Looking back at MacWorld

15 02 2010

31,000ft provides an excellent environment for a variety of activities.  Looking out the window at the span of land below.  Pushing the little button on the left of your armrest, and tilting back the seat to catch a bit of sleep while hopefully not annoying the fellow air traveler behind you.  Perusing the latest edition of SkyMall and chuckling while wondering who buys some of these items, and seeing great fits for other products.  I, on the other hand, decided to try something different.  Plug in the iPod, fire up the laptop, and use the setting of 31,000 feet as a venue to reflect from an S-80 distance on my experience being part of the conference faculty at MacWorld.  I could write in 5,000 words all my feelings, but there are a few resonating moments worth mentioning.

The conference planners did a great job on taking care of speakers.  And speaking of speakers, to those of you I met, it was a pleasure.  Getting to know other Apple professionals from around the country on a peer-level was excellent.  Each of you has a unique story to tell, a tool-kit of skills, and a perspective backed by experiential knowledge that cannot be quantified by gross earning, salary, or job title.  My co-presenters Ben Greisler and Gerard Hickey; it was an awesome experience to work with you on this project.  I also need to thank Ben and Arek Dreyer for not only asking me to take part but for providing encouragement and giving me some great advice.

Prior to MacWorld and actually setting foot on our stage, I knew it was a privilege to be speaking to others in the MacIT track of MacWorld.  Once you walk into your room and step foot on the stage and survey the soon-to-be filled chairs and tables, the tangibility of the event hits.  Attendees are here with a purpose; they want to learn.  Ben, Gerard and myself had the topic of “Mac Enterprise Integration” and our job was to pick from the wealth of information on this encompassing topic a total of twelve hours to share.  I think of all the content on the web, in books, mailing lists, forums, and to pick only twelve hours is a challenge.  However, that is our job; a job we all wanted to do right.  Our purpose?  To have our attendees leave our session feeling they got excellent value and could apply concepts in their environments.

To attendees, I want to thank you for putting the energy forth to become a better Mac professional.  One story struck and stuck with me from the week.  There was a gentleman who has attended MacWorld for over twenty years.  A University employs him.  It was a story that had reactions on the same topic diverging in two different directions.  One of those was a sense of disappointment in the lack of organizational support in the form of professional betterment toward learning and updating skills.  Contrasting this view was the commendable dedication toward learning.  So, what is the story eliciting these thoughts?  Four of the last seven years he has paid out of his own pocket to attend MacWorld.  Not only does this include airfare from the Midwest and lodging, but utilizing well-earned vacation time to attend.  I can think of a lot of people, especially in this economy, where, if not receiving some assistant from their employer, would not even consider spending money out-of-pocket for something work-related.  Tuesday to Saturday in San Francisco is not cheap.  And he was willing to sacrifice his own money and his own time to attend.  Bravo.

When writing, some have said the setting makes a difference.  Some prefer quiet; Hemmingway had his own preference, others, noise.  And my current altitude is a fitting venue.  From 5.9 miles in the air with the gentile hum of engines, the flips of pages, creaking of tray-tables and clicks of my own and others keyboards is what it meant to me and what I learned from being a presenter.  One trait I found to be true amongst all the presenters was the attitude toward helping others.  Not only from the simple standpoint of creating content for a 90-minute, or one day, or two day session, but being approachable to others and willing to share knowledge; quite simply, to be teachers and resources to others.  Some of us have made this journey and have the scars, grey hair, lessons and pitfalls to prove.  The conference faculty was willing to help others avoid those four items.  I feel great to be included in this caliber of professionals.

To present at MacWorld, one needs to prove their value and commitment to the larger community; you don’t just get picked at random.  Stepping from the role of consumer of information to creator and disseminator requires a different demeanor.  You are not necessarily viewed as the person who presenting a specific topic, but a representative of the presenter body as a whole.  People approach you to ask questions, share their thoughts, and offer improvements.  Being supportive of other speakers, offering insight to attendees, and valuing all conversations is part of the job.  I got some great tips from Arek on this.  Thanks.

That puts me at the point of reflection where you think about what you did, how it went, and what to do differently for the future.  I would love to be on a flight from San Francisco to snowy Chicago at MacWorld time next year.  I’d love the chance to share and facilitate sharing from others what they have learned.  Given the chance to do the presentation again, my goal is to make it better and more relevant.  I’m excited hoping I get the chance to catch up with attendees and others to hear about how they have grown.  There is great potential in the group of individuals I had the chance to meet.

In summary,thanks to all of those who made this happen.  To those who I had the chance to meet and work with, it was a pleasure to get to know you.  To attendees, keep up the great work, and keep learning.  Don’t be shy to ask questions and find resources that can aid you in acquiring new knowledge.  And don’t be afraid to share!  To myself, realize people view you in a different light than before.  To those who will be involved in MacWorld next year, I’d love to be back.

Oh, and to myself again, good job on your presentation.

Looking ahead to MacWorld

2 02 2010

As I glanced out my window here at work and watched the snow tumble from the sky, I couldn’t help but think how nice it will be to be in San Francisco in a week.  Then it hit me; this is a conference where I’m not only consuming techie-tidbits, but creating and disseminating these same über-techie bits of information.  The conference is MacWorld.  The topic is Enterprise Mac Integration.  As I imagine co-presenting a two-day session on this topic, I’m met with excitement, anxiety, and privilege.

