FETC 2019 and STEAM for All Learners
This post is called “my first time at FETC,” also known as “the-week-I-got-stuck-in-Orlando-Florida-because-of-the-Polar-Vortex” for a more accurate, albeit long, title.
I was accepted to present at the international Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC) and adjusted my work to share in a poster session that better fit their schedule. Cool!
On the list of “conferences I want to attend and present at one day” FETC was right up there with ISTE. Finding out I was accepted to present there was beyond exciting and I was thrilled to get permission to attend most (more on that later) of the conference.
I went to Orlando, Florida to attend and present at FETC. Since the conference started on a Sunday I had some time to see the Disc-Connected K9s (website) AND some manatees prior to the conference kickoff on Sunday, January 27. Still super cool.
Manatees, huh? Yep! When in Florida and all. What a unique experience to go to a festival and have the option to take a tour bus over to see the manatees. The photos do not do them justice - seeing all the manatees out in the water was awesome. Obviously my favorite part of the day had to be the disc dogs though. Fortunately, the weather was nice (cool by Florida standards) that day and I was able to hang out the entire time to see several shows and still get over to the manatees before heading back to Orlando. I was able to visit with some good friends and their awesome dogs between shows. Big thanks go to Lawrence and Jodi for being so welcoming! Fun fact - I helped out by taking the 2019 team photo, currently on the Disc-Connected K9s website, that same day.
One of the neat things about FETC is the variety of keynote speakers they have in addition to a popular Tech Share LIVE event. With a robust statewide conference that I have been fortunate enough to attend/present at for several years I have had the pleasure of seeing some incredible keynote presentations in my own backyard. I am not easily impressed, inspired or motivated. You’ll have to bring your A-game to win me over! Sal Khan (of Khan Academy) was fantastic. Adam Bellow is one of my favorites, so his talk would have been enough for me to enjoy the Tech Share panel…but there were three other lovely presenters as well: Hall Davidson, Leslie Fisher and Kathy Shrock. Yes, THAT Kathy Shrock.
One of the greatest disappointments of the keynotes was how Mae Jemison was after her talk. She did not take pictures with anyone or seem at all interested to speak directly with the teachers who gathered just to say hello. I was able to shake her hand, but the overall experience was disappointing, to say the least. FETC had her take part in a “VIP” experience. I cannot tell you anything about that because I was not a VIP! Perhaps she has some social anxiety that I am not aware of, and if that is the case I would understand, but it left a bad taste to know that the only way to “greet” this inspiring woman was part of a VIP package at a EdTech conference.
There were numerous breakout sessions that were specifically in the “special education and inclusion” track that is most relevant to my current position. I enjoyed sessions that looked at Assistive Technology (AT) tools and those that focused on strategies for students with dyslexia. There were also some nice “playground” style sessions that allowed you to interact with a number of teachers/representatives and EdTech tools in small table groups. Those sessions were a bit less overwhelming than the Exhibit Hall. I thoroughly enjoyed a session by Joe Sanfelippo who is another one of my favorite keynote speakers. I even scored some awesome #GoCrickets swag finally! Thanks for all that you do to share and inspire educators, Joe!
It was lovely to have such a compact setup for my presentation. I printed my poster at Staples with a collage of visuals instead of having separate pieces to hang up. This is clearly the way to go! I plan to use the poster long-term to showcase samples of projects and provide inspiration for how others can take the ideas to make them even better than the small pieces I have tried. The timing was not ideal for the poster session and that was feedback I provided to FETC. It is nice that they ask for that and actively work to make the conference better.
Even with the less than ideal timing I was able to connect with some lovely educators and share. It is always my hope that people will reach out after a presentation or look to connect further online (e.g., Twitter) so we can continue the conversation. The environment was quite laid back and I felt comfortable with the setup and sharing during the poster session. Unfortunately, what came before the presentation was weighing heavily on my mind.
Literally ten minutes before my presentation, I received a text message from Southwest Airlines that said the following:
Not cool. Not cool at all.
What are you supposed to do when you get stuck in Orlando, Florida during the Polar Vortex? Relax and enjoy yourself. That is what you are supposed to do. That is NOT what I did. At least not right away. I missed a portion of the conference working on how to get back to the Chicago area before I finally resigned myself to the fact that I was literally stuck for a few more days. Remember when I said I was only supposed to be there for part of the conference? Well, I now had the chance to go to the rest of it once my hotel was secured for a few extra nights. School was closed for two days and did not make it home until early Saturday morning. I spent three extra nights in Orlando and I tried to make the best of it without spending too much money.
I visited “ICON Park” down International Drive and even rode the wheel formerly known as the “Orlando Eye” that provided a nice view of the surrounding area.
Overall, I enjoyed FETC despite the fact that I felt trapped in Florida for the end of the week (not their fault). As a presenter the experience was fairly positive. The conference is FREE for presenters. When you compare this to the ISTE experience there is no contest - FETC wins! There was a nice room for presenters to relax and have a snack each day. I believe you could keep your presentation materials there, but I am not sure the rooms were secured. Personally, I prefer a secure area if I have a whole bin full of materials that I would need to drop off for any amount of time. I was glad to have a hotel close enough to walk back and forth to drop off items as needed. Made it easy to collect items for the student #swagbags I set up for my kids (gets so heavy after a while!).
The setup in Orlando for the keynotes was not fantastic. After waiting in line for a long time there was a mad dash into the space (after you were scanned…which also caused delays the first day) where we were told many seats were held for FETC committee folks. While I understand having some space set aside, this should not be the prime seats for the patrons paying for a conference. Make it a side section with good viewing, spread out throughout the room, something other than all front rows across several sections. Also, many, many teachers held seats for people who were not there because they did not wait in line to get a good seat. They would say their friend had just “gone to the bathroom” and would be back if someone asked. Nope. Should be something that FETC is watching for if they make the entry process so ridiculous. Or better yet, make the entry process LESS RIDICULOUS! I was happy to wait in line and have my breakfast muffin sitting on the floor outside the keynote room because I need a specific seat to see properly. This is also why I have to sit in a specific seat in movie theaters and prefer the option to reserve seats for this reason. While I hope these issues are corrected, I have no plans to attend FETC in the near future. Perhaps 2021 if I am up for giving Orlando a try again??
Have you attended FETC? What was your experience? Do you plan to attend again (in Miami 2020 or back in Orlando beyond that)?