Field Report: New Media Consortium Summer Conference 2012

Field Report: New Media Consortium Summer Conference 2012


Boston Red Sox fans collectively refer to themselves as "Red Sox Nation" (or simply "The Nation.") In 2004, after the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years, an interesting rift emerged between old school diehards and newcomers joining the bandwagon. Pink Red Sox hats were sold to draw a wider variety of fans, and it worked. This new legion, ever as loyal and prideful as their older counterparts, quickly caught up with baseball and Red Sox history. When the team won another World Series three years later, both groups celebrated. Old timers were grumpy, however, contending that if you hadn't suffer through the team's 86 years of misery, you couldn't possibly value or contribute to the new and future success of Red Sox Nation.

Call me a "Pink Hat" to the world of education technology. And get ready for more Pink Hats, too.

Big Themes

After having spent four days with nearly 500 practitioners of education technology, I came away with a better answer to that nagging question: Why now? That was because the large majority of the crowd agreed that we have reached a tipping point. There was an aura of inevitability that permeated the conference, a sense that we are on the verge of something wonderful--almost a second Age of Enlightenment. (This sentiment was perhaps best expressed in MIT senior associate dean Dr. Vijay Kumar's choice of song to kick off his presentation--Stephen Still's iconic 60's protest tune, "For What It's Worth.")

Today, when faced with a dilemma of any kind, we have the means to crowdsource solutions--to ask "Why don't we ask everybody in the world what they think?" and actually get a sensible answer. To that end, much of the discussion focused on how this group of edtech veterans could affect the rate of change.

Lord David Puttnam (famed film producer and current Chancellor of the Open University) felt that "the movement" (which I am now calling it) really needs to "get the media on our side" and recognize the power of PR. Others called upon educators to "change the way we teach teachers to teach." This responsibility calls for the Schools of Education throughout the world to introduce new pedagogy that fully utilize and integrate technology into teacher training curriculum. Teachers were encouraged to talk to one another through social media to help proliferate the spread of ideas that work and curb ones that prove unproductive.

Consortium for School Networking CEO Keith Krueger called on engaging the higher-ups as well, suggesting that we frame discussions with current school administrators by asking: "What should education look like in the 21st century?" Don't bother with technical gobbley-gook about "feeds & speeds" or the cost of the latest LMS. Educators understand the technology.

Overall, the sense of urgency to change course couldn't have been stronger. It may well take another decade to genuinely personalized learning. In the meantime, we keep sending our kids off to factory like, "one size fits all" schools that have become slaves to standardized testing. The exams aren't even testing the right skills that will enable children to be successful in the 21st century marketplace.

Lynda and Bruce from

I was delighted to speak with Lynda Weinman and Bruce Heavin, the husband-and-wife team that founded after Lynda Weinman's breakout session, "Reflections on Personalized Learning." The content on has evolved from teaching web design (its initial focus) to covering a broad swath of software tutorials across the board.  

Q: In a future world of pervasive distance learning and certificate accreditation, when will not going to college become more acceptable with employers and society as a whole?

We are already seeing a growing acceptance of non-traditional "paths to success," especially with the celebrity-like status of college dropouts like Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs.  But when we hire, we prefer candidates with college degrees. It shows that the person had the ability to both be accepted and then finish the program, demonstrating the types of attributes desirable in an employee. Ultimately, we are more concerned with a cultural fit and the specific skills for the position.

Q: What other edtech products and services are you really excited about?

The growing use of robotics programs shows great promise, particularly the winning robotics team from Dos Pueblos High School in California. Of course, that the "network effect" of social networking will undoubtedly change education forever.

Q: Where do you think edX will be in five years' time?

It can be a "rousing success" based on enrollment, as the combined brand of MIT & Harvard will enable them to "separate from the pack" and potentially have hundreds of thousands of students learning all over the world. But there are lingering questions over how well thought out the "mission statement" is, and if success in the brick and mortar higher education world necessarily translates into online success.

Q: Do you plan on taking into other industries for workforce retraining, such as nursing or pharmacy technicians?

Right now we have no plans to expand beyond our core competency of software training. But given the tremendous deficit of good software developers in the world, we'll continue to focus our efforts in this space.

Notes from other memorable presentations (also available on iTunes U) and you can access the NMC 2012 Summer Conference site here.

  • Keynote speaker, MIT Media Lab Director Joichi Ito ticked off a list of the types of skills that are important in the 21st century, framing them temporally as "BI/AI", meaning "Before Internet" and "After Internet." He spoke about how the "Internet is a philosophy" and that the local town library may once again find itself as the hub for networked learning.

  • Malcolm Brown from Educause laid out how changing the way the world teaches is indeed a "Wicked Problem"

  • Lev Gonick, the CIO from Case Western University, presented on the types of applications that are being created when fast fiber network is used to link schools, hospitals, homes and universities, as is the case in Ohio. One impressive project is called the Case Connection Zone. Brain surgeons on the Case Connection Zone can practice surgery using real patient data from the comfort of their living room, so that when the real patient actually goes under the knife the doctor would have already preformed the operation several times. (In fact, Lev opted to skip a meeting with President Obama that was taking place simultaneously to demonstrate "surgical theatre" to the President.) Such efforts even have novel funding support. Lev cited several resources including: and

  • Arlene Krebs, Director of Technology Development at Cal State Monterey Bay, shared her passion about her work to bring high speed network access to rural California. Students in Monterey Bay can even rent equipment for about the price of a latte here.

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