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What is an ISTE conference actually like?

Written by Ben Newsome on July 14th, 2017.      0 comments

Sign: Powerful learning starts here
It certainly does!

Ever wanted to find out the latest and greatest technology tools, tips & tricks that'll spice up your learning space? More importantly, would you rather discover this information from educators that are actually using the technology in their classroom? Perhaps joining the next ISTE conference might be for you? The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) is a major edtech professional learning network that brings together thousands of like-minded educators from across the globe to create a collaboration space for sharing ideas for implementing technology into all key learning areas. ISTE puts on many professional learning opportunities throughout the year however the big kahuna is the ISTE conference, a massive gathering of over 20,000 teachers, librarians, technology coordinators, regional directors and principals plus hardware and software specialists from companies of all sizes in a huge 4 day event. With this sort of scale it means that if you're considering going to the next ISTE conference it's worth having a game plan!
 

When size matters


Seriously, the annual ISTE conference is enormous.
Sometimes, the numbers just speak for themselves (thanks to ISTE for the infographic!)

ISTE 2017 infographic
ISTE 2017 infographic (courtesy www.iste.org)

With these sorts of attendance numbers at ISTE, you'd be crazy not to do some planning first if you're going to attend the next conference. The following gives a brief overview of what to expect and what has worked for us at recent ISTE conferences.
 

But first... what can you expect to see?


There are so many things to see and do at ISTE! Undoubtedly if you go to this conference you'll see many presentations (check out the keynotes as well, they're fantastic) however the poster sessions, PLN playgrounds and the expo hall itself have hands-on things to do and see. Check out following things I've seen whilst attending this conference;

Banana keyboard using Makey Makey
Banana keyboard using Makey Makey , ISTE 2017

Augmented reality sandbox at ISTE
Augmented reality sandbox at ISTE using an XBox Kinnect at an Epson stand, ISTE 2015

iPad and green screen storytelling at ISTE
iPad and green screen storytelling at ISTE using Do Ink at ISTE 2017

Meeting distance education providers Center for Puppetry Arts at ISTE
Meeting distance education providers Center for Puppetry Arts at ISTE 2015

Double robot at ISTE
Double robot telepresence tool at ISTE 2014 

Attachment for compound microscopes by Exo
Attachment for compound microscopes for iPads by Exo 

Robots at ISTE 2017
Robots at ISTE 2017

... and so on.

At ISTE you can learn how to produce student podcasts, using Minecraft in lessons, 3D printing ideas, using drones to teach STEM and much more.
 

Some ISTE survival tips


ISTE 2017 in San Antonio
There was so much to see at ISTE 2017!

First things first; you're not going to be able to see everything. Not a chance. There's so much going on at this conference that it is a physical impossibility to see every BYOD session, demonstration, breakout out group, presentation and maker space. So with this in mind, here's some tips for making the most of your 4 day conference;
 
  • Make connections with the variety of professional learning networks via the ISTE PLNs before you go. Members of PLNs share common interests and goals at ISTE and so this can be a powerful way to accelerate your understanding of a given topic area. Also, each PLN leadership team nominates several presentations and posters at ISTE that they feel their members should consider visiting which means that in some ways your work has been done with sifting through all of the opportunities to find the one that is right for you. Another advantage of making connections with educators in your PLN interest area is that these members can quickly be your social network for things to do throughout each day and into the evening!

    ISTE IVC PLN playground at Denver
    Holly and myself hanging out with our in the ISTE Interactive Video Conferencing PLN 
     
  • Be aware of how far the keynote sessions might be from a given workshop you need to attend next. When you've got over 15,000 people leaving a presentation it takes time to get out of the room and get to your next session!

    ISTE 2017 hall for keynote Jad Abumrad
    The hall is huge! This is the crowd for keynote Jad Abumrad (Radiolab podcast producer)
     
  • Download and use the app that ISTE creates for each year. Through this app you'll be able to keep track of your schedule, get push notifications of things going on and use it to connect with others at ISTE by scanning the QR code of their tag. Very handy, especially when you're not near an 'Ask Me!' helper :)
     
  • Bring a spare wall charger as well as an external battery for your devices. With all the BYOD sessions and constant use of your smart devices you're going to chew up a lot of power!
     
  • Keep an eye out for emails from exhibitors that are presenting at ISTE. You'll often find that there are special events that are limited to VIPs that you may not find out about until too late (did anyone say EdTech Karaoke!?!)

    Firefly computing party at Howl at the Moon
    Firefly computers party at Howl at the Moon, ISTE 2017
     
  • Pace yourself and rest when you can!

Hitting the Exhibitor Hall


ISTE exhibitor hall
ISTE exhibitor hall 

The ISTE expo hall is enormous, with over 500 exhibitors showing the latest tech gadgets that can help you teach. Knowing this, most people find it easier to take in the exhibitor hall over several visits over several days. It can be overwhelming to try to do it all in one go, besides which you'd need to have pretty strong arms to able to carry all of the flyers and giveaways you'll receive from the exhibitors as conference veterans know all too well! Some tips:
 
  • It's worth having a look at the expo floor plan before you head in. If there is a particular vendor you need to check out make note of it as you could easily miss them amongst all the masses.
     
  • Bring an empty bag. You'll need it!
     
  • Download a QR code scanner on your phone, it'll help a lot with cutting down the amount of flyers you'll get and many exhibitors will have special landing pages on their website just for people attending ISTE. This will also be handy for playing the a QR finding game that ISTE runs too. You can download these on iTunes or Google Play.
     
  • Many exhibitors hold competitions. The obvious tip is to bring a pen for filling out forms... however, a pro tip is to have your name and address already pre-printed on some address labels! Yes, this seems a little cheeky however your time at the ISTE conference is precious and if competitions are your thing you can cut down your form filling incredibly well with a little planning.
  • Don't expect WiFi reception to work well in the ISTE expo hall. We've found our devices often crash when trying to load the WiFi locations in settings do to the sheer volume of exhibitors and their hotspots. Just have your phone on a cellular signal instead (for international visitors its worth buying a prepaid sim for data whilst at the conference anyway).

As with any conference you'll only get out what you put in. Still, if you really want to keep to speed with education technology trends and want to discover teacher collaborations that are pushing the boundaries, the ISTE conference is most definitely one to keep on the calendar! The added bonus - traveling to a new city certainly broadens the horizons as well :)

Happy teaching,

Ben

Ben Newsome
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