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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Education Conferences: The Good, The Bad, and the Needs Improvement

Education Conferences: The Good, The Bad, and the Needs Improvement

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I've been doing a lot of thinking and research around education conferences. There are so many out there it's hard to decide which are worthwhile. There are also aspects of certain conferences that work well, while other parts of that conference may not be as useful. I'm trying to look at how to create the ideal conference experience and what that would look like.

These are a few of the conferences that I've been researching:
- BETT
- SXSWedu
- ISTE
- CoSN
- GlobalEdCon

I would love to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of attending an education conference. What are your thoughts? Which conferences have you attended? What are some of your favorites, and why?

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

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Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
K-4 Technology Facilitator from Northfield, New Jersey
Facilitator

Hi Becky,

That is some list! Those events vary in size and focus but they all have one thing in common - they are 'sit and get / sage on the stage'. Not that there's anything wrong with that ... done well, 'sit and get' is just fine. The issue is execution.

By far the very best professional development I've ever had was at the Google Teacher Academy. (Surprise! I bet you thought I was going to mention an Edcamp.) What I want to share with you (in the hopes of helping you plan) are the reasons why the GTA was so incredible. It was not a traditional conference per se but the lessons still apply.

#1 - the presenters were ridiculously knowledgeable, thoroughly prepared, flexible and fun to listen to. This is pretty much the whole enchilada. Conferences usually fall short when the presenter fails to deliver for some reason, or, if the session description doesn't match the actual talk. It happens way, way too often. The takeaway for you: execution matters - find the most ridiculously knowledgeable presenters, vet them personally, ensure they are prepared and verify that they deliver.

#2 - the environment was casual, focused on the learner, and included plenty of snacks. (Ok, so we were at Google HQ [NYC] and the entire place is just basically magical, so that's not something you can replicate, but, the sessions featured a participant focus that put us at ease and crazy ridiculous snacks. Can you say 'micro-kitchen?' Again, not something you can replicate, but, it was a factor.) The takeaway for you: focus on the attendees and ensure there are goodies!

#3 - the material / presentation content was state-of-the-art, relevant to us as learners, and exciting. The takeaway for you: content matters. Make sure presenters challenge the attendees! They will thank you for it!

#4 - the sessions were small and intimate. One of the problems with HUGE conferences is that they are overwhelming. Maybe other people like having so much to choose from but personally, I prefer a smaller experience. The takeaway for you: size matters.

#5 - the people in the room (my fellow attendees) were pretty darn amazing. There was an exclusivity with the GTA you can't replicate at a regular conference but take a look at Educon in Philly - coming up later this month. Have you ever been there? It's absolutely incredible - and there aren't any snacks provided! Seriously, the takeaway for you: participants matter.

Wow that was more than I thought I had to say! Hope it helps!

-kj-

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I go to Educon every year- by far and away my favorite.

That said, I've been to ISTE, the annual CHADD conference, ASCD, and others. I've also run Podcamps all over the East Coast.
As an attendee, I think you have to decide what you want out of the conference. The bigger conferences feel fairly anonymous, and if you don't go with someone else, who you can talk to and reflect with, it can be a pretty sterile experience. ISTE has TONS of great sessions as well as a pretty fascinating and useful trade show floor. ASCD is a little more curriculum driven, so you get lots of trade show participants pushing programs, so it's a little more geared towards administrators, I thought, although the sessions would work for anyone.
I like Edcamps, and Educon, because I always feel energized afterwards, and come away with new ideas, where often at ISTE or ASCD, I feel like I saw a lot of stuff, met a few new people, and collected cool swag, but I don't have the same level of "things I can do to improve tommorrow" experience.

What conferences have you been to? Which ones do you like most?

Dan Callahan's picture
Dan Callahan
Professional Learning Specialist, Edcamper, Graduate Professor

I think one of the challenges of creating an "ideal conference experience" would be the same challenges that happen with creating the ideal learning environment. Different things work for different people. There are a bunch of people who love conferences that I can't stand, as I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't really care for the kinds of experiences I'm interested in.

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