ISTE (Conferences), You're Doing It Wrong

By Margaret Roth

Conferences can be overwhelming, they can be tiring, they can be nothing like you expected. This ultimately makes them exciting. It all depends on what you make of them and what you make them for yourself.

I’ve been lost between being really excited for ISTE and really worried/nervous/anxious about ISTE. It wasn’t until this past Tuesday that I actually figured out why I had been feeling like this. I’d been feeling like this because at the last several conferences that I had gone to, I hadn’t learned anything.

On Tuesday, I went to my first software conference. It was overwhelming, tiring, and not at all what I had expected. I felt like didn’t know a single thing about any of the topics that were being discussed. Not a single thing. Of course this is not really accurate, but it is how I felt at the time none the less. I had two options, shut down and wander, or give in to the fact that I didn’t know everything and explore.

I learned more in one day then I have learned at several other events combined. That is not because they weren’t amazing conferences, with brilliant speakers, and fascinating attendees - it’s because I was doing it wrong. I had fallen into the trap of always going to sessions that I knew something about, sessions that I thought were interesting because I was familiar with the content, not because they were going to expand my mind. Not because I was going to allow myself to be taught, not because I wanted to learn.

I would go to sessions, knowing that well if I was bored I could always leave (Edcamp habits die hard), or that if I had some experience with the content maybe I could help someone else.

I had fallen into the echo chamber, willingly relinquishing my own awareness of my choice to or not to learn. I was lost in the echo chamber of the same jargon, the same content, the same conversation, the same false inspiration, being recycled over and over again, to the point where I could not even tell.

Going to that software conference shook me out of this. I remembered that feeling of knowing that you are learning.

And I know that I am not the only person that is stuck in the echo chamber.

I’m warning you now - you’re doing it wrong.

And to prevent others and myself from continuing to do it wrong, these are my five rules for picking ISTE sessions and committing to learning for myself.

  1. Don’t go to sessions just because you’ve “always wanted to meet them in person.” Go read their book, their blog, their whatever, and find a session where you can learn just as much if not more from someone who you may never get the chance to learn from again.

  2. Don’t go to a session because if you “get bored you can always just leave and go somewhere else.” This is channel flipping; it wastes your time. And this time matters. (Of course, if the session really isn’t meeting your needs, by all means go find something that does).

  3. Don’t go to sessions to learn how to use a single “app.” A single “app” is not going to transform your classroom, your teaching, or learning for students. That day is done, and really it never dawned. And to be honest, the people who made that “app” probably have excellent tutorial videos that you can access from anywhere. Don’t waste your ISTE time on that.

  4. Don’t pick sessions without doing your homework. There are literally hundreds of sessions to choose from. Research the speakers, the topics, and select what meets your personal learning goals. This is your conference. Make it personal. Personalized learning doesn’t mean doing whatever you want, it means creating a learning experience based on the interests, needs, and aspirations of the individual. And in this case that is you. This should be your personalized conference learning experience.

  5. Don’t be afraid not to know. Pick one session every day that seems completely alien, a session that will make you feel like you know nothing. Let it expand your brain. This will be the session that you won’t be able to get out of your head.

ISTE is an amazing opportunity. It is our responsibility to make it a life changing learning experience. No one else can or will do that for you. You have to do if for yourself.

P.S. - One other thing. Get off your phone. Get off your device. Get engaged. Be here now. Because before you know it, we're all going to be on our way home.

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