Northern Voice 2009 Snapshots – From ‘Ahoy’ to ‘Awesome!’

It happens every year. Once again I find myself at a loss when trying to make sense of the just-completed Northern Voice. I am not capable of pulling together a comprehensive summary, so allow me to toss out a few thoughts that I had, and some memories I will treasure.

WordCamp Education felt a bit like a letdown at the time, if only because some of us had such high hopes. But a number of the participants made a point of telling me later how much they benefited from the experience. It may have laid the foundation for (dare I say it?) a community of practice around educational social media here in the province. And that’s worth going for…

At the opening keynote on Saturday, Nora Young played a sound clip of an early 20th century voice giving instructions on how to operate one those new-fangled telephones. (A clip supposedly at archive.org, but I have not been able to find it. Anyone?) She made the observation that as this technology began to be diffused into daily life, the social conventions around its use needed to be worked out over time. For instance, when answering the telephone, rather than “hello” we might easily have found ourselves saying “ahoy”. For the rest of the day’s discussions, “we’re still at ‘ahoy'” became a useful shorthand to describe where we are at with regards to how we use the web. It also crystallized to an extent some of my frustrations with so much educational technology practice, which in my view assumes a much more mature stage of interactions, and risks freezing us here…

I enjoyed the content of most of the sessions I attended, so it feels unfair to single just a few of them out. What I valued most was the permission people gave themselves to take risks, whether it was to discuss a pet topic that the convenor worried wouldn’t go over (it did, of course, like gangbusters) or an invitation to have the participants join presenters in some dancing.  This opportunity to take chances seemed most precious to me when it didn’t quite work. When Jerk With A Camera got up to talk about why he still loves analog film even in the age of digital, I personally couldn’t have cared less. But his enthusiasm was undeniable, and the vibe in the room was respectful and curious. I doubt he convinced many of the attendees to convert back to film photography, but the people were ready to learn. The context was working.

Of course, D’Arcy is correct when he says the best part about Northern Voice is hanging out with friends old and new. I want to offer extra-special thanks to those who traveled to Vancouver, and fervently hope that the experience rewarded their investments of time, money, effort and energy. At a post-conference gathering, some of these friends had me laughing hard at their re-telling of a session I didn’t attend. Evidently, the presenter’s rhetorical approach was the repetition of a simple formula: “So… we have put together this [XXX], and it’s AWE-some!” (Repeat, with a new variable for [XXX])  Now, I suppose some might reasonably argue that this session would point to a deficiency of the “unconference” approach, the need for more rigorous gatekeepers. But I find myself feeling the opposite, that by lowering the barriers we open up to new voices and new approaches, to amateurs (in the most positive sense), some of them more ready to share in a professional manner than others. And in fairness, from what I heard the actual work this person was involved with sounded freakin’ awesome.

So hurray for everybody. We’ve got this fun little learning party called Northern Voice, and it’s awesome…

4 thoughts on “Northern Voice 2009 Snapshots – From ‘Ahoy’ to ‘Awesome!’

  1. I’ve never gone yet, and I live here. It’s starting to become a case of shame on me and I’m probably going to have to set aside some time for Northern Voice next year.

    I wonder if you’ve taken a look at Buddy Press, the hack of WordPress MU led by Andy Peatling. I signed up but because my time’s short I don’t play with it much.

    I’d be interested in how that social network vision of WP might actually lend itself to educational uses. I’m not keen on some aspects of the default UI design they’ve done, but some of the community connections are very interesting.

    What about some of the emerging WP courseware plugins, like ScholarPress? I have no idea how good they are, but again, interesting stuff.

  2. Ahoy! What was missing this time is the D’Arcy did not take out his camera bong.

    Twas a great time, a different flavor each year, but always always, the best conference in the universe. Thanks for your host-itality. AWE-some.

  3. James, you would have been a welcome addition. Given your comment here, we would have been especially keen to have you at WordCamp Education. If I can keep my thoughts straight, I may add you to my follow-up communications with the attendees.

    I’ve used Jim’s installation of BuddyPress at wpmued.org – and our guys here have met with Andy. I agree with you that is offers some promising wrinkles.

    As for Scholarpress, we had looked at it some time back, and also done some work on similar lines. It appears there has been some recent progress, worth another look! http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/scholarpress-courseware/

    Alan, you always bring so much to what makes this time so special. Really glad you feel good about the experience.

  4. Thanks Brian. It’s always tough for us mktg/communications focused tech guys who have (frankly) more of an interest in deeper cognitive stuff with open web tools. The frustration of doing my MA in learning tech right now, is I can’t apply lots of great ideas and experiments to my day job.

    I follow Jim Groom’s stuff quite closely, but I thought he just had a standard version of WPMU, not Buddy Press hack.

    Another interesting aside, when I was at a Gastown agency I almost used Andy as a contractor on a job and then saw last year that he’d launched the Buddy Press platform. I think he’s now in Vancouver, instead of Victoria, but I could be wrong.

    I’d be happy to be on your communication list, as I find ruminating (which is all I can do at present) about this stuff quite inspiring. We’re all over the map where I am, and we pretty much just respond to external facing short-term web fires without enough thought on the longer-term forest.

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