I have been fortunate to attend quite a few conferences, both as an attendee and presenter, and I’ve learned that the best conferences are more than just a list of presenters and sessions.
Take it from me, you don't want to be the teacher sitting in the back of the room in a session and miss out on making the most of your learning experience. That’s why I’d like to share some of my tips and ideas to help you get the most out of ISTE19.
I know there is a lot in this post, so my advice is to explore one tip at a time and not try to run through this whole post in one sitting. You’ve got some time. I know I am not even coming close to sharing everything that ISTE is, but I hope there is something here that can help everyone make the most of their ISTE experience.
Tip 1: Engage in the conversation today
Don't wait until the conference to start engaging in the learning experience. There are several ways you can make connections and build a sense of awareness about the conference before you walk into the Philadelphia Convention Center. The conference experience is already active in the ISTE PLN community and on Twitter.
Join the ISTE 2019 Community. This is an ISTE commuinity exclusively for ISTE19 registrants. It offers a great discussion forum to get you started on your learning path for the conference! You can ask questions, engage in conversations or simply explore what people are sharing before the conference.
Follow the #ISTE19 Twitter hashtag. This is another great place to make connections and find tips. The closer we get to the conference, the more you’ll see related to ISTE19. (Check out Tip 4 to learn more about organizing your social feed for the conference.)
Tip 2: Plan your conference in advance
This seems like a no-brainer, but I am always amazed by the number of teachers frantically scrolling the online program each morning or between sessions. Planning in advance is more than just picking sessions based on titles or presenters. Follow these guidelines to make sure you choose wisely.
Start with your why. Knowing your why before exploring the sessions is a great way to set the stage for an awesome learning experience. I always start with the mindset that everything I do starts with students in mind. Write this down before planning your conference.
Use the ISTE Learning Guide. If you have never been to ISTE, it’s a good idea to start by exploring the session types using this handy guide. I still come back to this resource every year. Explore the ISTE19 Program Guide. Log in “to favorite” sessions for different times and days.
Have a back-up plan I recommend picking 2 or 3 backup sessions in case a session is filled, canceled or isn’t meeting your needs. Choose alternates during each session time frame that connect to your why. It is OK to switch sessions, really it is.
Make a team plan. If you are attending with other educators from your school or district, make a plan before the conference. Attending sessions together is a great way to collaborate, but sometimes a bit of divide-and-conquer can lead to some great reflective sharing after the sessions.
Look for diverse learning opportunities. Dive into the ISTE Conference website and explore other opportunities at the conference outside of the schedule of sessions.
Download the ISTE19 mobile app. ISTE will email attendees and post information on the website when the app is available for download, usually by the beginning of June. Use it to create a schedule, review sessions and access session notes. The app is a great resource to help you adjust on the fly.
Plan to share your learning. How will you make sure that you and your students are not the only ones benefiting from the experience? The more you share the more you learn!
Tip 3: Have a plan to take and share notes
Decide how you will take notes and make a plan for sharing.
I always make my notes public and share them during the conference. If I know that someone else will be seeing my notes, it helps keeps me accountable and focused.
If you are curious about what my notes look like, here is a sample from the 2019 ASCD Empower19 conference I recently attended. Here are some other note-taking resources and ideas:
Google Docs. I personally love Google Docs for notes.
Google Keep. This is another great resource to create reminders, notes and checklists. If you use the extension, you can even save links to resources. The Keep Notepad in Google Docs is a great bonus if you are using Docs for your conference notes.
Rocket Books. Your notes don’t have to be digital. You never know when handwritten notes might be your best plan. Rocket Books are reusable notebooks that can be erased. You can also use the Rockebook App to bring your written notes to the cloud.
Skethnoting. This is another great way to engage in the learning experience. If you are curious about sketchnotes and doodles as part of your conference learning experience, be sure to check out Becky Green’s book The Conference Companion.
Sticky note tag dividers. I am going to explore using some sticky notes to emphasize sessions or my essential takeaways this year. I recently purchased this set of to use with my sketchnotes this year.
Find a tool or resource that works for you before the conference so you’re not distracted during the sessions.
Tip 4: Organize your social feed
The hashtag this year is #ISTE19, and the ISTE Twitter feed will be moving fast once the conference gets rolling. Jumping into the Twitter hashtag stream during the conference can quickly become overwhelming. Remember, it's OK to miss some tweets.
While there are many great ways to connect to a digital PLN, Twitter still seems to be the place to be for most education conferences. If Twitter is still not your thing, another great place to share is the ISTE Facebook community.
I always try to set aside some time to find and explore the conference hashtag before, during and after the conference. You never know what you might discover. Here are some tips around using Twitter:
Interact with tweets. Liking tweets is a great way to acknowledge someone's time, but commenting on a tweet can make someone's day.
Ask and reply to questions. There is nothing wrong with a tweet or two letting everyone know which sessions you are enjoying, but it is the conversations that can really make all the difference. Most educators who share something on social media are looking to do more than just post and run.
