I just wanna say this so you know how crazy I am – this is going to be my second time at an ISTE conference. Yup – I’m a repeat offender. This year I don’t even have the excuse that I’m being forced against my will to attend by the peeps at edmodo … nope, I’ve taken it all upon myself to return to the big ol’ US of A to attend this massive edtech conference. So, now that you know I am a totally experienced guide, lol, I will give you some tips on how best to survive a conference that has around abouts 13,000 attendees!
OK, OK … I’ll stop being a knob and just write this damn blog post … apologies to those of you who may have accidentally found this post thanks to the google gods.
Last year ISTE was in Philadelphia – that’s right across the other side of the country from its location this year in San Diego, so keeping that in mind my advice may be somewhat less valid. I guess we’ll all know in a little under two weeks time! Regardless, this conference is going to be just as massive as it was last year and I really think there are a few things worth knowing before you embark on your #ISTE12 mission.
1. Pack your lunch!
Picture 13,000 tired and hungry teachers all swarming on the foodcourt at your local Westfields and you’ve got a pretty good image of what it’s like at ISTE come lunchtime. Last year we were lucky enough to be located across the road from the epic Reading Terminal Markets … and I mean epic! That place is huge and full of so many different food choices – think Patty’s markets x10. Despite its size Andy McKiel and I still had to literally cram our way through teacher bodies in order to find a relatively uncrowded stall to get something to eat – I think I ended up at a grocers and got almonds and a juice. I only ventured into the markets once – I learnt my lesson. My best tip is to eat a big breakfast – regardless of how giddy you are with excitement or nerves – and then pick up a snack like nuts, chips or a cookie and a drink from a deli or street cart on the way (I don’t know what the West Coast equivalent is – maybe a 7/11 or something?) and pack it in your bag. There is so much happening at this conference that you don’t want to be taking two hours for lunch – you know you’re going to miss something cool. Oh, and yes, there are coffee stands/shops inside the convention centre itself but the lines will be endless … I’m not a coffee drinker, so maybe you’ll think waiting 40 minutes for a coffee is OK. I don’t.
2. Dress casually and bring an extra layer
Like all convention centres, this one will have some super-sized air-conditioning system which most likely will be pumped to the max. All those teacher bodies huddled together in one space means we’ll need heaps of fresh air cycling through the place. Even though it was summer, I still found myself wearing jeans, a shirt and a cardigan – until I got me edmodo hoodie from the crew and then that became the staple, haha. I remember seeing John and Lucia almost blue from cold at the edmodo stand in the exposition hall - the aircon was super powerful in there! So pack a jumper or something lighter to cover your arms. And of course wear sensible shoes – if you’re presenting at some point and you wanna wear your heels, just pack some sneakers in a bag for later. The Philadelphia Convention Centre spans something like three city blocks and if it wasn’t for Andy I would never have found a single session I needed to attend – the whole place was disorienting and trying to navigate it, combined with the distance makes for very tired teachers. Many a time I just stood still looking bewildered, catching the sight of many others like me … those who have given up and made the decision to park their butts on the ground and rest a bit. No joke – teachers are a resourceful bunch and will make use of what they can get. So I truly do suggest that you’ll need some seriously comfy shoes – I suggest Chuck Taylors. They served me well and will again.
3. Friends – get some!
Whilst I was fully determined to go solo at ISTE last year – cos to be honest I didn’t know a damn sole and am not that big on asserting myself socially – but I was so very, very thankful to have found a true buddy in fellow edmodo-geek, Andy McKiel. The whole experience is quite literally overwhelming and at times threatens to break one’s spirit … how can there be so many teachers? So much to know? So much to learn? So much to do? So much to share? And so many bloody rooms to navigate! Having someone to share this experience with just makes it all the more special – and pretty much makes it manageable and enjoyable. I’m sure there was many a time when poor Andy hoped that I would forget his twitter handle so I couldn’t locate him the next day, lol. Of course if you are travelling to ISTE12 solo then I recommend rocking past the Newbies Lounge or the Bloggers Cafe and just striking up a conversation with someone else who looks equally bewildered. If you’d prefer you might just plonk yourself down next to a fallen teacher body on the floor – I’m sure he/she would love to see someone smile at them! (The pic below shows how Andy and I entertained ourselves towards the end of ISTE11 – trying to get our tweets on the screen in the Newbie Lounge, haha!)
