ISTE 2013: Successful — but Too Big?

ISTE 2013 (San Antonio, June 23-26, 2013) defeated me. It was hot, too hot; it was big, too big — except that I am sure it generated a lot of money. The attendance was huge, national and international and local. The venue was so large that it made for sore feet.

There were busses to take you to the center, but the weather was so hot that you would rather walk to the site than wait 20 minutes for the next bus. Some meetings were so distant from each other that it was time impossible to get to the sessions.

Many people had just a few participants in their sessions. I felt like I do when in the airline lanes. These lanes would be: Vendors, Corporate Sponsors, Officers of ISTE, SIGS, Youth, SETDA. State Affiliates, Distinguished Apple Educators, and so on. Separation by funding, importance. And lost in the mix were new teachers who come to learn, make associations, and to benefit from ISTE membership.

A strand of kids were involved. There are people who think all kids are digital immigrants. I don’t fight them. I tolerate them because they have the microphone and most of the funding. Perhaps ISTE is growing a new audience. The kids were everywhere, too. They did poster sessions and workshops, too.

A number of SIGs were involved. (See photos below.) We are at this time volunteers. We had a SIG open house. That’s a good thing because the meetings all overlap. Significant interest groups work throughout the year and do professional development for ISTE. It was a good thing to see the people you talk to, if only briefly, in the course of the meetings. We networked at an Open House.

There were SETDA meetings, state affinity meetings. There were SIG-sponsored workshops and keynotes and bloggers’ cafes. There were international gatherings… Does it sound like all too much? It was!

There were tourist distractions, but they were crowded too. Very crowded. I walked less steps in Rome. People in San Antonio walk all over the place, not just left or right. I fully expected someone to fall into the San Antonio River.

I think this is the very first time I gave up on the exhibit hall. It was too big, too many exhibitors, and crowded. I tried.

I have a black belt in exhibit halls, but this time I lost.

A disappointment. The first keynote was “entertainment” on gamification

I did not go to Richard Culleta’s keynote. I saw him at SETDA (San Antonio, June 21-24, 2013) and got his message about data. Boring. He did reference that the groups he profiled were funded from Race to the Top.

Twenty thousand people were at ISTE. I guess it was a marketing success.

People in line for Surface tablets. Microsoft gave away 10,000 Surface tablets. I wrote about that event here. There were tears of joy here in the room where they were giving them away.

People in line for Surface tablets. Microsoft gave away 10,000 tablets. I wrote about that event here. There were tears of joy here in the room where they were giving them away.

A very intimate and wonderful board meeting at ISTE.

A very intimate and wonderful board meeting at ISTE.

Games and Simulations SIG.

Games and Simulations SIG.

Early Learning SIG.

Early Learning SIG.

It was expensive to attend.

It was expensive to attend.

9 Responses

  1. Is ISTE too large? Good question. Answer depends on your goals. As with some other very large conventions, your goals should be focused and not “see everything.”

    We sent one member of our company for the start-up pavilion. He had a 2-foot square 1/4 table as a “booth” at a cut-rate price that was so good that ISTE had their quota of twenty companies signed up in just a couple of days from announcement.

    Our goal was simple: strategic alliances. We were totally uninterested in selling. We were very polite to teachers who came by but did not spend time with lengthy demonstrations or sales pitches.

    As a result of being there in that small capacity, we have three new potential large alliances that each could boost our annual revenues substantially. At least one should come to fruition.

    For us, anyway, ISTE was a great success. Top-level contacts with very interested potential partners don’t come from most such efforts.

    What were your goals going to ISTE? How well did you succeed in meeting them? Do other conferences or other ways of fulfilling those goals work better for you? Would you go again?

    I hope that some of our readers will answer these questions as I have. I would go again — in a heartbeat.

  2. Maybe I had too many goals.
    I wanted to meet with SIGS and to network with the people to whom I talk all of the time online.

    I wanted to see some of the edtech “stars” present. That was a goal that was not met. I waited to buy workshops and they were filled there were a few workshops available but not the ones I wanted. I probably am spoiled, because I did not expect to pay for the workshops initially, but did get funding for them. Too late.

