29 March 2011

ASCD 2011: The End of the Affair

Monday was the last day of the 2011 ASCD Annual Conference---a bit of a bittersweet time. The truth is, everyone is exhausted, but you’re enjoying the conversations and learning so much, you can’t help but go back for more. The day also felt like the last day of school as I said goodbye to new and old friends.

But I had to set this aside for the morning, as it was finally time for me to present. I have talked about data tools and visualization before, but my presentation materials had received a major facelift over the last couple of weeks. I was really excited about rolling it out. Here are my new favourite slides I designed. The first is meant to invoke an iPad (yes, I made all the little icon buttons from scratch) and the second is taken from an idea on Flickr CC (although I wish I could have made the orange line smoother).

The main points of my session were
  • Visuals are more powerful than words and numbers alone because the brain can process and respond to them faster.
  • There is a story---one with characters, audience, setting, plot, and theme---in our data. We have to find and show it.
  • A good visual requires the user to interact with it. Maybe we think that numbers speak for themselves. They don’t. If the story is important, make the audience engage.
  • Data visualizations need to include some basic design elements. Use color, line, size, shape, and other attributes to help sell your message…but don’t go too far and end up with a junk chart.
Along the way, I showed various tools (all of which I’ve shared here over the past year or two). But the interesting thing was the reaction to the QR code I included on my business card-sized handout. Several people stayed after the session to learn how to use it. One of the biggest differences I see between ASCD and ISTE is that ASCD is full of people with mobile devices. Lots of smartphones and tablets. ISTE is made up of a group with laptops. The ASCD audience would be the one to target with things like QR codes, mobile versions of Web sites, and so forth---and yet I’m not sure if they know the power of the tools they hold in their hands.

Things that went well for me during the session included everyone who wanted to be there got to be there. I had a ticketed session---one that was “sold out”---so there were lots of people (who for a variety of reasons) who would not have been able to attend. But there were enough no-shows and other workarounds that everyone who wanted a seat got one. I was only aware of three people leaving early, so my message appeared to be on target and the audience engaged. The timing was good. I had an hour-long session. We started a minute late (as the non-ticket holders were seated) and ended a minute late. I had three people tell me afterwards that my session “made their conference” and others who asked if I would do a road show for their districts/groups. While I’m sure that not everyone who attended was so enthusiastic, it is reassuring to know that the information shared was valuable for some.

What would I do differently? Definitely build in more time for people to think-pair and reflect on the information. This presentation might need a 90-minute time block. I’m not sure I can scale it back much further. I would have liked to take more time showing the various tools. Maybe I also need to start thinking about looking for and incorporating more things for mobile devices.

This was the first presentation I’ve done where there was something resembling a backchannel. Considering that the comments were made mostly by people who know me, I won’t claim that this represents an unbiased or full view of the event, but it was fun for me to read later. Here are the tweets (most recent at the top...oldest at the bottom).

I had some nice conversations with people throughout the day. A few stopped me wherever they saw me (including after dinner) to tell me that they really enjoyed the presentation. Others had questions about tools and downloads. I am always grateful for the opportunity to connect with other educators. It is always a humbling experience to learn more about all they do on behalf of students everywhere. I didn't attend any other sessions on Monday (and Edutopia completely stood me up about taking me to Skywalker Ranch...the stinkers).

I have a couple more posts rolling around my head about the conference that I will work on soon. Right now, I am on the train home---crossing the California/Oregon border---and enjoying the opportunity to reflect on this amazing conference.

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