Beyond the sessions: Lessons at #ISTE19

So this is my third and final post wrapping up my thoughts from ISTE19. See this post for my take half way through… and this post for my notes from my sessions I attended.

What I loved:

ISTE made some improvements after some of the problems we faced at ISTE18 in Chicago. The staggered schedule and increased number of poster sessions and playgrounds made it much easier to attend sessions. I didn’t experience a single line for a single session, let alone a session that I couldn’t attend. With sessions starting every 30 minutes or so, if I didn’t make it to a session I had options to go to another session right away. With the distance from one end of the convention center to the other, I had time to get from session to session if I hustled!

The number of events hosted beyond the conference schedule also increased – this included the ISTE Rock Concert, eSports event, Taste of Philly and trips to the local museums and even an art walk to explore the public art in Philly. These added so much! Many of us travel from far away and this was an opportunity to enjoy the local sights and sounds with other attendees. In other cities, this has been up to each attendee to do, which can be cost prohibitive and overwhelming when you travel to a conference alone! This was another way to meet and talk with attendees from all over!

I noticed fewer sessions focused on “top 10 tools or extensions!” or “tech tricks for ____” or even worse “60 apps in 60 minutes”. More were focused on pedagogy AND equity. Yet not enough. There were still educators drawn to the flashy tool sessions and too many of those offered!

Philly was a lovely walking city! This was a huge improvement from Chicago and San Antonio and reminded me a lot of Denver! So many hotels and restaurants in close proximity of the convention center made a huge difference in my well being and happiness! Walking the just-over 1/2 mile from my hotel to the convention center and back several times each day gave me time to think and time to process my learning!

What Needs Some Work:

This conference is SO big. I won’t say that a limit needs to be set on attendance, but it’s sooo big. This is overwhelming and exhausting. It’s also made the conference really expensive. In a city when over 20K people need a hotel room, the rates skyrocket (what was a $149/night hotel was going for a conference rate of $293 and a last minute booking rate of well over $400/night). It makes it hard to add that onto other travel expenses.

There seem to be a lot of sessions that were advertisements for books or products – I tried to avoid these, but several turned into pitches for “sign up for my newsletter/consulting/buy my book/subscribe to something.” These are disheartening to me. I don’t attend conferences for commercials (and barely spend any time in the expo hall because of that) and some of these sessions felt surprisingly like a sales pitch. It seemed especially heavy with the ISTE published/featured books this year.

Learning spaces – while the spaces were bigger than Chicago (which helped with the lines) we still had so many spaces with connected chairs, set up lecture style. These don’t leave space for attendees with bigger bodies, certainly not for all the things we are carrying around and definitely don’t provide easy opportunity for active learning. Presenters were even told NOT to move furniture around OR to put it back exactly like you found it before your session ends. While furniture doesn’t control pedagogy, it certainly influences it. Small group tables in many sessions would go a long way!

What I did Well:

My self care over this last week was better than it’s been at any other ISTE. Conferences are a TON of peopling and this introvert struggles. I don’t want to miss anything AND get the most of the conference and every conversation, but I really need quiet and recharge time. This year I prioritized that – which meant maybe I did a quick walk outside for sunshine between sessions or a trip back to the hotel for an hour before dinner with my people. It was so successful and made a world of difference. My friend Sarah Thomas wrote about her experience and it echoes my feelings so closely I wanted to share it here.

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