Four “Look Fors” in an Education Conference

Four %22Look Fors%22 in an Education ConferenceWithin the past month or so I have attended three local conferences: NJPAECET2, Edcamp Long Island, and Edscape. As I reflect upon these experiences (and the other events of which I have been a part), I find a handful of common denominators in regards to what I personally look for in a conference. With these ideas in mind…

Here are my four “looks fors” in an education conference:

  1. Balance of “old” and “new” friends/colleagues: There is something comfortable about showing up at a conference, knowing that your “local PLN” is going to be there. At the same time, I am always looking to expand upon my friendships/PLN by establishing new face-to-face connections with those (1) I have previously only interacted with via social media, or (2) I have not interacted with altogether. It is funny to think that when I first started going to conferences a handful of years ago, the only people I knew were those who came along with me for the ride.
  2. Powerful keynote: I am always in awe of anyone who can stand up in front of a large crowd for a lengthy period of time and deliver a powerful story, straight from the heart. (It is easy to forget that speaking is an entirely different art than writing, blogging, or presenting. And, just because you can do one does not necessarily mean you can do another.) I was particularly blown away by the closing keynote of Gemar Mills (@PrincipalMills) at NJPAECET2 and the opening keynote of Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) at Edscape. In the words of Jerry Garcia, “Inspiration, move me brightly…”
  3. Pedagogy first, technology second: I love technology, I really do; but, I love pedagogy more. After all, “Pedagogy is the driver, technology is the accelerator.” While I see the value in conferences/sessions that focus mostly on “cool tools,” I prefer to learn about “best practice” when interacting face to face with other educators. (For the most part, I can learn about all of the apps and Web 2.0 I need via social media or Google.) That being said, I think there is a fundamental problem when the biggest “pedagogy” conferences (such as ASCD) are run entirely separate from the biggest educational technology conferences (such as ISTE). Think about that for a second.
  4. Food: If you are going to serve bagels for breakfast, make sure they are fresh and local, not from a chain. When serving lunch, please let everyone know ASAP how many lines there are. (“Oh, there’s a shorter line on the other side?”) Coffee throughout the day is a non-negotiable. Finally, and most importantly…if a friend is driving in from out of town, and that town is located near a famous pizza place, pizza delivery is a must. At Edscape 2014, my friend Sharon Plante (@iplante) and I started this tradition when she was kind enough to bring Pepe’s Pizza all the way from Connecticut to New Jersey!

If you had to add a fifth “look for” to the list, what would it be? What do you look for in a conference? What are some of the best conferences you have attended?

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