uLearn is the social, learning explosion of the year for me. I love the people, the buzz, the sharing, and the learning. Have you registered for uLearn16 yet? I have.

Alongside my annual attendance at ulearn, for the longest time I have followed the ISTE hype on twitter and dreamt of attending. Late last year I decided to make the dream of attending ISTE a reality. Attending ISTE led me to reflect on the experience of attending a conference.

I would like to share what I have learnt from ISTE about getting the most value from attending your next conference.

Michio Kaku presenting keynote

The opening keynote was one very powerful session with Physicist Dr Michio Kaku giving us a glimpse into the future of education,
and the future of science and technology.

Preparing for a conference:

Decide early and get all the bookings in place. Consider proximity. Although you may pay a little more to stay close to conference central, you do a HUGE amount of walking at the conference and you may really benefit from being closer. Check out the accommodation options for uLearn with Orbit.

Get support from your PLN (personal learning network) with how to make the most of the experience. Connect with someone who has been before, or contact us early with questions or wonderings on how to get the most out of the conference.

Commit to your goals for the experience and focus your attention on meeting these goals. Decide on what you want to achieve from the experience. Decide on the presenters you really want to hear from, prioritising those you may not have the opportunity to access again. I always have Karen Spencer on my shoulder, reminding me that online connection is fabulous, but the real MAGIC is in the face-to-face connection. Once you decide who you want to connect with, get in touch with them online and let them know you are looking forward to the session and meeting them. It can be very helpful to have a connection and conversation established prior to the face-to-face meeting.

I identified early on a number of educators who I feel have been influential in my journey, and sought to connect with them at ISTE. I was extremely privileged to meet with Dean Shareski, Alec Couros, George Couros, Kathy Schrock, Angela Maiers and Sylvia Duckworth, (whose sessions I attended) and many others socially, including Tina Photakis and Shelly Sanchez.

Read and connect widely. Find out what your presenter or edu-hero has shared online. Reflect on how this fits with your goals, or what questions or wonderings you have for when you attend.

Set up a connection method with your colleagues. Remember that you see them most of the time. You really want to prioritise your time at conference connecting with new people. But, you also want and need the assurance of knowing where your colleagues are when you need them. We used a twitter group message chat, a whatsapp group, and, of course, texting.

Look out for chances to connect. On the very last day of ISTE 2016, a young educator approached us as we were having yet another photo shoot by the giant. She was in awe of the fun we were having, and shared the solitude of her journey. If you are on your own and attending for the first time, reach out, get connected, get the learning hype going.

Getting the most out of a conference:

Arrive well rested. This conference is going to be non-stop mental, physical, and social commitment.

Get ready to get social! Alongside the sessions you attend, you will have numerous opportunities for scheduled and coincidental social networking. Meet everyone you can. Talk to everyone, ask for help, get involved.

ISTE afforded many social opportunities. Some of my highlights would have to be:

  • The bike ride to our apartment at the end of a very busy day

Bike ride

  • The wonderful connections with so many of my edu-heroes
  • Sharing the journey with an amazing group from New Zealand

NZ group at ISTE2016

  • The edtech Karaoke party
  • The ‘bear’ moments and photos

Bear moments

Capture the learning journey. Prior to attending, decide on the platform or method of capturing your story of the conference. What method will work for you?

  • Sketchnoting
  • Twitter
  • Live Blogging
  • Online note taking — Evernote
  • Photos — make sure you have a device with enough free space for the countless photos you will take. Capturing a message from a slide to visit later, a selfie with a new ‘friend’, or a scene, or resource or link.

I have always been an advocate of Twitter at a conference — #ISTE2016. I often use Storify to capture the story of a day or session. At ISTE 2016, I sensed immediately that Twitter alone wouldn’t suffice. So, alongside regular tweets, I live-blogged all of the sessions I attended. As I shared the sessions, I was clear they were first drafts. They are not evidence of my learning yet, as they are just my initial capturings. As I revisit each session in turn, add images and reflections, they will become evidence of the impact of this experience.

You can check out my initial posts on each session on my blog. This will continue to be updated as mentioned above.

Embrace the unexpected and the MAGIC

Many meetings I had at #ISTE2016 were scheduled. Many more were serendipitous, coincidental and slightly bizarre given 17,000+ delegates. As I shared my #ISTE2016 journey on my Twitter feed, New Zealand educators connected me from afar. Sonya challenged me to meet Shelly Terrell. This meeting was perhaps the most coincidental of all. A break between sessions saw me intrigued by the action in the bloggers’ cafe. A friendly smile invited me to the couch and an offer of support was made. This casual meeting revealed I was chatting with none other than Shelley Terrell in person!

