve left with a huge list of people to stay connected with and a ton of areas for collaboration with my students and colleagues at Manual Arts. In particular, many of the programs taking place at USC are right up the alley of the work I see our 9th grade academy tackling come July. Would love to build a more extensive relationship with USC that extends beyond the generally small (and non-b-track) opportunities of the NAI program.

I left with three general critiques to keep in mind for next year’s conference:

  1. For a conference focused around “Learning,” there was a dearth of actual practitioners. In addition to my presentation, I know my colleague Veronica Garcia did an amazing job presenting with her students. But how many other teachers presented, let alone even attended? This is a general critique I have of other conferences too – AERA especially. How are we expecting teachers to hear about these conferences and opportunities? What are we saying about the role of schools in digital practices if they aren’t a part of these conversations? And if the bulk of a conference is during “school days” are we making it that accessible to teachers when funding for substitutes is tight?
  2. Some of the panels were positively bursting with too many people. The Saturday evening symposium especially had too robust a group with far too much important information to share to be adequately covered in the short time. I admire the effort here, but would have preferred if each person was given a larger slot of time and used the Saturday session to really see dialogue across the various interdisciplinary perspectives.
  3. Like my first critique, the bulk of the presentations I went to and the two keynotes focused on the informal practices of youth and what happens outside of schools. I get that this is where most of these practices are happening. I’ve written elsewhere about how schools stifle these kinds of digital practices. However, why aren’t we demanding and discussing the empirical research about what is and should be within a school? Where is the ongoing conversation about what needs to happen in schools? I think this, in particular, would have been aided by the presence of more teachers. Instead, I think I came across as the whiny, complaining teacher on the DML twitter feed (speaking of which, I’m going to unabashedly wave my n00b flag and say that this conference and the #dml2010 hashtag really helped me get twitter – the conversations and dialogue there were a great experiential area of development for me).

Again, I need to emphasize that this was a really great conference. I’m excited about being connected next year. I hope that there will be more of my colleagues in the room next time (and keeping it free will be key for getting classroom teachers to be willing to venture out with the budget crisis nowhere near an adequate conclusion).

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