It’s the annual Frog National Learning Platform’s conference this month. It’s sort of like Comic Con for VLE Coordinators. Sort of…a bit… you get to see cool previews and while nobody dresses up like The Doctor or Loki, you do get to rub shoulders with the people who make the platform. The comparisons fade a bit after that…but it’s still fun and quite an intensive experience.
You could take my word for it. Damn it, why wouldn’t you! But in case you don’t, here’s one of Frog’s video about previous conferences. I do insist you stop watching it before 1:30 though.
You can read more about the free event and sign up here
In order to get the most out of the day, I’ve prepared a list of things to do. I’ll be using this list myself and thought I’d share with you:
1 – Split up
There’s plenty of workshops and loads to do. As tempting as it is to go round the whole day with a conference buddy, split up and see twice as much. There’s plenty of time to catch up in the refreshment breaks and all the workshops are taped so you can watch them afterwards. At Cramlington, we run our own conference (more about that next week) and it always surprises me how often a group from one school will travel up and spend the day going to just 3 workshops.
I’m looking at this year’s agenda and wondering how I’m going to be in 3 places at once for each workshop session. Meeting new people is daunting, but let’s face it, you’re going to be stuck with those work colleagues ALL DAY and the train journey home. You’ll need a break and the above is a much better reason than:
“Seriously? I already spend 8 hours a day in your company, what more do you want from me?!”
2 – Tweet
I tweet. Occasionally. At Frog, I probably double the number of tweets I make the rest of the year. Tweeting at a conference makes you part of the larger community and it’s really the only way you can have a discussion. The speakers and workshops always include Q&A which is useful (see point 3), but you can’t really voice opinions during that bit. And of course, you have to wait until the end.
With Twitter, as soon as something is said which peaks your interest, you can make a record of it and share it with everyone. In a sense, I use it to make notes and report back to base. And if anyone back home is watching, they can throw in questions for me to get answers to. Also the Frog team keep an eye on the hash tags throughout the day and respond both on Twitter and on the main stage to tweets.
I can’t mention Frog and Twitter without at least hinting at something that happened a couple of years ago. A speaker booked to inspire the delegates really pitched his motivational speech to the wrong audience. That’s putting it nicely. He ended up boring a captive audience with smart phones.
Frog is an odd conference, the makeup of its delegates is approximately 50% teachers and 50% non-teaching techies. Techies have an allergy to edu-speak. I think most teachers probably do too, but they have built up an immunity. If you’re speaking at Frog and prepare a presentation for teachers only, you’re going to bore the techies; if you prepare just for the techies, you’re going to bore the teachers. And as I said, these people have smart phones!
3 – Ask a question
As a workshop presenter, there’s something soul destroying about sitting there during the Q&A starting and no one asks a question. Possible options:
- “Have I bored them?” – Quick! Check Twitter
- “Was my presentation so comprehensive that there is no possible question? – Nope, you’re not that good
- “Did I slightly bore them, but not enough to tweet?” – possibly
- “Did they all expect this workshop to be on something interesting they could use themselves, but have discovered it’s not” – highly likely
There are probably many other, more likely reasons, but when you’re sitting up there, you can’t think of them. Also, and this is a much better reason, we only get 10-15 minutes each, so you’re getting the highlight reel. Asking a question gives us a chance to expand and go into detail. Trying to guess what bits the audience will want more detail on while preparing a workshop is next to impossible.
4 – Speak to the presenters afterwards
I love it when people come up afterwards, generally they have follow up questions to the questions they asked and I still didn’t go into enough detail. I try to go up when I’m in the audience too, not always because I have a question, sometimes just to say “good job”. It’s always worth getting to know the speakers – networking I think it’s called.
Which leads me to a bonus point, bring business cards. It’s so much quicker to pass over contact details than scribbling them down on a piece of paper, or even worse, trying to add someone into my phone contacts as they spell out each name and their number and their email and their web address. Seriously, business cards. I got 500 from Vista print and it makes this stuff so much easier.
5 - Go round the third party stands
Frog isn’t BETT, they don’t have lots and lots of trade stands. They have a few very specific stands talking about products designed to work with the Frog VLEs.
I have found that the information I get from Frog is easily comparable to BETT and the salesmen are far less desperate to make a sale.
Plus the guys on the I Am Learning stand are always fun and almost always have some sort of game going on.
Extra special bonus things to do:
6 – Come to the bar afterwards
Don’t get the first train home, get the one after and have a drink with the guys who actually make Frog. This is their chance to kick back after pushing hard to get things ready for the conference. I sometimes wish it wasn’t a free bar, because I can’t buy them all a drink to say thank you. So instead, I just say “thank you” and enjoy a free drink (thank you too, Gareth).
7 – Ask your Line Manager send you
There’s a good chance that if you’re responsible for your school’s VLE, you’re low down on the food chain. I don’t understand why this is, but it’s unfortunate that the majority of VLE people in other schools I speak to, don’t get to leave the premises. I’m lucky in that I do get to go.
Being there, I get an invaluable CPD experience and a bucket load of information about future developments for Frog. There’s always a section of the conference where Frog’s CEO Gareth Davies (see my earlier thank you) stands up and shows off some cool new features. This is massively useful for my future planning, as I know what my school needs and whether or not Frog is going to supply that in the next 12 months.
Some of this stuff you can get from the videos, but not all of it. Speaking to other delegates for their impressions helps clarify what you’ve seen and asking questions can only really be done in person.
Ask your line manager for five minutes, sit down with them and ask to go. Don’t just half mention it and hope they take the hint. It’s a free conference, so all that’s needed is the will to free you up and transport costs. It’s once a year for one day. You can be spared.