GUEST POST by Ben Curran

Ben Curran is co-founder of Engaging Educators, a company dedicated to helping educators shift toward 21st Century learning environments. He also works as a full time instructional coach at a school in Detroit, Michigan. He and his fellow Engaging Educator, Neil Wetherbee are currently writing a book for Eye on Education. You can check out their website, follow them on twitter, and read their blog.

As of this moment, I’ve been home from the ISTE (International Society For Technology In Education) 2012 conference for two days. My head is still spinning from all the ideas and conversations and inspiration. I call it the post-ISTE haze, and it is thicker this year than in years past. This is my third ISTE conference in a row and the best, by far.

That being said, as one of Larry’s “official correspondents” for the conference, I’d like to offer my take on what I observed, learned, and discovered. I’ve compiled it here into a group of four things I really enjoyed and four things I’d like to see change in 2013 and beyond. I’ll start with my favorite parts…

Sessions led by real teachers

The number of sessions led by real teachers seemed higher this year. When I say “real,” I mean folks that work in the K-16 setting full time. Exhibitor-sponsored, “Corporate Spotlight” sessions and sessions led by people who are only there to sell you stuff have always left a bad taste in my mouth. These still existed, of course, but they seemed fewer in number. I’m really inspired by educators who come to ISTE to tell their stories. And it was exciting to be able to interact with so many of them during the conference. Teachers like Jennifer Bond and Suzie Nestico gave amazing presentations and they, along with so many others, never cease to amaze me.

Conversations with Deep Impact

Nine out of ten edubloggers blog at least once about how valuable the conversations at conferences are. I read it so many times in blog posts about Educon or ASCD or ISTE or any of a number of other events. They say things like “the hallways are where the real learning takes place.” I’ve never had a beef with this point of view, but I’ve never tried it out myself. At ISTEs past, I’ve been all about the sessions—working hard to make sure I pick just the right ones and get there on time and learn as much as I can during those sixty minute blocks of time.

Not this time. This time I went to ISTE determined to connect with my edu-idols and friends from my Personal Learning Network (PLN). And the time I was able to spend talking to folks like Jennifer from Primary Source and Jessy from Ten Marks and Angela Watson and Marialice Curran and Shira Leibowitz and Tom Whitby…and so on and so on. These were priceless moments, to say the least. I also was determined to chat up anyone I crossed paths with, and this led to great talks, too.

The conversations are where it’s at. I know it’s been said before, but I’m on board with the idea now, for sure. These conversations about teaching, learning, coaching, the conference, and more…they had a profound impact on me. Transformative may be an even better word than “profound.” Regardless of the adjective, these talks definitely fueled my desire to continue to work to be a better educator and to improve the world of education.

Presenting is Awesome

My friend Vicki Davis invited me to be a part of her presentation team sometime last summer. I almost passed, not sure that I could raise the funds to make it to San Diego. But I couldn’t pass up the invitation to help out, so I saved my pennies and I’m so glad that I did. It’s a powerful experience to be up on that stage at the biggest educational technology conference in the world. It’s a great way to meet new people and make connections, too. I highly recommend giving it a try. Stay tuned to the ISTE website for the call for presenters, which I think will be happening within the next couple of months.

The Sideshow was Spectacular

I definitely don’t mean sideshow in a derogatory way. What I’m referring to were all the “extra” features ISTE has to offer. Included in this are things like the Student Showcase and the Poster Sessions. These are informal talks in a gallery walk format, where you get to stroll around and talk to teachers and students about specific ideas and projects. Talk about real and inspirational, to boot! At this point I have to definitely say that my absolute favorite were my new friends Dana, Eva, and Kristy from Arkansas, who presented a poster on their ridiculously awesome “Digi Day Camps,” tech-focused day camps for kids. You’ve got to check out their site. (Side note: Dana also wins an award for being the first person to ever ask to have their picture taken with me.)

But that’s not all. There were the tech playgrounds, the lounges, and (another personal favorite) ISTE Live, a “conference within a conference” featuring a constant schedule of talks by educators that were also broadcast to the world via the web, too (click HERE for access to all the recordings). I had a great time presenting there, but I was nearly moved to tears when I watched JoAnn Jacobs, Joan Young, Jan Wells, Jason Seskilar and Paula Naugle discuss twitter chats. Paula got choked up talking about how special it was to meet her friend Jan in person for the first time in San Diego. A special moment, indeed.

There’s so much more to ISTE than the exhibit hall and the workshops. If you attend in the future, be sure to keep this in mind.

That’s a pretty stellar recap, in my personal opinion. Stay tuned for part two of this series, when I issue a few challenges for future conferences.