Friday, May 10, 2019

ISTE 2019 - 10 Conference Tips for the Engaged Educator

Bold Educators Activate Change
June 23 - 26, 2019

The best conferences are more than just a list of presenters and sessions. I have been fortunate to attend quite a few conferences as both an attendee and presenter and I am writing this post to share some of my tips about making the most of the ISTE Conference experience. 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.

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: Start engaging in the conversation today

You don't need to wait until the conference is here to start engaging in the learning experience. There are several ways you can start to make connections and build a sense of awareness connected to the conference before you walk into the Philadelphia Convention Center in June. Conference attendees are already actively sharing resources & ideas in the ISTE 2019 Community and on Twitter.

  • The ISTE 2019 Network is part of the ISTE Connect online community. This community is 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, during and, after the conference.
  • The #ISTE19 Twitter hashtag is another great place to make connections and explore tips for the conference. The closer we get to the conference the more connected the tweets are to 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 flipping through a paper program each morning or between sessions at a conference. Planning in advance is more than just picking sessions based on titles or presenters. Here are a few tips to help you explore and choose sessions.

  • If you have never been to ISTE, it is a good idea to start by exploring the session types using the ISTE Learning Guide. I still come back to this resource every year before I start exploring sessions. The BYOD and BYODex are special sessions that you must preregister for. They are typically free, but you need a ticket to get in. 
  • Start by exploring you why. Why are you going to ISTE?  Knowing your why before exploring the sessions is a great way to select sessions that support a complete learning experience. My why is always changing, but I do start with the mindset that everything I do starts with keeping students in mind. I would suggest that you write down your why before the conference starts. Then, refer back to your why before, during, and after the conference.
  • After you know your why, it is time to start exploring the ISTE 2019 Program Guide. (If you login you can even favorite sessions for different times and days.)
  • It is also always a good idea to have a backup plan in case a session is filled, is canceled, or isn’t meeting your needs. I recommend picking 2 or 3 backup sessions during each session time frame that connect to your why. You don't have to attend a session that you favorited. It is ok to switch sessions, really it is.
  • If you are attending with other educators from your school or district, have a plan to collaborate in place 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.
  • Dive into the ISTE Conference Website and explore other opportunities at the conference outside of the schedule of sessions.
  • The ISTE 2019 mobile app is typically not available until June. ISTE will email attendees and post information on the website when the app is up and running. You can use the app to create a schedule, read blog posts, review sessions, and access session notes. The app is a great resource to help you adjust on the fly during the conference.
  • Commit to having a plan to bring something back to your school or district. 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

Know how you are going to take notes and have a plan to share those notes. I always make my notes public and share them during the conference. I believe that knowing someone else will be seeing my notes helps keep me accountable and I am less impacted by other digital distractions. If you are curious about what my notes look like, here is a sample from the 2019 ASCD Empower19 conference I recently attended.

  • Where you take your digital notes is really a matter of preference. I personally use Google Docs. I how easy it is to share and collaborate using Google Docs. If you are not keeping up with Google, I suggest finding a notetaking app that works best for you to take and share notes before attending the conference.
  • Google Keep 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 documents for your conference notes.
  • Your notes don’t have to be digital. You never know when handwritten notes might be your best plan. Have you ever explored Rocket Books? 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 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 this great book The Conference Companion by Becky Green.
  • I am going to explore using some sticky notes to emphasize sessions or my essential takeaways this year. I recently purchased this set of sticky note tag dividers to use with my sketchnotes this year.

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. I always try to remember that it's OK to miss some tweets. Here are a few more tips to make social media part of your learning experience.
  • While there are many great ways to connect to a Digital PLN, Twitter still seems to be the place to be for most educational conferences. 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.
  • 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. Ask and reply to questions. Have an actual digital conversation. Most educators who share something on social media are looking to do more than just post and run. Liking tweets is a great way to acknowledge someone's time, but commenting on a tweet can really make someone's day.
  • 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 such a busy conference hashtag will generate. I also typically 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.
  • I always try to reflect on my learning experience at the end of the day. I think it is important to share at least 1 key takeaway using the conference hashtag at the end of each day.
  • If Twitter is still not your thing, another great place to share is the ISTE Facebook Community.


Tip 5: Find your tribe

I work with some awesome educators and attending a conference with some of my colleagues is part of a great conference experience. I love having the opportunity to collaborate and sometimes just hang out with my teaching friends, but I do my best to try to make new connections and meet presenters and attendees who I only know through social media.

  • 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.
  • One of the easiest ways to remember who you meet is to make a connection on social media. For me, Twitter is still the easiest way to connect digitally. 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 and the playgrounds

Such a simple tip in a long list of tips, but it could end up being the best tip I have. 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

Connecting with exhibitors is a great way to add a little something extra to your learning experience. The exhibit hall is a great space to learn about new EdTech resources and tools to support learning in your classroom. You can also find some great "swag" and other valuable resources at the exhibitor booths. Here are a few ideas to help you make the most of a stroll through the exhibit hall. 

  • Visit the Explore the Expo Page on the conference website. Make a plan to visit exhibitors that you are curious about. I always make a list interesting exhibitors ahead of time and add it to a Google Keep Note.  I like Google Keep because I can update the checklist on my phone. 
  • You don't have to race past booths that are not on your list. I always discover a few other awesome resources as I work my way through my initial exhibitor list.
  • Don't just stop for the swag and run. Take a moment to have a conversation with some of the exhibitors who you are curious about. 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 resource alone.
  • It can also be rewarding to connect with the exhibitors via social media. A shoutout on social media with the conference hashtag is another great way to make new connections. Visit the #ISTE19 hashtag on Twitter to get a sense of which exhibitors are active on social media. 
  • Many of the exhibitors also host mini-sessions led by some great educators. These small group gatherings are a great way to meet some incredible educators face to face.
  • Exhibitors often host social events and the best way to get invited is to stop and talk to the staff at the booths. 

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: Make sure you have your essential supplies

Have the right tools and supplies can make a huge impact on your overall experience.
  • I would start with a Laptop. Macbook. or a 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 highly recommend a keyboard or a stylus/pen that can be used with the device.
  • I also like to have a pad of paper or notebook for some sketchnotes and brainstorms on the side.You never know when you might need it. You might even want to explore buying a Rocket Book before the conference. Rocket Books are reusable notebooks that can be erased. You can also use the Rockebook App to bring your written notes to the cloud.
  • Using sketchnotes and doodles as part of your conference notetaking experience is a great way to highlight key ideas and resources. If you are curious about sketchnotes, be sure to check out The Conference Companion by Becky Green. This book was made for conference sketchnoting.
  • I recommend bringing a refillable water bottle and some snacks to keep your energy levels up. Snack lines can be long.
  • I also think it is important to dress in layers. The temperature can vary a bit in different spaces at a larger conference center even in the middle of summer.
  • Finally, don't forget those charging cords or backup battery power banks! A dead battery is something no one needs.
I've also started this Amazon Idea List of conference and travel essentials for educators.


Tip 9: Have some fun and take some breaks

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 and reflect. I also try to set aside some time to explore the city, get something to eat at a unique restaurant, and attend at least one sponsored social event.


Tip 10: Reflect and share

Write a reflective blog post, share reflections via social media or share your notes with a colleague. I think it is important that everyone reflects on the learning experience. 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.

I have a few more posts in the hopper for the conference so stay tuned!

If you have a favorite tip or post connected to ISTE, I'd love for you to share it in the comments below.

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