Top 5 Takeaways from ISTE 2018

Top 5 Takeaways from ISTE 2018

Much like when I train for a half marathon, I train for conferences. I have a specific goal in mind, determine my pacing schedule, get plenty of rest, and drink lots of fluids. ISTE 2018 in Chicago was my latest “half marathon.” As a director of academic technology, I decided to focus on five areas at ISTE this year.


Once again, the software giants impressed me with their free educator certification programs. They recognize that it’s important to engage and excite educators. Google for Education, Microsoft EDU, BrainPOP, and Apple all offered multi-level certification options on the Saturday and Sunday preceding ISTE 2018. Educators and future educator trainers filled packed session rooms, eager to earn the prestigious certifications and walk the expo floor wearing their “I Am Certified” T-shirts.


The new ISTE Education Leader Standards are here! These revised standards were the backdrop for multiple forums and panel discussions among district education leaders. I had the opportunity to attend the first ISTE three-day Leadership Exchange at the conference this year. The focus was on leading tech transformation in school districts. Other opportunities included the CTO Bootcamp 2.0, the CoSN CTO Forum, and the APLN breakfast forum, where forward-thinking superintendents and other educational leaders showcased their challenges and successes as they continue to drive change in their districts.


Conference attendees who step onto the expo hall floor are instantly sucked into an Oklahoma-style tornado—as visions of new products, opportunities for learning, and swag swirl around them. The Edtech Startup Pavilion, sponsored by the AT&T Foundation, was the calm eye of the ISTE tornado. It provided opportunities to have real, one-on-one, conversations with small start-up companies eager to make a difference in education. Technology directors were overheard saying that the pavilion was one of the best parts of the ISTE conference, and that these entrepreneurs and their products are a window into the next “big things” in edtech. Some of those I recommend checking out include LiftEd, a special education electronic medical record app, and Cirkled In, a free digital portfolio program for students.


The ISTE 2018 mobile app’s new networking feature connected attendees with each other by a simple QR scan of conference badges. This feature allows people to save someone’s name, district, and email address to their phone’s contact list. Other networking features in the ISTE 2018 app included an attendee list and social media connections.


For me it’s important to have time to reflect or just take a minute to regenerate during a conference of this size. I interviewed attendees who said the long lines outside of sessions and in the food court didn’t give them time to take a breath, to reflect on what they had just learned, or to meet up with colleagues. I found it challenging not to be able to find a place to sit down to write an article or collect my thoughts for my upcoming presentations. We have learning spaces in our school buildings for students, so shouldn’t we provide them at conferences for educators?

ISTE is one of the best edtech conferences around, and if you left Chicago with at least two positive experiences then I highly suggest you book your flight now for ISTE 2019 in Philadelphia . . . because I am!

Eileen Belastock (@EileenBelastock) is the director of academic technology for Mount Greylock RSD in Williamstown, MA.