Techspo Reflection – or Vendor Overload

I recently went to my first Techspo conference. Like any conference, there were high points and low points. My reflection may be a tad biased. Over the last several years, a significant portion of my personal professional development has been from Twitter and unconferences. I have personally staged two unconferences (the inaugural TeachMeets in NJ and TN) and been to probably a dozen. I also want to state that, having been connected with him on Twitter for some time, I have a lot of respect for the organizer and know that he has great intentions and put in a ton of work to get the conference setup.

One interesting aspect of the conference is the ratio of superintendents, administrators, and technology directors/coordinators. It is run by the NJ Association of School Administrators and the people who go are largely administrators. It feels like that has a direct correlation to the types of events that were offered. I know that I’ve been a tad spoiled by the unconferences; the sessions are offered by current practitioners and tend to leave you with concrete ideas that are immediately applicable in a classroom. That is not Techspo.

Because of the preponderance of administrators (read: the people who influence purchasing decisions), the perception that I had was that we were being sold. There were 3 different sections of vendors setup so that you could not go from session to session without seeing vendors, some of whom became more desperate to talk as the conference went on.  Breakfast was behind the biggest vendor section. We had a 2 hour lunch; the official response from the director was that it was for networking. I do partially believe that it was the intention; however, it seemed that most people stayed primarily with the groups that they came with (I went by myself, so I really did try to network). A 2-hour lunch served among the vendors seems like trying to funnel us to the vendors.

That was compounded by the sessions. I met with many people of the two days and we did not all choose the same sessions. We did all have sessions that seemed like glorified vendors pitches, though. Some sessions were actually partially run by vendors. I avoided those, as I always do. Others, though, seemed like vendors presentations in disguise. When I arrived at the first session I went to on the second day (out of respect, I’m leaving out the title and presenters’ names), I was handed a vendor packet by two salesmen in suits. That sets off bells in my head. The presenters then seemed to continually plug the product (call for pricing – it’s not on the website) thorough their session.

In speaking with several people, the general feeling was one of being underwhelmed. I do not want to sound overly negative. I met more local technology coordinators than I have in the past and that network is valuable. I spent lunch today with Peter Renwick, a principal in North Jersey, and had a wonderful conversation. I enjoyed the conversation we had during my session about making assessment more collaborative and more focused on actual learning. An Apple engineer stayed to talk for half an hour after my conference and that was tremendously interesting. I spent the morning before the day started conferencing with a few other teachers and administrators on how to structure and teach research in middle school, which was very valuable. Bill Krakower, Dana Sirotiak, Samantha Morra, and others really did their best to make it an outstanding conference. There were definite high points and there were some very passionate people there. Next year, though, I’ll be returning to Educon this time of year.

I would be interested in comments from others who were there. What was your experience?

 

  • Amy

    As you know, I didn’t go this year. However, I’m sad to hear that it’s become so commercial. I presented at Techspo in 2008 and 2010 and found it to be a source of great information, but I could definitely an increase in vendors between the two years. I think that, in the early years, there weren’t as many Ed Tech products, and so the focus was able to be more on the education than the goods. I’ve never been to Educon…perhaps I’ll have to give it a chance!

  • http://jasontbedell.com/ Jason T. Bedell

    Hi Amy,

    I was disappointed, but it could just be my perspective that the focus wasn’t where it should have been. Educon is an outstanding 3 day conference (1 day of seeing their school and 2 days of conference). There weren’t any vendors (that I recall) and the students ran it. Many of the best progressive educators from all over came last time I went. Jason