This year’s ISTE 2010 (the conference formerly known as NECC) was a pretty different experience for me due to one decidedly different fact: I went as a (wait for it…) VENDOR more than as a speaker/learner. That doesn’t mean I didn’t learn some good stuff on the vendor floor in our PLP booth. But it does mean that my lens for this year’s conference comes not so much from my conversations in the Blogger’s Cafe (which, unfortunately, were mostly brief catching ups) or in the session halls (I only saw one) but from the evil dungeon (or in this case, attic) where ISTE shows its dark side.
I’m only half kidding.
I’ve reflected on the vendor floor at past ISTEs (NECCs) before, lamenting the oversized Best Buy bags and the gobs of swag people would carry around in them (99.87% of which is now in a landfill this year) and just trying to figure out how many meals for homeless folks you could buy with the money that’s represented there. In short, it’s not my favorite place during the conference. But Sheryl and I made the decision to have a presence this year, and I’m glad we did. We had more of an opportunity to talk to a wider cross section of educators from literally around the world and get some very different perspectives than I’ve ever had in the Cafe. The short story is that pretty much everyone is hurting right now, and there is a lot of frustration in general, but that people still want to do well by kids. It’s not all bad.
Yet, you can’t help but be taken in a bit by all the shiny new stuff that all the folks in the bright neon orange and green and blue shirts were hawking. (Thank goodness we nixed my idea for a tie-dyed PLP booth shirt pretty much as soon as I brought it up.) There were more SMART, black, IQ, vision, Promethean and insertyourtechynamehere boards than I thought possible. (There was also the lonely guy in a faded white button-down shirt spending most of the conference flipping through a magazine in front of a “cutting edge” dry erase board a couple booths up from us. Remember when?) There were clickers and booger-proof keyboards and video conferencing systems and security systems (oh, the security!) and all sorts of other stuff that probably won’t be on the vendor floor in five years. As one friend who stopped by the booth lamented, it was a sea of “buggy whips.” And it once again just felt like it was mostly all about teaching and very little about learning.
But here’s what struck me most during my 45 minutes of so of wanderings around the exhibit floor: Education. Is. Easy. Did you know this? Almost every toolsy vendor that I saw was pushing the “we can make it easy on you” button, as if students will simply be mesmerized (and, therefore compliant) if only we had the tools. When I was talking to Sylvia Martinez (who, thankfully, was a VENDOR with Generation Yes! as well), she said it felt like one of those Geico commercials…”So easy, even a teacher could do it.” Case in point, this poster flaunted by a software company that will remain nameless. I mean, seriously, look at that list. Online safety is easy. Differentiation is easy. STEM? Easy. And my personal favorite: “Teaching 21st Century Skills-Making it Fit in the School Day.” The irony is, dare I say it, oh, so easy. And the best part? If that easy thing isn’t enough to draw them in, well then, hell…let’s give ’em some swag.
The good news? I bet at least 50 percent of the conference attendees didn’t even make it to the floor. At least I hope not.
From all accounts from folks who actually got to see some sessions this year, ISTE 2010 was as good if not better than the NECCs of yore. I’ve read a lot of great blog posts coming from sessions, heard of many being inspired by the great work that teachers are doing in their classrooms, and I know that on a very real level, I missed the best of the conference. It actually sounds like things moved a bit more this year as well in the grand scheme of things. Thanks to all of you who have worked so hard to capture it for us all. (And thanks to all of you who didn’t throw me under the bus for my VENDOR status this year.)
But my not so secret love/hate with this annual gathering continues unabated. When people ask me what yearly conference they should attend, there’s only one answer. We love EduCon not just because we get to spend a few days with friends new and old in a pretty special place. We love it, or at least I love it, because everyone who attends knows that the good stuff that happens in classrooms very rarely ends up on an exhibit floor, and because we know the problems and challenges of education and schooling aren’t going to be solved with free t-shirts and iPad raffles. We love it because our voices as educators (and students) in this conversation matter, and we get to use those voices in every session, for every idea.
We love it, in short, ’cause it isn’t easy at all.
Chris Lehmann says
Rock on. 🙂
(We’re going to open up the ticket sales soon, I promise.)
Michael Warner says
Thank you for putting into words the thoughts and feelings that were going through my head as I walked (and walked and walked) the vendor floor. I have noticed that my district would rather spend money on programs than people, now I can add gadgets. I would rather get support to be a better teacher that an IWB or set of clickers.
