In 2008 I attended my first ISTE (NECC) Conference, in San Antonio. Even from that first experience, I saw that “the entree”, my most valuable takeaway of the conference came in the form of conversations. Presentations, workshops, and sessions were important, but it was the conversations and the connections that occurred between sessions that helped me grow the most and kept me coming back for the next 4 years.
This year I missed ISTE. Correction…this year I REALLY missed ISTE. As I slumped on my couch at home, reading all the tweets, posts, and direct messages of colleagues and friends announcing their arrival in San Antonio I couldn’t help but feel envious. Envious of all the face to face meetups, jealous all the sharing and learning that would not include me. But I was not alone. There were others on twitter who, like me, also felt like the kid who couldn’t go to the prom. We all had our reasons, but bottom line – ISTE was happening without us.
Then something truly magical happened. Our collective online “pity party” took a turn that I could not have predicted. A community was born. I noticed all the amazing educators posting #NotAtISTE hashtags on Twitter and started up some conversations. One particular conversation with Victoria Olson (@MsVictoriaOlson on Twitter) led me to create a Google+ Community where all those of us who could not go to ISTE would be able to share links, resources, and ideas. We may not be able to meet face to face and have conversations like those in the Bloggers Cafe, but we could use Google Hangouts to create a virtual Blogger’s Cafe. I threw it out there on Twitter.
Would anyone show up? The next day our community had over 40 members and by the end of ISTE we had grown to 129.
We commiserated with each other and tried to cheer each other up by posting all the fun things we could do because we were #NotAtISTE.
We also shared resources and had some fun and thoughtful “face to face” conversations in Google Hangouts. We discussed how to truly integrate technology for student learning, how to encourage teachers to move beyond mere technology substitution and grow to augmentation, modification, and eventually to redefinition (the SAMR Model), and so much more. Thanks to Josh Gauthier (@mrgfactoftheday) for taking the initiative and jumping in to host some live hangouts. The growth and sharing was truly organic.
As a result of this group I also had a chance to really dig in and learn about Google Plus and how truly powerful it can be to connect people with other people. I don’t know if we would have had the technology even just two years ago to pull this off. The sense of community from this group went beyond just education chat, we were building relationships here. We’re even planning to have a real #NotAtISTE13 meetup at ISTE 2014 in Atlanta. As much fun as it was to be #NotAtISTE, I hope I get to go next year. I can’t wait to meet my new friends face to face.