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Navigating ISTE 2015: A Cheatsheet for Beginners

At the end of June, educators will make their way from across the country to Philadelphia for ISTE, one of the largest educational technology summer conferences in the world. I have had the opportunity to attend three times, and each time I attend I learn more and discover new ways to make the most out of this wonderful experience.

If this is your first time attending ISTE, I hope to put your mind at ease and share some ways to blend in and look and act like more like a veteran than a newbie. Here are a few Do’s and Don’t’s to help you along the way.

Do: Make a plan. Know why you are attending the conference, and make a plan of action before you arrive. Figure out what you really want to learn about. It doesn’t have to be a session, it can be as simple as a conversation. Check out the programs online, and follow the conference on twitter to keep up with the latest information. For a first-timer it can be extremely overwhelming to look at the program guide at the registration booth. Giving yourself time to digest it all early is key.

Do: Contact people you want to meet up with prior to the getting there. Link up with people you have connected with through social media. The beautiful thing about social media is that it allows you to connect virtually wherever you might be, but it is always cool to connect in person with people you have interacted with on social media. Putting a face to a name allows you to make stronger connections and expand your PLN.

Don’t: Spend all your time in the exhibit halls. The exhibit halls are amazing, and sometimes breathtaking. But you can only collect so many pens and bags to take home. Learning about new software and tech gadgets is cool, but you also don’t want to feel like you are at a sales convention. Use the map to scope out the exhibitions that spark your interest the most. Also, something to keep in mind—every time your badge is scanned, your contact information is being added to the company’s mailing database.

Do: Take advantage of the free stuff. Sign up for free subscription trials and social sites to gain free access to software and resources as you visit the different exhibitors. This is a great time to use your negotiation skills. A lot of companies’ main goal is to get their product into your schools, so you can often get great deals and extras.

Do: Attend poster sessions. These informal sessions showcase student projects and powerful initiatives. These are some of the most informative sessions you’ll attend, and the best ones are usually the ones specifically hosted by students. These interactive learning spaces allow you to ask questions, and interact with the presenters.

Don’t: Get overwhelmed. Don’t try to sign up for every session, and attend every event. You will wear yourself out. Take a little time to relax, and take it all in. Take your time—its better to see less and learn something, then trying to do it all, and getting nothing out of it.

Don’t: Wear stilettos, or uncomfortable shoes. You will be doing a ton of walking, and will spend most of the days on your feet, so leave the stilettos at home and wear comfortable walking shoes. You will probably be too excited to stop and eat, so carrying your favorite snacks is also ideal, and it keeps you from having to stand in the long food lines.

Do: Attend sponsored nightly events. The nightly events sponsored by the vendors or other organizations are great ways to network, socialize and get free drinks and food.

Do: Share with video. There are so many live streaming and recorded ways to share your learning. It is less time consuming, and more effective to capture video. A video can explain the most difficult concepts, quickly and seamlessly. You can stream live video using Google Hangout, or the twitter live stream Periscope.

Do: Use social media, and follow the conference hashtag #ISTE2015, and the sessions that meet your needs bookmark them, and go back to the conference website later and download the resources.

Do: Volunteer. Volunteering gets you a discounted registration fee, but most importantly it gives you a behind the scenes look into ISTE, and it allows you to meet people from all over the world. (Plus, you get a cool ISTE t-shirt.)

Do: Find a session that really speaks to you. The sessions fill-up quickly, so make sure you sign up early for the sessions you are most interested in.

Do: Engage! Engage! Engage! Have an open mind and get out of your comfort zone. Seek out connections with people you wouldn’t normally talk to. Challenge yourself to learn something new, and broaden your perspective.

Do: Invest in a portable battery charger. One of the worst things that can happen is for your phone or iPad to die just when you want to tweet or document some important information to save for later. Fully charge your devices before you leave the hotel, and also make sure you have backup batteries so that you will never miss a moment to network.

Do: Share your knowledge with others. When you return from the conference share what you’ve learned through blogging, a workshop, or even a conversation.

Don’t: Go to ISTE thinking you will find all the solutions to all of your tech problems. You will discover lots of new ideas, gadgets, and people, but no conference is perfect, so remember that the idea of attending a technology conference is to make connections, and discover new learning.

Don’t: Forget to follow-up. You should remember to connect with the people that you meet at ISTE. Send them a tweet, or quick email to let them know you want to stay in touch.

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