4. Vote with your feet
A massive difference between ISTE and Aussie conferences is how the program works. You don’t need to pick your sessions in advance – no need to book a seat unless it’s a paid session. This means that the system is pretty much ‘first in best dressed’ which is cool, I reckon, but also means you need to get in early to the popular sessions. Problem is, how do you know if a session is going to be a popular one? The biggest indicator is – no duh – the presenter and his/her popularity. There are some obvious edu-stars who always draw a crowd for two reasons – they have something good to say and they say it well. A few names to keep your eyes out for:
Vicki Davis, Dean Shareski, Steve Hargadon, Roger Pryor (who is pictured below with his guitar during his presentation at ISTE11), Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Suzie Boss, Kevin Honeycutt, Tony Vincent, Shannon Miller, Beth Still, Steven Anderson, Dayna Laur, Peggy Sheehy, Ewan McIntosh, Joyce Valenza, David Warlick, Alan November, Steve Dembo, Will Richardson, Chris Lehman, Gary Stager, Ian Jukes, David Thornburg.
Last year I sat down in my very first ISTE session titled something like ‘Connectivism in the 21st century’ – title sounds naff to me now, haha. Anyway, I was keen on the idea of connectivism but as soon as I sat down (in a massive room about four times the size of my school hall!) and heard the speaker say ‘OK, twitter – this is a micro-blog for social networking …’ I started to panic. I looked around at the iPad-powered teachers in the room and started to sweat a little. Is this really the innovative USA? I felt trapped. But after a quick tweet of panic I was assured that I could vote with my feet at ISTE and leave a session I didn’t like – with a smile you are likely to get into another session, as long as it’s not full. That’s pretty cool – no need for a daggy little ticket, you just cruise on in. Mind you, you might find yourself a little lost if you don’t plan your itinerary a little bit before hand … and don’t follow my lead by writing it on your hand, haha:
5. Steer clear of the exposition hall unless you’re at ISTE just for the schwag bag
Of course this is why many people are at ISTE. For so many of these teachers they are sent to this conference each year to get a tick next to the letters PD. And that’s cool. For them the expo hall is the place to be – it is like a sea of freebies. You can come out of this hall like Santa at the beginning of Christmas Eve – a giant bag of shirts, edu tech gadgets, pamphlets and assorted freebies all emblazoned with the name of the latest, hippest edutech start-up. I think people spend their whole four days in this place … you could and still have missed a stand! I guess I’m biased – a lot – but I reckon that the edmodo stand is the best … haha. Drop by and say G’Day to Betsy and the crew. The people who man these stalls work SO hard that by the end of the four days they are usually without a voice (from giving their spiel over and over again) and getting a cold from the air-conditioning.
6. Come a day early and check out the pre-ISTE stuff
ISTE officially opens on the Sunday afternoon with the opening keynote. This year we have been promised Sir Ken – but I’m skeptical as to whether he will be there in person. Last year Stephen Covey was amazing as a keynote – but he was on a giant screen, beamed in from some sunny local. That’s OK … but how cool would it be to say you were in the same room as Sir Ken? Anyway did you know that there are a bunch of events on before the official opening? Check out the ISTE Unplugged site to find out about some of them. I’m keen to attend SocialEd Con – but I’ll have to run it by the family and see if I get approval first. You can also keep up to date with coinciding events by following the official hashtag #ISTE12.
OK … just realised how long this post is already so I’m going to break it into two parts. Your next thrilling installment will look at: closing keynote, bloggers lounge/ poster sessions, what tech to bring, after-parties and the ISTE Down-Under Daily (or some bloody name I haven’t thought of yet!).