This time last month I had the privilege of enjoying delicious food in beautiful surroundings while simultaneously getting fired up about being an independent school librarian. I wasn’t the only one. Over thirty librarians, many of them HVLA members, also attended the NYSAIS NEIT (Education and Information Technology) conference at Mohonk Mountain House. We were joined by about 120 other educators, primarily technologists and STEAM educators. At this point I’m going to take a minute to divulge that I am not without bias when it comes to this conference because I am on the committee that organizes it! That being said, I really think that it is a very valuable professional development opportunity. In this blog post I aim to share a little of what happened at NEIT this year in the hope that even more of you will join the crew next year.
One of the primary strengths of the NEIT conference is that it provides participants with three days in which to build relationships with counterparts from other New York schools. Many people return year after year to further develop those relationships. Of course we warmly welcome new people. This year, committee members sat with new attendees at the opening lunch to talk with them about how to get the most out of the conference. Personally, I love that the attendees are a mix of librarians and technologists as it helps me to see ways that the two departments can work together. I always attend with a few technology teachers from my own school; on our drive home we discuss what ideas we want to put into action.
Each year we have three or four keynote speakers and four or five open space sessions. The committee books speakers that are on the leading edge of changes, movements, and ideas in the information and technology fields. This year we had Jimmy Diresta, host of a number of t.v. shows and YouTube videos, talking about what it takes to be a successful “maker”. Watching his cat, Spike, cut his name out of wood was hilarious. We were also joined by Clive Thompson, author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better. Since so often we hear the negatives about technology, it was refreshing to hear Thompson speak about how technology facilitates powerful public and collaborative thinking. Our final speaker was Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google and a founder of the movement Time Well Spent. Respecting people’s time is at the heart of Harris’ work. He talked about the fact that we live in an attention economy in which technology companies seek to manipulate users into using their products for longer. He explains how they do it in this essay. Harris went on to explain that we should be teaching this to our students if we want them to be savvy consumers of information. He was mobbed at the end of his talk so it was clear that his message resonated with a lot of people.
Open space sessions represent the other end of the continuum in that there are no designated speakers. Instead, each session is proposed and facilitated by a conference attendee. During each time slot there are approximately 15 concurrent sessions taking place in various locations. Anyone can propose a topic. It might be that you want to discuss an article or a dilemma you are wrestling with or you may want to share something inspiring that you do. Some sessions are attended by just a few people, others have 25 or more people taking part. There is a philosophy at NEIT that if a session isn’t working out for you, then you can just get up and go to a different one and nobody will be offended. This year I discussed Dana Boyd’s article Did Media Literacy Backfire? I also traded tips in sessions on how to educate and reassure parents about technology, on which professional development opportunities are worthwhile, and on what constitutes digital life skills. Some of what we learn at the conference is acquired in entirely informal ways. A conversation over lunch with a new acquaintance may yield an insight or joining a group hike during free time may lead to an interesting debate.
Some fabulous traditions at the NEIT conference enhance the fun. One of my favorites is the vendor dinner where we meet with library and technology companies and win great prizes. Also, we always have an Ignite session where people volunteer to share what they know about an interesting topic using twenty slides for twenty seconds each. Lately there has been a showing of a Black Mirror episode late in the evening. Rumor has it that some attendees bring their own traditions, such as the tech teacher who apparently does a whiskey tasting in the parlor each year.
I went to NEIT this year with plenty of ideas and practices I wanted to explore and left with a whole bunch more to think about! NEIT 18 will take place from January 24-26. Save the date!
Library Director, The Allen-Stevenson School