Monday, February 22, 2010

PodcampTO 2010

Another little conference this weekend; close to home, fortunately. It turned out to be a lot of same-old, same old though:

  • The powers-that-be don’t want us to use social media, or if they do, they haven’t a clue how to do it they just want a Twitter account or Facebook page.
  • There are huge issues with privacy.
  • We’re not really sure of the effectiveness of the money we’re investing but very vocal people tell us it’s working.

Interestingly enough, this wasn’t an education conference; it was for entrepreneurs and marketing folk. PodCamp Toronto 2010 was an un-conference in which people put themselves down as presenters on whatever topic they wanted and the costs were picked up by generous sponsors such as Rogers and GM. A call-out to Rogers for setting up a recharging station for devices – a nice touch if you forgot your charger at home.

What I took away, and this is a big tent, was that businesses are very serious about making money using social media, that they desperately want to get at the information posted anywhere on the net about us (and our students). They also want to spread their information as widely and cheaply as possible and develop a readership at minimum and perhaps a community. Unfortunately, they are challenged with knowing how to use social media effectively with any kind of scaling, safety and consistency. Misery loves company!

On a more macro scale, the other aspect I noticed was the wide variation in presentation skills; you can have very little information but just wrap it up in enthusiasm and levity and you’ll get a lot of positive feedback. In a half hour, one presenter gave out five pieces of data (and even he admitted he was making some of it out of whole cloth) but kept the audience entertained and they left with a buzz. On the other hand, you can have a lot of information but present it as (boring as) a classic chalkboard lecture -- even if you are trying out Prezi and obviously have a strong background full of data and anecdotes that could have been sprinkled in for context. Some presentations were obviously done the night before; others were very well polished and the presenter spoke clearly and with confidence.

Will I try to go next year? Absolutely! For one, it’s an unconference, a potential model for education conferences. Because people volunteered to present (in fact, they chose their own rooms & times in a Google Doc) there was no filtering we see at ed conferences. Since our present filtering method doesn’t prevent the duds anyways (usually 75-25 split at the ones I attend) why not open it up? You were allowed to vote with your feet; if you didn’t like a session you could get up and leave … although I only this in two of the sessions I attended (and deservedly so).

I also think it’s important to get out of the group-think I experience at many ed conferences; the people here were all interested in social media but for widely different reasons. Some were private citizens who did it as a hobby; others were in it strictly for the money. There were academics from journalism departments but also teenagers who were learning all the latest & greatest in podcasting. It was an eclectic and energizing mix!

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