    Board Advocacy

    Meeting members of the board was a goal to express our ideas and concerns about those who are still not on board the use of tools . technology and transformational learning.. they posed the questions so I think, I think it was noted that there is still a huge digital divide. I understand that advocacy is a very small part of the outreach from ISTE.

    Talking about and promoting the computational sciences in the age of PRISM seems to me to be a great idea. Many don’t understand it.
    I perceive ISTE to be not just the tools of technology, but a place where philosophy and research is shared as well, meaningful research that affects teachers in the classroom.

    Common Core was covered well, but.. the controversy goes on.
    I am sure there were some vendors who had handouts, as I can locate resources on line, I did not see them.

    Having been in the center of power over the years, I will admit that I am not a business person. I go to ISTE to learn and to make connections for people across the digital divide and to find opportunities to bring people to see what the world of technology looks like. Maybe I am a hopeless romantic.

    The Exhibit Hall is a Place of Magic

    I went back four times, but there were lines , I saw the Google booth.
    Jammed packed full. One could wait.

    The exhibit hall is the place that one experiences all of the magic of the new ways of using technology, and one can discover technology that a particular school system or technology person may not have in mind. To that end I discovered new robotic resources, new LEGO tools and ways of working.

    I am fascinated with Joseph Talaiver who , often shares new ideas with everyone with total skill. I did find him.It was great to see
    Microsoft give tools to teachers and schools. ( and instruction and resources) Are you tired yet? It may be that I am still learning and you are in business so the endpoint was different for you.

    The new programming resources at LEGO were there to see and to understand. That was an unexpected discovery.

    I wanted to meet with the computational SIG but there was a conflict, I met with them privately which kept us all from going to sessions we were interested in.

    Gamification was robust. That was one of my interests too. I don’t have a single minded agenda. I felt that the academic push for Gamification was mostly done by the SIG. They were super.

    ** the most important thing I did was to support digital citizenship , the idea of it as an incoming SIG. Perhaps the problem was that there are only so many hours in a day, and days in a week. In America, we still have school boards who are afraid of the Internet even as the President talks about access for all.

    How I conquered going to the Mobile SIG? We cut our meeting short and walked over to that SIG because we have mutual interests.

    I have attended ISTE from the time it was NECC. I have conquered big exhibit halls , as I attended the Texas conference in Austin.
    I conquered that one, but I did not have but responsibility to share TACC.

    First Timers

    In the SIG booth we met a lot of first time teachers.
    It was my pleasure to share the Microsoft outreach with them, to network with them, and to assure them that the world of technology is not a moving train.

    I am glad you were successful. I was not.

    A pleasure was to have Dr. Paul Resta decide to help with our SIG, of Digital Equity and to meet with like minded people.


    • To: James Shimabukuro

      On (Not) Missing ISTE 2013
      by AUDREY WATTERS on 22 JUN, 2013

      I’m skipping ISTE this year. And I’ll confess: for the first time since I quit working at ISTE, I’m fairly relieved to not be going.

      I made the decision in part because I’m working hard on my book, and traveling costs too much – too much time and too much money.

      I’d initially planned to make it just to Steve Hargadon’s Saturday unconference (the event formerly known as EduBloggerCon) on Saturday – it’s always my favorite day of “the show” – but that didn’t work out. (More details to come on Monday regarding why.)

      I am, of course, sad that I’ll miss the opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones. That is always the biggest draw for me of any event: an opportunity to connect face-to-face and learn from the folks I am connected to and learn from online. And ISTE has been, for many years now, the one place I can be sure to regularly run into people.

      Lots of people.

      ISTE usually attracts around 12,000 attendees, including several thousand exhibitors. I can’t help but think about that exhibitor-to-teacher ratio – about 1:3 or 1:4 – particularly in light of my deep dissatisfaction with SXSWedu, where the ratio felt almost reversed. But even 1:4 isn’t such a great makeup if you want the focus to be on “learning” and not on “tools,” let’s be honest, and it’s no secret that ISTE (the conference and the organization) relies heavily on corporate dollars.