Heidi Ragsdale says
Here, here. I am home now wondering what to do with my gobs of swag, not sure even to put it in the landfill yet. Perhaps as guinea pig bedding fluff first?
Thanks for your great presentation that first day at ISTE, Will!
Cathy Nelson says
Will, I do believe you are suffering from “ADDOSS” (attention deficit due to overly shiny stuff). Cause? Too much time in conference exhibit halls. Prescription? Extended amounts of time interacting with educators in blogers’ cafes and Educon-like conferences. Prevention? Avoid exhibit halls and echo chambers, and when these cannot be avoided, wear blinders.
LOL, I have a tendency to avoid exhibit halls too, and sorry to admit, but this year when I attended ALA, I found most of the exhibit hall revolting (yeah, egads, I opted for ALA instead of ISTE this year, but that’s another story!) I went looking to compare the networking experience and to interact with another part of my PLN, and sorry to admit I could not replicate the euphoria I have felt each year from networking with my PLN at ISTE, and far from what I felt at Educon that first year.
I’ve only been to one Educon (the very first one) and now I find that all other professional development type conferences are held to that standard, which is not a bad thing. For the organizations where I have input, I strive to move them towards more of a conversational approach to PD with authentic discussions and mind blowing stretching of the thinking. Blast you Educon, you warped me.
But my attendance (money right out of my own pocket) continues to feed the belief/mindset that the current status quo is what we all want. I go though for the invaluable networking more so than any exhibit hall, swag, or sessions that Ive signed up to attend.
There is an orgy of excess in the exhibit hall which I find to be troubling, but there are some vendors with whom I had some excellent conversations. The key is entering the exhibit with a plan and specific goals in mind to help drive educational change in my classroom and school. I must say that I was largely successful in doing that, much to the dismay of certain vendors when I completely ignored their requests.
Another thought — we will know that true change has taken place when ISTE becomes a must-attend EDUCATION conference, and not an edtech conference. At times the change seems to move at a glacial pace, but it is happening.
Will Richardson says
Great points, Dave. That shift to the seamless marriage of tech and learning is surely glacial. Doubt I will see it.
Todd Conaway says
You will see it. You are doing it!
All the time, for all people? Not yet, and maybe never. Automobiles have been around a long time and not everyone has one, and the ones who do vary widely in their ability to use them “well.”
And it is people like you, and those at ISTE, who write, publish in whatever form, talk at gatherings however great or small, and continue to ponder the potential of stuff/ideas that will get us there. Or closer.
What I hope we do see in our time, is that the distinction between “technology” and “learning” disappears and that, as you note, “education” becomes more aligned with learning rather than “teaching.”
Nancy White says
“We will know that true change has taken place when ISTE becomes a must-attend EDUCATION conference, and not an edtech conference.” >>Amen to that!
I heard some suggestions last year for re-naming ISTE, using the same initials. How about “Innovation Society for Teaching and Education”?
Diane Cordell says
After a traumatic introduction to the vendor area at NECC 08 (where companies showed little or no interest in a K-12 teacher/librarian from a small rural school…with limited money to spend), I have avoided such venues religiously.
EduCon is my standard of excellence, with its continuous innovative, inclusive conversations.
Once that’s on my calendar, I fit other conferences in when I’m able.
Tiffany Whitehead says
I’m still in a post-ISTE information overload frame of mind, although I know I need to spend a lot of time next week digesting what I heard and learned (including that from your great session).
My admins pulled me into the exhibit hall and I may have lasted 20 minutes before I fled and wanted to curl up in a ball under a chair in the Bloggers Cafe. I can’t see ever subjecting myself to that type of experience again!
Glenn Hervieux says
Hi Will. I’ve been following your blog for awhile and thought I would finally leave you a comment. I appreciate being able to learn and reflect from your writing and the other educators I’ve discovered this year in the blogosphere. I live in rural N. CA (by Mt. Shasta) and work for several one-school-school districts as an IT, ed. tech teacher, and provide prof. development. I can’t afford conferences anymore, but I did get to go to a CUE conference a few years ago in CA, presenting on handheld computer use in the classroom. The exhibit hall was a cool experience because I got to have some hands-on time with tools I’d been looking at online and was interested in. But the thing that is changing my life as an educator isn’t possessing the latest gadget, but the great interaction with educators I’ve found online and in the schools I work at.
