With a Christmas market near the hotel, you can nip out for
a Gluhwein and Currywurst or try the Florian
, a real Berliner restaurant. Behind the venue is the beautiful Tiergarten - you can walk through this to the Brandenberg Gate. I’ve
said this before but this is very much a ‘Berlin’ conference. It wouldn’t be
the same anywhere else. It has that Berlin vibe. You may, like me, find
yourself not going to bed until 2am then 4 am, although I have the ‘it was my
birthday excuse’. My son lurched back at 7am after a night of clubbing. Then
there’s the museums and art galleries. My own favourite is the Hamburger Hof
with Anselm Kiefer, Joseph Beuys and always a huge contemporary exhibition section.
Berliners can throw a party and the Thursday night bash is
an all you can drink affair with a band and folks of all ages cutting a fair
few shapes on the dance floor. This year it was my birthday at midnight and as the
band struck up ‘Happy Birthday’ the real drinking began. It got messy.
People not speakers
This year - Howard Rheingold, Stephen Downes, George Siemens
and a raft of people, some funny, some highly analytic, some passionate about projects
and mostly people who have something new and useful to say. Where else could
you get introduced to Howard Rheingold and compared notes on the joys of
soldering? The ‘Spotlight Stage’, quick 30 min sessions on juicy topics. I did VR
(Virtual Reality) and AR (Augmented Reality), where Todd Revolt and I compared
the two with a raft of educational applications.
Sure there’s a lot of parallel sessions but where else would
you get sessions on everything from a hard-swearing, Australian comedienne
talking about anal beads to something on learning analytics, then a session on the
use of educational technology in the Ebola crisis? There’s an entire ‘business’
stream with some hard-nosed sessions on learning and development.
Big but intimate, you bump into people you know (or don’t
know) all the time. I don’t know a conference of this size that feels so much
like a small village. You can move from room to room with ease. The Marlene bar
is like the local saloon, it’s the place for official meetings and just like
the local saloon, it gets pretty lively at night.
With delegates from education, government and business,
there’s good cross-pollination. It’s a private and public affair, not talking
past each other, but maybe keeping each other honest. I like this. It’s easy to
stay in your institutional comfort zone and get all anti-corporate of you’re in
education or government, and all sniffy about education if you’re in the
Chaired by the charming Harold Elletson, this parliamentary
style debate (which means an open bar) usually ends up as a piece of high theatre,
both sides bashing each other over the head with arguments and/or jokes. On
occasion, it can get edgy. Aric Sigman wouldn’t speak to me after our
‘cage-fight’ in 2009. And one of my favourite sessions of all time, was the
debate with Jeff Staes, who turned up with a full-sized, stuffed sheep. We
argued that all diplomas and degrees should be banned to an audience who
largely taught and sold degrees and diplomas. Believe me when I tell you that
their sister debates in Africa are even wilder!
With people from over 100 countries, you’ll meet all sorts. I
especially like the fact that the same organisers do E-learning Africa, so
there’s some grounded stuff that’s not just first-world reflection. It’s easy
to get stuck in a national perspective and here you can ask what’s happening elsewhere,
as well as explore other markets.
This is a sizeable affair so you can get round a lot of
vendors between sessions, the ‘demo’ day is also good. I was showing the Oculus
Rift this year and so many turned up I had to give impromptu talks to the
people in the queue waiting to try it. You’ll see the big boys alongside the
little guys trying to launch their products.
If you want to end the year with an event that will
stimulate your weary neurons, fill up your boots with new ideas and get your
dancing feet twitching, Online Educa should be in your calendar. See you all