By: Carrie J. Pratt, Ed.D., CETL

Before we were told to shut down, wear masks, and invest in cleaning products like never before, I presented my research at the 2020 Digital Learning Annual Conference (DLAC). Believe it or not, DLAC was the very first conference I attended, and the experience was life-changing.

Flying alone to Austin, Texas, in late February, I found myself among researchers, educators, and those dedicated to transforming education. (Wonder who DLAC is for? → Click here) At the time, I was serving as an Elementary Assistant Principal and Instructional Technology Integration Specialist for a large public school district. Imagine my excitement to be among colleagues interested in online and digital learning, but with intention and direction. Who knew that our world would stop face-to-face (F2F) teaching and learning in March of 2020? Who knew the terms distance learning, synchronous, asynchronous, or the phrase, “Can you see my screen?” would become the temporary future?

Fast forward to DLAC 2021. In response to the need to meet and confer[ence], and the fact that many former and new participants could not or would not meet in person, DLAC became a hybrid experience. Similar to former DLACs, conference spaces were buzzing with familiar learning modalities.

In-person and online participants could attend:

  • Whole group sessions;
  • Workshops;
  • Panel discussions;
  • Contributed talks;
  • Pecha Kuchas;
  • Table talks;
  • Exhibits; and
  • Networking opportunities.

Participants included virtual-only participants as well as in-person participants. Anyone and everyone could take advantage of the virtual experience. That’s right, beyond the grand variety of meeting, networking, learning, and enjoying all things conference, the added online capability allowed attendees such as myself (virtual attendee) or DLAC leaders John Watson, the founder of Evergreen Education Group, and Allison Powell, Ed.D, the DLC Director, to autonomously attend. (Personalized professional development

Smartly, DLAC 2021 began virtually on June 8th. This day launched the learning community into thinking and preparing for the three days in-person or online (June 14 – 16). I’m excited for the DLAC Online Encore on June 30th because between now and then, I have the awesome ability to go online and watch all of the sessions I missed while attending another session. Since sessions were recorded, my three days at home juggling a family, work, other learning, and life proved to be challenging. I admit, my learner agency wasn’t that great, but I have peace knowing I can dedicate my quiet evenings to learning at my time, in my place, and at my pace. Before the conference, I knew I had the freedom to take care of other things and could go back and learn. I could make choices without regret. It doesn’t matter that I’m an adult..a professional…and not quite on track at the moment. K-college students are successful when learning is blended and personal. I can be successful too! This…right there…is added goodness in my mind.

On June 8th, John Watson emphasized, “digital learning is at an inflection point.” Due to the emergent shift to distance learning throughout the world, teaching and learning will never be the same. On the same day, guest Comaneci Brooken, Digital Promise Director of Professional Learning shared the shift in March 2020 to distance learning caused the “largest educational crisis in the last century.” Brooken identified that while students were “transitioning to online learning” and throughout that transition, “schools struggled to meet the needs of diverse learners.” In response, Digital Promise quickly adapted by expanding resources to educators such as the Teacher Training Pathway and Live Tech Tuesday. Judy Perez, the iLearn Collaborative CEO and Founder related the impact to district need for now and the future. Perez shared “digital learning is now one of the priories in districts and in schools” and “strategic thinking” about digital and online learning is a focus. During the same session, Joliet Public Schools District 86 Superintendent, Theresa Rouse, Ed.D., was candid about her response to get to 1:1 quickly and respond to state testing. However, Rouse celebrated the needed response to giving out over 1 million meals to students and focusing on Social Emotional Learning (SEL). She plans to “use this pandemic as the lever” to moving forward for change and continuous response and improvement. Her perspective as a Superintendent and experiences throughout the last year is essential to identifying what worked, what didn’t, and where to go from here.

It is in these moments during the conference when I listen and engage with real educators, researchers, partners in education, and those dedicated to digital and online learning, that the educator who attends can get the most out of DLAC.

DLAC 2021 was special. It was my first conference, I was presenting my research, and I was meeting with colleagues from around the globe to grow my learning and understanding about digital and online learning. DLAC 2022 did more than expand on that experience. As an educator, DLAC stakeholders appreciate the rapid pace of innovation and nuanced education. It is a place where educators know they can wonder, question, and expand upon their knowledge in a welcoming space.

DLAC 2022 will occur in Atlanta, Georgia, from February 7-9, and registration is open! I miss my friends and enjoy meeting people who are transforming education, and I can’t wait to DLAC again!

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Carrie J. Pratt is a learner, educator, consultant and coach of blended learning and leadership research from Morgantown, WV.

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