For many teachers, edtech conferences are a major highlight of the school year and a great opportunity to connect with fellow educators.
The exhibition part is also one of the best ways -if not the best- to find new ed tech solutions. From lesson creation to assessment and gamification, there is something for K-12 schools, universities, vocational schools, and so on depending on the purpose of the conference. Not to mention 3D printing, AR and robots!
Annually, a conference can draw in hundreds if not thousands of exhibitors and as many as 30,000 participants! On the flipside, it also means that teachers, ed tech specialists or principals can easily get overwhelmed by the amount of tools and new information. In fact, information overload is a very real phenomenon that can make it very hard to make a good decision when it comes to choosing the right solutions.
So besides packing their bags, laptops, agendas and passports, teachers can do a little extra something: their pre conference homework.
In order to get the most out of your time, here are some steps to help you navigate the exhibition area like a pro:
Make a list of goals for your school
Why are you attending the exhibition in the first place? Does the conference meet your school’s ed tech goals? It is time to blend your classroom? To offer more personalized learning? To improve communication with parents?
Setting goals might seem overwhelming, especially since there are many needs to take care of and it’s hard to prioritize. The easiest way is to look at what needs to change in order to improve your daily teaching such as minimizing the time it takes to grade essays.
It does not matter if you are just starting out on your ed tech journey. It’s OK if your class is not ready for the shiny new trend that pops up on your Twitter feed from time to time. However, you can figure out where you are now and where you’d like to be, step by step.
A good tip is to use SMART goals to clarify what is needed and be as specific as possible. For example, a goal can be to: “Spend one hour less each time I grade papers by using an online grading tool”.
Plan for the exhibition as well
Just when you are starting to get excited about all the sessions and seminars and… there are hundreds of them and only a time machine could help at this point. The best strategy is to prioritize according to what is most important.
The same principle applies to the exhibition area, where thousands of companies, NGOs and other institutions will be competing for your attention.
So, how to solve this problem? Easy: get to know “the market”. For example, the conference website usually has a list of vendors, and you can use filters such as K-12, LMS, whiteboards, and so on to get an idea of what to see first and what is simply not relevant for you.
This strategy also helps attendees save time that can be used instead for longer product demos, networking or simply for taking some reflection time in between sessions. In addition, you’ll be less likely to overlook good solutions by simply not realizing where they are and what they do.
How will this work for my classroom?
Will this work for my classroom or school? This should be the most important question you need to find an answer to.
A product demo is not just a nice feature of an exhibition, it is actually necessary for getting a first impression and decide whether it has potential. You wouldn’t buy a car without driving it first, would you?
This step can help schools save a lot of time and energy as exhibiting vendors are already prepared and eager to present their products and answer questions. Think of it like speed dating, but with technology. It can be fun and it can lead to some pleasant surprises.
A good rule of thumb is to ask specific questions about what a product can and cannot do. Here is also where step 1: making a list of goals comes in handy.
- What are the top three new features that you plan to add in future?
- Do you offer support for administrators as well as teachers?
- Can you give me examples of how a university has already implemented the solution?
Network, network, network
Even if it seems counterintuitive, sometimes the best idea sharing and professional connections happen outside your school. This is a relatively rare opportunity for teachers to venture beyond their own professional network depending on their experience, domain and years of activity.
It is also the time to take advantage of the insights that others have to offer in terms of ed tech knowledge and ideas on how they use classroom technology. For example, most presenters are able to follow up with a quick Q&A after a session. Sometimes the best debates and very interesting discussions happen while standing in line for coffee, at lunch, or just walking from one session to another.
In addition, exchanging emails or Twitter handles helps keep the conversation going for when you are at home and need some extra inspiration or help.
Keep the necessary information
If you are anything like me, sometimes you tend to rely on making mental notes. Unfortunately, this is not the time and place for that. In fact, many new and interesting ideas can be lost in a second in the sea of information. Of course, exhibitors will have a number of brochures, business cards, and badge scanners ready, but what people do with it later is up to them.
For example, a good tip is to go over each brochure at the end of the day and keep what is needed in a separate compartment in your travel bag. This should only take a few minutes. Participants can also leave business cards or make stickers with names and email addresses that can be used instead of writing down their details all the time.
Another great way to keep up with everything is to use the official exhibition app to record important things, if such an option is available.
Post conference follow-up
Back home, the enthusiasm usually last for a few days and then it dwindles down as people go about their daily routine. Maybe at this point you or your school have already chosen something new to implement and that is great news!
However, if that is not the case, a great way to stretch that post conference mindset just a little bit longer is to organize and sift through notes and any other relevant materials such as flyers. This is the step that can also help you choose which tools to consider next.
A simple way to tackle this task is to divide products or companies into lists, according to what is more relevant. For example, products can be categorized with the help of a simple list with three columns named: “definitely”, “maybe” and “for the future”. Products that are in the “definitely” or “maybe” category can be assessed further with the help a decision maker, can be implemented on as a trial basis or integrated right away depending on the type of technology.
In addition to keeping up with the rapidly changing ed tech world, schools and educators can maximize their investment in a conference by finding new tools to implement.