“If I was going to design the perfect environment for a person not to learn, I would design a classroom,” explained Dr. John Medina, the cognitive scientist who knows the human brain as well as any person on the planet. This was just one of the challenging, powerful, and motivating statements that really showcased the week we had in Orlando, Florida last week for the 13th annual Cite conference.
By most accounts it was the best eLearning conference we have had in years, some saying it was the best ever! While we could debate the merits of the week compared to past events, suffice it to say we had a fantastic time. Three keynotes, one large group panel, a magnificent dinner event, and messages about personalized learning, real-world analytics for education, and automated grading using artificial intelligence were just some of the highlights. We (literally) learned, we laughed, we cried, we collaborated – and so much more.
I think (hope) we got off to a strong start. It’s hard to judge yourself, but from the reaction of the crowd our opening “iBand” was a creative enough beginning. (Our iBand – Cognitive Dissonance – saw a Garage Band App for piano & guitar, Les Paul app for guitar, More Cowbell App for, well…cowbell, and Tambourine! – an app for…oh, you get it – played by the group, while I sang into the auto-tune / auto-harmony “Glee” app, did a decent job with our own version of the ultimate song!)
But the conference was off and running from there! Dr. Mark Milliron really challenged education leadership in our first keynote, asking us to rethink education from the ground up. From the ridiculous nature of the (century old) Carnegie Unit to education’s inability to be agile when it comes to data, research, or change, he motivated and inspired the audience. It was the perfect way to begin tuning our paradigm for the week.
In the midst of challenging, engaging, and extremely informative sessions on the efficacy of social networking in education, the power of outcomes measurement, and mobile initiatives that are truly changing the landscape of learning, we had our next keynote. Dr. Marilee Bresciani dared us to rethink assessment and (more importantly) proof of learning in education. Speaking about balance in the classroom but yet serious accountability, she gave us some tools and tips for meaningful evaluation.
At the halfway point, after more brilliant sessions about creativity, effective hybrid classes, and the 9 Hallmarks accreditors are using to evaluate online programs, Dr. John Medina rolled over the audience like a thunder storm in July. He battered old notions of what is “known” about learning. He blew the whistle on how our memory actually works, dispelling myths and rumors throughout. He gave meaningful thoughts about how to write a better book, how to design a better classroom, and how to improve retention of information for our students. Along the way he was funny, engaging, powerful, demonstrative, and I have to say, one of the best professors a student could hope to have.
So, when Thursday evening’s take-off-your-tie-and-have-fun event came around, everyone seemed ready. Our brains were oozing with ideas and information, brimming with inspiration and more informed questions than ever. So, the salsa dancing, roll your own cigar bar, wood fired flat bread pizza line, and eLearning inspired cocktails were just the ticket. My personal favorite moment was watching the caricaturist make take-home souvenirs from conference goers iPhone pictures of their kids. Very cool!
By Friday morning, it was indeed a great time to wrap up. The panel on real-world student services for online learning, complete with experts from Universities, Consulting groups, and Policy makers was a great lesson for everyone. The mini TED-esque talks followed by meaningful Q&A was as inspiring as it was challenging.
So, when Adrian Sannier…(or should I say the Reverend?) stood up to deliver his final thoughts which would close the conference, it was cathartic for everyone. Watching him tear up as he described a world where we actually and quite literally educated EVERY person on the planet who wanted it was beyond inspiring. Seeing Adrian’s pride for his son, the YouTube guitar instructor, who was compared to none other than James Taylor, also a video guitar teacher (albeit a bit better known one), was impactful. But coming together as a group of people who are not just trying, but succeeding in disrupting education…well, it is impossible to write down the words.
Thank you to everyone who made Cite such an amazing success this year. As a person who goes to 30-40 conferences a year, it was an honor to be a part of something that just doesn’t happen very often – conference lightning in a bottle! The marketing team who coordinated it did a brilliant job of putting together an agenda that was rich in content, high on engagement, and over the top with challenge. If you didn’t make it, you should consider coming to Chicago next April. Talk is already starting for Cite 2013 as a premier eLearning event for anyone who wants to change the world through education.
(Oh, and I already have something really cool planned for the opener…you don’t want to miss it.)
Were you there? We’d welcome your thoughts and feedback.