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Thinking Digital – taking an adult conference to children?

Now I’m not a techy – no argument. I am however really interested in how to better use technology, to maximise its value in supporting what I am in interested in. And that includes encouraging young people to be be active and selective engagers of it rather than arm chair (or should that be swivel chair) consumers –  knowing that some of them will fast exceed my technological know how and even be the makers of the future.

Given all this when I first spotted the Thinking Digital Conference, a two day event coordinated by Herb Kim CEO of Codeworks, I thought it looked really exciting but wondered if I’d be able to understand it. Nervous about how valuable it might be I tried, unsuccessfully, to get someone else to send me (well pay for it!) and finally settled for access to the live webcast. This was a first for me – remote access to a conference – and as the day got nearer I began to regret not going there live, as the speakers being announced were making it more and more interesting. Would watching it in the comfort of my own office be a disappointment?

A few people asked me to tweet about the talks, so I settled down to the computer ready for a hard days work. And it was easy to tweet along – a little too easy perhaps (sorry twitter followers! although some of them got v excited too and are booking for next year) as great conversations flowed as well as great inspiration being offered. Half way through the first day I found myself tweeting:

It got lots of re-tweeting and some great messages back:

In fact it turns out there has been a Thinking Digital Next Generation for 16 – 18 year olds already, how fantastic. I’d certainly say there is scope to go younger too. There were many things that made me so excited about such a possibility, I’ll mention a few. Getting a sense of the future is inspiring, things that children will assume are science fiction are getting really near possibility (eg a wheelchair moved by brainwave thoughts). The way we use basic computer functions, like search, is heading for enormous change – learning suggestion engines that respond to you as an individual. Technology is so not just about machines – it can make the beautiful links between people as shown by Jer Thorp’s respect for 9/11 victims in his work supporting the memorial design for them, as well as his visual explanations of how people share information. And finally, lots of the really good presenters, and many of my favourites, were women (Nicole Yershon, Erin Mckean and Nancy Duarte among them)- it was so evident that this is no longer a boys-only game. There are many more reasons of course…

I’m not going to review all the talks as they will go up on the Thinking Digital website so you can make your own responses, I recommend you look at their video archive too. The webcast did drop signal a few times, the biggest disappointments being not seeing Heather Knight and her robot and the breaks in Erin McKean’s Wordnik talk, but really it is fantastic that you can be elsewhere and yet still feel that you attended. There were a couple of talks that went a bit over my head but on the whole it turns out you really don’t need to be a ‘geek’ to Think Digital!

Let young people know about these videos, yes they were made for adults but in the TEDxKids@Sunderland project introduced in my previous post we have seen 8 year olds understanding so much more than you might assume. And many of the Thinking Digital presenters are fantastic communicators. But lets not be satisfied with that and continue to find other ways to enable pupils through access to such future thinking and design.

All in all it was a wonderful experience, I am really keen to be there in person next year, not just for the free pick and mix(!), but if that isn’t practical I’ll be happily be joining in via the webcast – hopefully with some young people around me. Let me know if you plan on being there too..

Thanks Herb and your team.