Organize your feed and make lists. Hootsuite and TweetDeck are great resources to manage the stream of information. I also recommend creating a Twitter list of presenters and attendees. Lists are a great way to narrow down some of the clutter that a busy conference hashtag generates. I also create a list of exhibitors who are active on Twitter during the conference. You just never know when a giveaway or social event will be posted.
It’s good to share. I always try to reflect on my learning experience at the end of the day. I think it is important to share at least one key takeaway using the conference hashtag at the end of each day.
Tip 5: Find your community
I work with some awesome educators and attending a conference with them allows us to collaborate or just hang out. But I do my best to make new connections and meet presenters and attendees who I know only through social media. Here are some tips for broadening your network:
Introduce yourself to other attendees. A smile and asking someone you don't know how their day is going can open a door to a great collaborative learning experience. Connecting with educators from other schools is a great way to learn something new that you can bring back to help your students.
Presenters are there to meet new people. Try to find a moment before or after a presentation to ask a question, say hello or just say thank you. Connect online. The easiest way to remember who you meet is to make a connection on social media. I typically create a Twitter list of people I meet at a conference. You can even quickly share your Twitter contact information with anyone using this quick Twitter Tip that I learned at the 2018 ISTE Conference.
Tip 6: Don’t skip the poster sessions or the playgrounds
Such a simple tip in a long list of tips, but it could end up being the best one of all. I didn’t discover the poster sessions and playgrounds at ISTE 2017 until the second day of the conference. I learned more in one hour in a poster session than I think I did the entire previous day.
Poster Sessions: Browse a showcase of projects in a multi-booth environment where you can engage with presenters one-on-one or in small groups.
Playground: Experiment with interactive technologies that enhance creativity and learning.
Tip 7: Connect with exhibitors
The exhibit hall is a great space to learn about new edtech resources and tools to support learning. You can also find some great swag and other valuable resources at the exhibitor booths. Connecting with exhibitors is a great way to add a little something extra to your learning experience. Here are some ways to make the most of the exhibit hall.
Plan to visit at least five exhibitors that you are curious about. Visit the Explore the Expo Page on the conference website and make a list of interesting exhibitors ahead of time. I add mine to a Google Keep Note because I can update the checklist on my phone. I always discover a few other awesome resources in addition to the exhibitors I have on my list.
Take a moment to speak to exhibitors. Don't just stop for the swag and run. Many of the exhibitors were teachers before moving into their new roles. Connections with these people can often have a bigger impact than just connecting with the company.
Connect with exhibitors via social media. A shout-out on social media with the conference hashtag is another great way to make new connections. Many conferences like ISTE are possible because of the support of exhibitors.
Attend exhibitor sessions. Many of the exhibitors host mini-sessions led by some great educators. These small-group gatherings are a great way to meet some incredible educators face to face.
You never know when you might be presented with an opportunity to request a new edtech tool for your classroom. Knowing about some of the resources and tools before you use them is a great place to start these conversations.
Tip 8: The essential supplies
Have the right tools and supplies can make a huge impact on your overall experience. Here are my recommendations:
Laptop, MacBook or Chromebook. Tablets and mobile devices are OK, but there will be sessions where having a full-sized screen and keyboard are a huge bonus. If a tablet is your go-to device, I recommend a keyboard or a stylus/pen that can be used with the device.
Pad of paper, notebook or a reusable notebook called a Rocket Book. Any of these will do if you like to create sketchnotes and brainstorms on the side. If you try the Rocketbook, make sure you download the Rocketbook App so you can save your notes to the cloud and then erase the pages when you run out.
Refillable water bottle and some snacks. Snack lines can be long and you’ll want to keep your energy up.
Layers of clothing. The temperature can vary in different spaces at a larger conference center even in the middle of summer.
ISTE is an incredible learning experience, but you’ll probably need to take some breaks. I always set aside some time to find a quiet place to recharge. I also try to make some time to explore the city, get something to eat at a unique restaurant and attend at least one sponsored social event.
Seek out social events. There will also be quite a few official ISTE meetups and social events every evening. Many of these are connected to the ISTE PLNs and are a great place to make new connections. You will see more of these posted as we get closer to the conference.
The exhibitors will also be hosting quite a few social events during the conference. Stop by the expo hall booths or follow some of the exhibitors on social media to discover the who, what and where of these great events. The annual Edtech Karaoke Night is one example of a great exhibitor-sponsored event.
Tip 10: Reflect and share
Write a reflective blog post, post reflections on social media or share your notes with a colleague. I think it is important that you reflect on your learning experience and share it with your PLN. You also never know what connections you might make if you share your ideas and resources.
I always try to make daily reflections a regular part of my conference learning process. Take time to look over your notes and make connections to your teaching. This can go a long way to helping the learning stick. I've been to too many conferences and sessions where I took some incredible notes, but then never went back and connected these notes to my teaching and learning experience.
Steve Wick is an ISTE member and a science teacher and instructional technology coordinator at Neuqua Valley High School in Naperville, Illinois. He is a passionate explorer of educational technology, failing forward, G Suite for Education, formative assessment, student-centered classrooms, the growth mindset, and professional development best practices for educators. Read his blog and follow him @WickedEdTech.