A Conversation with Alan November

BLC18: Come to the Best Little Conference on Educational Technology!

  • What: Building Learning Communities 2018 – A conference on educational technology
  • When: July 25-28, 2018
  • Where: Boston Park Plaza Hotel, Boston, MA
  • Why: Be Challenged - Be Affirmed!

Every year since 2000, Alan November, a high-school teacher turned conference impresario, has run the Building Learning Communities Conference in Boston, MA. BLC has about 850 attendees (from the U.S and about 25 countries). Why do they come?

Alan says it plainly and clearly: "Pioneering educators come to BLC to be challenged and to be affirmed…  Doing work that has never done before … [can be] lonely." BLC provides a community where pioneering educators can come and meet with other pioneering educators and, in so doing, feel that "they are not alone." And, "they come to be challenged." Making sure that attendees engage in "meaningful … life-changing" conversations is a passion for Alan. Truly, whom you miss a session with is an important part of BLC!  Alan has lots of stories about teachers who come to BLC and stay in touch with each other all year long.

What make BLC so good? Before BLC, Alan organized education conferences at Stanford University during the 80’s, ran conferences in the 90’s as President of MassCUE (Massachusetts Computing Using Educators), and learned that "Pixie Dust" is key. Say what? Alan and his team work on BLC for an entire year, putting together just the right amount of formal presentations and organized content, social events, and opportunities for conversation. For example:

  • Led by world-class presenters (e.g., Dan Rothstein, Michael Gorman, Alan November ) BLC18 has three days of pre-conference, hands-on "master classes" (July 22-24), e.g., "Coding and Robotics in K-4 Classroom"  and "PBL: Learn, Plan, Step, Action — A PBL Deep Dive for Teachers and Leaders."
  • And BLC18 has three days (July 25-27) for the main Conference Sessions & Workshops:
  • Keynotes: "Empowering Our Educators Through Differentiated Technology PD," "Mixing Gamification with Pedagogy," etc.
  • Concurrent Workshops: "Bueller? ... Bueller? ... Bueller? ... NOT IN MY CLASS! Designing Innovative Learning Experiences to Engage All Learners," "Better Questions, Better Decisions: Building Consensus with the Right Question Strategy."
  • Global Speed Networking (July 26) — Three minutes of conversation with someone new; repeat for 90 minutes. Phew!
  • Annual BLC Bash (July 26) — The absolute can’t miss social event of the year.

More Pixie Dust…  Alan has a real nose for what’s coming to be important. For example, one of the keynote’s at BLC18 will presented by Dr. Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.  With cyberbullying a fact of life, sadly, and all the stress the kids these days are experiencing due to social networking, SEL — Socio-emotional learning — is coming to be one of the hot topics inside the school and outside the school!  Learn about SEL from a leader in the field at BLC18.

For Alan, "asking questions is the lifeblood of learning." Strong statement! Indeed, so committed is he to supporting the development of good question asking skills, Alan, at his expense, is bringing in Dan Rothstein to BLC18. Dan will run a workshop for all BLC18 presenters, before the conference begins, to help the BLC18 presenters learn how to ask better questions and learn how to help others — those attending the presenters’ workshops — to ask better questions. Wow! Come to BLC and be challenged, most definitely!

Some relevant history: When Alan started BLC in 2000, colleagues told him: "It won’t work." Colleagues weren’t convinced that teachers would find the Internet valuable. Well, Alan was clearly on the right side of history! Indeed, the Internet is integral to BLC: Alan does virtually no advertising; by his own admission, "I am terrible at marketing." BLC is a word of mouth via the Internet phenomena: educators talking to educators over the Internet — all over the world. And it works!

Besides individual educators coming to BLCs, some superintendents bring groups of teachers. When asked what type of teacher would find BLC to be a valuable experience, Alan suggests, "Bring teachers who are resistant to change… and they will be immersed in a culture of change." Those teachers "get excited about new opportunities to expand boundaries for their kids and about their role in that endeavor." And, surprise, surprise, Alan  has found that after attending a BLC those resistors often become "full tilt" supporters of change!

The yearly ISTE Conference (International Society for Technology and Education) is very much a valuable experience. We go every year.  At ISTE, one gets to see industries’ latest wares and one gets to meet up with one’s 20,000 closest colleagues. (Smilely face goes here.)

We are new to BLC, but we are BLC believers — big-time! We presented at BLC17 — and we are presenting at BLC18. All y’all come on down to Boston in July — and be prepared to "be challenged and be affirmed."

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at www.imlc.io.

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at www.imlc.io.

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at thejournal.com/rc.