Been trying to get my brain around last week’s NECC experience for a few days now, reading some of the other post mortems, thinking about what the lasting impressions are and will be for my own thinking and learning. For a variety of reasons, mostly personal, San Antonio was not a home run for me, not like last year in Atlanta when the energy and ideas seemed to be flowing more intently, more spontaneously. And before anyone starts throwing things at me, let me just say that was my experience; I’m sure that many, many others found this year’s event to be a celebration, perhaps a transformation in their thinking about teaching and learning and education. In that regard, I’m sincerely happy that more voices have been added to the chorus, and that more practitioners have entered the conversation. We need more voices. We need more good pedagogy and thinking.

I came to NECC in a bit of an edublogger funk, and that funk continues in some respects. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that’s not unusual. My interior monologue is fills with peaks and valleys, and right now, I’m once again struggling to define and focus where the best use of my time and thinking is. For the past two months, I have read very little from the education folder in my aggregator; simply, not much has been resonating. To be honest, very little in the last six months or so has felt new, a view that a couple of others at NECC seemed to share. I’ve been drawn to reading outside the usual suspects, thinking hard (once again) about the scope of this community and its reach. Thinking hard about change, about what is and isn’t changing, and how maddeningly slow it all seems.

The good news is that the level of passion among those that count themselves in this community is, in a word, amazing. It was evident from the conversations I eavesdropped on in the Blogger’s Cafe to the late night debates on the River Walk, to the back channel chats, the sessions on how to put the tools to good work, to the collective efforts to capture as much of NECC as possible for those who couldn’t attend. I don’t think it was possible to sit in on the sessions or walk by the Cafe and not simply admire the level of engagement of both long standing and relatively new participants in this conversation. All of us, whether evangelists or practitioners or even the naysayers, are deeply invested in trying to make sense of these giant shifts that are occurring, and that is all good.

And there was an international flavor to NECC this year that seemed stronger than in years’ past. (BTW, I don’t count the Canadian contingent as international, thought I know I should.) It was great to see folks from Australia and the UK and many, many other far flung spots around the globe. We need more of their perspectives as well, and that seems to be happening.

But for me, at least, at the end of the day, I’m still left wondering, “what’s really changed?” And, where will we be a year from now?

NECC is the echo chamber writ large and in living color; more than any other conference, it’s where we feel “big.” But the reality of it is, as Dean suggests, the powerful learning that most of us experience in these online communities is still little more than a blip on the radar screen. (I wonder what percentage of the 8 million+ educators in this country are aware of these shifts on a basic level.) And this is a tech conference. As I read through some of the back channel conversations, some were asking about presenting to school boards or parents or even town councils. Others were talking about getting out to non-edtech conferences. Some were, again, searching for that elusive tipping point that will get the conversation jump started outside the chamber.

And I think it’s time we get serious about all of that. No doubt, the vendor floor in Washington will be filled with “Web 2.0 in a Box” and “Safe Social Networking” and control, control, control. And I’m going to guess that, like this year, “Blogs, Wikis and Podcasts” will be “Hot Topics” as well as a few other new tools. And we’ll be talking once again about new standards and 21st Century Literacies and all of that. But while we as a community have no control over some of that, is that what we aspire to? Is that what we want the emphasis on NECC 09 to be, once again? Or do we want it to be more?

I hope it’s more. More about learning and figuring out what it means to be connected. More about what we can do to begin systemic change. More tangible, non-toolsy, results oriented thinking. More models that work, models that provide realistic options for educators to wrap their brains around.

More like what Chris Lehmann presented in his session, a session that since it had a “specific pedagogical focus” felt like it was “high stakes,” in an of itself a comment that should get us thinking. More like the conversations on leadership that Scott McLeod and Chris and others tried to have at EduBloggerCon on Saturday. More about ideas and connections.

And in general, without speaking for others, I again think I need to do more to try to get these ideas and these questions outside the walls of my learning community. I’m afraid we’re stalling because without some larger force or lever, these ideas have no where (or very limited routes) to go in a comprehensive discussion about what schools need to be and to do in response to the scale of change that is upon us. (That thinking is influenced heavily by Sir Ken Robinson’s latest presentation to the RSA, btw.) For me, at least, I think it’s time to start writing. (I know; I’ve said that before.)

Change on any level is not easy, and I’m not suggesting that there is one way to change or one thing that needs to be changed or that we all need to change in one particular way. It’s all incremental and personal, I know, but it’s also about doing what will create the most change, do the most good. I’ve been thinking about Lessig a lot and his attempt to attack the root cause of the smaller problems. I wonder what the root impediment for school change is? And, reffing Sir Ken again, we are at a moment where we all must change if we’re to sustain this existence. Along those lines, I’ve also, strangely, been thinking about all of the devoted carnivores that I hung around with last week in steak and barbecue land, thinking about how much healthier they would be and how much better off we’d all be if they and everyone else, for that matter, ate lower to the ground. But that is tough change as well.

Anyway, proposals for NECC ’09 are only a couple of months away…