Area 7 TCEA Conference Reflections

Dean and Alec plan it out.  Photo courtesy: techleslie

While I should have gotten to this a month or more ago, I am just now finally having the opportunity to review the evaluations returned at the end of our Area 7 TCEA Technology Conference held in White Oak ISD in June. Feel free to ignore this post, but I would appreciate any feedback you can give to allow us to improve it next year. Whether you were a virtual attendee or in person, your feedback will help us out.

First of all, let me thank the line-up of top notch presenters that gave of their time to help me out:

Dean Shareski – Keynote Speaker

Alec Couros – Keynote Speaker

Jennifer Wagner 

Maria Henderson

Diana Benner

Christine Voigt

Paul R. Wood

Joan Gore

Janet Corder

Pam Cranford

Randy Rogers

Corina Long

Mark Cockrell

Stuart Burt

John Maklary

Gerri Maglia & Jay Olson (TETN and ESC7)

David Phillips

John Simpson (PASCO)

Nina Peery

I think that is everyone, but if I missed you, please let me know. Each of you folks have a place in my heart for what you did for us that day. Giving of your time to prepare and present was absolutely awesome. If I can return the favor, please let me know. I will do whatever I can to repay each you.

As for the survey, I am happy with the return rate of the post event evaluations. It was right around the 50% mark, so I feel like I got some good feedback. I only had one attendee who was obviously forced to attend, but I included that response anyway.

The only written feedback that came with the only dissatisfied attendee was “Hands on step by step learning”. My assumption is that he/she thought it was a workshop instead of a conference. But when you throw in the several other satisfied attendees that asked for more hands-on content, it lets me know that it might be a good idea to see if I have any presenters willing to offer longer sessions that could become mini workshops to allow more hands on. We did offer three labs of hands-on sessions along with open wireless throughout the buildings, so there were opportunities to become more hands on if you just wanted to.

Looking at the other data, I found that the vast majority heard about the event from emails circulating with some word of mouth thrown in. The TCEA website only directed one person to the event. While the TCEA site was going through a major overhaul at the time, items could have been posted quicker and easier to see since they were submitted months before. The good news is that it looks as though board members will be able to add their own content (if you use IE), and that will allow for a smoother process. Maybe this will help next year.

We had the standard “rooms were too cold” complaints, but that is always a difficult one to overcome. While I felt the building was a bit too cold in the morning, it leveled out as expected as the afternoon rolled around.

I did have a few who wanted cookies and Dr. Pepper provided even though there were only positive comments on the BBQ lunch. It was good.  We did have coolers throughout the buildings all day with free water, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Mountain Dew, Sunny D, and more. I will try to remember the DP next time.

Everyone loves them some Randy Rogers. Photo courtesy: Dean Shareski

Upon reflection, I feel like I could have improved in a number of areas:

