The ISTE conference is a giant machine, a massive moving structure/tool/network/gathering, a meta-technology about technology, among other things. A collection of tools grafted onto a collection of gray matter—or the other way around. A conference is designed to do and be many things: teach, advocate, build community, pay for itself, promote itself, ensure its own survival, advance its agenda. Same diverse story for participants and presenters: they come to learn, to score swag, to meet new people, to find collaborators, to build their resume, to be challenged, to be surprised, to discover new ideas, to hang out, to have a family vacation. And the vendors come to sell: their product, their agenda, their view on the role of technology in education.

But beyond—or beneath—what it’s designed to do is what it’s NOT designed to do. Remember, we’re talking about unpredictable humans here. Plug them into a structure like a conference and they’ll immediately start misbehaving and getting up to all sorts of no-good goodness. Their attention will wander. They will not follow directions. They’ll make up their own. They will be snarky. They will criticize. And they should. They will tinker in the margins, in the aisles, at the back of the room, wherever they can find a place to plug in. They will invent ways to make it fit their learning. They will hack the structure.

Hacking Example 1: With ISTE Unplugged, ISTE has built in a DIY conversation-within-a-conference.  It’s like a mini Educon, a free, dynamic space that floats untethered in the larger program of scheduled sessions and events. Presenters sign up on the Unplugged wiki for a 30-minute slot and lead a conversation about whatever’s their passion. This is smart.

Monday’s Unplugged highlight was the Edcamp Philly organizers sharing their unconference playbook. These are passionate educators who get the power of teachers teaching teachers, and who are fearless about relinquishing control and seeing what happens. That’s what a barcamp is all about, after all.

The delicious hacking irony here is that they were using a conference session (albeit one on the fringe) to distribute unconference blueprints.

It could be fun to do an Unplugged session about hacking ISTE. Flash mobbery and hijinks.

A related hacking notion: Chris Lehmann wrote yesterday urging us to connect the dots between the Educons and COLearningsEdcamps and other passionate DIY events sprouting out there. and

But let’s network the events. Let’s aggregate the ideas. And, in the words of Arlo Guthrie, “Friends, they may call it a movement.”….People all over the country have amazing ideas. Let’s come together and talk about them where we all live.

When you see the growing list of new edcamps on the Edcamp wiki, you start to see what Chris is talking about. He’s proposing a watershed approach where we gather in local contexts. But how to network the watersheds?

I recently discovered Teaching as a Subversive Activity by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner—or, rather, it found me—thanks to Bud Hunt’s recommendation. The book’s famous hallmark is the intentional blankness of page 61. In a chapter on “What’s Worth Knowing?”, the authors invite readers to engage in inquiry-driven marking-up  by writing their own questions on page 61.about what’s worth knowing. For most people who grew up thinking of books—BOOKS!—as repositories of authoritative, received, vetted, static knowledge, as things to be handled with respect, the idea of writing in one, even when invited, feels like vandalism. Even though Postman would say the reader’s act of writing on page 61, of modifying the text and becoming a flash-collaborator, is an act of higher respect.

Page 61 is a subversive—even magical—space, a prescient glimpse ahead of its time at the read-write revolution that would come 40 or so years later.

First, it challenges our traditional, comfortable notions of book and reader by changing both into something new. By inviting alteration (you could even say requesting or demanding it), the book stops being a book in the way we usually think of it, or at least the way a 1969 reader thought of it. It stops being a static repository of received knowledge and becomes something more fluid, harder to pin down. Even the structure changes—where we expect a bunch of text, we suddenly have this space we’re not quite sure what to do with.

And second, by writing in the book, the reader changes from passive consumer to active participant and content producer. Whatever’s written on page 61 alters the meaning of the book and the next reader’s learning. Page 61 is a built-in invitation to engage in inquiry, to act, to learn and change. But in most copies, that blank page is still blank 40 years later. The subversive potential goes unexplored, and we remain stuck in our old familiar patterns.

I checked out my university library’s copy. Yep. Blank. Gotta do something to remedy that.

At roughly the same time, Alec Couros and Dean Shareski posted a “call for insights” for their Educon 2.2 presentation about the changing role of teacher education.

The topic: “(Re)Imagining Social Media and Technology in Teacher Education.”

The questions:

  1. What are your general views on the status of teacher education in preparing teachers, especially in regards to innovative teaching? What positives, negatives, or general views can you share? Please do pull in your own experiences if applicable.
  2. What is the ideal role of teacher education in developing teachers who are media literate and technologically savvy?

Their prompt got me thinking that Postman’s subversive Page 61 might serve as a compelling metaphor for the kinds of conversations and disruptions happening in, around, and about teacher education. Here’s my rambling attempt at a response. Don’t be distracted by the stunning production values and Clooney-esque delivery.