EdTech Corporate Conferences

Chris on Leadership

Reminders this week that ISTE is not the only – or even the largest – over-stuffed, vendor-centric, edtech conference in the world.

Over in London, the BETT UK Show (formerly the British Educational Training and Technology Show) is wrapping up their four-day run. In the past they’ve attracted more than 30,000 attendees but it’s hard to tell what’s happening this year since very few of my European contacts are still posting on social media.

And then there is FETC, which covers the same timeframe as BETT in Orlando, Florida. Once upon a time, this was the Florida Educational Technology Conference. Until the event was bought by a marketing company and turned into even more of a trade show.

They usually convince around 20,000 people to come, which is greatly helped by being in Orlando in January. But even with that many attendees (all carrying plenty of connective tech), it’s hard to tell what’s going on at either show.

Almost all of what I have seen from both events has nothing to do with the actual sessions. There’s a whole mess of selfies and TikToks from the vendor floor (especially by the vendors themselves), clips from presenters pumping up their own sessions, and lots of food shots for some reason. But not much about the content.

None of that is bad, of course. I certainly don’t fault anyone for going to a conference and having a good time.

I’m just returning to a question I’ve asked many times in this space over the years: are these big education conferences really worth the huge amounts of time and money spent on them? Do they produce value for the teachers, administrators, and others who attend? And, more importantly, does attending contribute to improved student learning?

All important questions that anyone paying the increasing high registration and housing costs should be asking. Especially since the companies behind BETT, FETC, and ISTE seem far more focused on keeping the vendors happy than they are in serving the educators who attend.

Long ago Gary Stager compared ISTE to a boat show, noting how “commercial interests were being given priority over powerful ideas or professional dialogue” at these meetings. That was in 2007 and that assessment only became increasing true in the years since.

Not that I would mind visiting London for BETT sometime, even in January. Denver in June for ISTE will be nice. Florida, on the other hand, is not high on my travel list any time of the year. (Other than occasionally visiting my brother and his family in Jacksonville.)

I can’t see much value in making any of these trips, other than the chance to see and photograph the cities in which they’re held. And that could be doing for far less when not tied to a convention.

One very memorable, and personally important, part of an ISTE trip was not on the actual conference schedule. The photo is from a self-organized meeting in the Atlanta convention center called EduBloggerCon. That session birthed the long-running EduCon conference, much smaller and far more educator-focused than ISTE and the others. That event is continuing in Philly next week and I will very much miss being there.

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