For a week, I have started and stumbled with this blog post—words just don’t seem sufficient to express the ultimate conference experience of my life and the pinnacle of flow. Every now and then, you are lucky enough to be in a time and place where amazing people, energy, camaraderie, and ideas converge.  For me, AASL 2009 was four days of learning and play as espoused by Helene Blowers. I can’t quite yet articulate how transformative this experience is for me, but I want to share these reflections with you.

What Worked

  • Bloggers’ Cafe/Unconference/Geek Squad: although we faced obstacles such as spotty Internet connectivity, a location that was not easily visible, and limited access to promoting our resources via the official conference channel, “B There”,  I think the inaugural effort of promoting and implementing an “unconference” was a major success.  Thanks to Twitter and word of mouth, we were able to generate excitement and buzz as people took time to participate in the bloggers’ cafe and enjoy rich, meaningful, and memorable conversations about technology tools as well as philosophical questions/issues in our profession.   A spirit of teamwork permeated the learning space, physical and virtual, as people engaged in networking and problem solving.  I believe that many of us, whether we attended in person or through virtual means, now expect that that this  “learning commons” experience will be an integral and expected element of future AASL conferences, not optional.  If you have not checked out our resource wiki, I invite you to visit and utilize the resources contributed by so many.  Kudos to the Geek Squad team—you are so talented, and I’m honored to have worked with you!
  • Keynote Speeches by danah boyd and Marco Torres:  these two speeches were incredibly inspiring and thought provoking.   While I was already a fan of boyd, I was not familiar with Torres—I wish every educator could hear this incredible talent speak!  You can read my notes from the boyd keynote by clicking here; many of my favorite excerpts of the Torres keynote may be accessed by clicking here. I encourage you to also check out the interview with Torres by Joyce Valenza and Ernie Cox as well as their interview with boyd.
  • Diversity in Concurrent Sessions: there was truly something for everyone!  Kudos to the committee for providing a menu full of concurrent sessions to meet a broad range of interests.
  • Backchanneling: I *loved* the Twitterfest of this conference!  Whether people were using their smartphones or laptops, there was a steady stream of thoughtful and helpful Tweets at any given time when you searched for the conference hashtag, #aasl2009.
  • The closing event at ImaginOn: what a joyous way to end the event!
  • Badge Swag and Ribbons: need I say more?
  • Camaraderie:  a special thanks to Diane Cordell, Laura Pearle, Fran Bullington, Heather Loy, Gwyneth Jones, Alice Yucht, Francey Harris, and others who so graciously helped facilitate my presentation;  I’m especially grateful to Diane and Laura for their calm and comforting presence.  Heartfelt thanks to my fellow Georgia colleagues who came to the session and supported me, especially my mentor from UGA, Dr. Mary Ann Fitzgerald as well as friends from near and far.   A sincere thank you to every person who attended my first ever national presentation—I am honored you chose to spend time with me, especially those of you who endured standing or sitting on the floor.  A special shout out to the Geek Squad team, particularly Joyce Valenza, Diane Cordell, Robin Williams, Sara Kelly Johns,  and Wendy Stephens for helping revive my dead iPhone Thursday morning, thus saving me from having a minor stroke!
  • Brainstorming and Dreaming: Susan Grigsby, Diane Cordell, Francey Harris, Wendy Stephens, Laura Pearle, Alice Yucht, Dr. Ross J. Todd, Elisabeth Abarbanel, Chris Harris, Anne Zarinnia, Ernie Cox, Deb Logan, Brenda Anderson, Joyce Valenza, Doug Johnson, Michelle Fromme, Heather Hershey, Gwyneth Jones,,  Kristin Fontichiaro, and other fellow dreamers (and I apologize because I know I am inadvertently leaving names out)—what a delight to soar with you eagles!
  • Social Gatherings/Networking/Bonding: the most valuable part of this conference was the informal learning and brainstorming that happened at this conference.  Getting to sit elbow to elbow with the brightest minds in our profession and with so many people whom I greatly respect and admire—the idea sharing over dinner, lunch, an evening cocktail, at the bloggers’ cafe, or on breaks between sessions was incredibly energizing, refreshing, and inspiring.

For me, this conference was truly about the people and the wisdom they brought to the conference that they so generously shared with others.   I felt like a kid playing on an All-Star team of library professionals who are dedicated to furthering this profession and helping the people that we serve.   No words can express the gratitude and humility I feel in my heart to each person with whom I was most fortunate to meet and converse, especially those whom I met for the very first time.  I will always treasure and cherish the memories I have with each of you and how much it has strengthened me professionally.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine how immensely gratifying this conference experience would be for me—it truly was a dream come true for me, and I realize with such clarity that I am indeed “livin’ the dream” every day because I get to do something I love so much and am so fortunate to be connected to people who help “fight the machine” and who “make a dent in the universe.”

Takeaways/Big Ideas That Are Simmering

  • How do I help create “unconference” learning experiences for my students and for my faculty?
  • A greater sense of urgency in helping create learning experiences for my students (and scaffolding teachers in this effort) that shift the focus from information gathering to the production of knowledge.
  • Focusing on questions, not answers
  • Helping students and teachers to embrace risk taking and to know that failure too is a learning experience
  • A greater commitment to collecting student data and library program data in multiple formats and more emphasis on reflecting on the data and what it means to my practice in the field—I was inspired by both formal presentations as well as those in the bloggers’ cafe to dwell more deeply in data.
  • A renewed commitment to a focus on inquiry, which foregrounded much of my teaching practice after 2002.  I want to do a better job of creating inquiry-driven units of study and research experiences for my students and teachers.  I also want to start examining transliteracy through an inquiry driven lens.
  • Thinking about ways to share my practice with those not in our profession via written publications and conferences.
  • Confirmation of my belief that research and theory influence practice; in turn, practice influences research and theory.

What Needs to Happen in Minneapolis in 2011?

  • I personally would like to see more sessions that are research based, similar to those of the Treasure Mountain event.
  • I would like for the audiocasts/screencasts as well as the keynote speeches to be available for free via uStream TV or some comparable media.
  • Scrap the “B There” site and go with something simple and free, such as a wiki and/or a Ning to make it easier for people to participate and contribute.
  • Consistent and fast wireless Internet access.
  • As a presenter, I would like a room that is more conducive to hands on activities and conversations.  When I originally previewed the room, I was thrilled by the round tables and large screen–the room seemed friendly to some of the activities I had planned.    However, on the day I presented, I nearly fainted when I saw the room was long and narrow with “rows”—the antithesis of a “classroom” environment!  People were seated so far back that it was difficult for them to see and hear.  I think there needs to be better information for presenters when you are making a room selection—I honestly had difficulty conceptualizing the descriptions of the rooms provided.

I am already making plans to attend AASL 2011 in Minneapolis; if you have never been or if you have not been to AASL in some time, I would like to encourage you to attend.   I can’t wait to see how “conference” looks in 2011!