 – Gather more volunteers. I did this intentionally this year because I wanted to take the fall personally if things did not work out. Next year, I will find others to go down with me. Not really. I will find some giving folks to help facilitate sessions and check folks in to speed up the processes. It would not hurt to have a few folks stuff bags ahead of time as well. I had several great ladies in the admin office help out, but it is always faster with more folks.  Otherwise, the administration part went well.
 – Train volunteers. I want the facilitators to be able to start the UStream recording sessions for the presenters. Only one person (a first time presenter) did not want to be streamed. Everyone else did not mind. I would just like to have someone in place to hit record so we have the archive for everyone to refer back to.
 – Have a better PA system in place for keynotes. While I only had one complaint, we need to put a better system in that area that allows for multiple wireless lapels. No tech presenter in his/her right mind is going to stand behind a podium while presenting the entire time. Then, you throw in the Cool Tools Duel and you have the need for multiple mics. This would also help with the UStream of the keynote as well.
 – Continue to invite the virtual world in. We had what I thought was a tremendous presence of virtual attendees.  I was only able to follow the sessions from my iPhone (Twitter) due to me being everywhere at once, but the response seemed very positive. The interaction was off the charts of anything I expected. Having the Twitter board running over the gathering area was a really cool deal. I appreciate Master Audio Visual for supplying the screen and projector. It worked very well. We wanted to leave it because it looked so cool, but the campus admin shot us down on the idea. Something about middle school kids, pencils, markers, yada, yada, yada.
 – The conference Moodle was a great tool. I need to better prepare it next year. I would like to give the vendors a little more coverage on it if they would like. I had them in two places with links, but I want them to embed content to make it better for them and the attendees. I also feel like the way I linked the rooms to the UStreams worked well. If the virtual attendees downloaded the conference program, they could easily match the session room number to the stream.  Leading to….
 – UStream was great. Our network, thanks to @mikegras and Suzanne Woodburn, ran like a top. Their prep work on the network kept everything running smooth as silk. We had as many as 15 streams running at one time along with all of the presenter traffic, attendee traffic, and a video conference stream with no hiccups. Very nice. Thanks to you both (along with Cheryl Hawthorne who ran around stomping our any fires that came up).
 – The MacBook is a VERY powerful little tool. Why anyone would hate on the Macs is beyond me. I received tons of emails and Twitter messages after the event asking me what mics and cameras we used because the quality was so good via UStream. Well, we used the built-in mics and webcams of the MacBook. Those little, white, plastic laptops ran like a champ all day long. It was a good testament to our staff who are/were receiving MacBooks and realized how easy it really is to share with the world what is going on in the classroom. Next year, I will ramp up the audio and video quality settings on the streams since we know the network can handle it with ease. So next year, be on the lookout for even better quality streams.
 – Judging by the Flickr photos folks posted, everyone was having a good time and learning. I appreciate the crowd sourcing of those photos. Always nice to refer back to.
 – Registering participants and presenters via Google Forms was painless and worth every penny I did not have to spend. Thanks, Google Apps for Education!
 – Do a better job of letting the campus admin know the schedule/routine for picking up equipment after the event. While those of us working the event knew we would be back the next day to pick up the laptops locked in the rooms, the campus admin did not. He got a little concerned and picked them up himself which in turn made us scramble to account for all of them. We knew which rooms had them. He did not. Next year, I will do a better job with that, including the documenting of which machine was in which room and letting him know our plans.
 – Having Two Guys from Saskatchewan was a great idea, if I do say so myself. Alec Couros and Dean Shareski did awesome jobs in every way. They even sat around at lunch continuing the conversation with my superintendent and many others. Having their outside of Texas perspective did wonders for many in attendance. They see that the problems they face are systemic, and that if we are going to improve the system, we all have to work together.  The Cool Tools Duel was a hit, to say the least. While I know it is not about the tools, we are working with a lot of teachers who are not even the least bit familiar with what they have out there. Alec and Dean did a superb job of showing a wide assortment. Who won that thing again? Oh, and catch the tool list here on Randy’s blog.
 – Jen Wagner is a lifelong friend that I have never met. This sister in Christ did everything short of hijack a plane to get involved with our event. The weather did not get her there, but her persistence and the continuing assistance of Paul R. Wood and John Maklary sure did (along with more than a dozen online tools). I never heard one negative thing about attendees having to sit in a virtual session instead of a F2F one. That is a testament to the power of the Jen. Thank you, my friend. Sweet tea and BBQ still await you (with half a Chick Fil A shake for dessert).
 – Offering VC sessions are not the most popular, but they were attended, informative, and appreciated. We had two separate presenters utilize the portable VC system we have. One showed off the online offerings of TETN (yes, I let the TETN folks present; I even called and asked them to; see, I’m a good guy…mostly). The other session showed off the online database offerings for librarians. Our library staff loved it. Hopefully, others did as well.
 – We need to rethink our VGA connections. I had no complaints from presenters on the VGA connections being in the back of the room. I offered bluetooth wireless presenters, and some brought their own. I did have a few comments from teachers in attendance, though, that said they are now rethinking why they keep their connections in the back of the room. They realized how difficult it can be on the kids to be engaged if the speaker is behind their backs. Good point. I will plan on having extensions available next year just in case, though.
 – Twitter did a great job of just being a part of the conference experience. Many used it to retweet key quotes. Some used it to announce a session starting. Still others used it just to let their friends know where they were headed. Regardless, it was well used and appreciated. And, as I mentioned, having that ginormous screen with the Twitter Camp running was too cool.
 – While I appreciate the high rate of return on the paper conference evaluations, I want to make it online as well next year. This will not only help me with collecting and disaggregating the data, but it will show another tool our teachers can be using with kids. I use Google Forms for my surveys, so it should work fine.
 – While on the topic of surveys, I should have had one for the presenters. I plan on doing that now anyway. I am sure they can recall any issues, concerns, or good things still. I want and need them to be happy. If they are not enjoying themselves, I want to fix it.
 – I only had one session with no attendees (that I heard about). I wonder if it was that I had too many sessions offered at once, since that session really was a great one for elementary teachers. We had about 13 sessions running concurrently for 200 attendees. Maybe I should back it down to about ten sessions at one time and just add another into the schedule. I need to think on that one, but please feel free to comment on it as well.
 – Having three strands was good (admin, tech director, classroom teacher). No one commented on it, but I think it made a difference in helping them find a session. I plan on doing that again.
 – Master Audio Visual helped sponsor some of the travel to get the Canadians into Texas while Visual Techniques provided the very large screen they had behind them, which was cool. Both vendors are very supportive of what we are trying to doing in White Oak. We truly appreciate that.
 – When you order BBQ for 200 folks, send a full size cargo van or two SUVs to pick it all up. Thanks to Melanie and Cheryl, it all arrived safely…in multiple trips. Sorry. It was much appreciated, to say the least. While on the topic of food, I need to get the cafeteria to make cookies next time. They are awesome, and a few folks missed out on having them. They’ll be there next time.

