Given the cost and energy in going to a conference, I believe it's important to have some kind of formal process of reflecting upon the learning that was experienced and so here are my "take-aways" from the 2011 NAIS conference in National Harbor, Maryland:
1) We've all got to do more for our public educational system. Geoffrey Canada's closing keynote was an emotional call to action to do more for the most disadvantaged parts of our public school systems. Mr. Canada works with 10,000 school children in Harlem New York. The school system there has a pretty poor track record. I was particularly struck by Mr. Canada's point that we as a society are willing to guarantee the presence of a jail cell for anyone who needs one (to the tune of $23,000 per inmate annually), but he has difficulty in getting $5,000 for pupil expenditures for his schools. His theme about the broad failure of inner city public schooling reinforces what Elizabeth Coleman was emphasizing- that democracy depends on an educated citizenry.
2) YouTube's built-in analytics tool "YouTube Insight" is amazing. Sal Khan's keynote about Khan Academy was entertaining and enlightening, but the biggest "wow" moment came as he described a feature of YouTube which I hadn't paid much attention to- the data analytics that have information about how videos are watched. Not only do you have obvious data like most popular videos, but you can also see a graph of time that shows when people stop watching your videos. Mr. Kahn explained that he could improve his instructional videos by noting if there are drop-off points, because these are indicative of something that needs to be improved in the video.
3) The North Carolina Association of Independent Schools has partnered with elearning providers to offer a variety of online courses for credit. The Virtual NCAIS site links to their primary partner Aventa Learning with quite a number of online courses. NCAIS is packaging this into a format that member schools can take advantage of and easily enter the online learning delivery market.
4) It is amazing what you can do in the cloud these days. As I prepared for the workshops which I presented at the conference we used Google's presentation tool to build all the slide decks. This tool allowed me to collaborate with my co-presenters and gave us everything we needed. (Buh-bye PowerPoint.) At one point I needed to edit some graphics and realized I didn't have PhotoShop on my Macbook. A google search brought me to pixlr.com a free online image editor that worked great and was easy to use. We also used prezi to create some animated images. Vinnie mentioned aviary for sound editing. The online-html-editor came in handy when I needed to generate some html for a widget I was working on. These experiences reinforced how many things can be done in the cloud these days. My favorite cloud application is still dropbox which lets me store, access, and synchronize files across machines and platforms.
5) Google's iCal feeds make it easy to share dynamically updated calendars. I created a google calendar for the NAIS events and published the iCal URL which meant that anyone else could feed that calendar onto their own calendar. The ease with which you can do this is illustrative of the power of Google's apps.
So what were your take-aways from the conference?