      For a (short) while, I’d hoped that education startups would provide an alternative to the Pearsons and the Prometheans that dominate the sponsorships and exhibit floor and would forge a different sort of relationship with the educators in attendance – one that involves listening, not selling to teachers. I’m much less optimistic these days, not just because Pearson (via Learn Capital investment) owns a financial stake in so many startups, but because I see many young companies following the same conference marketing practices as established ones: booths, giveaways, parties.

      But who can blame them, I guess. These practices have become standard at ISTE. Attendees expect and look for the freebies, sometimes with little regard for the quality, the utility, the data portability, their privacy, the pedagogical implications.

      Microsoft, for example, is handing out 10,000 “free” Surface RTs to attendees. And by midday Saturday as I started writing this, there were already photos shared on Twitter of the line of those waiting to pick it up. I do wonder how many have read the reviews for the device (largely negative) or have thought critically about the data they’re agreeing to sign over in exchange for it. I wonder too, how just a few weeks after news broke of the NSA’s PRISM project and tech companies’ cooperation with building an infrastructure for spying on us, after Bill Gates’ pronouncement that he plans to spend millions to equip every classroom in the country with video cameras, after all the handwringing about inBloom and its massive data grab, that educators could be so exuberant about Google Glass.

      I don’t get it. I mean, I try. I recognize the powerful allure of the education and technology industries’ myths. But right now, I’m happy to skip ISTE as I’m busily trying to write all my observations and frustrations and fears out in book-length form.

      Don’t get me wrong: I like teachers that push teaching and learning with technology forward, and many in attendance at ISTE do just that. But I’m disappointed – increasingly so – that concerns about rampant tech consumerism and solutionism go largely unrecognized. I’m troubled that data portability, ownership, and privacy aren’t a core part of the ISTE (or larger ed-tech) conversation. My session proposal on this topic – Terms of Service 101 – was rejected, hardly a surprise since the popular sessions are always a variation on the “Top 5000 Apps You Can Use in Your Classroom” theme.

      Always. Every year.

      All this strikes me as a signal there’s a major problem at the core of education technology as we (commonly) know it, one that isn’t simply the fault of the companies churning out their products (although I’m happy to put a lot of the blame there) but is also a result of the flaws in teacher training and in professional development. It’s a reflection, more broadly, of our cultural fascination with the shiny and the new. And no doubt, it’s a problem exacerbated by many technology and education technology blogs, where every app and every tool is equally newsworthy and nifty.

      The theme of this year’s ISTE conference is “forging a learning frontier” – with little reflection on the imperialist legacy intertwined with such an analogy, I’d wager (but that’s a separate blog post). Yet it feels like, in many ways, we’re retreading the same education technology landscape that we have been for decades.

      For over 30 years now, ISTE has offered a strange and often unsettling combination of the old and the new. The same, old problems of student engagement and attainment, for example, alongside the newest tools that promise to enhance or expedite these. And yet, as year-after-year the old problems remain, no matter which new tools are adopted, we should probably consider there’s something awry with the formulation. Something deeply, deeply awry. We should talk about it — and talk about it loudly. We should recognize too that much of the “newness” of “the latest and greatest” that’s celebrated at ISTE is a function of the planned obsolescence built into much of the technology and education industry – there’s always an update or an upgrade to procure, a latest edition to buy, a new (and well-lobbied for) policy mandate to fulfill.

      Always. Every year. And by design.

      So if I miss ISTE this year, I think I can be pretty safe in assuming it’ll be pretty darn similar — with slight variations in color and layout, of course — when the conference moves to Atlanta in June 2014. Maybe I’ll see you there.

      Just to show you that others see it my way. I HAVE NEVER MISSED AN ISTE MEETING. It used to be about teachers and I discern that it is now about business with teachers a small part of the equation.. but maybe not with Kecia Ray. I have seen her work.

      • To Audrey,

        You hit on one thing that singles out mind-numbing conferences. The give-aways tend to belittle the intellects of the attendees.

