This weekend, I’m headed to the Baltimore Tech for Schools Summit hosted by EdSurge for the second year in a row. If you’ve never been to EdSurge, it’s the biggest EdTech conference of the year for Maryland and features thirty-four EdTech companies, a keynote address from Richard Culatta (Director of the Office of Educational Technology for the U.S. Department of Education), and a chance to collaborate with other teachers from many districts around the state. Such an undertaking could be daunting to a first-timer. I certainly don’t consider myself an expert in how to navigate, but I’ve taken many tips from good friends of mine who are much savvier when it comes to getting the most out of your experience. Something that I wish I had when I headed to EdSurge the first time was a user guide, so without further ado, I present to you: A User Guide to EdSurge (and other EdTech Summits).
The Summit is actually broken into two days this year—one for school administrators and one for educators. Since I’m not an administrator (not yet, anyway!) I’m just going to focus on the All Educator Day.
Let’s cut right to the chase. It’s free! Did I mention that it’s free? If you’re an educator, attending an EdSurge Summit costs you nothing. You can experience everything EdTech in Baltimore for the same cost of breathing air.
- 8am – Registration
- 9am – Keynote, Introductions
- 9:45am – Exploration of EdTech tools
- 12:15pm – Lunch
- 1:15pm – More exploration
- 3pm – Raffle (for amazing prizes, no less)
Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, I want to give you more detail about the things that matter most. Here is my list of advice for how to win the day!
EdSurge User's Guide: 6 Steps for Getting the Most out of the Tech for Schools Summit
1. Go in with a plan
It’s important to do some research before you go to EdSurge, particularly on the companies that are going to be there pitching their products. Of course, it can be a fun experience if you go in not knowing or expecting anything, but it becomes more difficult to process all of the information and figure out how best to use it if you aren’t already thinking about it before you get there. Research the companies that are going to be presenting so that you can begin to think about how you might be able to use them in your classroom. Even better, when you are exploring their tools in more detail, you’ll be more prepared with questions that are specific rather than general. This doesn’t have to be about utilitarianism: this should be about you and your students.
2. Don't try to see everything
While in theory it seems like no problem to visit every single booth, in reality this is like going to the Disneyworld of EdTech. There is a lot going on during the day, and if you try and see everything, you might miss out on the things that would be most useful to you and your students. Remember, there are going to be 34 companies there pitching their ideas. It’s not necessary to check them all out because they may not be for your subject or your grade level. See Rule 1 to remind yourself why you are here!
3. Listen to the presentations of companies you are interested in
There are two parts to EdSurge: one is the tradeshow aspect, which I’ve been covering above, and the second is the elevator pitches that the companies make. This is a great chance to get an overview of each of the companies. They generally have about 2 minutes to give you the nuts and bolts of their product (a la Shark Tank) so that you’re more informed when you head in to talk to them later on in the day.
4. A crowd could be a good thing or a bad thing
If you notice a lot of people standing around a table, that might be great because the product is being demonstrated. It’s also good because it may allow you to talk to other educators who are thinking about using the same product, and you can get a sense of how they may implement these products in their classroom. On the flip side, sometimes a crowd could be the result of a lot of bells and whistles, but not a lot of substance. A company can make a really great display for their product, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a great product for you. Be sure to check out the “little guys” too. A lot of these companies are just starting up and they have incredible ideas that might be able to help you and your students.
All of the educators that are there are there for the same reason—they are looking for ways to engage students in their classrooms in a meaningful way. Be sure that in addition to talking to the EdTech companies that are there, you get a chance to speak with other teachers who are actually using these products in their classroom. Find me and talk to me about LearnBop. Talk to the people who are actually choosing which products to use and when.
6. Give the companies feedback
A major aspect of EdSurge is that you can give feedback to all of the companies. This is great for you, the educator, because you can think more deeply about the products you have just learned about. You also get raffle tickets, which can be used later to win iPads, Microsoft Surfaces, and other great tech tools. This is also great for the EdTech companies because that’s how they make their products better. These products are designed for our use, so if you want that usage to be the best it can be, tell them how they can enhance the experience.
All told, it’s a great event, but it can be very overwhelming if you’re unprepared. It’s also okay to go unprepared if you just want to see what all the hype is about, but aren’t necessarily looking for a product to use. If your end goal is to leave with a concrete action plan in mind, I hope my advice will be helpful.
Good luck and I hope to see you there!
Chris Brida teaches mathematics in Baltimore. He'll be attending EdSurge's Tech for Schools Summit in Baltimore this weekend, so look for him there if you're going!
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