Day 1 of ISTE 2014 is coming to a close for me as I settle down at a quiet space in my hotel for a bit of writing and reflecting. I didn’t arrive until five or six hours ago, so this was not even a full day of events for me. Nonetheless, it was long enough to end with a few observations and reflections.
1. I honestly believe that ISTE would be rich with ideas and inspiration without a single keynote or well-known presenter.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a critique of the opening keynote from Ashley Judd. It is just that I noticed something about the Tweets during her talk and the comments afterward. They were consistently positive. I am certain that some didn’t agree with her comments about spirituality and taking time for a prayer. I have no doubt that others wondered how it fit in the broader conversation about educational technology. Yet, the vast majority of people seemed to leave that alone and instead focus upon what they liked about her talk. In fact, people would take an idea that she shared and then build on it, applying it to different contexts, building bridges to the world of educational technology. In general, people didn’t see a need to Tweet about areas of disagreement. They looked for the diamonds in her talk, polished them to their liking, and shared them with others.
2. This is a tremendously positive group!
While there are wonderful speakers at ISTE, I happen to think that the audience helps make the speakers great. This is the nature of this massive crowd and culture of 13,000+ people. My guess is that you could pick any person in the room, give them 45 minutes on the stage, and this group could use it as a platform to inspire, imagine, and explore the promise and possibility of teaching and learning in an increasingly digital age.
3. I am going to figure out how to network at ISTE!
I don’t know what to do with myself at ISTE. It is huge! I’m usually a social person, but the size is honestly a bit overwhelming for me. I’m an ENFP, but that “E” is on the borderline of “I”. While I don’t manage to network as effectively as I do at smaller conferences, the sheer positivity and creative brain-power of the group keeps me coming back. And it continues to amaze me at how easy it is to network and talk with people at ISTE. Consider the table that I stood at for food after the keynote. One of the people happened to attend the college where I work. And then she transferred to the University located in my home town…which is also where the other person at the table (no connection to either of us) attended. That six degrees of separation seems more like two or three degrees at ISTE. And when there isn’t a connection, it doesn’t really matter because those of us at ISTE will just create a meaningful connection around a shared passion or interest.
4. This group can turn walking out of a keynote event into an adventure.
You see, there were the main entrance and exit doors to the room for the keynote. Then there were five or six doors on the other side of the room that led outside…right into what seemed like a mile long loading dock. Several hundred, maybe over a thousand of us decided to exit that way, leading us into a 30 minute adventure with a simple single goal. Find a door that will get us back into the building. There were cheers and playful groans. There was a small number suspecting that the blind was leading the blind, and they went back. Others suspected as much but decided to stick around for the adventure of it all. There was a sizable group of us who wandered, explored, and finally found our way back in the building, potentially still a few minutes ahead of those who left through the proper doors. Dopamine, serotonin and even a fair share of oxytocin were in full supply for this group of misguided life hackers. Not to make too much out of this, but this also goes to show that this group can take something as simple as going out the wrong door and turn it into an adventure and community building exercise.
5. This places is massive neurochemistry experiment!
The embedded gamification in the event has dopamine releasing like crazy. The long walks keep the endorphins and serotonin coming…not to mention the impact of the upbeat music. The hugs, laughter, and networking keep the oxytocin in full supply. And yes, there is a bit of cortisol released for those of us who occasionally get stressed by the crowds and lines…or the anxiety leading up to giving a talk. Fortunately, those other positive chemicals seem to be in such full supply at ISTE that they seem to most often counter the effects of the cortisol.
6. It is all about the people.
Consider the stereotypes that some people have about those who like experimenting with educational technology. We are largely a proud crowd of geeks at ISTE, but I don’t think it is possible to go to this largest educational technology conference in the world and walk away with the impression that we believe technology is the solution to the greatest educational problems, or that we want to replace high-touch teaching and learning with isolated high-tech learning experiences. The people at ISTE, by their very nature, demolish such stereotypes about educational technology. This is a group that is deeply committed to the social and relational side of education. This is just a group that happens to believe that the whole thing is a false dichotomy. We are not arguing high-tech instead of high-touch. Collectively, the ISTE group seems to represent convictions that we can pursue both at the some time.