Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I'm Going to a Conference, I'd Better Make a Plan . . .

A picture of me during a recent conference.  I sent this pic to my friends in other rooms to show off the awesome leather chair I found to sit in.

Recently, myself and a few colleagues have become very interested in attending conferences. Before this year I don't think I had attended a conference since I was a student teacher (10 years ago?). Currently we are preparing to go to the OCCUE Techfest. As a group we have made it to at least two other conferences this year.

I am curious about how other people prepare to attend a conference. Here's what I do:

I begin as soon as the schedule of presenters is posted. I know, oftentimes there will be changes but I can't help it. I get excited about this stuff. I start by looking at all of the presentations during each session and circling (or copy/pasting to a doc) all of the presentations I'm interested in.

I take that list and google the crap out of the presenters. This might be creepy but I'm trying to learn more about the presenters.  I am mostly interested in what grade level they teach (hopefully high school) and what subject they teach (hopefully Social Studies). I'm also interested in finding out if they have a blog or they post on twitter.  I have found this is a good way to learn about their interests and expertise.  Sometimes you can even find resources from previous presentations (slideshare, prezi etc.).

After I've done this, I rank the presentations within each session by how much I want to see them.

Then I try to convince my friends to attend my second and third choices in each session.  You know,  a little divide and conquer.

Just kidding, I don't really do that. What I really do it sit down with my friends who are attending the conference and we talk about what we really want to see.  Sometimes more than one of us really wants to see the same thing and we'll all go.  Other times one of us doesn't feel strongly about a session and will go to someone else's second choice.  It really depends.  This is one of my favorite parts of the whole process, discussing which sessions we should attend.  It forces us to decide what will be most useful for ourselves, for our department, and for our school. Maybe there is something that looks cool but might not have a practical application in our school community. We are better off spending our limited resource (time) somewhere else.

Once we have determined our schedule we are ready to attend the conference.

Sometimes, there are challenges on the day of the conference.  I recently attended a conference that had tons of people.  Way more than the organizers were expecting.  The problem was that many presentations filled up. When this happens I have two different strategies.  One is to attend the presentation that is in the room immediately before the presentation that will fill up. If I want to see the presentation in room 123 during session 2 but I'm afraid it will fill up, I will attend whatever presentation is in room 123 during session 1.

The other strategy is to skip a session and wait in line outside of the room you want to be in.  I skip the presentations during session 1 so I can wait outside room 123 for the session 2 presentation.

Here's a picture of two of my friends during a presentation. They were only moderately interested in this presentation and wanted to make sure they had a seat for the next presentation in this room. I took this creepy picture because I was in line outside waiting to get into the room next door.

I have done both of these. Be careful about using the first strategy though.  Sometimes organizers will try to kick everyone out of the room after each session.  If that happens, then you sat through a presentation you weren't really interested in for nothing.

After the day is over, how do we share all that we've learned with our colleagues? We create a Google Doc (see sample from a conference earlier this year). This allows us to give thoughts and feedback on presentations we saw that day and to include links to the presenters' resources.

If the conference was good, our final step is to look at the calendar and figure our which conference we will attend next.

Any tips you'd like to share?

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