(Sherri Hope Culver) The best conferences always leave one exhausted!; filled to the brim with new ideas, new contacts, new perspectives. And yes, that’s exactly how I feel after having attended my first Children’s Media Conference in Sheffield, England for the past few days. Bringing a group of students to the conference added another layer. I was not only excited about my own opportunities to grow and learn at the conference, but constantly thinking about their insights and concerns as well. Those of us who frequently attend conferences know the “culture” of conferences; the crucial hallways conversations, the new collaborations created during a late afternoon coffee, the “must see” session that everyone’s buzzing about, getting a conference bag, etc. We know how to share a business card and how to ask if we can stay in touch. But in this situation I needed to share those cultural insights with a group of students that had never attended a professional conference. So in addition to all the learning about children’s media was this overlay of learning about being a media professional in a professional environment. It was so cool to watch them slowly gain confidence and decide who they wanted to meet and what session would be best for them. Reading their blogs posts has been so helpful. It’s helped me to understand what sessions and elements had the greatest impact and how the conference affected them.
Because their posts were part of assignments for our course, their posts didn’t touch on the fun parts of the conference. (Maybe that should have been a post requirement too!) In addition to the myriad of sessions we each attended, we also explored Sheffield together. We strolled through cobblestone streets, we shared many meals (and learned that Pat and Elaica are always hungry!), we discovered a French street market set up to celebrate the Tour de France coming through in a couple days, we danced at the CMC party, we laughed watching Aryann and Pat karaoke to “Fancy”! Truly, the most special part of “study abroad” is getting to know students as individual people; their likes and dislikes and hopes and fun sides.
For me, the CMC deepened my knowledge of children’s media in three key areas: research, technology use, and child psychology. Even though much of the media content kids are consuming is different in different countries, there’s a great deal that is the same. Global brands don’t just affect adult media. Disney, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Amazon, Netflix, YouTube– these are global brands focused on kids media. Spongebob is recognized worldwide. In fact, the conference bag was basically a picture of a character from Adventure Time, a Cartoon Network show. But even in cases where the examples were from a country-specific program, the point being made applied beyond that one show (or game or app or…). New ideas were shared about the use of second screens to prolong children’s involvement with media and deepen learning; about the narrow thinking connected to creating gender-specific toys; about kids attraction to apps that enable easy sharing; about the unprotected visuals enabled specifically by YouTube; about the “connected ecosystem” of a child’s life and how media is an integral part of that ecosystem. The theme “Child @ Heart” was meant to keep us focused on the child as a person, not as an “audience” or a “user”, but as a person still growing and affected by the media s(he) consumes.
I’m not surprised the program book contains a full page naming people who helped pull the conference together; this was a well-organized conference. Details like the animated video of the conference logo that preceded each session, the completely user-friendly conference app, and the well-designed printed program book show that this is a group that’s honed it’s conference skills over many years of the CMC. I so appreciated Greg Childs attentiveness to our students and their participation. He made us feel welcome at every turn. I hope I can grow this program and bring even more students to this incredible experience in future years!