Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tips for ISTE Newbies

I generally don't blog but I felt this was a great opportunity to share what I've learned. 2011 was my first ever experience with an ISTE conference, and actually my first ed tech conference of any kind. I saw an e-mail that was being passed around at work which mentioned a conference in Philly. Since Philly was only 45 minutes away, I figured I would check it out. What I experienced was truly eye opening for my professional career. There are 20,000 teachers/administrators and over 1,500 exhibitors who attend this conference each year. It can truly be daunting and it's easy to lose your way. Here are some tips that I discovered for myself that I would like to share with any ISTE newbie.
  • Schedule - One of the things we all do when going to a conference is fill our schedules to the brim with different sessions and workshops. Generally these conferences are one or two day affairs and we all want our money's (or our sponsor's money) worth. My first year, I picked every session I could and I was almost always running to and from a session with little to no breaks. Well I urge you to NOT do that. This conference is spread out over four days and you WILL have time to get in the most important sessions to you. **SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT** Be sure to sign up for our second TeachMeet ISTE on 6/23. This is YOUR chance to be a presenter at ISTE and it's FREE!
  • Lounges - Along the lines of scheduling you should definitely take time out to visit some of the various lounges throughout the conference. Lounges such as the Welcome, Social Butterfly, International or Blogger's can be just as important as going to a session. These lounges offer a relaxed setting to take some time for yourself and also to meet new people. I met some great people in these lounges such as @kylepace, @wkingbg, @michellek107@jessievaz12@2footgiraffe and @plnaugle. Meeting people like this has had a dramatic impact on the last few years of my career. I was able to present at a few conferences in Nashville, Kentucky, Florida, Texas, and London all due to these introductions. 
  • Social Events - There are a number of various social events that take place during and after normal conference hours. These events are both fun and a great way to network. One of the most popular social events is EdTech Karaoke and I highly recommend grabbing a ticket for that now. I actually find that the smaller ISTE social events are more meaningful. It is at these events I am able to have great conversations with both vendors and educators in a more relaxed atmosphere. 

  • Poster Sessions - Poster sessions are great for viewing topics in a more informal manner than a traditional session. These sessions are run by students, teachers, administrators, and some vendors. It's also a great way to not only see demos of projects but also have one on one time with the presenter. 
  • Market yourself - Bring business cards or any other information you need for someone to remember you. You never know what opportunities will come of a chance meeting. For me it was being able to present at a few conferences this year. Here is the custom name badge I created so others can easily see my Twitter info.
  • Vendors - Definitely make some time in your schedule to go visit the exhibition hall. I was completely blown away by the size of the hall and just how many vendors are there. These vendors are not only there to sell their products but also are great sponsors to ISTE and help make this conference happen. They also give away some fantastic prizes, so be sure to sign up for them at each booth. One year I won my wife (@liz1544) a Starboard for her classroom just by playing Jeopardy.
  • Stickers - Just a tip, you are given a booklet when you check in to ISTE that has giveaways from all different vendors. You need to visit their booths in order to drop off your ticket. There are over 100 tickets in this booklet in which you need to fill out your name, address, email, job title, and school. I would highly recommend printing off a few sheets of sticky address labels with this information that you can just stick to your ticket and be on your way. It will save a LOT of time and hand cramping.
Finally, I would be doing myself and many others a disservice if I didn't mention the MOST important resource that I discovered years ago: Twitter. Hands down this has become THE most important tool that I have used these past 4 years. I have met people from all over the world and some have become good friends. It has also opened a lot of doors for me this year professionally. As you've seen from my mentions earlier in this post, a large percentage of the attendees at this conference are on and use Twitter. If you are reading this and thinking, "Oh c'mon do I REALLY need another social media service" or "I won't use it" then all I can say is that you should sign up for a Twitter account and just have it ready for when you come to ISTE. You will be amazed at how many people are not only using it at this conference but the amount of resources you will gain just by browsing the #iste2015 hashtag. If you're interested in learning more about Twitter and just how you can use it for educational purposes, please visit the Twitter Mentor program that I've setup. It is loaded with information for those just getting started or who haven't signed up yet. You can also contact me (@kcalderw) or Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1) we love to help out educators new to Twitter! Can't wait to see you in June!

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