Sunday, January 26, 2014

FETC 2014: A Field Guide

At this time tomorrow, I'll be getting ready to depart for Orlando and the Florida Education Technology Conference (#FETC). With 8500 attendees from 42 countries and over 600 companies sharing their latest products, FETC is one of the most important educational conferences of the year. This year's conference boasts over 200 sessions and workshops covering topics that run the gamut; from building 21st schools, to employing web 2.0 tools that foster collaboration and learning. While the "official" start of FETC is on Wednesday, January 29, the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC) will be abuzz on Tuesday with pre-conference workshops conducted throughout the day. You can find a list of the paid workshops at

Because of the sheer size and numbers involved with a conference like this, it is impossible to see and do everything. All conference attendees, but especially first-timers, would be well served in doing a little conference pre-planning. I just spend the last hour working through the conference website and mobile app, charting my course for the coming week. While I will certainly veer of that course from time to time, my plan will at least give me a sense of direction as I navigate the crowded corridors of the OCCC.

The purpose of this post is to provide conference attendees - veteran and novice alike - with tips to help make your week more profitable. It is probably best to start with what to bring - both in your suitcase and your backpack. Then I'll share my list of must see sessions. As with any conference like this, the after-hours schedule can be as important as anything else, so I'll share a couple of events that I think would be worth your time.

