Don’t call it a Northern Voice wrap-up. Part one – what worked

Three days last week that were definitely of the drinking water (or beer) from the firehose variety. So insight does not run deep. Rather than attempt a comprehensive overview, I’ll jot down some of the things that in my view made Northern Voice a worthwhile experience.

* Having the chance to share social time with D’Arcy, Alan, Scott, Jason, Jon, Wendy, and a few others. Getting to mix professional and personal spheres with admired peers over good food and drink reinforces my will to live, so I’m grateful a little of this was possible in the general hubbub.

* The opportunity to engage in fairly extensive discussions on the practice of social software in education, over a series of days, with the people named above and many others. Between the Salon, the Hootenanny, and the Blogging in Education panel, I estimate we generated about six hours of fairly high-level discourse, with some very provocative moments, most of it captured on digital audio. Over the coming weeks one of my big tasks will be break these elements down, and release them in small, indexed, and hopefully contextualised chunks.

* I can’t express how much I enjoy planning this event with the other organizers. They are so talented, so energetic, and so fun. I’ve learned a lot from them over the past two years, and had a lot of laughs in the process. I enjoyed moderating the They’re threatening to sue panel simply because I got to hear more of the relaxed, informed banter that I’ve grown addicted to. I don’t know if we will do this event in this configuration next year, but if we don’t I’ll be agitating for some other excuse to see these people once a month.

* The logistics of the event were pretty much flawless, if I may say so. Things ran on time, lineup wait times were minimal, the wireless network held up well (the embarrassing network banning of Drupal.org excepted), the UBC Robson Square staff were awesome.

* I think the payoff for UBC was substantial. Many attendees from the University, good PR (had many people thank me for UBC’s support), lots of reusable media, and I met a few talented people who’ve said they will do workshops out on campus in the coming months to share their expertise.

* We delivered two days of solid conference programming, on diverse topics, in a nice setting for fifty bucks. This low price has been a source of some criticism (as it means we do minimal catering, to name one limitation). But I had a number of people thank me personally for making the event accessible to non-professionals (one reason we held part of the event on Saturday). We could have done much more than simply set aside a room for child care, but even our minimal efforts were rewarded by the presence of more than a dozen kids.

* Among the things people got for their nominal fee was a free meal. The Friday night BBQ was a high-risk affair, but I think Boris (et al) pulled it off very well. I was only able to make the briefest of appearances, but saw a lot of smiles, the food was plentiful and served efficiently, and we were on the beach when the sun went down.

* I didn’t see as many sessions as I would have liked, but overall I thought the calibre was pretty strong. I especially enjoyed Philip Jeffrey on tagging (which generated some very strong and informed discussion); Bruce Sharpe’s pragmatic and useful riff on doing better podcasts cheaply, and Nancy White’s talk concerning online competencies (very applicable to education). I wish I could have seen more than ten minutes of Kris Krug’s photocamp — his energy was tremendous, and he’s a gifted facilitator.

* One thing about doing an event like this – the amount of media generated is simply astonishing. Heaps of useful blog posts, great photos, and audio recordings. I had a moment of panic during the Bray/Sifry dialogue, wondering if anybody was recording it. I ran into the theatre control room to discover the aforementioned Mr. Sharpe already there, plugged into the soundboard. I can’t express how relieved I was. He was there all day, and has told me he will give the files the same treatment he does to his work with IT Conversations.

Another unique characteristic of these events is the amount of detailed feedback we as organizers receive via the hundreds (thousands?) of blog posts that get generated. I’m still processing those. Some of these posts conveyed some really useful constructive criticism that point to ways this conference could have been better. I’ll be following up with my own take on how we could have improved the event in a future post.

But before I sign off — huge thanks to everyone who made this such a stimulating and enjoyable few days.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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