Professional Development

5 Ways to Enhance Your Educational Conference Experience

Check out these tips for experiencing your favorite conference from a new angle. Tip five: Join a Twitter chat.
April 14, 2016
A group of adults in a hotel lobby, sitting with laptops and standing, looking at their devices and watches
Photo credit: Kevin Jarrett via flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Every year, I attend the annual Computer Using Educators event (CUE) held in Palm Springs, CA. The conference hallways -- and the restaurants and bars surrounding the conference location -- always sing with conversations about technology tools and innovative research-based strategies about teaching STEAM and literacy in K-12.

Through my almost 15 years as a CUE member, I've been up close for keynotes given by the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Sugatra Mitra, LeVar Burton, and this year's Hadi Partovi -- the one who brought the Hour of Code to an entire planet. I return to class with ideas for Monday -- not just someday -- ideas that have changed how I teach. This year it was 3D printing, gamification, and makerspaces as I advance on developing a language arts class that leverages Making.

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Going Beyond the Sessions

Have you thought about all the other ways to learn at a conference? I know from personal experience that it's important to find your own groove for learning. Here are some suggestions to experience your favorite conference from a new angle.

1. Explore the Resources of Those Presenters You Can't See

I know this might make some presenters wince, but if it's a great conference, you might find multiple sessions you really want to attend within every time slot. Look through descriptions for names of tools or programs to Google later. Then go online and download the available materials from the digital schedule to sift through back in your room.

This is not only a great way to learn at your own pace, but it's also one way I decide who else to follow on Twitter, who to reach out to via email, or whose website to add to my blogroll.

2. Talk to Audience Members

I tend to sit in the back of sessions, but when I push myself to actually participate I learn so much more. Your fellow audience members are interested in learning about the topic just as you are. And some know different aspects of the topic than the presenter. I was recently at a session on 3D modeling, but the presenter didn't focus much on what I was interested in learning: 3D printing.

When asked to turn and talk, I learned that the person next to me had a ton of expertise on the topic. I finally got my questions answered and found a classroom to possibly partner with for next year!

3. Interact With the Vendors

Look, if you don't want to be scanned, turn your badge around, but I tell you, I've actually met some great salespeople that know much more about a topic than simply their own product. This year, those trying to sell me the gamified system of curriculum delivery could also talk up a storm about informal assessments. I say, let the vendors scan your badge. Once they email you a few weeks later, you'll have a contact made for further discussion about a specific tool or strategy.

4. Spend at Least One Session in an Unconference Setting

The unconference is the term describing how people can gather around tables to set their own session topic. EdCamps were based on this model of professional development, and many formal conferences now establish an area where people can sit and discuss that which they deem important.

One table might be about iPads, another about Google Classroom, E-Rate funding, or Makerspaces. This method of learning honors that everyone in the room has something to contribute. You might find that you play a role in someone else's professional development, and you might find a different learning rhythm that breaks up the traditional session model.

5. Join a Twitter Chat

Many times Twitter allows us to pass notes across the digital table so that we can comment on what's being said in the room. It's the B storyline to a session's A storyline. A Twitter chat during a conference helps the participants to speak a common language. Not only do you get to share resources and ideas, but you can actually meet up with some of the participants face-to-face afterwards. Imagine that!

So here's my final takeaway: Attend the conference that's going on before, after, in-between, and during the scheduled sessions. Find the rich jewels of advice and inspiration from accidental conversations, as well as formal ones.

So what's the conference that you simply can't do without, and how do you find the PD outside of its normal sessions? Please share in the comments section below.