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Education Trends, Uncategorized   |   Jun 29, 2011

Best and worst of the 2011 ISTE conference

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

I attended the annual ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference for the first time this year, and I am hooked! As in, just-left-and-am-already-amped-to-go-back-again hooked. Here’s my round up of the best (and worst) aspects of the conference.

Worst parts of ISTE11:

1) Unreliable wi-fi.

This is almost unforgivable in a tech conference in which many of us rely on the backchannel (usually a Twitter feed) to follow participant discussions about the sessions and conference happenings. I like to live-blog and that was definitely out. In almost every room, people had to resort to tweeting from their phones. Just annoying.

2) Ridiculously small rooms.

Projected attendance was waaaayyy underestimated in every single session I attended. If you didn’t arrive at least 25 minutes early, you couldn’t get a seat. I like to hover around doorways or sit on the floor where I can spread out, but that wasn’t an option: the fire marshal was always present to kick out anyone who didn’t have a chair. It was extremely frustrating to watch dozens and dozens of people who paid good money for the conference get turned away at the door 15 minutes prior to session start time. BIG problem.

3) Lack of urban education and brain research sessions.

These are usually prolific topics at non-ed tech conferences. For those who understand that urban schools and kids in poverty have a special set of needs, it was a huge disappointment to see these topics were not specifically addressed. I was hoping to hear some info connecting the latest brain research about how kids (especially those in poverty) learn and the implications for tech use, but there was nothing of the sort that I’m aware of. (I did connect with Kristen Paino who did a poster session on her tech work with 2nd graders in the Bronx—she’ll be featured more in depth on the blog later. Wait ’til you see what her kids can do!)

4) Lack of application to early childhood (K-3) classrooms.

Techies love to make blanket statements about 21st century classrooms (kids should be creating information, not consuming it, etc.) However, 21st century skills look very, very different in the early childhood classroom, in which tech use must be more structured and teacher-directed for a greater percentage of time. There were a few dedicated ECE sessions, but not many, and most presenters did not speak specifically about applications to younger learners. I did attend a round table discussion with some ECE folks and we had a fantastic talk about the importance of making our voices heard in tech discussions (a separate blog post is coming up on that, too.)

Best parts of ISTE11:

1) The people.

This should also be number 2, 3, 4, and 5. One of my favorite things about large conferences is that so many people from my PLN are there. (That’s ‘personal learning network’; it refers to a network of educators you connect with—usually online—as informal, self-directed professional development.) Through Twitter, I was able to schedule F2F (face to face) meet-ups with several people I have known only online. I cannot describe the experience of talking with someone for the first time while already knowing their family member’s names, their students’ individual personalities, the projects they’ve done over the past year, even where they took their vacation over spring break. After reading about someone’s life for years online, you can just jump right in to very deep discussions. It almost feels like meeting the characters in your favorite novel who have come to life.

2) The diversity of session formats.

There were keynotes in which you sit and listen to a speaker (a format which I really like, but can’t do all day.) There were panel discussions with multiple voices forming a conversation around important topics. There were round table discussions, in which a leader facilitates a conversation with participants in a small group. There were poster sessions, in which presenters put up a small display and you can walk up and talk to them about their work. And those are just the formats I experienced—there were also interactive bring-your-own-laptop sessions, breakout sessions, and other great stuff I didn’t have time to explore. The result was being able to engage in PD all day long without having to sit still. This is a great model for both our learning and for our students’.

3) The blogger café (and other gathering/networking opportunities.)

ISTE did a great job setting up comfortable areas where people could power up their gadgets and have conversations. There was a Newbie Lounge for people who were first time attendees, a Social Butterfly Lounge, and probably a few others I didn’t even know about. There were also networking events for specific groups of people (admins, international educators, etc.) so you could connect in person with others who are doing the same type of work you are. These were tremendous resources that gave everyone the opportunity to lend their voices to the conversations.

4) The ISTE11 app.

This worked so well that I only looked at the printed program book once. It was fantastic having the whole thing at my fingertips on the iPad.

5) EduBloggerCon.

The day before ISTE started (Saturday), Steve Hardagon put together an education blogger conference which was open for anyone to attend. It was held at the convention center at no cost to attendees (thanks, ISTE!) and attended by around 200 education bloggers (my estimate.) Most were tech bloggers that weren’t part of my PLN, so I was able to connect with lots of new people. As an “unconference”, the discussions were informal and the topics were based on participant’s votes. It was a great way to kick off the conference with some deep thinking and learn about new tools (some of which are archived here.)

6) Philadelphia.

What a great location—it made for a super quick trip from New York (no planes–yay!) and the city is easy to navigate by a well-organized, clean, safe subway system (which, granted, doesn’t run as frequently as I’d like and requires some planning ahead if you have a tight schedule.) I found some fantastic restaurants, the weather was beautiful, and I even got to do some sight-seeing. It was a great experience, and has me really looking forward to the ASCD conference next March in Philly. The next ISTE will be held in San Diego, which promises to be amazing.

My big take-aways from the conference and the trends that I heard as most influential for the 2011-2012 school year are coming up in the next blog post.

Did you attend ISTE (in person or virtually)? What were your thoughts?

Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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Discussion


  1. Smiles — I found your blog via twitter and ISTE!!
    and very much enjoy your post. I did a similar one a few years back — and sadly things have not changed that much in regards to our elementary kids being noticed.

    If you have time — please check out my projects for the elementary classroom at http://www.projectsbyjen.com
    I have been hosting projects since 1999 — and would love for you and your students to join us.

    See you at ISTE2012?? I was virtual for #iste11 — and learned a lot via twitter and blogs posts — such as yours.

    Thank you for sharing out.
    Jennifer

    1. Hi, Jennifer! Thanks for stopping by and for sharing your blog. You’ve got some great resources there! I definitely plan to stop back by and delve a little deeper. Please stay in touch. And yes–let’s plan for ISTE12! 🙂

  2. It took me two days to recover from ISTE I had so much fun. The worst part was my return flight–it was a mess. The best part was people and QR codes and iPads and motivation and learning so much I didn’t know and confirming lots that I suspected. Can’t wait for San Diego.

    1. Hi, Jacqui! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It took me a few days to “recover”, as well! I wish every educator could have the ISTE experience. It really can be life-changing!

  3. Hi Angela, One of my many passions as an early childhood educator is using technology to enhance instruction. When I present at technology conferences I am usually the only one offering an early childhood session 🙁 I agree that these types of conferences need to be more inclusive of the ECE and primary grades. http://www.pre-kpages.com/technology/ Thanks for your great insight into ISTE 11, wish I could have been there!

    1. Hi, Vanessa! Thanks for linking to your resources–they are powerful and pretty much one-of-a-kind since they focus on ECE. You are, and always have been, a fantastic advocate for early childhood teachers and kids.

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