Alongside this, be prepared for JOMO (joy of missing out). You can’t do it all, be it all, capture it all. There will be some people you won’t connect with, some sessions you won’t get to, some moments you won’t capture. Embrace the opportunity this presents. Plan for a future connection, a future online learning, or a link shared by a colleague. Plan for revisiting, rewinding your journey.

Reach out

Tweet your presenters, connect with them, question them, and thank them. Reach out to those around you. Take every opportunity to chat, discuss a session, share your story, and listen to the story of others. Make connections; connect with friends of friends of friends.
Making connections

Synthesise and make connections

ISTE’s vision:
Proactive leadership in developing a shared vision for educational technology among all education stakeholders, including teachers and support staff, school and district administrators, teacher educators, students, parents, and the community”
ISTE standards:
Education technology standards to transform learning and teaching
Empowering connected learners in a connected world

I am now beginning to reflect upon the connections and impact from my sessions. Without a doubt, I have some favourite moments and sessions. The opening keynote was one very powerful session with Physicist Dr Michio Kaku. It gave us a glimpse into the future of education, and the future of science and technology. He spoke of biotechnology, nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence, and of a time when the computer and the Internet will be both everywhere and nowhere. He spoke of technologies available in the near future; talking wallpaper; clothing, medicines, vehicles, and toilets collecting and sharing information about health and well being. Dr Kaku spoke of “robo-docs” and “robo-lawyers”, where we will have access to easily obtainable information and diagnoses. He spoke how educators’ need to prepare students to thrive in a new landscape. He spoke of the very real need for us to stress concepts and principles rather than memorisation. Fifty years from now we’ll live in a smart house, wear chips woven into fabric — when dressed you are online, clothing will identify coordinates and update services, ‘a doctor in your clothing’, an ambulance of tomorrow will reach you in time and save your life.

The edtek talks were another highlight for me with the sharing of very real motivational stories.

The first round of edu-ignites were incredibly informative. Check out the links and digital tote resources.

Dean Shareski’s session, ‘Rethinking Digital Citizenship” was another real highlight, especially with the New Zealand touch sharing Chase’s story.Online vs. Offline Self: Who is the Real You? | New Age Creators.

Taking the conference learning forward

As I leave Denver I begin to consider the magnitude of the journey I have been on. I begin to see the potential of sharing my learnings, my stories, and my provocations. I liken it to the overwhelming feeling that accompanied me when I attended my first uLearn. How would I make it manageable, keep it real, and ‘make a difference’? So, I have deliberately chosen to revisit each session in turn. As I re-craft my posts, I am committing to sharing them with those I think would find them useful, meaningful, or interesting.

Some is not a number and soon is not a time — so I commit to reshaping two sessions a week, each week, until I have reshaped them all and revisited and shared my ‘digital tote’.

My ISTE experience has made me think about how to get the most out of large conferences. If you are coming to uLearn this year, here are my tips. (And if you haven’t booked yet, maybe now is the time.)

Here’s a summary of my helpful tips:

  • Decide early and get all the bookings in place.
  • Get support
  • Commit to your goals
  • Read and connect widely
  • Set up a connection method with your colleagues
  • Arrive well rested
  • Get ready to get social
  • Capture the learning journey
  • Embrace the unexpected and the MAGIC
  • Reach out
  • Synthesise and make connections
  • Taking the conference learning forward

conference finished - all gone home
The end of the conference. Where have all of the 17,000 educators from 71 countries gone?

Where to now?

Now I’m off on holiday, so much richer for the incredible experience that #ISTE2016 has been.

I would love to hear from you. What have I included that is useful? What more can I include?  How will you prepare for Ulearn16? And who is keen to attend ISTE in the future?

If attending ulearn is not a possibility for you this year, how can you make it possible in the future? How can you benefit virtually by following the hashtag #notatUlearn?

Please comment below to let me know!

Anne Kenneally

Anne Kenneally has a background in primary teaching, and is a Learning with Digital Technologies Facilitator at CORE. She has taught primary students across all levels, and was Deputy Principal at St Mary’s School, in Mosgiel. In 2011 she celebrated a year's study leave and toured New Zealand on her self-designed “Twitter Tour”, connecting with educators throughout the country. With a passion for innovative learning spaces and mobile learning, she has been able to interact and collaborate with educators to enhance opportunities for her learners. Anne is a 2012 CORE Education eFellow, and is a self-confessed ‘educamp groupie’

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