Each year when the ISTE Expo Hall opens and I venture forth, I feel ecstatic. My heart races as I approach each shiny package containing a promising product.
Intrigued, I want to buy everything. Then I come to my senses and revert to my carefully planned route, allocating enough time to see what I came to see while leaving some unstructured moments to get happily distracted.
From the tiniest of companies with one draped table in the back forty to the mega corporations that take up large portions of real estate near the entrances, the expo showcases an enormous variety of exciting products. It’s all designed to make you an awe-inspiring teacher and, ultimately, to make your students the most motivated, creative and productive individuals on earth.
But if you listened to every claim and stopped for even just five minutes at every booth, it would take you 46 precious hours to conquer the acres of opportunities.
Therefore, you must make some difficult decisions and choices. Here are a few strategies to help you make the most of your time in the expo hall:
1. Pinpoint your goals.
It helps to know ahead of time what you want to get out of the expo. Are you looking to:
- Acquire a particular product, such as virtual reality headsets?
- Explore specific resources, such as text-to-speech software?
- Learn about using a specific device in your classroom, such as tablets in kindergarten?
- Get a general idea about what is new and interesting?
2. Make a plan of action.
Once you’ve decided on your main objectives, it’s time to aim your laser focus only at the booths that will support your goals. Ask yourself:
- Will I walk down each aisle methodically?
- Will I focus on specific vendors or products?
- Will I just wander, letting sounds and sights determine my path?
- Or perhaps a combination of all three?
Draw up a plan based on your goals, and map out a route using the interactive floor plan of the expo hall.
3. Prepare before you leave home.
Here are a few time-saving tactics you can execute before you even get on the plane:
- Print stickers with your contact information to save time filling out those many raffle forms.
- Bring business cards. Not everyone has a business card app.
- Determine your available time by perusing the online program and scheduling the sessions you want to attend using My Favorites in the conference app or on the Program Search page of the ISTE 2018 website. Determine the times when you can visit the exhibits between your bookmarked sessions. Deduct an hour for unexpected conversations and other distractions.
- Study the expo hall configuration. Using the interactive floor plan to determine how many rows there are and how they are numbered. Look up the location of any vendors you want to visit as well as the workshops that interest you.
- Get the ISTE 2017 mobile app from the App Store or Google Play, mark any vendors that interest you and save them in My Favorites.
4. Pack accordingly.
Don’t leave home, or your hotel, without:
- Comfortable shoes. It’s safe to assume you’ll walk miles.
- A charged phone.
- A backpack or shoulder bag for what you collect along the way, or a small wheeled bag (less shoulder stress, but hazardous in crowds).
- A refillable water bottle.
- Healthy snacks — unless, of course, you want to feast on candy.
5. Make the most of your time on the floor.
This is where the rubber meets the road — or, rather, the concrete convention center floor. Here are some tips that will help you once you’ve made it inside the expo hall on opening day:
- When someone gives you a business card, write a summary of your conversation on the back.
- Take photos of products, signs, vendors and anything else that will jog your memory.
- Gather websites rather than brochures.
- Don't be afraid to say “no.” Vendors want to interest you in their products and will entice you with everything from free gifts to great food. If you are on your way to a predetermined destination, do not stop! In your most respectful voice, say, “No, thank you,” smile, and walk away quickly and purposefully.
6. Explore learning opportunities.
Don't forget that there's more than just booths to visit in the expo hall. Many vendors have ongoing demonstrations both large and small, and many have students to show how the technologies work.
You might also want to visit the Startup Pavilion where 42 innovative companies are sharing what they've created for the edtech ecosystem. And while you're in the area, check out the Student Hackathon where students will be working in teams to solve real-life problem that impact society. They'll create their prototypes all day Monday and Tuesday in the expo hall and will share their creations on Wednesday from 8-9 a.m. in Room W181.
Make sure you don’t lose sight of the essence of ISTE. This is a place where opportunity and preparation combine for success. The conference is an experience that motivates and inspires — and the expo hall is no exception. It's all about connecting to other educators, learning about innovations and emerging technologies, and discovering how to thoughtfully apply them.
Maureen Brown Yoder, Ed.D., is a professor of educational technology at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A former classroom teacher, she currently works with in-service educators and teaches an online course on emerging technologies. She coined the term "electronic constructivism" and has written extensively on how to thoughtfully and creatively integrate emerging technologies into existing curricula.