Over the past week, I feel like I’ve dived headfirst into the deep end of the pool, only to come up for air and discover I’m actually in the middle of the Pacific.

About a month ago, I joined ISTE, and discovered that they had an online presence not just on the web, but also in Second Life. I signed up for a free account there and barely got into it, but quickly got lost and gave up. Last week, I decided to give Second Life a second shot, and jumped directly to the ISTE headquarters there. I soon ran into a most friendly person there, Lyrah Lane (as she is known in SL), and we got chatting about school and education, and it wasn’t long before I learned that ISTE was about to hold its annual convention, the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in San Antonio, Texas. Several other people I met in SL asked me, “Are you going to NECC? Are you going to be in San Antonio?” My response was always, “I wish!”

So I went through the weekend meeting people from all over the country, getting to know each other, talking about some of the possibilities of collaborating and networking with SL, and exploring a bit. I was constantly being given information about places to visit in SL to meet other educators and get involved in collaborative projects and participate in professional development and I couldn’t keep up with it all.

Just when I felt like I couldn’t handle any more and I needed to come up for air, I got a message on Monday from another one of my new SL friends and colleagues, Penelope Drucker (again, not her real life name). She was co-presenter for a session at NECC which was going to take place both in real life and in Second Life. She needed a core group of SL participants who were prepared to discuss the topic because she had no way of knowing who would be there either in San Antonio or in the SL venue. So in less than 24 hours, I needed to get up to speed on the National Educational Technology Standards for Administrators (NETS-A). The panel discussion was specifically to talk about how SL could strengthen and deepeng the refresh process which would be revising and updating those standards over the next year.

OK, I thought to myself, what am I going to be able to contribute to this discussion? How am I, a “newbie” to both ISTE and SL, going to have anything constructive to add to a conversation about revising the national technology standards?

(As an aside, when I told my wife I was doing this panel discussion in San Antonio, she nearly fainted—but that’s a story for another day.)

Once the meeting got going, though, the incredible power and possibilities of SL as a professional development medium began to open up for me. In the past, discussions like this were highly exclusive: only people who were motivated and financially able to travel around the country were able to participate in national conferences, and even then, these kinds of roundtables were unlikely to be able to include many points of view from many different people. Now, however, even someone like me who is “just” a teacher—someone with some valuable experience and valid ideas, but who doesn’t have the credentials and connections to matter at the national level—can participate on equal footing with national leaders and have his voice contribute to the conversation.

Even more, SL now becomes not just a meeting place but an ongoing, permanent residence for us. The relationships that were forged this week during NECC don’t end with the closing keynote. We don’t shake hands as we check out of the hotel and say, “It was great to meet you, keep in touch, here’s my phone number and my email address,” and then hope that there’s enough motivation to make the effort to write on a regular basis. I know from experience that while email is a great tool for communicating and staying in contact with people at a distance, it is lousy for maintaining distance collaboration.

People tend to collaborate most with the people they run into on a daily basis, the ones with whom they work and play. I know for a fact that there are several people I met at NECC this week I will maintain contact with, not just because I want to, but because I’m almost guaranteed to run into them on a fairly regular basis in SL. It won’t take a conscious effort on my part to remember to email them—they’ll just be there, and we can have an ongoing conversation about the projects we’re working on, we can problem solve together, share ideas, and socialize.

My professional circle grew this week—by only a few people, granted, but I can tell already that something productive will come from these relationships.

I’m heading into the weekend still totally overwhelmed with new information to seek out, process, and absorb, with another large project to add to my summer planning list, but I’m not going into it alone. I have like-minded colleagues in SL. We will bounce ideas off each other, brainstorm, debate, and generate exciting new ways of teaching students and each other.

I’m overwhelmed, but I’m energized about where this can go.