DL2013Is “DL” the West Coast Educon many of us have been seeking?

Last Friday and Saturday I had the great pleasure of visiting a school I view as a true flagship of the 21st century learning movement, High Tech High in San Diego, and attending the first annual Deeper Learning Network conference, DL2013,which was held on the campus there.

It was dynamite, and I am very grateful to our hosts.  It was sponsored by the Hewlett Foundation, which works in some relationship still a bit unclear to me with the Deeper Learning Network, about which more can be found here. 

As a two-time attendee at Educon, held every winter at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, I’ve often wondered what is, and what might emerge as, the West Coast equivalent?   What can those of us West of the Mississippi attend to have the experience which is Educon?  (I’ve written about Educon here).

Clearly, and happily, DL has the potential to be exactly this.

Several similarities jump out:

  1. Hosted by a flagship, PBL, student-centered, tech-savvy, 21st century school, with every session sitting in an actual, exemplary classroom.
  2. Presided over by truly inspirational, brilliant, 21st century learning philosopher-practitioners (Chris Lehmann in the case of Educon, Larry Rosenstock and Rob Riodan in the case of DL2013). 
  3. The right size: 200-500 attendees, no more. 
  4. Both share a set of highly admirable principles which they seek to uphold and promote in every thing they do: student centered, inquiry based, connected and collaborative learning.
  5. Great food provided, with every effort made to support and sustain community and connectedness. 
  6. Presence of students as assistants (though at SLA educon students play a larger and more managerial role). 
  7. An expectation sessions will be conversational, inclusive, inquiry based, with an attitude of c0-learning. 
  8. A sense that this is a convening of activists in a movement as much as a meeting. 
  9. A notion, supported by some intentional practices, that the event is in support of relationship building and networking to be sustained after the event. 
Larry Rosenstock

Larry Rosenstock

I enjoyed having this very conversation at the event with Diana Laufenberg, a longtime SLA teacher and Educon organizer, who, off-hand, was the only person I saw at DL2013 whom I’ve seen also at Educon– though I am sure there were others.  Our conversation certainly informs this post.

Differences:  there were several, though to be clear I don’t mean any of these observations as criticisms.

1. There was much less Twitter participation, and, I’d say, seemingly many fewer bloggers present and participating at DLN13.   Educon is a bit of a blogosphere/Twitter homecoming, or at least that is how I experience it, in a way that this DLN isn’t (yet anyway) to my observation.

2. DL was marked by a far greater presence of “teams” from network member networks than Educon, which is far more an assembly of individuals participating on their own.   This was the intent of this new conference– to bring together excellent teams from New Tech Network, ELS, Envision, and other networks of deeper learning programs, and it lived up to its intent.   (It is not that you never observe this at Educon– I was lucky to join in with a big and excellent group of folks who came together from Albemarle County Public Schools (VA) this year in Philadelphia.)  The sense of DL’s being driven by the insiders of the participating networks was reinforced a bit by what I’d say is the mildly unwelcoming  requirement to “request an invitation” before registering, though I have no idea if some who wished to come were denied the opportunity in actuality.  This strong presence of the participating network did result, I observed occasionally,  in individuals appearing to be, frankly, a little bit isolated during certain moments.  (Though I will add, when Larry Rosenstock was providing a tour to the ELS team, I asked to tag along and was warmly welcomed to join the group!)

DL2013  Learn More

3. One lovely and, to me, relatively original feature at DL, intended in part explicitly to counteract the very problem described above, was what they called “advisory groups.”   We met as advisories at beginning and end of the event, and it did give us a better sense of connection and community.  Indeed, if they had just put this in place on one additional occasion– end of day on the first day–  I think it would have done a perfect job offsetting the very small problem I described above.   Big praise to the High Tech High folks for arranging these advisories.

4. Educon is reliably held at SLA every year– but this event has an uncertain future, and there is no guarantee if it will happen again and if so, whether it will be at High Tech High.  I see advantages to it rotating locations– but I see also great appeal to it, like Educon, being in the same place, same time every year, becoming a reliable ritual for its participants.  I would urge the DL people and the High Tech High hosts to make the effort to follow suit.

5. Many– scores certainly, perhaps topping a hundred, independent school educators participate at Educon, whereas they were few and far between at DL.    One exception: there was a terrific crew of half a dozen or so (I’m not exactly sure) indy school educators from Hawaii and HAIS.  (Ironically and disappointingly, to my observation, there were more indy educators from Hawaii than there were from California!).

(One or more two posts about DL and its highlights are in the hopper: I hope to get them up soon!).

Thanks again to the excellent hosts and organizers of DL2013!