You know who you are. You seek knowledge from others. You seek inspiration. You want your mind blown. You want to connect and network with others in your field. You love giveaways—swag, trinkets, food, drinks—it doesn’t matter. If it’s free, you want it. You are the Edtech Conference Attendee. This letter is intended for both you and me. You see, I too am an Edtech Conference Attendee. Conference season is in full swing, in all its acronymous wonder. FETC, TCEA, ICE, SXSW EDU, CoSN, etc. What do all of these letters spell? For some, they spell M-O-N-E-Y. For others, they spell L-E-A-R-N-I-N-G. The large edtech conferences represent this strange intersection of making a buck and sharing a thought.

In the nearly 20 years I’ve been in education and attending these events I’ve learned how to navigate the ins and outs of most of the large state events (for the purposes of this letter, let’s define “large” as greater than 2,000 attendees). Before the event even begins, it’s wise to schedule those key sessions or speakers that you want to see. Going in without a plan is akin to walking into a circus tent and attempting to tame a lion. You will get eaten alive.

Besides all the great sessions you’ll need to plan, you’ll also need to navigate the pre-con spam from vendors urging you to “Come visit booth #1348 and win a free Nook!” When I was a teacher I didn’t get a lot of these, but as an administrator I find it amazing that I get these invitations for events I am not even attending.

Case in point—I didn’t attend (physically) FETC or CoSN this year. However, it’s hard to tell judging by my inbox. I’ve never actually attended FETC, so I’m not sure how I keep getting emails that say, “While you’re at FETC, stop by our booth to enter for a chance at a $3 Amazon gift card!” But I digress . . . back to the letter. You’ve sorted out a loose schedule for the first couple of days of the event (be sure to leave yourself some wiggle room to connect and network too).

Now it’s time to plan your travel. Besides comfortable shoes (if you can’t bring a Segway), you’ll want to make sure you pack some sort of activity tracker so you can tweet out the number of steps you take every day. You’ll want to pack several battery chargers that you’ll forget to charge ahead of me time. And you’ll want to save some room in your bag for all the styluses, pamphlets, and Amazon Echoes you’ll be taking home with you. “Alexa, remind me to drink lots of water, I’m going to need it.” Be sure to notify your first of kin, administrators, and colleagues that someone hasn’t hijacked your Twitter account.

You’ll be tweeting like mad over the next few days—in the hopes of both sharing good information and maybe getting one of your graphic quotes ranked as the top retweet. This year, I attended FETC virtually by stalking the conference hashtag. I even went the extra length and Photoshopped myself into some of the photos of my friends just to make people think I was there. One major takeaway—having Sir Ken Robinson as a keynote is always a good move. His message inspires many to think creatively about our schools, and his demeanor and approach are always well received.

The vendor hall at FETC mirrored the one at TCEA in that it was a labyrinth of booths set up in numbered rows. While they’re there to promote their products, many vendors now enlist educators to showcase and teach best-use practices. I often like to attend the booths of vendors we currently work with to pick up on nuggets and examples of use in the classroom. Vendors are also getting more and more clever about drawing people into their booths. TabPilot, for instance, had some old-school skee-ball machines set up for door prizes. Bulb had designed an interactive art gallery of sorts with beautiful embedded flatpanel TVs framed as if works of art. SXSW EDU featured a different type of vendor hall.

There seemed to be a lot more students and much more of a “playground” feel to the space, which I haven’t seen a traditional conference try before. As this letter is also meant to be an update of sorts, here are a few of the trends that seem to be surfacing from these events and the Tech & Learning Leadership Summit I attended in March:

Carl Hooker "attends" FETC by inserting himself via Photoshop in photos from his colleagues.