Well it has been a while since I have posted on my personal edtech blog. I have been busy blogging away for Learning Bird and working on my M.Ed. thesis! Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to attend many conferences related to edtech, special education, and social science research. While engaging and networking with other professionals in my field, I believe there are certain experiences that have really enhanced my professional learning and networking. On the flip side, there have been some experiences overemphasized or lacking while attending conferences.
I decided to write this blog post for the regular conference attendee. This may mean you are a teacher, researcher, administrator, or other professional. However, my perspective comes from that of a new teacher just on the cusp of my teaching career. I have really pushed myself to present at conferences and engage in as many as possible. I hope that this blog post can inspire more people to attend conferences and get the most out of their experience.
The term conference itself is defined as a meeting to discuss. While attending conferences, ensure that your experience goes beyond that of attending lectures and browsing vendor floors. After sessions, CONNECT with the speaker or someone who maybe raised a good point you were interested in. Make it a goal to connect with at least one person in that room before you move on to the next session. If you have a business card to give out, make sure it has your social media listed such as your Twitter handle or blog link. Even if the connection you make results in one more follower on Twitter, it is progress in your digital network and one more person who will see the knowledge you push out through social media.
Another way to connect and meet new people at conferences is on the vendor floor. I have attended mainly educational technology conferences, which as many of you probably know, are extremely intense, flashy, and overwhelming at times. Here is a link to an older blog post I wrote about my first experience at ISTE: The Newbie @ISTE. I recommend engaging with vendors to see what is new and innovative with regards to resources and tools. Although I am an advocate for thinking pedagogy before thinking tool, it is still important to understand what tools will be up and coming and made available to you in the near future. Scout out the vendors first to narrow in on a few that you definitely want to engage and talk with. If you try talking to every single vendor at some conferences, you will never actually attend conference sessions! There are just too many vendors so keep your interests succinct and personalized based on what you want to learn the most about. You will find the conference feels a lot less overwhelming when you decided to only listen to a couple company's pitches.
KEEP PLAY IN MODERATION
I have found that after attending some conferences that vendors are very good at roping attendees into their challenges, games, and giveaways. This is of course fun and enjoyable when attending a professional getaway. However, I have found that spending an hour trying to collect flying stuffed pigs and lightsabers to be addicting and a complete waste of time. And yes, there were literally flying stuffed pigs and lightsabers as giveaways...I was not successful in getting them. So lesson learned? If you are meaningfully engaged in the vendors and happen to be offered a challenge that results in some exciting fluffy giveaway, go for it!! However, don't get sucked into the swag giveaways just because they are free. You are at the conference to connect and learn! This should take priority.
Some of my most meaningful memories at conferences have come from the professional networking events held after the long days of presenting and learning at conferences. When I attended the ISTE conference in Philadelphia in July 2015, I connected with some fantastic educators during the Discovery Education Canada event. CONNECT 2016 is coming up in Niagara Falls. If you plan on attending, I highly suggest looking on Eventbrite to see if there are any events being held by edtech companies or other organizations. On the vendor floor, you may also hear about some events happening during the evening or later in the week. They are a fantastic way to relax and socialize with other educators and companies! If you are active on Twitter and other social media outlets, don't be surprised if you run into some popular edtech professionals! I have attended events and ran into some of the inspirational edtech teachers who inspired my own blogging and passion for 21st century learning. On another note, you may also hear about some sessions that were overlooked when planning your conference schedule!
As I reflect on my conference experiences, I often feel like my ability to consume knowledge becomes overwhelmed. It is really hard to soak up so much information all at once in 2-3 days without having a chance to debrief and make sense of it all. I have attended some conferences alone and have found myself going crazy from a lack of professional collaboration and reflection. I find that a lot of conferences lack the space and form of events needed to foster professional collaboration during the conference itself. The best conferences I have attended were in groups where I could constanttly bounce ideas off of other professionals in my field. I found myself being able to make sense of the knowledge I consumed and truly reflect on the whole conference experience. I hope that some future conferences foster more small scale collaboration among professionals with similar interests.
I highly recommend attending conferences in a small group rather than attending them alone. The ability to always talk and construct new knowledge as a group is so much more beneficial than just attending a conference solo and consuming, consuming, consuming. Groups foster more creation of new knowledge. At the end of FETC 2016, the group I travelled with created two solid pod-casts. It was extremely reflective and inspirational. I saw so much more of FETC through the lens of my colleagues' and friends' perspectives. If you are interested, here are the pod-casts we created:
Overall, conferences are meant to be enjoyable, enriching, and exciting! Soak up every new experience and networking opportunity. Do not forget to take everything you learned and reflect on it. This can be as simple as writing a mind map to connect some new ideas or writing some new goals for your future practices. Blogging is always a great way to reflect!
I hope to see you at the CONNECT 2016 conference in Niagara Falls. Click the image below to find out more information on the CONNECT 2016 conference and registration:
Keep Calm & Tech On!