Reflections on the iNACOL Blended and Online Learning Symposium

The annual iNACOL conference wrapped up yesterday, and it’s worth noting some observations while they are fresh. One person’s experience in a conference with more than 3,000 people and over 200 sessions is a highly limited view—so all observations should be assumed to start with a “FWIW.”

  • iNACOL reports that this is the largest symposium ever, and it felt that way. It seemed that there were more new people, schools, and organizations attending and presenting than ever before. The mix of experienced people and organizations, and new attendees bringing fresh ideas, was energizing.
  • The Hechinger Report’s account of the conference gets this exactly right: “Unlike many other education technology conferences, the annual iNACOL symposium stands out for the sheer number of classroom-level participants. It’s an important audience. These are the people tasked with making the magic happen every day.” It’s not just teachers—in fact it’s probably more administrators than teachers—but they are often school-level leaders, or at the level in larger districts in which they are directly engaging with schools and classrooms.
  • One of the benefits of having so many first-time attendees is that their questions and comments reflect views that are common, but different than the views of people who have been involved with online and blended learning for many years. For example, during a session structured around audience-driven discussion, many in the audience first wanted to discuss academic integrity in online courses, and then how to decide between building versus acquiring online content. Both of these topics have been discussed at the iNACOL symposium since the first year of the conference more than a decade ago. But a small field must grow by constantly adding new people, so it’s going to take many more years of people asking the same questions. And of course this isn’t just a conference issue—questions that have been asked and answered repeatedly come up discussions among state legislatures, boards of education, and every level of K-12 education.
  • My favorite single moment was hearing this response, from Gisele Huff of the Hume Foundation, to the question (paraphrased) of “why did you take part in this attempt to find common ground between organizations with very differing views of education?” Answer: “I have an agenda and I wanted to protect it.” Gisele wasted no time—she never does—with anything other than getting to the point. Everyone has a set of biases based on their beliefs, values, and priorities, and it seems to me that most discussions and debates would be better off if everyone would start by stating their beliefs and biases. Of course it helps when one has full confidence and belief in her agenda, as Gisele does.

Kudos to Susan Patrick and everyone at iNACOL for running another highly successful conference!