I left this really long comment on Alan's blog and thought it deserved its own space. We all discussed this to some extent while at the conference and obviously, I had a lot of thoughts. Thanks Alan, for spurring them again. Here's the comment:
I have a love/hate relationship with conferences. On the one hand, I love the opportunity to travel, to drink, to meet new people, to talk to old friends, and to perhaps hear a few new ideas. On the other hand, I'm finding fewer new ideas at these conferences. What I've enjoyed most is the chatting between sessions, the twittering, flickring, and long talks over dinner that shift from technology to kids to patriotism.
I like going to conferences where I'm way out of my field. I went to SXSW a couple of years ago and that kind of blew my mind. The sessions were different, the chatter in the hallway was way different, and the alcohol was free. :) Problem is, I have to convince my employers that these conferences have merit. I really shouldn't. Shouldn't everything be related to education? If we're preparing our students for the world, shouldn't we see a lot of it, from a lot of different angles?
I have yet to go to an unconference, but I'm thinking of running one. I love the idea of showing up, posting what I want to learn about, what I want to teach, and then just talking to some smart people and hearing what they have to say. As someone said on my blog, though, there are a lot of people not on the bleeding edge of things who do actually get something out of these things. But I keep thinking, just because there are those people, does that mean I have to pander to them or be like them? I wouldn't ask a physics professor to retake Physics 101. Why should I have to take Web 2.0 101? And doesn't the Physics professor acknowledge that her Physics 101 students are at the bottom of a curve? Why can't I acknowledge the same thing of some folks at my school and in the audience of these conferences? I'm not being condescending. I'm acknowledging a reality.
I kind of hinted at the conference that it would be nice to have an "advanced" track, something where we could really talk and play with stuff that's pretty far out there. Why couldn't Apple or Microsoft or Google bring the really new stuff to these conferences instead of iLife and tablets and Google maps which may be new to some, but old hat to many of us? And like you said, maybe we could build something together, the tools that no one else has yet created. But yeah, let's make it fun!