It’s hard to believe that the ISTE 2022 conference has already come and gone. For many attendees, this was the first in-person conference attendance since before March of 2020. The excitement surrounding it has been building for three years as we’ve had to shift to virtual events. The last in-person ISTE was in Philadelphia in June 2019. For the past two years, ISTE was held virtually, which enabled educators from around the world to connect and learn together, just as we have done in-person, but without the added power of connecting in the same physical space. Fortunately, with technology, many more educators were able to participate in prior years, as well as this year. 

This event took place in New Orleans from June 26th to 29th. There were 16,581 total attendees, of which 14,282 were there in person. A total of 88 countries were represented with attendees from 65 countries being in NOLA for the conference. The conference kicked off on Sunday afternoon with an opening on the main stage with ISTE CEO Richard Culotta, who was joined by Zach King, Brandon “BMIKE” Odums and Avis Williams. A key message was a reminder to “Bring back the joy.” The main stage events were always full of music, energy and inspiring discussions. Sunday’s opening finished with a wedding between two of my friends, David Lockett and Tara Linney, a first in the ISTE conference experience. 

There were so many highlights of this year’s conference, the biggest being that we were able to re-connect in person with friends and feel that ISTE vibe and the power of being connected. Excited educators everywhere saw each other for the first time in years and in many cases, met for the first time after having formed friendships through Twitter and other learning spaces virtually. Here are some of the highlights from this year’s ISTE experience.

Heading into registration after an amazing Sunday morning breakfast with friends from around the world!

1. The People

What I believe to be most important when it comes to events like this is to focus on the connections we made and the new connections we can make. After several years of not seeing some friends, it was great to reconnect in this space and have time to catch up, even if that meant a brief couple of minutes for a quick hello conversation and then moving on to the next thing. One of the most common questions was “Is it okay if I hug you?” No matter where you went at the conference, you always passed friends, met someone finally in person for the first time, and could see smiles and hear the excitement everywhere you went. For me, getting to meet Shawnee Caruthers from the Getting Smart team was definitely a highlight! 

2. Featured Voices

I was honored to be selected as one of the Featured Voices for the conference this year. The speakers included classroom teachers, professors, superintendents, tech coaches, consultants, a filmmaker, a New Orleans jazz trumpeter, and several students. The purpose was to highlight the work being done by educators, entrepreneurs and others from careers other than education. ISTE highlighted the sessions presented by the Featured Voices and also held some special meet and greet events and discussions.

A session with Zach King. Dr. Desiree Alexander (left) and Tim Needles (right) joined in. Photo courtesy of Steve Dembo.

3. The Learning

For anyone who attended the conference for the first time, or who had not attended conferences for quite some time, it could amount to an overwhelming experience. There were choices to be made and lots of opportunities to engage in professional learning. The conference program not only provided so many choices for in-person attendees, but virtual attendees were able to take advantage of many of the sessions due to the recording or joining in while the session was being presented live.

Recommendations and sample schedules

Some of the best parts are that ISTE provides a variety of formats and of course this year, had many sessions available in their virtual platform. There were 37 topics offered in a variety of formats including Mainstage sessions, EdTalks, interactive sessions, creation labs, posters and playground sessions, panel discussions, and research paper reviews. Topics such as Equity, Esports, Emerging Technologies, SEL, STEM and Virtual Reality were quite popular. ISTE created 15 sample schedules to make it easier for attendees to find sessions that met their interests.  

ISTE 2022 provided many opportunities for edleaders to create new pathways for learners. For example, there were sessions on new learning models such as project-based learning and makerspaces. Many learning opportunities were in alignment with the pillar of Support and Guidance through sessions focused on SEL and equity. With topics such as Esports, Emerging Technologies, STEM and Virtual Reality, the pillars of Unbundled Learning (learning can happen anywhere) and Accelerated Pathways (preparing for the future of work and learning) were highlighted.  

image courtesy of Jami Shields, @missjshields1

Another powerful learning opportunity came from the ISTE Daily Livestream provided through a partnership with Adobe, ISTE and NewEdTechClassroom with Holly Clark and Sam Kary leading the discussions. Three days of interviews with many different educators and topics. I enjoyed being a guest and talking about virtual reality and of course, catching all of the episodes to learn from the other guests. You can catch all of the recordings on the NewEdTechClasroom YouTube Channel.

Holly Clark, Sam Kary and guest Ken Shelton during the ISTE Livestream.
I enjoyed talking about VR and the future of emerging technologies in education with Sam. 
Capturing the ideas and inspiration from the conference.

