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Crystal Clear; Schoology NEXT

I'm heading home from an exciting, interesting, and rewarding conference, Schoology NEXT. I am also attempting the impossible, blogging my conference takeaways from 35,000 feet aboard Spirit Airlines flight 630 bound for Chicago. We were delayed getting out of Denver, so at least I've got time, Google Drive, and a temporary wi-fi connection, on my side. More importantly, the essential theme that percolated from the participants and presenters to the forefront of Schoology NEXT was "connect and learn". That's a great place to start in education!

First off, what a fantastic event! Kudos to Jen Robustelli and her team for organizing a conference for the ages! The organization and attention to detail helped make this a first-rate experience. Case in point, the name badges were the best I've ever seen!  Name and professional affiliation on the front, while the back contained a summary of the conference schedule along with wi-fi connecting directions. My recommendation for badge designers would be to include a QR code, or written social media contact to encourage PLN growth and engagement beyond the formal conference activities.

The accommodations at the Curtis Hotel in Denver were fantastic! The food was excellent! (Yes, there was bacon on the breakfast buffet!) The swag was impressive. (Back-up USB charger, mobile speaker, notebook, and a newly designed t-shirt - are you kidding me!) I was blown away by the keynote speakers, Jeremy Friedman / Ryan Hwang, Alan November, and Jennie Magiera. The general sessions put some tremendous experience and expertise on display. Finally, the hospitality and care of the Schoology team was exemplary. Everyone seemed to be treated like they were the most important person in the room, friendliness, courtesy, and professionalism at every turn!

I was most impressed by the "connectedness" of the 300+ NEXT attendees. Backchannel tweets, discussion boards, and shared documents, magnified the impact of the face-to-face conversations. (For a taste of this impact, search #NEXT14 on Twitter.) Educators found several creative ways to archive and share the event with others. Among these were, Flipboard magazines, Twitter lists, Schoology discussion boards, and shared Google files. The enthusiasm for learning together was off the charts! If an event is rated based upon the connections and relationships created, then this event certainly deserves a ten out of ten!

Jeremy and Ryan kicked off the event by enthusiastically sharing Schoology's relatively brief, but vibrant, history, as well as, a product road map that included the unveiling of several features which drew enthusiastic applause from the packed, Marco Polo conference room. Coming soon to the Schoology experience, annotations within the app (Yes, that means digital workflow all within Schoology!), custom user profiles with digital portfolios, enhanced grade book, and folder customization. In addition, syncing multiple coarse sections, API expansion, and greater flexibility in adding content captivated this collection of dedicated educators. Video conferencing capability is being added to the Enterprise experience. Increased dedication to mobile platforms means that Schoology's mobile app will mirror the desktop experience. This is a huge step for those learners using smart phones and tablets.

Teachers from Jeffco County, Colorado clearly and concisely explained four methods of digital workflow using Schoology on iOS devices. The workflow steps were thoroughly demonstrated, examples were shared, and the audience participated in four unique workflow processes. Questions from the audience were addressed with confident, helpful answers complete with on-line options for additional information. The session was very informative and engaging. My takeaway, they apparently have integrated their SIS program (Infinite Campus) with Schoology. I need to learn more about this.

At 10:45 sharp, I began an hour-long session called "Personalize Professional Development With Schoology". My partner, Keith Sorenson ran into a series of transportation issues that derailed his arrival. (More about him later.) Was I flying solo? Heck no! I had between 100-150 learning partners eager to disrupt traditional PD at their home schools. After a few minutes of actively practicing and critiquing our presentation gestures, we discussed the distinction between school, education, and learning. We discussed the need to bring personal, and informal learning paradigms into formal educational settings. There was a recognition that "learning how to learn" may be the most important thing we teach and share with each other, and of course, with our students. I spent a few minutes explaining how we gamified and personalized professional development at Palatine High School using Schoology. I mentioned the impact of my virtual gamification expert, Chris Aviles. (More about him later.) It was a nice treat to see several Schoology staffers, including my blogging buddy, Dylan Rogers, in the audience. 

The participants made the session special through their willingness to have fun, eagerness in asking questions, and their promise to stay connected beyond our conference experience. Thanks to Mary Lou, Ash, Duane, Walter, Bobby, Sue, Jen, James, and countless others that contributed to our learning.

My personal takeaways from my session are; I should have included more detail in the PD samples. I needed to leave time for a hands-on, fun, culminating activity such as a Kahoot quiz game. I saw this technique in a second-day session. Nicely played! I also forgot to click to the final slide containing our contact information. I need to realize that a large conference room filled with rows of chairs is not conducive to the type of audience participation that I prefer. Not ideal, but we made the best of it. This is a common limitation of hosting large conferences in this type of setting. I need to limit the aerobic activity. One more thing, my stressed, vintage Schoology t-shirt was a conference conversation piece, but it left no place for a lapel microphone. Note to self, collared shirt! Maybe my friends at Schoology can help me with this since I tend to be wardrobe challenged. My motto, it's better to feel good than to look good.

As I was breaking down the tech from my session, I had the pleasure of chatting with one of my heroes in education, Alan November. I was interested in hearing about his recent work, but to my surprise, he wanted to hear more about how we gamified and personalized PD at my school. He asked me to call him Alan, and he's not only a great speaker, but also a patient and engaging listener. I felt guilty not including his book, one of my favorites, "Who Owns the Learning?" on my slide of learning "influencers". He nailed his keynote address with wisdom, energy and humor. Even though the message paralleled his previous keynotes I'd seen, Alan was still powerfully engaging and entertaining. Key takeaway, if we are giving assignments that were created before the Internet, then we are doing our students a disservice by ignoring the power of the web, as well as, ignoring the what comes natural to students, learning in socially networked situations. 

Also, if teacher questions can be answered in milliseconds with a Google search, those are not a good questions. If you want better questions and better learning, ask students to assume the traditional role of teacher. Ask them to design authentic questions, and then share their learning with a globally connected authentic audience. In other words, set the table, invite the guests, and then get out of the way!

Jennie Magiera was her usual fireball self during her keynote address. Her rapid fire delivery kept me laughing so hard it was tough for me to keep sending tweets. Speaking of which, with lots of discussion about 1:1 learning programs, I took notice of many NEXT participants had two or more mobile devices in play. Cory, sitting in the front row on my left, had two iPhones, an iPad, and a laptop all at work while he took notes and shared his experience on social media. Like Alan November, Jen Magiera shared examples of students sharing authentic learning with authentic audiences. She kept us engaged by asking for our input on discussion board items, and by challenging our thinking about classroom learning. The common theme of having students take greater responsibility for their learning was evident in both keynotes.

Finally, congratulations to Carol Morbitzer, and to my respected educator friend, Chris Aviles, for being recognized by Schoology as Educators of the Year. Also, congratulations to my friend and colleague, Keith Sorensen, for being named Schoology Ambassador of the Year. Very deserving, I accepted the award on Keith's behalf. Before I could escape the stage, I was also awarded an Ambassador of the Year trophy. Honored and appreciative, but I also felt a bit awkward getting recognition for something that I believe all educators should be doing; connecting, learning , and sharing. Thank you Schoology, the unique glass trophy is beautiful, but it pales in comparison to the connections and relationships that have grown from learning together with our friends and educational communities. Congratulations Schoology! Your achievements include; Codie awards, tremendous growth and impact in education, increased investor support, an outstanding national / international conference (NEXT-14), and a crystal clear road map supporting personalized learning through social connection, "The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades."

Whether or not you attended, what are your takeaways from NEXT-14? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section of this post. Thank you.


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