A Technology Conference That Bans Technology

[Note: Since this was posted ISTE has made some changes to the good. More details in a comment by Miguel Guhlin below and on his blog.] 

NECC is the largest educational technology conference in the world. It’s huge. There are thousands of educators who attend every year. So many people attend that there are only a few conference venues large enough to handle it. But in spite of that a lot of teachers and other educators who want to attend can not. In fact my wife would would love to attend can’t make it this year. We’ll try again next year when it will be closer and travel costs will be less. Like many districts hers will pay some of the costs but much of it falls to the educator to pay out of pocket.

But here is the thing. Over the last two years recording sessions at education conferences has become more and more common. Yes, you may have thought that only rock concerts were targets for bootleg recordings but no! People show up with microphones and recording devices for podcasts. Or they show up with digital video cameras or even webcams for live streaming. Back channels using instant message clients or Twitter allow people viewing remotely from anywhere in the world to have questions relayed in real time to presenters. The conference presentation room has opened globally. A lot of people participate in conferences this way and get a lot of value out of it.

Some conference organizers have welcomed this trend. This has especially been the case for smaller events with limited space but even some larger ones have welcomed the opportunity to share the knowledge. There are after all a lot more (and some would argue better) reasons to attend conferences than “just” the presentations. The chance to have people view the content and see what goes on at a conference is often a real incentive to find a way to attend in person in the future. ISTE, the people who run NECC, have not gone that way though.

With about a week to go before NECC opens, Wes Fryer has posted a warning about ISTE’s rules for podcasting at NECC. The short version is that there will be no podcasting or live streaming without prior written permission from both the presenter and ISTE. Out of common courtesy people ask presenters before recording of course. But getting permission from the conference organizers is a larger hurtle to the sort of information thing that has become typical. This rule would appear to totally close out the sort of thing that a lot of people were planning on to let them get value from NECC without actually being there. Wes is not the only one who is upset.

Christian Long is talking about staying away from NECC on general principle and urging others to do the same.  Miguel Guhlin is saying he regrets helping ISTE with this year’s event and that he will not attend or present in 2009 unless the rules are changed. And this has been a big topic of discussion in Twitter in the last 24 hours as well.

I’m sure ISTE thinks, possibly correctly, that most people at NECC will be unaware of the rule and of the controversy. Unfortunately the people most effected by this rule are the leaders in web 2.0 and using online technology for education. Exactly the sort of people that really need to be at NECC to share what they are doing with those people who are blissfully unaware of what they are missing. I see this rule being short sighted on ISTE’s part.

It looks like podcasting will still be able to go on at informal events that are being organized in semi-public and public spaces. That’s a good thing. EduBloggerCon, which I have to miss because of a conflict, should be interesting with the discussions that will take place online as well as in person. I’ll be watching on Twitter as much as I can. And NECC Unplugged already has an interesting schedule most of which will probably find its way onto the web. It will not be a total loss for people who can’t make it to NECC in person.

Oh and if you are wondering why else to attend NECC besides the sessions and workshops?

  • The Exhibit Hall – a great chance to not only pick up information and swag but to talk to people from the various companies and organizations. For some this is reason enough to attend.

  • Meeting people in person – This is the big one for me. I love talking to people online and I spend a lot of time in email, in chat, in Twitter, and reading, commenting and writing blogs. But nothing beats even a short conversation in real life to really feel like I know someone.

  • The side conversations – Many is the time that a conversation with a presenter and a group of listeners has lead to more learning then was in the whole formal presentation.

  • The atmosphere – It’s electric! The idea of being with so many people who are committed to education and to life long learning and their own development is inspiring.

  • The unplanned spontaneous things that just don’t translate to podcasts. Honestly there is no way to predict what will happen when a whole bunch of creative people happen to find themselves in the same place.

Being there virtually is great. It is wonderful. But to me it compares to being there the way eating food at a fine restaurant compares to watching the chef prepare the food on TV. I really hope that ISTE doesn’t mess up a good thing by getting too hung up on control.

BTW a plug. Over the last several years Microsoft has sponsored/hosted a number of educational conferences. At most of the ones I have been involved in, including the annual game development in computer science education ones, the sessions have been professionally recorded and made available though the Faculty Connection or on DVDs for free (as in no cost to educators.) Let me know if you have trouble finding them. It’s hard to do live streaming from a cruise ship but I don’t think we’ve told people they couldn’t.

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Comments (3)

  1. ALfred, howdy! Please be aware that ISTE has responded. I’ve posted a copy of the response–linked–on my blog with this post:


    In short, they’ve changed their policy to enable  audio/video recording for noncommercial use with written presenter permission. This is not an unreasonable perspective–it’s what we expect in my school district, as well as other places–and I’m grateful that ISTE listened to its members and made the change in policy.

    More importantly, ISTE will be convening a discussion for NECC 2009 to involve membership in discussing these issues. Leslie Connery and Don Knezek represent the leadership I wish other conferences would aspire to because some conferences seek to ban blogging, tagging (e.g. a common blog tag), and podcasting. How do I know? I’ve been on the receiving end of these bans in Texas by one state organization. And while I dearly appreciate the members of that organization, a few obsolete ways of thinking need to change. Why should it take 10 years to make those changes?

    Thanks for offering the opportunity to have this discussion.

    With appreciation,

    Miguel Guhlin

    Around the Corner-MGuhlin.net


  2. It is a shame that we are being required to choose between EduBloggerCon and CS/TA.  Can we put pressure on the ACM folks so that this doesn’t happen again next year?  Unfortunately, my staff feels that EduBloggerCon is of more realizable value than CS/TA, especially with our short-sighted decision to nix starting an independent CS department, so for the first time in 3 years I will miss CS/TA 🙁 — an event that I have grown to very much enjoy your presence at, among other things.

    At least we can record parts of NECC again….

  3. AlfredTh says:

    Honestly either the day before or the day after NECC is going to be a problem for someone. I agree that it is a shame that CS&IT conflicts with Edubloggercon as I really enjoyed both last year. I will bring it up with the CSTA people today.

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