I returned from San Antonio and my very first ISTE conference about a week ago. What a trip! I did some research and talked to some of my PLN about the conference before I left, but there was no way to prepare for what was in store for me. You can find a few of my thoughts by searching for #ISTERookie on Twitter, but I thought I would give you a rundown on what I learned from my first experience at ISTE.
Do Your Homework
The ISTE app was a great tool. It came out a few weeks before the conference. It is a tremendous resource. You can review the sessions and select which ones you want to attend. You can build a schedule that syncs with your calendar so that you have easy access to all of the information. Pay close attention to the sponsors of the sessions. Presentations “hosted” by some of the major players (Google, Apple) tend to fill up quickly, and once they have reached capacity they close the doors. I had to get in line about 45 minutes ahead of the session to get into some of the more popular ones. If there is a session you just can’t miss, get there earlier. Some of the hosts gave out tickets that got you admittance to the sessions.
The Exposition Hall is gigantic. I am not going to lie, I actually got lost in there the first day. It took me 20 minutes to find an exit. Do you homework on the vendors as well. Make notes of those that interest you and those that you feel you must visit. Then get out the map (this would have helped me BEFORE I got lost). Plot out where the vendors are located. Keep in mind that there are tons and tons of giveaways and prizes. These really aren’t my thing, but if they are important to you, print off about 100 labels with your information on them (school name, address, e-mail, etc). Rather than filling out a thousand forms, just plop a label on it. Also, it really helps if you know in advance what you are looking for. Looking for a new student information system? Check. Tardy monitoring software? Yep. Cases? Uh huh. There is really nothing you can’t find there, but if you know what you are looking for it helps.
Visit the Playgrounds
The convention center was massive as well. There were several enormous (sensing a theme here?) foyers outside of the meeting rooms and ballrooms. ISTE had something called “playgrounds” set up here. These were about 15-20 tables set up in the foyer area. Each one had a different topic, and volunteers who manned the tables. They presented on more topics than I can possibly mention here. These were smaller, more intimate and more informal presentations. You could walk around and stop where you wanted to for as long as you wanted to. I made connections with authors and other great educators at some of the other tables I visited. When I go back to ISTE, I am planning on spending more time at these areas, simply because of the one on one connections you can make.
I learned so much from the sessions I attended. But if you want to really maximize your connections with people, volunteer to assist with the conference. I worked in one of the playground areas for a few hours. I was able to meet new people who were also working the table with me, and interact with a few dozen people when they stopped at our table. Volunteering is a great way to help ISTE and share your expertise.
Use the Technology/App
I mentioned the app earlier, but there is more to it than just a conference planner. They had a scanning app built in as well. This allowed you to scan the QR code on someone’s name badge and collect their profile information in one location. It also allows you to save resources from your favorite sessions and find your way around the exhibit hall (another feature I could have used).
ISTE was a great conference. I plan on attending again in the near future, but this time without as many rookie mistakes. I hope this post will convince you to attend, and make it easier for you as well.