A Field Guide to #ISTE2015

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) traditionally hosts its annual conference and expo during the last week in June. This exciting large scale event attracts over 18,000 educators, policy makers and ed tech industry personnel. This year's gathering will take place in Philadelphia June 28 through July 1 and it promises something for everyone. The following are suggestions for making the most of your time at ISTE. It can be an overwhelming experience and it's essential that you arrive in Philly with a plan if you are registered to attend. For the latest ISTE news, tune into their ISTE 2015 News Channel.

Utilize the ISTE Web Site

Once you've registered for ISTE, you'll have access to their online conference planner. Sit down at your computer and select a couple of themes that you'd like to explore and search for related keywords in the conference program. For example, search for "differentiation", "special needs", "iTunes U", "flipped learning", "maker", etc. Once you find a session that is appealing, click on the star on the session's description page. This session will be added to your favorites, making it easy to create your own conference schedule.

Next, download the mobile app, login to the app, and sync your favorites to your mobile device.

If you need specific recommendations on sessions, check out our Evernote notebook of suggested sessions. We used Evernote to create our own personalized and searchable conference program.

Prepare Your Equipment

  • Consider bringing at least a tablet device and smartphone to the ISTE annual conference.
  • Stow everything in a comfortable backpack so that your hands are free.  
  • Because you'll be relying on your mobile device, make sure that bring your charging gear, including an extra battery.
  • There usually are charging stations scattered about ISTE; check out the various lounges throughout the conference. You also may want to bring an extension cord or outlet that charges multiple devices.
  • ISTE's mobile app can be downloaded for iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. For all other devices, use their mobile website.
  • Other apps that you may want to consider installing ahead of time to make your conferencelife easier can be found in this handy list from Appolearning.

Develop an Expo Hall Strategy

While logged into the ISTE conference site, check out the interactive floor plan of the exhibition space or browse the list of exhibitors on ISTE's mobile app. With both tools, you can favorite vendors and organizations that you'd like to visit by name or category. Our recommendation is to not spend too much time wandering in the expo hall, but to spend an allocated amount of time visiting booths that are of particular interest to you.

Here are some the vendors whose goods and services are of interest to us in 2015: 3Doodler, Amazon Education, ASB Online Academy, BrainPOP, BrightBytes, CK-12 Foundation, Commonsense Media, Crick Software, Edmodo, FableVision, Global Oneness Project, Kajeet Inc, LEGO Education, littleBits, NOAA, NOVA Education, Osmo, PBS Learning Media, PhET Interactive Simulations, Plasq LLC, Project Lead the Way, Software MacKiev, Sphero, Tackk, ThinkCERCA and Tynker.

If you want to explore new and emerging ed tech trends, visit the Ed Tech Start Up Pavillion and Pitch Fest.

Check Out ISTE Unplugged

Organized by Steve Hargadon, ISTE Unplugged offers additional free informal opportunities for networking with your peers. Starting on Friday, June 26 with Maker Day, these activities also include Hack Education, Global Education Day, and the Blogger's Café which goes through the three main days of the conference. Hack Education takes place in a unconference format with crowdsourced sessions and includes an after party sponsored by Study Blue and Shutterfly. Global Education Day is a three hour meet up preceding the opening ISTE keynote for those interested in global collaboration. The Blogger's Café is a great place to hang out, network and work on blogging and social media projects related to the conference.

Explore Posters & PlayGrounds

General sessions can get crowded and reach capacity quickly. Have another plan in mind if you can't into a session which might include visiting poster sessions and the various playgrounds. Over 400 poster sessions will take place throughout the conference, including immediately after the opening keynote. Playgrounds include the Google For Education playground, Inclusive Learning Playground, the Interactive Videoconference Playground, the iPlayground and the Maker Playground.

Leverage Your SmartPhone Camera

You will surely experience information overload at ISTE, and in order to remember everything, utilize your smartphone or mobile device to take pictures and videos. You can use this collateral later to create a presentation for colleagues back home or to reflect and blog about your conference experience. Consider trying out two new live streaming apps, Periscope and Meerkat, and interview vendors and conference friends to get their insights on all things ed tech. Be careful about using these apps in general sessions, though... not all presenters will want to be recorded. Always ask permission and let people know you are recording.

Take Collaborative Notes

ff you are attending ISTE with a team from your school, set up a Google Doc for everyone to share their findings. Or, use Evernote yourself and share your notes afterward with a public link. Another method would be to make a collaborative slide deck in Google Slides like Zach Snow and friends did at the TCEA conference.

Be a Social Butterfly

Get social on social media and in person. Make sure to join ISTE's conference community if you will be present at the event. Also, a Twitter account is a must, even if you just search for the hashtag #ISTE2015 and follow the action there. It's perfectly fine to lurk, and using Tweetdeck might help managing the Twittersphere a bit easier. Check out a curated feed of conference content on T & L Live or follow ISTE Connects Tagboard. This is particularly great for those who are unable to attend the conference, but still want to learn from afar.

Lots of social events happen at ISTE and the conference leadership wants to remind you that there is an expected code of conduct. One social opportunity is the opening celebration that takes place after the opening keynote sessions on the evening of June 28. This runs in conjunction with poster sessions.

Make Time For Reflection

Take time when you get home to reflect on your ISTE experience. Consider starting a blog using tools such as Tumblr, Blogger, Edublogs, Wordpress etc. and recount how you spent your time. Tag any blog posts and post them to Twitter using the hashtag #ISTE2015. You may get a few comments in return and this is a great opportunity to show your school and administrators what you have learned.

If you prefer another form of reflection, consider getting together with another colleague or friend who attended the conference and record an audio reflection. Get creative with is. Use Garageband to make a recording and upload it to Soundcloud for instance or try out applications that allow you to record such as VoiceThread. Also, consider uploading and sharing images from the conference in Flickr or Instagram.

Develop an Action Plan

So now what? What are you going to do with the plethora of information you gleaned at ISTE 2015? Take a look at your notes and reflections, and decide on a plan of action for the 2015-2016 school year. Here are some questions to ponder:

  • How will you share what you learned with your immediate colleagues?
  • How will you continue sharing and interacting with your personal learning network (PLN)?
  • What activities and tools would most benefit your students?
  • What ideas will best help improve your productivity?
  • What opportunities exist for continuing your own professional development?
  • How can you get more involved with ISTE as a member?

Our final piece of advice is to pick two or three things that interest you the most and pursue them next year. In the meantime, make sure to get some rest post-ISTE and come back to school in August ready to apply what you've learned!

For those who might not be able to travel to Philadelphia, the ISTE annual conference provides a multitude of options for learning from afar. Check out this blog post for more details!