Excitement is there because I’m going to be presenting.  Framing knowledge in a way to disseminate to others, and being looked at as a subject-matter expert is exciting.  If you have ever had that moment at work where you get show off a technology, or be the go-to person on a topic you care about, you know the feeling.  People are looking at you for the answer.  Not only am I excited about actually presenting at this conference, but also taking an active role in helping individuals acquire knowledge.  Likewise, there will be other sessions where I’ll be able to learn from experts and hear an alternative view on a topic I work with.  The best ideas come from a blending of real-world application knowledge with other’s general abstractions you can bend and apply to real situations.

A sense of anxiety is present as well.  When talking to 30-40 people on a topic where you are the expert, expectations need to be met so attendees walk away with a positive experience.  There also is the fact that when presenting, you are not “The school tech guy” but you are there as yourself, representing your tech image to others.  The last thing one wants to do is let people down and leave a conference where someone remembers you as “That guy from the session was not a really good speaker”

Finally, is the aspect of privilege.  Being given the chance at a conference such as MacWorld to be included as a speaker is awesome .  When you look at all the expertise from mailing lists, tech writers, and other professionals, being called upon is, simply, an honor.  Frame it this way, of all the Mac professionals out there, you were chosen!

I’m looking forward to what the week will bring as far as networking, presentation experience, and learning.  Look for a reflection entry in the coming weeks!

Ways to create a learning organization

15 03 2009

Often we hear about staff development sessions that aim to enhance collaboration.  These typically involve tapping internal and external resources to share experiential knowledge.  Applying concepts of andragogy from Malcolm Knowles of how to work with adult learners, we can grasp these four ideas:

1. Adults need to be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction.

2. Experience (including mistakes) provides the basis for learning activities.

3. Adults are most interested in learning subjects that have immediate relevance to their job or personal life.

4. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented.

As advocates to ensure teachers and other educational service personnel develop, we need to keep these in mind.  One of the hardest things to do is to step out of the role of “knowledge gatekeeper” and step into one of as “knowledge facilitator”.  Coupled with traits of high performance organizations, such as the Baldrige Education Criteria (http://www.quality.nist.gov/Education_Criteria.htm) the goal is to move knowledge from being proprietary and in one person to shift into organizational knowledge accessible to all.

This is where I ask you to pause for a moment and think about what that really addresses.  It addresses current needs.  Don’t get me wrong, creating an organizational culture that is present-issue collaborative is hard enough.  Having an organization that supports reaching across subject and grade-level barriers takes a lot of effort.  There may be someone who is your go-to person on Interactive Whiteboards, and they lead classes to share how they use them in classes.  They may also collaborate with others on potential new applications.  Or, you may have teachers who have used podcasts; others with ComicLife.  The list goes on.  But again, these are all present-time related tools.  What happens when ComicLife 2 arrives and individuals need to know how to use it?  Or, when Office is version 2045? Or how about when students have an electronic device containing all their readings?

This is where my techie nuts & bolts view comes into play.  We may have the best tools out there in student, teachers and administrators hands, however it will sit idle and under-utilized until those who will be using it are trained or explore the technology.  Think about your school for a moment.  How many touch-points to new technology exist?  Seven people in your District that explore the new technologies and grasp enough to teach others?  Maybe 15?  30?  Think about that in relation to your organization now.  How does that relate to the percentage of people?  5% of your District has these individuals?  10%?

Technology and information are changing and being generated faster and faster, so that means the amount of information to acquire will increase.  Facing this information, there will be a point when saturation will occur and the only way to process more will to be have more processing points within an organization; i.e, the individuals who can process and learn new items.

This is the population of the District I think about.  How can the framework of exploration and knowledge discovery from this group be applied to others?  How does this get infused into the culture of the organization?  When I think of how I can play my part, it is to convey to users the process I use to fix their problem.  When they have a question on something in Office I don’t know, I may sit and talk through the process:

“So the problem you are having is setting custom margins?  I’m going to open the help menu and search for that to see what I can find”

“I’m not sure how to do that.  Let me go search on google and see what I can find”

“I’m don’t know the software too much, but let me hit some of the buttons and see what they do”

Now, how many users will pickup on this?  Maybe just a few, but it lets them know how I find information.  It is really teaching individuals HOW to learn and find information, and sometimes that gets forgotten.  A teacher will teach their students a specific subject, and that is based on what is already known.  Perhaps because of this experimentalism or realistic philosophy of education, it isn’t habit to reach into a more existentialistic philosophy where learning is done with what wants to be learned and is much more free-bodied.   When it comes to life-long learning, the process of learning itself is just as important as the skills obtained.

Alvin Toffler had a great quote, which, I think, summarizes this entire process.  Applying it to the 21st century and the overall ubiquity of knowledge, it is even more important.

“The illiterate of the 20th century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who can not learn, unlearn and relearn.”

I’ve always found it gratifying when I can stop into a teachers classroom and see them doing something I never thought of.  First, it opens my mind to new applications, but also, it helps me learn the process they go through to learn, which allows me to frame things in a different light.  When they share enthusiastically with me something they have done, that is where I feel good about what I do.  Whatever the changes are to make this happen, it has to be slowly worked into an organization.  Does it make some jobs obsolete?  It shouldn’t, but it may reform some into more supervisory.  Perhaps your evaluation now has a portion that is done by a “Coordinator of Professional Growth”.  These could be the individuals that assist in your learning process as facilitators.

And this is where I ask for your feedback and thoughts.  What are some ways you think the learning process can be included in staff development?  What are some ideas you may have to make it so you are not the only person who knows how to do something?