Saturday, July 18, 2015

Clicking with Cliques at Conferences #Flipcon15 #ISTE2015 #ECET2

We've been having a discussion in the newly formed #Flipcon15 Continued Voxer group about how to get new attendees more comfortable and connected at the conference. Check out Jason Bretzmann's blog post and Christina Roy's post on this subject too.  Attending large conferences is an overwhelming experience:  so many sessions, so many people, so many places!  I would not recommend STARTING to form a Professional Learning Network when attending a conference for the first time.  In order to have a connected experience at a conference, the connections need to be made before I ever set foot on site.

I did not learn about ISTE, ECET2, or Flipcon from an advertisement online or in a mailer. I am not motivated to attend the conferences because of the glossy pictures or catchy graphics.  I am motivated to attend conferences because of the PEOPLE.

Having an insatiable hunger to learn, I first dove into the professional education pool through Twitter.  The very first conference I "attended" (ok, lurked via Twitter) was the 2012 State of Now #140 conference in New York City. Happening upon the link to the live stream of Chris Lehmann's keynote, I was captivated. I was even more enthralled as I realized folks were talking about the conference through Twitter.  It was here the I first connected with Cheryl Morris and Andrew Thomasson who were also lurking online. Discovering we have similar educational mindsets, they connected me to the #flipclass chat.  Having found the #flipclass chat, I discovered #Flipcon and attended virtually in 2013 which then led to attending in person at #Flipcon14 and #Flipcon15.  The #flipclass chat also connected me and many others to Jason Bretzmann who crowdsourced us as contributing authors for the book Flipping 2.0.  Say what?! Yup, thanks to a Twitter chat, I'm a published author.

When I attended #Flipcon14, I had a list of people I "knew" through Twitter and #flipclass who I couldn't wait to meet in person.  The experience is akin to online dating:  connect online, then meet in person.  At #Flipcon14, there was no awkwardness or trepidation because, unlike folks who may misrepresent themselves on online dating sites, who we are online is who we are in person.  There was and still is no need to misrepresent ourselves online. Meeting Shai, Carla, and Lindsay for the first time face to face at #Flipcon15 was not an awkward experience because we already connected throughout the year via the #flipclass chat.

As Crystal Kirch and others stated, attending #Flipcon is like attending a family reunion. And while I want to form new connections with new attendees I have never connected with before, I am just so thrilled to see face to face the online folks who I've already "met" and who "get me" and understand me.

Keep in mind, my connections have grown with conference I attend. So in my first iteration of attending #Flipcon13 virtually, I really only knew Cheryl and Andrew, but at #Flipcon14 I connected with more people, and at #Flipcon15, I connected with even more people as evident by all the selfies I took (see all the pictures here).  My connections have grown exponentially each year. Also, the connections I've made have encouraged me to not only attend conferences but also to present at them. I'm no longer a passive attendee, but an active participant. My confidence and comfort level has increased the more I've interacted.

I've also learned not take for granted the connections at home.  In 2012, I happened upon a tweet sent by Kyle Calderwood who was calling for proposals for #TeachMeetNJ.  So ecstatic that there was a local conference, I signed up to present and started talking to him via Twitter. 
When I read the above tweet, I thought, "Oh! She must be reading my blog!" How else would this wife of a guy from Twitter know that I do "amazing stuff" with my students?!  Well, I started poking around through Twitter profiles and realized, (insert Homer Simpson "duh-oh!"), that Kyle's wife TEACHES IN MY DISTRICT.  Talk about slap to the forehead and lesson in humility.

Long story short, Liz and I threw together a session at the 2012 TeachMeetNJ on Edmodo and it went so well that we continued to present together at local edcamps and decided to submit a proposal to present at Edmodocon in the summer of 2013. Presenting at Edmodocon 2013 connected us to Edmodo staff who then encouraged us to submit our session, "Classroom Gymnastics: Using Edmodo to Flip and Blend your Class," to present at ISTE 2014 in Atlanta.

Presenting at ISTE 2014 was not an overwhelming experience because I had Liz and Kyle showing me the ropes of attending a big conference.  We carved out our niches in the vast ISTE landscape as the folks we knew from Twitter met up in Blogger's Cafe and the New Attendee Lounge areas.  If it weren't for my conference buddy, Liz Calderwood, and the #eduawesome folks of Twitter, ISTE 2014 would not have been such an amazing experience that influenced me to present at ISTE 2015.

It is also through Twitter that I connected with the indomitable Barry Saide who, long story short, crowdsourced a bunch of New Jersey educators to create the NJPAECET2 convening in September 2014 and later invited us to the national ECET2 convening in New Orleans in October 2014. It was Barry's ability to see our strengths and talents and bring together the group to connect us to the greater ECET2 network.  We are in the final stages of planning the 2015 NJPAECET2 convening to get other local educators connected.  Because Barry paid it forward to me to attend ECET2 in 2014, I paid it forward to my colleague Kim who I knew needed to be elevated and celebrated and nominated her to attend the 2015 ECET2 convening in Seattle.  Whereas I knew people prior to attending, Kim did not and was new to Twitter. So while she was in Seattle and I was on the road at #Flipcon15, I texted and tweeted her with missions to go find specific Twitter people who I knew were also at ECET2.

The point I'm trying to make is that I primarily use conferences to solidify and strengthen relationships. I do connect with new folks, but most of those new connections are because the new person is connected to someone I already know from Twitter.  So my advice, get connected before ever setting foot on site at a conference.

To recap how I make large conferences feel small:

  1. Get on Twitter and find folks who help you grow as an educator. Through them you will make new connections.
  2. Find a conference buddy who has attended the event previously and either travel together or plan to meet up.
  3. Follow the conference hashtag, follow folks who are tweeting, start an online conversation, then find out where folks are meeting up face to face. If your Twitter handle is written on your badge, folks will realize who you are from Twitter and you won't need to break the ice face to face ("Oh, YOU'RE  @____, I follow you!"). 
  4. Keep tweeting and keep attending conferences to expand your circles of friends.
  5. Find ways to pay it forward and bring new folks into the fold.

And as a final note, if you are wondering how to take the first step, click on all the hyperlinks to people's Twitter profiles in this post to expand your PLN and consider the words of Saint Augustine below...

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