Monumental Opportunities

So here I am at the NAIS annual conference – where it is sunny and balmy- ready to engage in the monumental opportunities of listening to and talking to strangers.

They won’t all be strangers though and it will undoubtedly be amazing that, in the company of 4-5000 educators, presenters and workshop leaders, I will catch up with, and run into, people I know.

And the way we know each other is changing too. (A few moments ago that happened quite literally in the hotel elevator: “Hi! I know you from Twitter. Poughkeepsie, right?”)

My first impression of National Harbor, Maryland is that it is an updated set for The Prisoner – that ground breaking TV series from the 1960’s. Patrick McGoohan played Number 6, a burnt-out intelligence agent (maybe), who is  held against his will in a tightly controlled and surreal holiday village where people ride penny farthing bicycles and no-one can be trusted. The perfect match of paradise and paranoia.

National Harbor is a resort and conference center in Maryland, close to Washington D.C., and it does have that made-for-a-film-set feel. Everything is new or newish for a start.  And then there is the complete absence of the grit and grime, hurry and hassle of a real place. The traffic is sparse and slows down to stop before you even reach the kerb to cross. There’s music piped into streets that have nautical names and there’s not a homeless person in sight.

On one end of “American Way” is a beached and broken ship presided over by an equally faux lighthouse. At the other two huge metallic eagles on poles look out over the Potomac River. It’s all very nice.

In fact it feels so sanitized  and tidy that there is an almost irresistible urge to commit a dastardly crime – such as drop a piece of litter or burst out into blasphemous sea shanty.

“Monumental Opportunities” is the title on the NAIS brochure (Advancing Our Public Purpose). And it’s an accurate reflection of the possibilities for learning presented within.

So many great speakers and workshops it will be – as always – hard to choose.  But that’s how we live – an age of limitless learning made possible by the linking of a long-held philosophy of knowledge (constructed, created, re-imagined, personal and put to work not stable, limited, transmitted and memorized) and the tools of interactive technology. But I digress…

So I’m looking forward to a few days of learning.

On the train to Washington I was thinking about this new culture for learning and thinking about how groups – classes, faculty, schools, and organizations – come together in learning collectives. In my previous post I wrote about the free form of the collective listeners at a concert at the Park Avenue Armory.

In that Unconcert, there was no one center – the music did not emanate from one place on a stage. It came from everywhere including the outside world o f Lexington and Park Avenues as sounds were piped in to add to the sonic sensaround.

At that concert there was no rented real estate of a seat for the duration but rather space to wander, mingle and graze at will.   It was up to the individual listener  to find the vantage points and take advantage of, and pleasure in, the music and the experience.

And so it is with learning.

No more do we need to be tethered to a desk and trapped in a classroom. Our learning collectives – face-to-face and online – can be more fluid and unformed and focused by shared interest, passion and purpose.

And so it will be with the conference, I plan to take full advantage of the monumental opportunities to learn @ twitter hashtag #naisac11.

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