ISTE 2016 Reflections

[This post was originally featured on Kids Discover on July 6, 2016, Teacher Tips: How I survived ISTE 2016.]

There’s something powerful about being in a location with over 16,000 people who share your passion for technology in education. The annual International Society for Technology in Education conference took place from June 26 – 29, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. There was a wide range of learning opportunities, including sessions, workshops, panels, poster sessions, keynotes, and an expansive expo hall.

As an ISTE first timer, I downloaded the ISTE app and immediately realized I was in over my head with the whole experience. I found myself very overwhelmed with the experience, and relied on the advice from friends.

Here’s what I learned from my first ISTE:

1. Get connected on Twitter
Even those who were not able to attend ISTE in person benefitted from the learning opportunities by following the #notatISTE16 and #ISTE2016 hashtags. If you’re not already on Twitter, sign up! It is the best place to share and learn with other teachers and educators from all over the world. Following the #ISTE2016 hashtag gives you access to presenters’ resources and the incredible learning opportunities at ISTE. When introducing yourself, exchanging Twitter handles is a must. This allows you to keep your ISTE learning going long after you arrive back home. I loved meeting many of the people I’ve connected with online.

2. Go to a meet-up
It’s ok if you’re an introvert, I am too. Find a meet-up for something you’re passionate about or interested in, and attend. There are plenty of meet-ups each night at a variety of local locations. Introduce yourself to at least one person, and ask them about that shared interest that brought you to the meet-up. Better yet, find your extroverted friend and tag along with them. Face-to-face conversations are often the best way to dive deep into your interested and learn more from others.

3. Don’t be afraid to make your own sessions on the floor
One of my favorite ISTE sessions this year wasn’t an official session, but instead a group of people sitting on the floor in the Bloggers’ Cafe learning about creative thinking and sketchnoting. Multiple other pop-up sessions occurred throughout ISTE in the Bloggers’ Cafe and on Twitter; the easiest way to learn about these is through Twitter or word of mouth. I was lucky to be in the Bloggers’ Cafe to watch Sylvia Duckworth, sketchnoting master, give a short impromptu session. Gather a few people, sit down, and share something you’re passionate about!

4. There’s a lot going on, don’t fear the “fear of missing out” 
The official ISTE schedule is massive and there’s always at least a few things I wanted to attend during each session. I prioritized sessions and activities based on my current energy levels and which resources I could peruse on my own. Sometimes I found it more beneficial to browse the poster sessions with one or two in mind, then spend thirty minutes in the Bloggers’ Cafe recharging my laptop and my brain.

5. Differentiate between cool and engaging
At any technology or education conference, there seems to be an endless supply of cool things to learn about. There’s nothing wrong with going to a session to play around with something you’re interested in. Ultimately, you must ask yourself “how will this increase my students’ learning.” It was often difficult to prioritize which sessions to go to. Luckily, many presenters post their resources and I was able to preview their session and determine which I’d get the most out of. If you attend ISTE with a friend or colleague, it’s easy to attend different session and share resources via Google Docs.

6. Rest your brain! 
This is probably the most important takeaway from ISTE–you must give yourself time to process everything you learned. I hit the ISTE wall on Monday at 4:30pm after moving a million miles per hour for the first two days (I came early for pre-conference activities on Saturday); I took some time to relax in my hotel room before venturing out again. Find something to do that is not conference-related, such as going on a walk, sight-seeing, or eating with a group of friends with a strict no conference talk agreement. This helps give your brain a needed break to recharge and get ready to learn more.

Overall, I’m thankful for my experiences at ISTE 2016, all the new people I connected with, and all the incredible learning that took place over 5 days. Hope to see you all in San Antonio for ISTE 2017!

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