ISTE 2018 Reflections

This year I was lucky again to attend the annual ISTE conference which this year happened in Chicago, a short 5-hour drive away from home.  This was my fifth straight ISTE conference I have attended, and my third in a row that I presented at. I was even lucky enough to attend a full day of learning before ISTE at the Google Chicago offices with other Google Innovators.

Now that I have had a few weeks to decompress and recover from ISTE, here are my biggest takeaways.

  • ISTE is more about the people than the sessions and keynotes.  I did not attend many full “sessions” or any of the keynotes.  The lines for the sessions were nuts and the fact that lines for a later session started before the earlier session even got started, meant that you had to ensure that session was worth multiple hours of your time. I attended the Ignites on day 2 and a great session about UDL/Accessibility on the last day, but I found my time was better spent in the Playgrounds, Poster Sessions, or finding people to have conversations with.  I think there either needs to be more sessions so the lines are much shorter or have a lot more session types like the Playgrounds and Posters where you get to talk to people instead of just passively listening. (I kept thinking Thanos had the right idea while seeing all of the lines)
  • The Keynotes are great but I refuse to sit in the main hall, instead opting for either the satellite locations in the Blogger’s Cafe area or just waiting till they are viewable later online in August. Especially after the disastrous Ashley Judd keynote a few years ago.
  • If you have students leading your session or Poster, I will definitely be more inclined to attend.  I loved all of the sessions where you got to hear from students about their learning and how they used technology to further their learning.  I wish more conferences would involve students in the presentations.
  • Notability is still my go-to app for learning while at conferences and I really wish they made an app for the new Chromebooks.  I have an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil so I can quickly write down ideas, take a quick pic of slides/posters, or even type down my notes.  The notes are synced online so I can access them on my other devices, including my main laptop.  Plus, being able to get by with just my iPad or even just my phone, makes it a lot easier.

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  • There were a lot of sessions focused on accessibility and UDL, including my own session which you can watch at https://donovanscience.com/presentations/student-accessibility-tools/, and this makes me very happy.  Accessibility is not a special education issue but is an every-student issue.  Technology can make learning more effective and easier for all students and we should be focused on teaching students how to use these tools instead of just getting distracted by the latest shiny tools.
  • Somehow, digital scantron tools are still being sold and have booths at ISTE.  I have no idea why these tools, which add no value to the learning process, are still around.  They advertise how they can be a time saver but I would rather we focused on tools that do more than just make it quicker to give a multiple choice assessment when there are so many better ways to assess student learning.
  • While there were many sessions focused solely on how to use a tool, the best sessions and Posters were the ones that mixed in the why and pedagogy with the how.  We need to focus on the big ideas for why we would use that technology tool or technique while also learning how we can use it, or at least learning some key points because I can guarantee there is a YouTube video out there that can show you how to use that tool without having to sit through an hour-long session.
  • It was nice to see so many educators, of all different age levels and experience, learning together in one place but I would love to see ISTE spend less money on the frivolous things and try to find ways to make this cheaper for teachers to attend.  This seemed like an extremely expensive year in terms of attending ISTE and I do not feel like I will be attending next year, for various reasons.  I would have loved to see more people from Iowa there since it was such a short drive but know many couldn’t afford it.  As a presenter, the only benefit to us was early-bird registration for a longer period of time.  I would like to see more “new” presenters instead of the people who have been presenting for decades who somehow have 3 or more sessions approved right away.

I still need to modify my notes, remove some of my ideas that I am not ready to share, but I will add them to this post in the near future.  I firmly believe in sharing our learning when we go to conferences like this.

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