Each summer, thousands of educators from around the world come together for the premiere event in edtech known as ISTE. I distinctly remember my first time attending ISTE many years ago in San Antonio, Texas. As a part of a group of 6 educators from my school district, I was excited to explore the new and innovative practices that I knew would be waiting for me. Truly, I had no idea what was in store for me. The connections, the ideas, the innovation… it was overwhelming.
As I get ready for this summer’s return to Texas, I have taken some time to reflect on what I’ve learned as an attendee and offer up the following ten items for your consideration if you are planning a trip to ISTE at the end of June.
Plan your days – ISTE has so much to see and so many ways to connect with ideas and other people. In order to take advantage of all there is to offer, you have to prioritize. In the days leading up to the conference, take a look at what’s offered and plan accordingly. Remember that you can’t see everything, so make choices that will serve you well when you return home. Figure out where the sessions you want to attend are and know where it is that you want to go so you don’t spend valuable time wandering lost. You will definitely have to make decisions about how to spend your time and thoughtful planning can help with that. Be strategic about what you want to learn and find those sessions that will help you.
Select a backup session – As you’re planning your time, chances are you’ll find that there are multiple sessions in any one time slot that you might want attend. Be sure to have a backup session to go to in case your first choice is full. There are thousands of other educators at ISTE right along with you. If you’re interested in a session, chances are someone else is, and, try as they might, the conference committee charged with the planning of the event cannot fully predict what will fill up and what won’t.
Visit the playgrounds – One of the great learning opportunities that ISTE provides are playgrounds that are put together to give you multiple opportunities around a given topic. These playgrounds are typically hands on with presenters talking to small groups of people. They give you the opportunity to ask questions and learn from their experiences. Whether you’re interested in Google, creativity, librarianship, virtual worlds or a multitude of other topics, playgrounds will give you a ton of ideas from other educators who are doing the work right now. Keep in mind that this is a drop in session and not something that you would need to block off the entire time to participate in.
Don’t forget the poster sessions – Poster sessions are meant to give educators the opportunity to have a more casual learning experience by setting up booths to wander through and learn about projects and ideas that others are doing in their schools. As another drop in session, poster sessions differ in that you have the opportunity to really engage in conversation with the presenters and see what others are doing around the world. I’ve – discovered some of my best classroom ideas from poster sessions and know that there’s something there for everyone.
Download the app – The ISTE Conference app is a wealth of information and will keep you updated throughout your time in San Antonio. Use it to plan your schedule and find those first, second and third choices for sessions that you want to attend.
Abide by the “Rule of Two Feet” – If you get into a session and it’s not what you thought it would be or you feel like you would be better served by attending something else, get up and leave. This is a time for you to be selfish because you are there to learn for you. The speaker is there to share what they are doing and if it doesn’t fit for you then find a session that does.
Explore the Exhibit Hall – One of the most fabulously daunting areas of ISTE is the Exhibit Hall where vendors and organizations come together to showcase their products and teach you about what’s new and exciting in the world of edtech. It’s a massive maze of people who are eager to tell you about what’s new with their products and many even have teaching booths where they will give you tips and tricks about how to use their tools. This should definitely be a part of your overall plan.
Leave space in your suitcase – As you explore the Exhibit Hall, you’ll be treated to lots of swag from lots of companies. From t-shirts to bags, pens to water bottles, when you walk out you’ll definitely have some stuff to take with you. I know some people who have brought an extra bag just to take stuff home.
Take time to connect – Even with all of the tips above, the best advice I can offer about attending an ISTE conference is to not be afraid to strike up a conversation with others. This is the largest gathering of those interested in edtech on the planet and everyone is there for the same reason. They want to learn and connect in order to make their schools and classrooms better places. Don’t miss an opportunity to make a new friend. You may even end up collaborating on a project at some point, but regardless, you’ll learn about what others are doing and bring those ideas home with you.
If this is your first (or tenth) ISTE conference, I would encourage you to take these tips to heart and be mindful of your experience. San Antonio is a wonderful venue for this learning opportunity and I hope you find it as fulfilling as I have over the years. And if you see me walking around, be sure to say hi. I’d love to chat about all the amazing stuff that’s happening in your schools and classrooms.
Bill Bass will be a part of a variety of sessions at the 2017 ISTE Conference including Empowerment and Expertise: Future Ready Librarians Are Leading and Creating a Data Dashboard with Google Spreadsheets. See here for more details of where to find him.