eSchool News introduced a new concept in education journalism at last week’s T+L² conference in Denver: peer reporting by practicing educators.

For 18 educators from across the U.S., last week’s National School Boards Association’s T+L² Conference was more than just a chance to learn about new trends in school technology. It also offered a unique, firsthand opportunity to experience technology’s power as a learning tool while simultaneously bringing the wisdom they acquired to a national audience of eSchool News readers.

“From its inception, eSchool News has pursued a primary goal of communicating important developments to the leaders of schools and colleges from coast to coast,” said Robert Morrow, CEO of eSchool News Communications. “But at its best, communication flows two ways.”

So, with dozens of informative district workshops on the T+L² agenda, the eSchool News editorial team saw an opportunity to involve educators directly in the exchange of information and ideas.

The call went out for volunteers willing to participate in the coverage, and by the time T+L² began, eSchool News had lined up 18 conference attendees willing to share their thoughts and experiences with fellow educators. Sporting their eSN Conference Correspondent pins, these practicing educators fanned out to cover more than half of the 76 district workshops. At the end of each day, the Conference Correspondents posted their work to eSchool News Online on a special web log, or “blog,” where it could be accessed instantaneously by their colleagues across the nation and around the world.

The diverse collection of educators–representing eight states–turned more than a few heads in Denver.

These eSN correspondents “are revolutionizing conference coverage in the education field,” said Charlene Blohm, founder and president of C. Blohm and Associates, a public relations and marketing consulting firm that specializes in educational publishing.

The eSN volunteers offered their services free of charge, but they did not leave Denver empty-handed. Thanks to support from AlphaSmart Inc., each participant took home a brand-new Neo by AlphaSmart computer companion, which the correspondents had used in crafting their conference reports.

A post by Jan Wee, CESA #4 technology director from West Salem, Wis., offers a prime example of the volunteers’ enthusiasm for their task. Wee covered a workshop titled “Working Wonders in a Wireless Environment.” It featured a presentation by members of South Carolina’s Lexington School District One.

“There is a lot to learn when you ‘go wireless,'” Wee wrote after the workshop. “Not only did one learn much from the Lexington One team … [but] the attendees at the session shared many a tip on dealing with laptop battery-life issues and dealing with the technical issues setting up wireless networks. … This NSBA Technology and Learning Conference session left me feeling a whole lot smarter today!”

In another post, correspondent Virginia Jewell described a presentation by Jim Hirsch of the Plano, Texas, Independent School District. Hirsch, Plano’s associate superintendent for technology services, spoke about infusing technology into curriculum development.

“We all know about millennial students and the need to teach differently and the need to approach curriculum differently, and for the most part, that’s all it is in most places, a factoid of knowledge,” wrote Jewell, coordinator of educational technology for the Clarke County School District in Athens, Ga. “Plano has taken action and developed a new and dynamic curriculum for these changing times, and–more importantly–a process for the development of that curriculum which allows for constant change and sustainability over the long haul.”

Correspondents also shared their experience participating in some of the more interactive workshops. Carrie Schrader, a second-grade teacher from Colwich, Kan., described her experience in a workshop about animation.

“Each ‘team’ of participants at the workshop worked together to create a clay animation,” Schader wrote. “We explored the intangible in a tangible way! This is a totally hands-on activity. We chose a poem to animate. We then decided and assigned roles within our group. From there, we created a storyboard. We then created clay figures and the background. We set up backgrounds and practiced character movements. Later, we used a digital camera and imported pictures into a Videoblender.”

Interactive workshops, however, led to one of the few complaints from volunteers, because these workshops placed an extra burden on the educator-reporters.

“Being interactive meant having to be distracted from either participating or writing,” said Dodie Ownes, an information services consultant from Golden, Colo.

Susan Dupre, a technology facilitator for St. Mary Parish School Board in Centerville, La., was particularly impressed with a presentation by the Mesa County Valley School District 51 technology team from Grand Junction, Colo. The presentation was titled “Staff Development ‘Survivor’ Style.”

“Cowbells, warlock capes, tiki lights: Ideas from the technology team of Mesa County Valley School District 51 … might force us to reexamine our plans for staff development in technology,” she wrote. “The enthusiasm exhibited by this group was only surpassed by their generosity in sharing all aspects of planning a 3½ day summer technology ‘retreat’ for teacher-administrator teams from schools in their district. As they promised, this was, indeed, the most engaging, interactive workshop that I attended at T+L².”

Attending sessions with the objective of reporting to their peers gave correspondents a keener perspective on the proceedings, according to at least one eSN Conference Correspondent.

“Being part of the reporting group actually gave me a different look at the conference,” said Sharon Betts, a director of educational technology for Maine School Administrative District 71 in Kennebunkport. “I found myself making notes on every session I attended and now am using these notes as references for reports to my staff.”

The eSN Conference Correspondents at T+L² included four school principals, three teachers, two school technology facilitators, two district directors of educational technology, two district instructional technology specialists, a district coordinator of educational technology, a district director of assessment, a librarian/media specialist, an independent information services consultant, and a local school board member.

Denver was the first opportunity for volunteers to participate in the eSN Online Conference Information Center blog, but it won’t be the last.

“We’re in preliminary discussions with Florida Educational Technology Conference [FETC] leadership to expand and improve our coverage for that first major conference of 2005, and it’s our hope that we will be able to provide full coverage of all 200 FETC workshops,” said Gregg W. Downey, editor and publisher of eSchool News.

Educators planning to attend this year’s FETC can contact eSN Online Editor Dan David (ddavid@eschoolnews.com) for information about participating as a conference correspondent.

Links:

eSN Online Conference Information Center
http://www.eschoolnews.com/cic

NSBA’s T+L² Conference
http://www.nsba.org/t+l