I guess if I did get to go to a conference, I’d major on building my PLN and spend as little time as possible in an exhibit hall. The truth is, Will, being a good educator isn’t easy, and no gadget is going to revolutionize anyone’s teaching. Can they make a difference? Sure. I’ve talked the small schools I work with in equipping teachers laptops, document cameras, and LCD projectors. We’ve learned to use the tools well. But the teachers I work with are not good teachers because of the tools. That’s not what make them good at what they do. And there are no ten “easy” steps to being a good educator. It takes a strong commitment to continuing to learn and grow in their pedagogy and love for teaching. Thanks again.
Harlan howe says
I have to admit, I do like looking at the shiny stuff. I like to go see what surprises me. Perhaps I get a bit of an ego boost when the answer is “not much.” I agree, everybody wanted to sell me an IWB – it is interesting to see how many different ways there are to make it work – pens, fingers, microdots, IR, Bluetooth, GPS, disturbances in my chi….
I saw the guy with the small dry erase boards, too. I look at it as a reminder that technology is an amazing tool, but we can’t rely on it alone to do the teaching. Even the best tools lose their edge if they are used day-in-and-day-out. (overheard from a student last year: “if Mr. _____ uses that ____ board again tomorrow, I’m gonna scream.”) So I don’t know whether that vendor will be able to make it again, but I do see value in his presence, albeit likely different from the value he sees in it.
I guess where I am going with this is that every teacher needs a repertoire, a toolbox, if you will. Assembling that toolbox takes time, expertise, and perhaps money. Knowing how to use it is not easy. But some tools in the box (e.g., a circular saw) might do some things more easily than others (e.g, a hand saw). Nevertheless, you can’t build anything with just one tool.
Carl Anderson says
I think I spent a grand total of 15 minutes in the exhibit hall at ISTE10 before I had to leave. Indeed it was nauseating, gave me the willies. However, though it was up in the attic the place was jam packed when I was there. I worry about those <50% who spent too much time there. I also worry about those who might mistake a “session” by a vendor on the exhibit floor (yes, there were plenty of areas set up for vendor-PD) as being the same as a session given as part of the official ISTE session schedule.
I was also surprised to see how vendors used scanners to enter you in their “drawings” instead of using the conference-provided pull-tabs I have seen at other regional conferences. This was smart on their part because it meant you actually had to engage with a vendor before dropping your name in for that free iPod or classroom set of clickers. Couldn’t just drop and run like I usually do. I also didn’t see anything, or hear anyone talk about anything, that was particularly new, fascinating, or ground-breaking there this year. Wish I had though. I do worry about the future of exhibit halls at our conferences. It seems like a miserable place to try to hawk goods. Its a necessary evil and the more we see vendors dwindle the more it will cost us to attend these conferences.
John Peters says
I’m sorry I missed you in Denver Will. After reading your post, I can see why.
I was thinking about the expansiveness of the Exhibit floor as well at ISTE 2010. There seems to have been quite a few blog posts lately from folks who question the sanity of it all!
Although I realize its necessary, beneficial and profitable for the vendors themselves, does there need to be 15, or so, different interactive whiteboard vendors in attendance? I know that fees generated make it possible for ISTE to provide much good in the conference I think that the Exhibit floor can be overwhelming.
In all fairness, I did meet some good folks. Califone, which specializes in headphones and audo/visual equipment took my wife and I out to a wonderful dinner. Faronics, a software company that we use several of their products in our school, had a drawing where I won an Amazon Kindle. Qwizdom Student Response Systems, I have one of their products and they were just as nice as they could be.
I have to be truthful however, I do like the Edu-swag that you can pick up by cruising the Exhibit floor for a while. On our drive home from Denver, my wife and I had an enjoyable time looking through the bags and the assorting “things” we had collected. I probably have enough new T-Shirts to last until ISTE 2011, maybe have enough new pens to last me until Christmas and have enough hand sanitizer to last at least until November.
Maggie Jensen says
Will, Never be afraid to be a vendor! Just think, you can lead the vendors in providing the really valuable help for teachers as you know how to integrate the technology better than most!
Great seeing you and Sheryl in Denver. I hope you can get back to Cattaraugus-Allegany sometime soon. maggie jensen