Thursday, June 19, 2008

NECC 2008 & ISTE: Challenges for the Here and Now

Ok - to be upfront I am in agreement with many bloggers, namely Wes Fryer and  Miguel Ghulin that the idea of having a seemingly iron-fisted policy against pod-, vod- or any type of "casting" of session at NECC 2008 "without express written consent......." seems a bit Draconian.

I believe ISTE has been hasty in this decision and the whole thing reminds me of the first chapter of the book The Starfish and the Spider.  In short, the new ISTE policy will do more harm than good and turn people away from what is a pretty good conference.

If someone from ISTE could tell me why ISTE feels the need to do this that would be great. To this point, I have not heard nor seen anything from ISTE on this situation.  I suspect it is one of three things:
  1. They believe any type of podcasting or streaming will affect attendance and thus reduce revenue. - and/or-
  2. ISTE has made a deal with a vendor to be the "official" caster or streamer of the event and thus wants control over the content. -and/or-
  3. ISTE is afraid of not enough bandwidth availability.
Personally, I think it's 1 and or 2.  By reading the blogs or following on Twitter many of the featured and well-known conference speakers, it is true that many of the speakers either podcast or stream sessions from conferences and make those sessions available to non-attendees.  Yet, and I do not have empirical evidence on this, my intuition tells me that conference non-attendees are non-attendees because of many factors, none of which are "I can always listen to the conference on podcast or via stream."

So it seem like number 2 it is.  As I said, I believe this has been done hastily and will cause more damage in the long run to ISTE's reputation.  It also bring up a very valid pint about who's owns the content of the presentation at a conference.  (And that will be a topic for another day.)

Subsequent to this topic being posted on Twitter on June 19 I responded to several posts from Gary Stager in which he took what I thought were some over-the-top potshots at ISTE, NECC and Pearson.

So, in the spirit of debate, I asked Dr. Stager a couple of questions in light of his comments about NECC, ISTE and Pearson.  Now, to the best of my knowledge, I have never met nor spoken to Dr. Stager in person.  I have responded to several Twitter posts of his, but that is all.  I took a bit of offense at his comments as they seemed biting and and too off-handed. I also realize that he is entitled to his opinion on these things, but since he put them out for public consumption, I felt the desire to ask a few questions.

I asked him if the Constructivist Consortium, for which he is the Eecutive Director, would allow participants to podcast or stream the proceedings of its next conference - Constructing Modern Knowledge.  After a couple of Tweets back and forth, he said yes, there was no prohibition against this at the Constructing Modern Knowledge Conference.

My second question dealt with his comments regarding Pearson, ISTE Alignment and corporate sponsors. Specifically I asked if "the big shakedowns ISTE gets" also apply to the 6 companies that are "founding members" of his Constructivist Consortium?  Thus the debate ensued and I was sort of lectured on dues paying, his lefleat of NECC in 1992 and his columns railing against the ISTE standards, ISTE alignment costs and other topics.  Soon Sylvia Martinez jumped in. Her organization, Gen YES, is a founding member of the Constructivist Consortium.  More Tweets and more Tweets.

My point to Dr. Stager (and Ms. Martinez), was that some of the things he was bashing ISTE about are similar in appearance to activities he is involved in. Corporate sponsorship is the main one.  

Why is he taking ISTE to task for "selling out" and having corporate sponsors and corporate speakers when it appears his organization does the same?  The Constructivist Consortium event on June 28 will give participants free software, coupons for future purchases and other things.  The Constructing Modern Knowledge Workshop features faculty who are prominent employees of some of the Constructivist Consortium "Founding Members."  At NECC, corporate sponsors and speakers are readily identified and if attendees blindly want to drink the vendor kool-aid, so be it.

Both Sylvia and Gary repeatedly told me it was different because ISTE is dues paying and Constructivist Consortium is not and that ISTE has sold out its members to the favor of sponsors.  I responded how is this different from what the Constructivist Consortium was doing?  Is giving free software to participants or having vendor presenters different because on organization charges dues and the other does not?  Are vendors not trying to position their products and services in a positive light in both instances?  Why is Pearson, who is soliciting assistance from educators on a project, deserving such sarcasm when ideas, projects and materials created at the the Constructing Modern Knowledge will also find their way back to the corporate sponsors?  Dues or not, it appears both organizations are doing the same thing.

The intent of my questions we not to be a personal attack on Dr. Stager or the Constructivist Consortium.  They were to solicit answers to what appeared to be some comments that I felt went too far and appearances that seemed too cozy.  I am sure that in agreeing to disagree, as I left it with Sylvia, life will go on.  I have no doubt that Dr. Stager and Ms. Martinez do great work on behalf of educators and educational technology.  I harbor no ill will toward either of them or their organizations.  I just believe the criticism, even if justified, was not done in the spirit and manner of a what I was taught an educator should do.

As a dues paying ISTE member, I believe this podcasting fiasco will light a fire under the members to ask for more accountability from the ISTE board and its leaders.  The policy is wrong and close-minded.

ISTE members also need to voice their opinion on the ISTE Seal of Alignment process where ISTE charges vendors a fee to review the vendor products to see if they align to various ISTE NETS. Until today, I did not know that ISTE charged to do this and I definitely will be writing to let ISTE know of my displeasure and the bad aftertaste this has left in my and many other's mouths.  To me, ISTE should make the process inclusive and not exclusive.  On the face, it looks like a blatant money grab by ISTE and for that, I am deeply disappointed in it as an organization.

I am no ISTE apologist.  While I support their efforts on behalf of educational technology, I also believe they need some self-examination.  To an extent, I agree with Dr. Stager who Tweeted me that ISTE has lost its direction over the years.  While corporate sponsorship is a necessary component of every organization, we must not, as members, let the organization forget who it serves.  

ISTE members and sponsors must live in a complementary relationship, not a balanced one. If corporate sponsors become so important in terms of support that their interests are put ahead of the dues paying members, then we as members need to speak out, speak up and elect board members who will serve our needs and interests first and re-focus the mission of ISTE.