        You also point out correctly that the conference organizers are just tools of the big sponsoring companies who dominate the exhibit hall. Go to those booths and see a total lack of innovation. Yet, everyone goes. Go figure!

        With respect to your comments on newness, I have gone for the subscription business model. We must constantly improve and enhance. There are no new editions for us. Every couple of years, we have a major update that no one has to buy to get because we do a cloud-delivered service. The new comes automatically as long as you renew.

        I too am upset at the consumerism that permeates this show and other education actiivities. If a tech thing takes the consumer world by storm for a few years, it must therefore be good for education. Not.

        I have to make enough money to pay the bills. I wish to make a real difference in education. These goals should not conflict, at least not very much. However, those seeking to become billionaires have a different view, and I’ve encountered it many times.

  3. Harry you also need to read the “Bad Assed Teacher’s Complaints on Facebook!!

  4. For those who do not belong to the BAT bad assed teachers, it is that the feeling is that vendors and big money have taken over education and teachers are now customers and worse. There is a cartoon to show the bigs in education.

    • While this comment certainly is valid, it leaves out much. Big “vendors” and big money are taking over our entire society. Except for a few, e.g. textbook companies, they had left education alone due to a perception that it didn’t pay. With the rise of ed-tech, new opportunities for making money, i.e. squeezing our schools, arose. So, many companies, some new and well financed, jumped into the fray with lots of marketing and slick-looking products but nothing really new underneath it all.

      If I name specific examples, I’ll just get a lot of static from teachers who have invested in these faux teaching products.

      The marketing noise level, promoted by billion-dollar companies and investors, has reached the point where it’s hard to distinguish good from good-looking. This is apropos because ISTE exemplifies this trend. I saw an article on ISTE that covered it from the point of view of the ten most eye-catching booths at ISTE. Now, that’s fluff reporting at its worst. Who cares?! If you care, you should not be a teacher.

      Yet, the ISTE booths did attract educators of all stripes. People stood in a long line for hours to get the free Surface tablets given away by Microsoft. Vendors spent tens of thousands of dollars on multiple booth spaces and eye-catching displays in them. Why? To get you, the educator, to pay attention to the cover instead of the book.

      If you don’t like big money dominating education, stop buying based on appearances and start looking under the covers.

      I run an education company and so am a “vendor.” I hope that I’m a different sort of vendor. I’ll give you an example of the “cover” and the “book.”

      When we created our software system for science education, the tools available for building websites and software products were relatively crude compared to today. We built both the website and our product to be simple and easy to use but not flashy. We were just starting and really could not afford to make a great piece of software AND a super slick interface. We had teachers complain that our interface was too difficult but did not hear that from students. The interface was workmanlike, practical, and it functioned quite well. It was NOT difficult; it just didn’t look like more expensive interfaces. From a usability point of view, there was little reason to change.

      However, the constant feedback from teachers, who actually decide what to use in classrooms and availability of new software made us revisit our interface. Students are the actual users, but teachers are the deciders, while administrators are the buyers. We invested the time in a nicer looking interface for the teachers and administrators (neither of whom use our software, except for occasional administrative purposes). Underneath, it is all the same. Yet, we now have people complimenting us on our product who wouldn’t look at it before.

      The way schools buy software forces small companies without the wherewithal to make slick-looking products out of the market. It allows a slick interface to cover up a garbage product that still gets sold by the carload. The way that too many teachers decide on what software to use is by feeling instead of by cold logic.

      It’s the same with many of the decisions being made in education. Generally speaking, these decisions favor those with big marketing bucks who are only interested in maximizing profits. If they spend lots on money on shows, on websites, on making user interfaces shiny, on well dressed sales reps, on give-aways, and so on, they get your business and have no money left to build the inside well. You end up buying a really nice looking shell, and all of the hype convinces you that you made the right decision.

      This way of doing business forces smaller companies to spend more money, which forces them to raise their prices. Small companies are our innovators. Is this result really what you’re after?

  5. You are right on all points…. there were 500 exhibitors at ISTE.

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