Didn’t we just leave Denver?! It’s hard to believe that the ISTE17 Conference is only a week (days!) away. This year feels a bit like a homecoming since my very first conference was in San Antonio.
As a five-time ISTE conference veteran, I’ve picked up on a handful of tips that I wish I would’ve known going into the conference my first time. I was inspired by one of my Blogging Buddies, Leslie Fagin’s post, so I decided to build on her advice.
1. Bring as Few Devices as Necessary.
Since Leslie’s post is what inspired me to write this one, I’ll start by reiterating one of her points. Bring as few devices as absolutely necessary to get through the conference. Make one of those a portable charger. Trust me, you don’t need your iPad, laptop, phone, Chromebook, and Surface. You WILL be doing tons of walking at ISTE (especially the San Antonio layout), and your backpack will get weighed down pretty quickly.
2. On Charging…
As I mentioned above, make sure one of the devices you bring with you is some sort of a portable charger for your phone. If you don’t have one, you can invest in one for a reasonable price. Your phone will die quickly.
As far as charging all of your other devices, make sure you do it at night, so you’re ready to go in the morning. Double check that your device is actually charging in the hotel outlet (I’ve gotten myself in trouble with old hotel outlets not actually working before!). Bring all chargers with you. Use an outlet in the conference center whenever you can, but don’t be an outlet hog that doesn’t let anyone else use it even when you’re at 99%!
3. Go With a Focus in Mind.
I got this tip from Jennie Magiera’s Courageous Edventures (side note- if you haven’t read it, read it now!). This conference offers hundreds of thousands of opportunities to learn and network. If you just wander around, you’ll feel really overwhelmed and may not leave feeling like you got everything out of it that you needed. Take a minute to think about where you really want to focus your practice and efforts this coming year. Narrow that down to three topics, and pick your sessions around those three focus topics. You will definitely stumble into some cool sessions that don’t exactly fit those three topics, but that will at least help you narrow down your search for sessions and ensure that you leave feeling like you got what you wanted out of the experience!
4. Going with a Buddy? Share a Google Doc!
This tip also comes from Jennie Magiera’s Courageous Edventures. It can be really tempting to stick side-by-side with the other person(s) you came with in a sea of 14,000-18,000 people, but I encourage you to divide and conquer! Unless you are fortunate enough to live within driving distance of the conference, then this was a huge financial investment for you/your employer. Create a shared Google Doc to take all your notes in. You’ll get resources and information from double (or triple or more!) the sessions. My team and I are putting this practice into place this year. We’ve got sort of a template for taking notes and sharing links and resources, so it’s not just a jumbled mess (or maybe that’s the logistical control freak in me?! 😜).
Not going with someone else you know? No worries! As you talk and network with others, natural conversations will lead you down a path of discussing awesome sessions you’ve attended. Offer to share notes from the awesome sessions you’ve attended and see if they would be willing to reciprocate. Could end up being your lifelong “edu-soulmate” as Jennie calls it!
5. Search the ISTE17 Program Ahead of Time
Take those 2-3 focus topics, and search the ISTE17 program before you get to San Antonio. Put the ones that you definitely don’t want to miss on your calendar (you’ll end up favoriting more than you can attend).
Never been to ISTE and not sure what all the different types of sessions are? Below are some of the sessions and ISTE conference lingo that I wish I had understood before my first conference:
PLNs– ISTE PLNs are Professional Learning Networks. They are smaller, special interest groups of ISTE, and are free to join with your ISTE membership. Any event hosted by an ISTE PLN is sure to be good stuff. You can read more about ISTE PLNs here.
Posters– Poster sessions will be going on almost the entire conference in two-hour time chunks, typically grouped around a common theme. Think undergrad/grad school research presentations or science fair style type posters. There are about 50-100 poster sessions going on at once (in the same general area), and you can walk around and get tons of information really quickly. Some of my biggest takeaways have come from poster sessions, and the longest I’ve ever spent with one single poster presenter is about 15 minutes. If you have some down time and there are poster sessions going on, I highly recommend to go walk around and check them out. Also, as you look through the program and find a poster session you want to see from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m., you only actually need about 5-15 minutes to see this poster any time during the two-hour block of time. This is also a great place to go to see K12 students presenting!
Playgrounds– PLNs (and sometimes other organizations) are invited to host Playgrounds. Playgrounds are a chunk of time, either in the morning or afternoon, where there will basically be three rounds of poster sessions going on related to the playground topic. For example, the Ed Tech Coaches Playground will be Tuesday, June 27 from 9:30 a.m. – 1:00. p.m. Within the 9:30 to 1:00 time frame, there will be three rounds and turnovers of different poster style sessions (9:30-10:30, 10:45-11:45, and 12 – 1), with about 11 tables set up during each of the three rounds. As with poster sessions, you only need about 5-15 minutes at each station, but with playgrounds, I’d recommend coming back once during each of the three rounds in order to see all presentations if the overall topic interests you.
EdTekTalks– EdTekTalks are really cool mini-keynotes (about 2o minutes each). Multiple people will present over about a two-hour timeframe. If you have some time to kill, I highly recommend checking these out!
BYOD Sessions– These are the sessions you had to register for when you registered for the conference. They are free but do have limited seating. If you didn’t get to register for one that you’re dying to get into, go wait outside the door. If people who did register don’t show up, they allow other people to attend on a first come first serve basis.
If you have any specific questions about types of sessions, feel free to ask in the comments section below.
6. Check out the Ed Tech Coaches PLN Events
The Ed Tech Coaches PLN has three main events at the conference- a meeting, informal networking event, and a Playground. You can check those out, search through all the ETC Playground presentations and search through other PLN members presenting coaching sessions at the conference with our ETC Program here (tip: bookmark it!).
7. Pack Snacks & Get Your Coffee Before Going Inside!
Thank the Lord for Melissa Henning, another Ed Tech Coaches PLN leader, who gave me this tip a few years ago. If you are an over packer, do yourself a favor and take out the extra pair of shoes to make room for snacks! I’m talking granola bars, tuna kits, individual bags of chips, pop tarts, trail mix… any kind of snack. I would also recommend getting your first coffee for the day from your hotel or somewhere on the street. The lines for snacks and coffee inside the conference center are out. of. control. While most educators can scarf down lunch in under 30 minutes, 30 minutes is not really 30 minutes to eat at an ISTE conference. You’ll be running from session to session across (what feels like) half a mile of crowded hallways. Plus, you want to stay fueled to be able to pay attention. How will you find your edu-soulmate if you’re too hangry?!
8. Two Words: Comfortable Shoes.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You’ll want to wear comfortable shoes. I’d recommend semi- comfortable clothes too. I don’t necessarily recommend your gym clothes, but I don’t think a suit & tie is necessary. The last time I was in San Antonio for ISTE, I remember starting to sweat immediately upon walking outside, and then freezing once you got inside the conference center because the air was turned down so low. I’d recommend layers if you’re a person who gets cold easily, like me.
For more ideas on what to pack, check out Diana Rendina’s blog: The Best Stuff to Pack for Big Education Conferences.
9. Put it all in a Blog Immediately Afterward
If you don’t have a blog… do something to organize and reflect on all the ideas you got, how you want to implement those ideas, and organize the resources. I still go back to my post from my first ISTE conference… “what was that website?”, “who was it that said…?” and so on. You’ll thank yourself later!
And of course, it goes without saying: network! Introduce yourself, talk to people, don’t be shy. There are going to be anywhere from 14 to 18 thousand people who all share a passion for education and specifically educational technology in the same place. Take advantage of that!
What tips do you have for navigating large conferences, or ISTE specifically?
Tech To You Later!