It has been two days since the ISTE 2010 Conference ended and the drive home gave me a lot of time to reflect. Especially since the majority of that time I was the only conscious person in the car driving across Eastern Colorado and Western Nebraska.
This was my first "in person" ISTE experience. While I have been following ISTE and finding ways to attend from home the past four years this was the first time I actually went myself. I left home on Saturday with no reservations (both about what to expect at the conference and for a hotel the first night). In one sense of the word this turned out to be a big mistake. We had hoped the first day to drive from Rochester, MN to Lincoln, NE and spend the night before making our way to Denver on Sunday. Unfortunately, the little one got car sick just before we hit Council Bluffs, IA and what do you know, we got the pleasure of spending the week enjoying the wonderful aroma of regurgitated apple juice and fruit snacks all over the back seat of the car. What we didn't plan on was that there would be no hotel rooms anywhere in Eastern Nebraska due to the College World Series. To make things worse, the gas station we managed to find in Council Bluffs to clean up after the disaster sold us expired milk which we didn't notice until after we gave it to the kids and the older one said, "Daddy, this milk smells yucky!" (Add regurgitated sour milk to the aroma bouquet). It wasn't until we reached Kearney, NE after 3:00 a.m. that we were able to find a hotel with vacancy. Ah, the prototypical family road trip.
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Sunday morning we woke up refreshed and ready to head out again. We arrived in Denver, checked into our hotel, ate dinner and I headed over to the conference to catch the opening keynote. The "no room at the inn" theme carried through to the conference since arriving late the auditorium was full. I ended up finding my way to the Blogger's Cafe where the reception of the opening keynote, piped in via closed circuit TV, was not unlike that of the aroma bouquet we experienced on the drive up. The speaker lost us at his first slide then proceeded to violate every single principle of effective presentation. I wish I could critique the speech but the overwhelming roar of disapproval from the audience in the Cafe drowned out nearly all of what the guy said.
Like my car on the ride in, the opening keynote stunk, and just like my car on the ride in I was in good company and experiencing it with people I very much like and respect. There were nearly 18,000 people attending this conference and in this one space it seemed like the majority of the people I follow on Twitter, Blogs, and YouTube were there. A measurable percentage of conference session presenters were here as well. It was an amazing crowd and amazing company to be with. By far the highlight of the night was hearing Gary Stager finally tell his John Taylor Gatto story that he would not convey over Twitter.
I grew up in Nebraska and often took road trips out to Colorado so I was very familiar with this stretch of I80 and I76. You might say that the experience of driving from Rochester to Denver provided nothing new for me. It was the same thing I saw numerous times taking this trip as a kid. I found a similar experience at the conference. I hoped to be blown away by amazing presentations but unfortunately I found myself walking out of a lot of great sessions, not because they were not good but because, much like my drive in, I had seen it before. I suspect this was true of a lot of people who follow edtech closely. Also, many of the sessions I was really excited to see were either scheduled for the same time I was presenting or just like there was no room in the inn on our drive out there was simply no room in the session by the time I got there.
The hotel we ended up staying in in Kearney was 1/2 the price we would have paid elsewhere, it put us very close to Denver, and had many more amenities and perks than we expected. This unexpected change of plans, while not easy, ended up being good for us. The same was true of not being able to attend all the sessions I wanted to. I ended up spending a lot of time in the Blogger's Cafe where arguably, for less cost I got more. This was the "hang out" place for most anyone who is anyone in the edubloggosphere and being there afforded me the opportunity to have lengthy one-on-one conversations about teaching, technology, and learning with the same people I otherwise would sit in a crowd of 200+ and listen to. This happy accident provided for me the opportunity to discuss informal vs formal/traditioanl vs online education in depth with Steve Hargadon, discuss school filtration policy and social media with Bud Hunt, meet with Chris Lehman, Scott McLeod, Richard Byrne, Dean Shareski, Will Richardson, Doug Johnson, and many others. It was as if not making it to the session in time I was given a backstage pass.
While I was attending the conference during the day my wife took the kids to attractions around Denver. In the evening I joined them. They went to the Children's Museum and the Aquarium by themselves then I joined them and took them one night to The Garden of the Gods and the other night to Casa Bonita. I am glad I took my family with me to the conference. Nothing will replace in my mind coming back to the hotel on Monday and hearing my two little girls yell out the hotel window, "Poopy Butt Cheeks!" to try and get funny responses from passers by or the look on their faces when we drove up into the mountains for the first time (both were asleep for the drive up and woke to an environment completely foreign to them).
While my ISTE experience is over the connections and relationships forged and/or strengthened at this conference I will carry with me. Just as I could take my family with me to ISTE I keep these people with me via social media and my web 2.0-enhanced personal learning network. I leave feeling a bit more connected.
While at the conference I posted this reflective Tweet that seemed to generate some argument:
Its been nice meeting so many ppl in person at #iste10 I normally only mt online but somehow f2f cd nvr replace depth of online interaction.
I stand by that statement and would like to clarify what I meant a bit. What I was thinking was, if you had a choice to keep events like the ISTE Conference but do away with our online interactions (via Social Media) or do away with face to face conferences but keep the networks we have built, which would you choose? I choose an ongoing networked relationship.
Prior to the conference many bloggers were posting their irrational fears about meeting people from their PLNs in person for the first time. The fear was that somehow finally meeting people you have a strong online personal and professional relationship with would cause that relationship to sour. While I think for most of us the face to face meetings only strengthened this connection for many it was awkward. When we mediate our communications with digital tools we free ourselves of many of the barriers we put up in person. There is no body language that gets in the way, we don't have to worry about our appearances, our age, or any of the other physical baggage we carry with us. Our connection online is closer to a connection of thoughts which for many is more efficient, more comfortable, and somewhat more pure. I also think I have reached a point where I learn more in the digital space than the physical, at least as far as edtech is concerned.