4. The Events

This conference has many opportunities to engage such as sessions, the expo hall or off-site activities. The toughest part is figuring out where to go with the time we have. For this year, ISTE offered a photo walk through the streets in New Orleans, there was a Future Ready Library Media Specialist Summit, a pre-conference LACUE session with Weston Kieschnick, and visits to the World War II museum and the New Orleans Museum of Art. 

Microsoft and Wakelet held learning events for educators on Sunday afternoon and a personal highlight of the day was an amazing breakfast gathering hosted by Barbara Bray and Dr. Ilene Winokur. Many educators joined this breakfast which was definitely the place to be to kick off the ISTE experience!

I always enjoy attending Flipfest each summer because you can always expect some big announcements from Flipgrid, now simply known as “Flip.” More than 1,000 people joined in this celebration. With Flip, there are many new functionalities including a camera with an ASL Lens that will teach the basics of American Sign Language (ASL) by tracking hand movements as you learn each letter of the alphabet. 

EdTechKaraoke is another big event that I look forward to each year. Whether you are joining as a singer or there to cheer on your friends, it is another opportunity to connect, recharge and enjoy the power of being a connected educator. 

EdTech Karoake, Photo courtesy of Chase Chatfield

5. Connecting Educators

ISTE knocked it out of the park by creating a virtual space for anyone to join in and either experience the session live or watch the recording where available. The platform design personalized attendees’ experiences because it would recommend sessions and connections based on interests indicated in the attendee’s profile.

It’s great that ISTE provided a platform so that more people were able to participate even if they weren’t there in person. So many different types of sessions were offered that focused on important topics such as equity, SEL and emerging technologies just to name a few.

Sessions are archived and are available for 6 months. Being in person is powerful, but when presented with so many choices, trying to fit them in into those four quick days, is impossible. Knowing that I can go back and check out some of the recordings really makes a difference when it comes to professional learning.

6. The Expo 

The Expo Hall is a must, not just to learn about the new technologies or new features to tools that you are using, but a place to run into your connections and make new ones. I was fortunate to do some book signings and presentations at a few of the booths. It was in these spaces that I was able to reconnect with friends who I had not seen in several years. Of course, a big draw is the swag. Attendees can always walk away with tons of items like bags, chargers, water bottles, T-shirts, hand sanitizer, notebooks and so much more. But I find the real value of the Expo Hall in the learning and reconnecting that happens.

I enjoyed doing some demos at the Capstone booth and signing some of my books!

Another awesome thing about the Expo Hall was that I actually got to drive one of the coolest robots, the Unitree!  It was amazing to see what this technology can do. A lot of innovative ideas for educators wanting to connect with students, foster the development of SEL and learn how to bring emerging technologies into the classroom.

7. ISTE Immersive VR Experience

Learning about emerging technologies like augmented and virtual reality was a big part of the conference this year. There were two playgrounds held. On Sunday afternoon, six stations and two mainstage areas had presenters covering topics such as AR/VR, the metaverse and NFTs, and artificial intelligence in education. I spoke about artificial intelligence and enjoy the opportunity to connect with other educators about how we can bring topics like AI and other emerging technologies into our classrooms for students even at early ages. Some of the favorite resources for AI were AIClub and the ISTE U Course on AI. On Wednesday, there was a 4-hour VR experience with Oculus headsets ready to immerse attendees into a variety of experiences to learn more about virtual reality. For some, this was the first opportunity to try an Oculus headset and experience the potential with using VR. There was always a line to get started and each person and I spoke to said they were amazed at the possibilities for using Oculus in the classrooms.

ISTE VR Playground on Wednesday, Photo Courtesy of Rosemary Jane

All the things 

I definitely packed my schedule between coffee meetups, sessions, booth presentations and social events. But I can tell you whenever trying to plan an ISTE schedule, don’t stress about it too much because when you’re on your way from point A to point B, there’s a really good chance you will be late, if you make it at all. Either you’re going to run into somebody you haven’t seen in years, or somebody recognizes you because you connected on Twitter, so you need to be flexible. 

No matter what you do you will always miss out on something. But the best conversations and time for connections happen when you are open to being flexible. You will definitely appreciate all that those opportunities offer. And even when the conference ends, you will still have opportunities to learn and connect. Meeting up with friends at the airport to share a meal before heading out or finding out that half of the people on your plane were just at ISTE and you make new connections. Learning is everywhere.

Hanging at the airport: Francisco Flores, Jaime Donally, Rachelle and Ken Shelton

Before leaving NOLA, I had a chance to catch up with a lot of friends. We shared takeaways and there is so much to say about ISTE, you have to experience it for yourself.  If you have never been to an ISTE conference, then mark it on your calendar for Philadelphia next year, June 25 – 28, 2023.  See you in Philly!

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