An FETC Packing List
  • Shoes - Any packing list for FETC should begin with this in mind - the OCCC is HUGE! You will be walking a lot. From treking from the parking lot to the building, to running from session to session, to navigating the enormous exhibit hall, and standing over beverages in the evening, you spend much of the week on your feet.  This makes footwear one of your most important concerns as you begin to pack. Err on the side of comfort and stability.
  • Dress for Success - The forecast is calling for temperatures in Orlando that range from the low 40s to upper 70s. There is also a 50% chance a rain on Monday and Wednesday. Like with your footwear, I would plan my wardrobe with comfort as a priority. Regular dress for FETC ranges from very casual (shorts and tees) to business casual. I would also pack a light jacket or sweater, and a raincoat or umbrella. As they say, "If you don't like the weather in Florida, wait 5 minutes and it will change."
  • The Backpack - Think lightweight. That being said, make sure you have whichever device you are most comfortable using. Over the years, I have moved from carrying my heavy laptop, to a much more comfortable iPad, to this year when I plan on going back to the laptop (albeit a much lighter version). FETC provides free WiFi throughout the conference area. Don't forget your charging cables!
  • Save a little extra space in your bags for stuff that you pickup from exhibitors.  If there is one thing that teachers can't resist, it is free stuff. They'll be tons of swag being tossed your way as you stroll through the exhibit hall. While this is exciting as you fill your bags, remember that you have to carry all of this stuff home. This can get expensive if you are flying.
Session Recommendations
  • Deciding which sessions to attend should be a very personal matter. However, I will share some of my top picks for the week.  When choosing sessions to attend, I often look at who is presenting as much as what is being presented. So here goes.
  • Educating Modern Learners: Contexts, Literacies and Practices for Students - Will Richardson @willrich45 - Wednesday, January 29 at 8:00am - Paid Workshop $WWA072
    • Over the years, Will has authored one of the must-read blogs in the edtech movement.
    • Session Description: We are in transition from traditional thinking about classrooms, teaching, schools and education to a much more technology-rich, student-centered, authentic, modern definition for all of that and more. Understand the changing contexts for learning, gain a clear understanding of modern learning literacies, learn a framework for beginning conversations and actions around system change, envision and design new classrooms, schools and practices to serve modern learning and learners, and develop a 5 days-5 months-5 years plan for changing personal learning practice.
  • TechShare LIVE! - Adam Bellow @adambellowHall Davidson @HallDavidsonLeslie Fisher @lesliefisherKathy Schrock @kathyschrock - Wednesday, January 29 at 11:00am - TSL386
    • Always a great way to kick-off opening day, this is a rapid-fire sessions of great web 2.0 tools.
    • Session Description: What's new. What's great and Where to Get IT! Back by popular demand! Join us for this fun and fast-paced session prior to the Opening Keynote! Get a first look at the latest, most exciting gadgets, apps, hardware and software in educational technology.
  • Digital Leadership: Changing Paradigms for Changing Times - Eric Sheninger @nmhs_principal - Thursday, January 30 at 10:00am - FS1383
    • Titled after his recently released book, this session is a must for every administrator in the country. Too bad they won't all be here. But you will be, so make sure this session is on your calendar, whether you are an administrator or not.
    • Session Description: Learning today should unleash the creativity of our students and prepare them with essential skills sets for success in a digital world. Attendees will discover how to seize the opportunity inherent in ubiquitous connectivity, an evolving real-time Web, open-source technology, mobile devices, and personalization to integrate digital learning across the curriculum.
  • Removing the Distance from Distance Learning - Dean Shareski @shareski - Thursday, January 30 at 1:00pm - FS3050
    • One of the most important though-leaders in edtech, Shareski always puts on a good show.
    • Session Description: Many of our distance courses are still taught like correspondence courses where work is submitted to the teacher only and students are required to have strong independent skills. This session will explore the strategies, tools and design principles that will enable teachers to create learning experiences that are equal to and perhaps at times better than face to face courses.
  • Rapid-Fire Learning: 20 in 40 - Steven Anderson @web20classroom - Thursday, January 30 at 1:00pm - FS3384
    • Anderson and Shareski are on at the same time. This will be a toss-up. Steve is another star in edtech circles.
    • Session Description:  Arm your technology toolkit with some of the latest, greatest and most interesting tools around. Join us as we will do some rapid-fire learning and go through the Top 20 Tools in 40 Minutes.
  • Digital Learning Across the Curriculum - Eric Sheninger @nmhs_principal - Thursday, January 30 at 4:20 - FS6382
    • If you miss Eric earlier today, don't make that mistake twice.
    • Session Description: The time is now to change and transform schools to meet the needs of key stakeholders. Learn how to harness the power of digital tools and social media to improve communications, enhance public relations, establish a brand presence, increase student engagement, transform learning spaces, and grow professionally like never before.
  • Leading, Learning and Modern School - Christopher Lehmenn @chrislehmenn - Friday, January 31 at 8:45am - KEY456
    • Get up early for Christopher's session. Chris is another of the principals out there that are walking the walk.
    • Session Description: In a time of great societal change, schools have had to work hard to re-imagine and re-envision the purpose of school. How can we create learning institutions where all members of the community, students, teachers, and administrators alike see themselves as active learners? How can we leverage all of the tools at our disposal to transform our schools into ever-evolving communities of practice that enable students to be powerfully engaged in their world today and prepared to be fully realized citizens of the world tomorrow?
  • Go Digital and Ignite Professional Development - Lyn Hilt @lynhilt - Friday, January 31 at 10:00am - CS7768
    • Learning for teachers is in as much need of a change as teaching student. I'm really looking forward to this session.
    • Session Description: This session will briefly review adult learning theory and the needs of today's social learners to support professional development. "Unconference" models, flipped faculty meetings, and teacher-led PD will be explored. Tools that will be shared include screen capture/video creation tools, as well as the use of Google Docs, Google Hangout and Google+ communities to promote collaboration. We will examine the use of blogs, wikis, Twitter, backchannels, virtual notebooks/walls, and social bookmarking as methods by which administrators can share pertinent information with staff anytime, anywhere and obtain feedback before, during, and after PD sessions.
  • There are many, many more sessions from great presenters. These are just the few that I look forward to hearing. My number one piece of advice is to plan before you go.  FETC has developed a handy mobile appthat makes planning your schedule a breeze.
Share, Share, Share
  • One of the most valuable things about FETC is the sharing that take place - during sessions, in the corridors, and just about every other place where attendees gather.
  • #FETC - Twitter serves as the central hub for most of the sharing that takes place during the week. If you have not yet embraced Twitter as a part of your professional development, there is no better time to experience the power of this essential social networking tool than this week at FETC. Just follow the #FETC hashtag for a non-stop feed updates.
  • If you are new to Twitter and are not sure how all of this works, just talk to others that you meet or jump into one of the many Twitter-focused sessions. It will change your life.
Special Events
  • It will be a full or learning and sharing, but don't forget to enjoy yourself.  There will be many "after-hours" events, sponsored by vendors or formed on the fly by attendees.  I encourage you to find something to do after a long day of learning.
  • The Annual "Unofficial" PLN Tweet-up - What started as a fairly small group getting together at TGI Friday's a few years ago, is now one of the real highlights of the week.  This year, we'll meet on Wednesday evening at 7:00pm, at the TGI Friday's at 8955 International Drive (the one near Dave & Buster's). This is the place to be on Wednesday night. To add your name to the list of those that plan on attending - a Who's Who of the Edtech PLN - just click here to get to the Google Doc.
  • FETC Phot Walk - New this year, this sounds like a lot of fun.  Organizers are attempting to break the world record for the largest photo walk. To participate in this free event, meet in front of the South Concourse of the OCCC at 9:30 on Wednesday morning. It looks like it will be about a three mile walk along International Drive. For more info, click here.
Well, that was a lot of information. But it was really just a drop in the bucket of what you will see and experience this week in Orlando. I will be posting often throughout each day right here on the blog. I also invite you to follow me on Twitter at @stephenveliz. Enjoy your week and FETC 2014.

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