DAILY INSIGHT: What iPadpalooza 2014 meant to me #iplza14

By Carl Hooker, CIO Advisor

Planning a wedding is tough. As a (somewhat) retired wedding DJ, I have seen all the good and the bad of a wedding. From a bride's father refusing to walk his daughter down the aisle to a drunken uncle "mic-bombing" the reception, it's a celebration of life while coupled with an undercurrent of stress.

Now take that and multiple it by 37, lose your voice, and you have my experience at this year's iPadpalooza. It was all the fun mixed with all the stress. Only instead of obstinate fathers we had some amazingly inventive teams of teachers in our first-ever APPmazing race. We had our own drunken mic-bombing uncle close out the show (only without the drunk part) in the ever-entertaining and inspiring Kevin Honeycutt. All of this and my voice never fully made its way back from a weekend cold which made things madly frustrating at times for me.

This was our third year of the 'palooz and we tried to continue to make it not only a happening event but also one where learning was fun and at the center of everything. Last year's keynote of Sir Ken Robinson was very much the highlight of the 2013 event. While it's great to have one-of-a-kind keynote speakers, making this event different than others is the experience around it. From the food trucks to the live music to the wide variety of speakers from all over the world (including our new friends Janelle and Terry from Australia!), making the experience innovative is always the toughest challenge to event organizers.

My attempt at a "Vendor Rap" without a voice

Like any other innovation or invention, we got some parts right and we failed on some others. Regardless, the feedback from attendees has been OVERWHELMINGLY positive with more than 98% saying they would return next year, which speaks volumes to the success of this year's event. Here are some highlights from both my perspective and from those of that sent in feedback.

New additions this year:

APP-mazing Race -

Whenever I attend an event or conference, there are times where I feel like I could and should be a little more active in my learning. The APPmazing Race was born out of the idea that we have a lot of "minutia" that we could be utilizing. (Such a great idea I hear Pearson used it at ISTE a week later.) I also feel like at times we don't make a point of getting to know others and instead just talk to those in our inner circle or Twitter PLN. The APPMazing Race was a chance for 3- to 4-person teams to complete a series of challenges in a 36-hour period starting at midnight on the first night. While we may have shot a little far on our series of app-based challenges, we did have 18 teams complete the race—far exceeding our initial expectations. In the end it was a couple of Minnesotans joining forces with two Aussies to create the winning team, "FargoFromDownUnder Appletes," each of whom went home with an HD iPad Mini and a great story to share. Blog coming soon with more details on how we did this.

Youth Film Festival -

Without a doubt, the youth film festival film screening at Alamo Drafthouse on the second night of iPadpalooza was my personal favorite moment from the event, and not just because I was able to take my wife and oldest daughter along with me. Keeping with last year's theme of creativity, we decided to join forces with Pflugerville ISD film guru Humberto Perez to create our first-ever youth film festival. Much like the APPmazing race, the film festival wasn't without its set of challenges, but in the end, we got to witness first-hand the joy of film-making from the minds of children of all ages. The teams had only a few rules: create a 2- to 4-minute film using only an iOS device, make it have something to do with this year's theme of "up," and put a balloon in it as a prop. The final results were magical and the winning team, "Up, Up, and Away," was also the team that traveled the farthest (coming to us all the way from Illinois). We can't wait until next year's event where we're sure we'll see the bar raised even higher after this year.

On stage with the real stars of the show from the Youth Film Festival (credit: Richard Johnson)

iLead Academy -

Leadership in any type of mobile-device initiative is vital to its success. While iPadpalooza offers many learning opportunities for leaders, it's still teacher-focused at its heart. We created the iLead Academy as an opportunity to get like-minded leaders who hope to make change happen on their campuses in the same room. We mixed in a variety of world-renown speakers, expert panels, and activities focused around the 4Cs. Having an opportunity the hear from so many inspiring leaders, much like the kids from the film festival, really reminded me of what this is all about.

Expert Lounge & Human Library -

With all of these great speakers and variety of expertise in one place, it would be a shame not to at least have 5-10 minutes with them in 1:1 conversation. For those buffer times in the schedule, we created a "human library" where you could check out an expert in a field and sit down and have a conversation to help with your growth and learning. We hope to expand and advertise this much more next year as feedback from those that attended these times was extremely positive.

One of the goals of iPadpalooza is to really focus attention on the attendees and make their experience an enjoyable one so that learning can happen more freely. Sometimes we get it right. Sometimes we get it wrong. Here are a couple of areas we'll focus on improving next year:

Schedule -

I tried a "staggered" schedule much like that of a movie theater, instead of the standard 60-minute session/15-minute break approach. The idea was to leave some wider gaps in between sessions and to cut back on traffic flow. Based on attendee feedback, this was either loved or hated. Add to that the limitations of our Sched app and there were times people got up and walked out of a session because they didn't know another was starting a few minutes later. We also tried an evening keynote on the night before the event with the thinking that many people would be in town anyway for the next day. Sadly, many people missed this because they didn't schedule to come in until the first full day. Next year, we'll look at keeping some of those wide gaps but possibly syncing up more of the session starting times, and we'll move the keynotes back to the daytime and improve (or likely change) the scheduling app.

Music -

With a couple of last-minute cancellations, our music this year was a mix of good and bad. At one point I even came out of retirement to spin the 1's and 2's as a morning DJ. While we had an eclectic mix of music, next year we'll look to keep that flavor but possibly have it either in a different area or turn the sound down on the amps so people can enjoy conversation and music at the same time.

Food Trucks -

Having an event with "personalized eating" when it comes to food trailers is still very much part of the fun experience of this learning festival and very much an attendee favorite.

Session diversity -

This year we had sessions from "I fear I'm becoming a Tree-hugging Hippie" to "Guilty Pleasures...Apps You Just Can't Delete." There were presenters from all over the U.S. and beyond bringing their own unique perspectives to learning with mobile devices. We had a little something for every attendee out there and can bet that we'll increase on that diversity next year. We'll be adding both a "Poster-Session" option for presenters and possibly a 15-minute "TED-style" option for talks in short bursts in a certain area of the event.

Keynotes -

Sugata Mitra and Kevin Honeycutt provided the perfect bookend speakers for this year's event. Both spoke about the ideas behind global outreach and also brought us back to core of why we are here ... kids. Like Sir Ken last year, they'll be tough acts to follow, but we already have some interesting leads in the works!

Sneak Peak toward 2015
While I won't spill all the goods on next year's event, I've already alluded to the fact we'll see some different types of session offerings, a change in our keynote structure, and improvements on the APPmazing Race and Youth Film Festival. We'll also likely keep our old faves of live music and food trucks in place. I know that not every innovative and "weird" idea will work next year. Like a wedding, there will be all sorts of magical moments happening throughout the event (only hopefully without the tears). What I can guarantee people walking "down the aisle" of iPadpalooza will experience something they can't get anywhere else...and learn a thing or two along the way.

Come to Austin on June 23-25, 2015 and say "I do."

Here's a word cloud of all the one-word answers attendees used to describe this year's event:

Carl Hooker is director of innovation & digital learning at Eanes ISD in Texas and blogs at Hooked on Innovation, where this is cross posted.