Michael Gras and I spent the better part of the Thursday before the conference smoking ribs, brisket, veggie kabobs (thank you to @CClong‘s hubbie for grilling those bad boys), hamburgers, and more. We wanted our out of town presenters to feel at home their first night in the area. We all sat around the pool at the hotel breaking bread and reflecting on why we do what we do in education. It was an honor to be in the presence of those folks. I could not have paid enough money to gather that much talent. Yet, they did not come for the money. They came for the love of making things better in public education. You have to love that. It is why I am proud to call them all part of my PLN. I only wish more people could have enjoyed the time with us.

Speaking of which, if you missed out on presenting this year and are interested in helping us out next year, put June 11, 2010, on your calendar and email me (floyds at woisd dot net) about it. The smokers will be fired up once again, the golf courses will be beckoning, and the Gladewater Rodeo will be going on. We had a great time there as well. Then, you throw in what turned out to be a heck of a little area tech conference, and you should thoroughly enjoy yourself. Please consider it.
And for the one person who said we needed better door prizes, I’m not sure how to improve on iPods (including Touch), digital cameras, iTunes gift cards, an IWB, free conference registrations (TCEA and Bishop Dunne’s GeoTech Conference), complete curriculum kits for GIS, and more that I know I am forgetting. It was not a state level conference, but I thought we did a decent job with all of those prizes. Anyone is welcome to fill me in in the comment section below as to what else might be preferred. Other than a Plasma, that is. And remember, the registration was only $25 and we offered free breakfast snacks, lunch, and CPE credits for the day.

My final reflection concerns an award I received Monday night. White Oak ISD’s highest award they present is called the Roughneck Award. It is given to those who go above and beyond the call of duty. My superintendent presented it to me at a school board meeting. His presentation speech meant a lot for me to hear. He discussed my spending time on campuses instead of just in my office. He talked about my work on the district website, adding Twitter as a communication and collaboration tool, and building a program for electronic portfolios and blogs district-wide for staff and students. But the part that will stick with me was about this conference. He was bragging about the turnout and the quality of the sessions and presenters and the organization of it. Then he added one thing. He said that none of it would have been possible without the PLN that I have been able to develop using tools like Twitter and blogs. He said that being able to wrangle in that much talent with only the promise of BBQ and golf was a feat, but he felt those people came because of the relationship and level of respect they had with me instead. That was the take home line for me. He is right. If it were not for a bunch of free tools and encouragement by those I have met virtually, none of that would have happened and 200 educators would have missed out on a really awesome collection of knowledge. While receiving the award was definitely appreciated, having such good friends and bosses makes all the work worth it. Funny, it rarely seems like work these days.

Jen Wagner contemplating virtually calling time violations on Dean and Alec during the Cool Tools Duel Photo courtesy: techleslie

Survey Results
97 total responses (about a 50% return rate)

How did you learn about the conference?
68 – Email Announcement
27 – Word of Mouth
1 – TCEA Website
1 – no response

Overall, how satisfied were you with the conference?
67 – Very Satisfied
27 – Satisfied
1 – Dissatisfied

Overall, how satisfied were you with the technology (wireless access, conference Moodle, UStream sessions, Twitter, etc) available to you?
55 – Very Satisfied
41 – Satisfied
1 – Dissatisfied

Overall, how satisfied were you with the sessions offered?
58 – Very Satisfied
38 – Satisfied
1 – Dissatisfied

Do you plan on attending this conference next year?
77 – Yes
0 – No
20 – Maybe

What, if anything, could be done to improve your experience as an attendee at this conference?
 – several comments asking for longer sessions
 – a few requests for handouts to be mandatory
 – several requests for more hands-on
 – +++++ Excellent
 – Loved the Macs!  The most effective sections for me were the podcasting because there was a “beginner’s” session followed by a more intensive session. This really helped me understand more than jumping in over my head.
 – More time at each session; Make it a 2 day conference
 – Wonderful day. presenters excellent, great content, Cool Tool Dudes – COOL!
 – a couple of requests for presenters to specify if they use Mac or PC (most sessions were web based, so I’m not sure why this mattered)
 – Randy Rogers was awesome! (Randy swears he did not write that on his evaluation)

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