Yesterday someone asked how many ISTE Conferences (rebranded from NECC when we hosted in DC a couple of years ago) I’ve attended and, after checking the history, I realized that this is my 10th (starting in 1999). It also struck me that, although the technologies we’re discussing and using have changed a great deal*, the basic format of ISTE/NECC hasn’t.

Especially unchanging is the vendor floor where I spent some obligatory time yesterday. The expansive hall is prominent, huge, crowded, and noisy, and I can see how many attendees, especially first timers, might get the impression that this is the main focus and heart of the conference.

Well, it could be if you let it. One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that this experience is what you want it to be. If you attend a lot of bad sessions, you probably didn’t have a clear idea of what you wanted to learn. Or you didn’t do enough research into the speakers and topics.

If you spend large chunks of time in the “exposition” or in vendor-sponsored sessions, then you come away with the impression that instructional technology is all about buying IWBs, new gadgets, and instant “solutions” to every problem in your professional life.

There are plenty of other opportunities at ISTE but finding them requires planning. And spending minimal time at the shopping mall.

*The iPad on which I’m writing this is an amazing conference tool compared to the iBook I lugged around my first ISTE.