Pounding rain had already turned the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway into a treacherous, car-packed Slip-n-Slide by the time I got on the road at around 4:30am, and my broken windshield wipers made the drive a surreal, terrifying journey. Six hours later, I was sitting on a beach chair on the upper deck of the Orange County Convention Center’s Building 1 soaking in the sun, talking to like-minded educators, and wishing I could stay in Orlando until February break (at minimum). FETC is like the older, bigger cousin of most other conferences I’ve attended, and it takes place in a city that made Brooklyn in the winter seem that much more grim upon my return. While I was de-boarding, I sent my last tweet about the conference, and it made me realize something pretty remarkable as I pushed my way through LaGuardia Airport: FETC was the most “connected” conference I’ve ever attended. Despite its intimidating size and breadth, Florida’s biggest ed tech event kept its attendees wired and in touch at every turn.
I was lucky enough to speak to a crowded room about a topic near and dear to me: 1:1 mobile device deployments. My particular line of work has led me to a number of really interesting places (coming soon to SXSW Edu 2013!), and I feel like I could easily fill four hours rather than forty minutes (though my audience might strenuously disagree). I discussed cloud classrooms and the role Edmodo has had in our iPad deployment, and I spent nearly an hour after my presentation meeting with members of the audience, answering questions and providing whatever information I could to school leaders interested in ubiquitous classroom computing. I tweeted during my spiel and openly solicited new members of my Edmodo group. “It infuriates my co-workers when I get some crazy new badge, and I’m assuming one is coming if I get enough group members,” I helpfully explained.
I was able to check out several other presentations during my time there, and anything I missed I was able to catch up on via Twitter. The best quotes from each presentation were being shared by dozens of active tweeters, so I was able to keep up with the action happening around me even as I spoke at my own presentation. The #FETC hashtag was alive with hundreds of attendees sharing thoughts, offering critiques, and participating in backchannels on a whole host of education technology topics. As a presenter, I was also able to share my materials using Edmodo, and that made life easier when members of the audience asked me to email them slides or wanted to take a look at my sources.
The FETC experience was well worth the trip, and I eagerly anticipate attending with no speaking agenda next year. I walked away impressed with everything about the conference, but I think what impressed me most was how much technology has reshaped these events into collaborative, interactive experiences. We’re no longer limited to engaging with what’s in front of us; now, we can communicate with like-minded people without ever being in the same room, and we can share the best of what we experience with thousands of people with a few clicks. While I spoke, I could hear my iPhone alert me to Edmodo notifications, which told me that a few people followed through on my plaintive group joining request. I was connecting in the moment with the people in front me, and there are myriad ways we can and have stayed connected. And I’m willing to bet FETC is one of a coming tidal wave of conferences that will keep its participants engaged long after the last speech is delivered.