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Is a Ning Enough?

Last night a few of the folks from Jim Burke's English Companion Ning met. In person.

Donalyn and I arrived early. A few folks were there ahead of us. By the time Jim arrived, there were about 50 people. There were a lot of "so-great-to-meet-you" hugs going around. Jim thanked everyone for helping to grow the Ning. He shared a few stories of teachers connecting online—the funny ones ("help, the stack of papers on my desk has been sitting there for months...ungraded") to the not-so-funny ones ("a student of mine was killed in a car wreck and I need support"). He also said that publishers are loving the ECN book club. (Hmmm...wonder why?)

There were a lot of handheld devices—half the room was tweeting the meeting, fingers flying over the key pads. Most popular device in the room? Iphone. Most frequently seen device at the conference? Iphone.

Jim started the Ning just about a year ago, following NCTE's convention last year. At NCTE last year, someone from NCTE told him that attendance was lower. A point of comparison: The Ning is about to hit 10,000 members. Convention coordinator Millie Davis told me about 10 days ago that 6,000 had preregistered for this year's conference.

Later I joined about 10 educators for dinner. There was talk about reading, but there was also talk about the role of professional teaching organizations today.

Well, what of this? Carol Wickstrom of the University of North Texas had heard that NCTE had offered 600 free weekend passes to Philadelphia teachers, but fewer than 20 percent were claimed. A few teachers around the table agreed that weekends are precious and teachers don't really feel like they should have to give up these days any more. Carol raised the point that maybe large gatherings and professional organizations have lost their urgency in an internet-driven world. Donalyn said, she still needs the face-to-face.

But I wonder... At the cost of $1,000 to attend a conference (fees, hotel, transportation), who can afford to come without the financial support of their school or university? What's your feeling about the importance of joining professional organizations and attending annual gatherings? Has money factored in your decision to attend or join?

Where do you think professional gatherings like NCTE are headed? Could a Ning really be enough?

—Elizabeth Rich

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