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BLC and other unconferences

Summarizing BLC (Alan November’s Building Learning Communities) is a mighy tough challenge.  For the past two years, it’s ranked among this conference junkie’s top one or two favorite events. 

One reason this conference–and NECC too–are hard to describe is that so much happened outside the box, or should I say outside the brochure?  Ideas were flying all over the place. 

For the passionate people attending this conference, it is clear we are on the precipice of dramatic pedagogical shift. Conference sessions and unofficial activities revealed an explosion of emerging tools that now connect us and allow us to create and collaborate.  Conversations lasted late into the night and continually involved applying new technologies in powerful ways. When groups of people with vision meet, the planning can be potent.

Most emblematic of the technological/pedagogical shift was dialog beyond the podium.

In the old days, you’d have a speaker; you’d have an audience.

At BLC, enhancing the speaker were the Skypecasts that broadcast audience comments and discussion to those spread around and beyond the conference. All around the room, in fact, all around the world, Twitter and Twittercamp popped ideas. (If these terms confuse you, read Educause’s 7 Things You Should Know About Twitter).

Those tweating and the Skyping included the likes of Dean Shareski, Bob Sprankle, Ewan McIntosh, Will Richardson, David Jakes, and later Christian Long and Chris Lehmann. We heard from emerging educational leaders too.  Among them, Barbara Barreda, an elementary principal with a strong interest in 21st century libraries, librarians Cathy Nelson, from South Carolina, and Carolyn Foote, who participated so energetically from Austin that I really thought she was with us in Boston.

Why was all this tweating so important? I’ve been thinking about this since Edubloggercon at NECC.

The folks in this ever expanding group are finding community–audience for their news and discoveries. At this moment in time it is critical for this community to find itself and to lift its voice.  I think of it as a community of happy Cassandra’s.

Remember Cassandra? For nearly two years I’ve felt like a bit like the ancient prophet who was fated not to be believed. When she predicted that gift horse would bring tragedy to Troy, folks thought she was insane.

The horse slowly entering our gates today can be a gift that will forever open our gated cities. Yet, I suspect at our own schools, when we Cassandras first announce the appearance of the horse, when we bandy about words like wikis and blogs and Nings and Flickr and Twitter and podcasts, we appear more than a bit insane.

At events like NECC and BLC, prophecies are shared and pieced together. Excitement builds as we share how the new tools can work and will work–how they will motivate learners and enhance learning. No one wants to stop talking.


(Front row tweats)

Right now I have: 100 ideas I must implement in September, ten new titles I must read next week (HP can wait), and at least twenty new contacts I can call “friends.” I will share details in coming posts. 

And on a more serious note:
One thing is clear.  Librarians must be involved in planning for the coming shift.  I met a few wonderful young librarians who thanked me for representing.  Laura and Justin, I thank YOU for your kind words, but my voice is not strong enough.

Please, friends, find a way to attend these events live, or visit the Skypecasts or Webcasts.  Please share your innovative work beyond library conferences and library journals.

My experience from these conferences is that most non-librarians, even the most illustrious edtech leaders, do not see our role in School 2.0.  They won’t see it until we describe it, until we demonstrate it explicitly.

In my prophecy, librarians welcome the horse and lead the change. 

(Experience some of NECC here and some of BLC here.)

My workshop wikis are located here and here.

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Tracy P. says:

    Hi Joyce,
    Thanks for sharing this great info. Will any of the BLC sessions be archived as webcasts/podcasts available for download?

  2. Justin Ashworth says:

    Hi Joyce!

    Librarians are sorely underrepresented. We need more people to start telling their story, and it doesn’t have to be in blog format either. There are plenty of mediums out there in this day in age…Marco Torres comes to mind. School librarians are great at providing resources to others but never seem to reach beyond their own network.

    I think a great deal of the potential for systemic change lies in library schools/universities throughout the US. We need people to approach the field with a new attitude.

  3. Justin Ashworth says:


    I never congratulated you on winning the iPod. So, congrats!

    Knowing you, you’ll probably be MacGuyver with that thing….

  4. joycevalenza says:

    Thanks, Justin! It is my very first iPod. And yes, I had Marco in mind when I wrote that recent post on the video presence of school libraries. I know we can do better than self-serving infomercials!

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