If we hold personalized learning in such high regard, why shouldn’t we apply it to our professional conference experience as well? Are we not attending these conferences to learn? I attend more conferences than most educators, and I try to enjoy each to the fullest. I also have an advantage over many educators attending these conferences in that I am a “connected educator.” I use Twitter, LinkedIn and many education Ning communities to reach out and connect with educators before a conference begins. It is not some privilege held by me alone. Any educator can do it, and everyone should. In my experience, when it comes to learning, personal relationships in sharing content offer much more to learners than the content alone.
Any of the major conferences usually have established websites or create special conference websites for perspective attendees to join. Usually, there will be discussions on upcoming topics, or scheduled presentations. It also enables opportunities for connections with other attendees. By establishing these connections, experiences can be shared on methods, and strategies to effect the maximum potential for learning at a specific conference. ISTE13 established a conference Ning to do that. It was unfortunate that only a small number of the 20,000+ attendees took advantage of that site.
The best way to pre-connect with folks is to use the power of Twitter. It is easy to put out a few tweets asking who will be attending, as well as identifying folks who have an ability to make recommendations based on their past experience. This is especially helpful for polling people experienced with a particular venue, which in this case was San Antonio. It certainly helps to get a heads-up on places to go and places to eat.
Recommendations from other educators with like interests are most helpful in determining the best presenters on any given topic. On some topics it is not a question of what to look for, but rather, whom to look for. Some presenters may offer a perspective more in line with your interests. A recommendation goes a long way in finding the right presenters. Being forewarned is the best way to be forearmed against disappointment. Finding a presenter’s blog site is often a window to their soul as well.
Of course the very best part of being connected at a conference is the ability to share out to others, mostly through Twitter, what the experience is like in a small way. I find that when I take on the responsibility of sharing with others, I tend to: listen a little closer, pay attention a little more, be a little more critical in my thinking, and overall, learn things a little better. The ability to share comes with the responsibility to get it right. It helps me as much as those, with whom I am sharing.
I found the ISTE13 conference to be the most connected of all the conferences I have attended over the year. The organization’s board contains many connected educators. What always baffles me at conferences is that the organizations stress connecting, but do little to promote it. They print programs with presenters’ names but no Twitter “handles.” They give everyone nametags, but again no nametags contain Twitter handles, unless the attendee uses a marker to add it. As educators, one would think that we would fully support that which we espouse. Twitter names in programs for all participants, as well as Twitter names on nametags would go a long, long way in validating connected educators, as well as providing the very means necessary to expand the growing network of connected educators.
Of course the best way to personalize any learning at any conference is to walk up to someone and share ideas face to face. That is what I like best about being connected. The very people you meet with and share with virtually walk up in person for handshakes and hugs. The perception that social media restricts an ability to have meaningful connections is always proven wrong with each passing education conference. ISTE13 was no exception to this.
Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He previously spent 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.