John Norton, education writer and PLP consultant, talked recently with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach about the upcoming PLP Live 2012 conference, its unusual interactive workshop structure, and her decision to feature five notable women in keynote spots at the one-day event (in addition to ed tech stars John Seely Brown, Bruce Dixon and Will Richardson, and connected-ed thought leader Darren Cambridge).

This is Part One of their conversation. See Part Two here: Could This Be Your First Day of Transformation?

John: Powerful Learning Practice is hosting its first live conference, in Philadelphia on September 28. You’ll have a series of keynote presentations in the morning and interactive workshops in the afternoon, around the three strands of your conference theme: Inspire, Collaborate, Shift. Lunch will be in small groups, with participants choosing the speakers and facilitators they’d like to eat and chat with.

It’s an action-packed agenda, for sure. And one thing that really stands out to me, as a veteran conference-goer, is the impressive number of women keynoters. Is that deliberate?

Sheryl: Absolutely. We’re excited to bring strong female voices to this conference in keynote roles.

Just about everybody that I’ve talked to over the past couple of years really agrees that there is a problem around the visibility of women leaders in the ed tech sphere. I wrote about the issue in my blog last year, in connection with a panel discussion on the topic I hosted at EduCon. When you go to ed tech conferences, you typically see middle aged white guys in the keynote spots. You don’t see much color or much youth. And you definitely don’t see many women.

I hasten to add that many of those middle aged white guys are good friends of mine and have smart things to say. I’m not trying to start a gender war at all. But why aren’t there just as many smart women at the keynote podium during these conferences? I’ve seen some conversation threads in the twitter-verse and blogosphere where conference organizers say things like, “You ask women and they won’t come.” Well, I didn’t find that was true when I was putting our first PLP Live conference together. Every woman I asked said she would come.

And it’s certainly not because we have any shortage of great female thinkers and doers among the people who are pushing education’s boundaries and calling for a radical new vision of learning and teaching.

John: But do some women turn down opportunities if they sense tokenism?

Sheryl: Perhaps. The thing I hear most often from women who are great keynoters is that they don’t want to be asked just because they’re women — they want to be asked because they bring something really valuable and exciting to the conversation. And while I think that’s a valid position and feel that way myself, there is SUCH an inequity in the ed tech space that I think we’ve got to flat out ask women because they are women.

Of course, as a conference organizer, you will want to ask women who are brilliant. But that’s not a problem. There are plenty of brilliant women out there — just look at our conference line-up! But if we’re going to bring about the balance that we need to have, then organizers need to be very deliberate in their choices and take gender and color and generational perspectives into account.

It’s not about “Girls Rule!” It’s about diverse perspectives. You need men and lots of male values and points of view. And you need female values. If anybody doubts that, look at some of the new business research showing that when women are put in top leadership positions it increases the likelihood of a company’s success.

This is not primarily about women’s rights —  it’s about doing what we need to do for kids, shaping the education enterprise to achieve a level of excellence and effectiveness that neither a male-dominant nor a female-dominant enterprise is going to reach.

John: So is PLP Live going to be a feminist rally?

Sheryl: (laughing) Absolutely not! We have some awesome men on the PLP Live program – some of the very best ed tech minds, including my PLP co-founder and friend Will Richardson. But I will say to the many people, both women and men, who feel that there is an imbalance at most ed tech conferences: This will not be the case at PLP Live. I encourage everyone to attend, both because there will be amazing learning going on — and to support these female keynotes.

Our five women speakers at PLP Live are going to bring a powerful, feminine-values message about what it means to be a connected educator today and what our students need to grow up whole and creative and wise and awesome.

In Part Two of their interview, Sheryl and John talk about the unusual structure of PLP Live and the interactive learning opportunities available to those who attend.

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Sheryl is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Powerful Learning Practice. She works with schools and districts from around the world helping them to infuse technology into their curriculums and by leading other digital conversion efforts. Sheryl also consults with governments, educational organizations and non-profits in development of their various professional learning initiatives. Sheryl is a sought-after presenter at national and international events, speaking on topics related to digital and online learning, teacher and educational leadership, online community building, and other educational issues impacting children of poverty. Sheryl served on the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Board of Directors for six years. She co-authored The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age with Lani Ritter Hall. Sheryl has four children and four grandsons, Luke, Logan, Levi and Tanner and a trio of dachshunds. You can find out more on her blog and on Twitter @snbeach.

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