OK, so its been nearly a week since our own TLT Symposium took place here at Penn State. It has honestly taken me this long to sort of let the dust settle and for me to put what I took part in into perspective. I could probably write a couple of sentences and be done with my reflection, but I know the feelings I have for the events of last Friday and Saturday are fleeting and not capturing them at length would be a long-term mistake for my own historical reference.
I’ll start by saying the simple first — it was an overwhelming success that only happens when lots of dedicated people come together to show and share their passion. The planning teams thought of nearly everything … as a matter of fact I really can’t point to anything and say, “that could’ve been done this way or that way.” I just can’t. That doesn’t mean we aren’t thinking about how to do just that — you know, make it better. It just means that this year’s event was perfect for this moment in time. I knew it was going to be special when a late night Twitter stream pushed a group of us to create all sorts of stuff built around our people tagging stickers … something strange was happening and it felt really powerful.
What jumped out at me? Let’s see … our keynote speaker, Lawrence Lessig, was amazing. I was one of the lucky ones who got to spend quite a bit of time with him. On Friday alone I had the opportunity to have lunch with him, attended private sessions that we had planned between he and other Colleges here at PSU, and had a wonderful dinner with him that evening. All of it happening on my 36th birthday was an interesting twist — I can only think of one other way to spend a birthday and that is with my family. Friday was an intellectually challenging days on lots of fronts. As an example, working to engage Professor Lessig in authentic dialogue was a complex task — he is a very introspective and quietly intense individual who really takes his time in sharing his thoughts. I don’t want to make too much of it, but he is a model as it relates to really working to understand the dialogue before contributing to it. I guess my point is, if you didn’t challenge him he had little say. When he was asked intelligent questions his answers were of the prose his presentations are made of. It was a pleasure having time with him and as the day wore on he settled into a great rhythm and had plenty to share … one of my favorite quotes of his while speaking to some colleagues from PSU Public Broadcasting was, “Public Broadcasting should pay more attention to the public and less to broadcasting.” That was not an insult, it was a sentiment that everyone in the room wanted to rally behind.
On Saturday Professor Lessig was introduced by our President (who stayed for his entire talk) — BTW, having President Spanier do an introduction would have been unheard of for our modest conference a couple of years ago but there he was sharing insights and generating laughs as he made his remarks. Lessig’s talk was nothing short of breathtaking … all I can say is watch it for yourself and listen to how he crafts a message that tells a story that is so complex but yet shares it in the simplest of terms. It was brilliant and it left all of the 325 or so of us assembled in a state of awe, shock, amazement, and I have to admit, empowered. Where do you go from that? Well, you move into faculty sessions that were fantastic. The thing I noticed about the faculty presentations this year was that they were a heck of a lot more like extended conversations than presentations. No one sent an email to presenters and directed them to think about how to engage the audience — they just all did. Each session I went to is worthy of its own blog post, but that has already happened over at the Symposium site.
The other thing I have to mention here is something that can be observed, but not measured — the emergence of a community. I’ve been saying for quite some time that about a year ago I started to notice that there was a connected learning design community ready to just explode here on our campus … it has been building over Twitter for quite some time, but Saturday it emerged in full force — faculty, staff, and students all engaging in real face to face conversations that were meaningful. Many of these relationships were ones that had started in Twitter, through blogs, or over podcasts. I can’t tell you how many times I heard or said, “it is so nice to finally put a face to your (user)name!” I don’t know how to share how I am feeling about being a part of this community, but it is a great place to be. If you want to see just a little evidence of it all check out the hashtag space, the Flickr photos, or listen to the “man on the street podcasts” … not sure if that even gets at it, but it is a shot.
Sorry for the long post … maybe a couple sentences would have been more appropriate, but this is the best I can do at articulating the feeling I have walking away from the 2008 TLT Symposium. I want to personally thank everyone who contributed to its success and to let everyone know that this year our thinking will be even more wide open with more opportunities available for everyone to contribute. I don’t want to overuse something I just said to the new Symposium project manager, but maybe the “community is the committee” for the next event. Keep watching and keep contributing. Thank you!