Attending a professional conference can serve a variety of purposes; among them the opportunity to deepen one’s core knowledge in the field, attend paper presentations of research in progress, subject one’s own work to the scrutiny of informed peers, and be inspired by conference speakers, often the field’s established scholars and thought leaders. The novelty provided by a break in the daily routine, along with the chance to interact with like-minded colleagues promotes reflection and renewal. As an added bonus, attending a high-caliber professional conference can unsettle, discomfit, and disconcert you. Better it can interrupt any number of your most dearly held assumptions. In other words, it can mess with your mind.
Recently, I attended the annual convention for University Council for Educational Administration in Pittsburgh. Thankfully, the presenting to informed colleagues part took place on day one. I made a small contribution to a paper and was grateful to get my two minutes of (nerve racking) fame over with so soon, leaving me free to enjoy the rest of the sessions. Paper sessions are a form of academic blitzkrieg where scholars have a scant 12 minutes to present research in progress. In short order one can ponder prevailing discourse analysis in policy, principals’ career trajectories in low-performing schools, heteronormativity in curriculum and hiring decisions, and social justice principal practice in successful ‘outlier’ schools. It often helps to get out and walk. In the late fall sunshine on a break between sessions, walking Pittsburgh’s downtown Strip District interrupted an unexamined assumption. The city is lively and personable, not industrial or gritty.
This weekend, I am participating in the SUNY COIL Institute’s workshop on human societies and digital learning. The purpose of this weekend is to bring together institutions who are participating in the human societies track of the institute who are working to develop online learning modules with partner institutions around the world. The program which I support as a graduate assistant is working with a partner in Ghana to create a module that integrates global citizenship into business, education, and first year learning. As a result, I had the opportunity to participate in this fantastic workshop and gain perspectives on these themes, as well as the innovative and practical applications of technology to create the most meaningful learning experience possible. Two large themes that I want to concentrate on for this blog post are both the opportunities that online learning afford and the need for global citizenship education to be integrated into our teaching.
Rick El-Darwish is the blogger behind FAIL Tale. A computer scientist, systems and networks administrator, and computer forensics and security specialist, Rick is also the Chief Technical Officer of St. Noble, a company that handles the IT and computer security needs of non-governmental organizations.
In early August, Rick went to Las Vegas to attend Defcon, a large annual hacker convention that has been running since 1993. Rick has attended since 2008, joining a group of several thousand computer security professionals, employees of various government agencies, hackers, crackers, and security researchers. The convention takes place over several days and includes presentations, workshops, competitions and games, and social events. Following the conference, we interviewed Rick about his experience and his advice for getting the most out of attending a conference.
KRED: Do you have a strategy when you go to a conference like Defcon and is this strategy different than one you’d use at a smaller conference?
Rick: I think my approach is pretty much the same for any conference, large or small: it truly is what you make of it.