While everyone seems to be having a good time, I seem to notice a curious thread in today's presentations. Before I get into that, I have to put up a disclaimer: I have a lot of respect for anyone that volunteers and is selected for a conference presentation. They required planning, courage, and a good deal of innovation to make the cut. Today I witnessed many audience members try to snipe presenters, ask them "why didn't you do this instead?" or commandeer presentations to fit their own agendas. Dialogue is important, but I'm not sure why the audience feels the need to make life more difficult for a presenter mid-presentation. If you have a real question, just save it for after the show.
But that's not what was really concerning me today. In all the sessions I attended, there seemed to be a huge impact on people selling themselves, rather than their ideas. Even our opening keynote, which delved into the importance of digital education, seemed to ultimately be a commercial for his company's product. The other three sessions I went to also spent a huge chunk of time either talking about the specifics behind their school's initiatives, or speaking in vague platitudes about how much they care about education. Now yes, details are good, philosophy is fine, and it's good to provide real-world, practical examples at these conferences...but ultimately, that's not why anyone goes to a session. People don't want to hear about how great your school is, they want to know if there's anything they can do with it. It's great you launched iPads at your district...but so what? Unless I'm a parent there, why should I care? Start with your story and anecdotes, but then transition to the low-hanging fruit. Why should other teachers want iPads? Why should teachers shift their vision? We all assume you're a good teacher and know what you're doing, and have had success. You don't have to sell us on that; what we want is some take-away...otherwise this is just a big show-and-tell.
Like I said, I give a lot of credit to the speakers and I don't believe they maliciously intended to create a presentation for the sole purpose of making themselves look good. Rather, most of the presenters today seemed defensive; they wanted to look good in front of a room of other teachers who were potentially (and in some cases actually) judging them harshly. There's a very thin line between simple self-promotion, and dissemination of large ideas.