The Future of Tech at Conferences

This year one of my goals has been to imagine how technology will impact the profession of School Counseling in the near (and distant) future. Overall I am very hopeful about where we are headed with technology. Given this, as well as the hope I have since recent events in the U.S. such as the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality, you’ll notice the post image incorporates, fittingly, a rainbow. However, I do find it difficult to imagine much more than about five years into the future because technology changes so rapidly and just two years down the road things could look very different. In my 20 years in the profession, I’ve been to 10 or 12 ASCA conferences (I lost count after a while), many different state conferences and I don’t regret a single one. Attending conferences in person is the most impactful format for attendees, in my opinion. However, it’s not always the most practical. The motivation behind this post comes from the fact that even though I am not at #ASCA15 in Phoenix, I’m “participating” virtually, which I couldn’t imagine when I attended my first ASCA conference many years ago. Here’s what my virtual participation includes:

  • Following the conference hashtag, #ASCA15 on Twitter and on Tagboard
  • Promoting the #notatASCA15 hashtag
  • Summarizing and retweeting by-the-hour for those who are there and those who cannot be (feel free to sign up to do this too!)
  • Tweeting tips for conference attendees to help them make the most of their experience
  • Co-moderating a special #scchat on Monday night at 8pmET with long time Twitter friend, Danielle Schultz of School Counselor Blog

I’m did not register as a virtual attendee but I believe this is one of the most significant efforts that ASCA has made to engage more participants. I applaud @ASCATweets for this option and think it will continue to be extremely popular in the years to come.

A Few Helpful Tips from an Techie Old-Timer

Technology use at conferences like ASCA can be helpful but there are considerations to keep in mind. Here are a few tips and suggestions that I’m tweeting out:

  • Tablets and phones are much easier to tote during the conference than laptops, just make sure to put your devices on silent.
  • Take your devices fully charged when possible or have a back up battery. There may not be outlets in the rooms and plugged in devices can be a distraction or a potential tripping hazard.
  • Ask if you can take photos of slides. Some presenters want to protect their information and may not want it shared beyond the conference session.
  • If you are sharing, share your notes, not the handouts. This year’s app doesn’t allow for viewing of session handouts unless you registered for the conference. I suspect this was an update from previous years in which it was too easy to share handouts on social media to those who were not at the conference. I’m certainly guilty of doing this in the past all in the name of wanting to be helpful. I’m better informed now that some presenters take a guarded approach to their presentation materials even if they’ve provided them to ASCA for the conference.
  • If possible, let presenters know if you’ll be on your device taking notes or tweeting so they don’t think you are disengaged from the presentation. This is not always possible but if the opportunity presents itself, it can be a simple and much appreciated courtesy.
  • If you’re using social media, help out those who are trying to figure it out. Lots of my Twitter friends, like @SSpellmanCann from Canada, are great about doing this! The best posts and tweets for social media are those that have links to more information, key quotes from presenters (with credit given of course) and photos of you having fun.
  • Attend the PLN (professional learning network) meet up on Monday night at 5:15 in the Sheraton Lobby Alcove. This is the 4th year and it gets bigger and better every year. This gathering allows you to connect and reconnect with those you follow on social media.

Technology Changes at ASCA Conferences

Over the past few years ASCA has implemented a number of tech strategies to increase participant engagement both for those at the conference and those at home including these:

  • Social media engagement with posts on Facebook and Twitter
  • A  conference app that provides session and schedule information, allows you to connect with other attendees, and more
  • Virtual attendee registration with breakouts, special discussion sessions, access to all keynotes, a virtual exhibit and sponsor halls

These technology additions have created more engagement and excitement for the conference as well as created more ways for those who need or want to attend virtually. It’s likely that ASCA also uses these tools to gather important data about usage, member experiences and more.

While ASCA has invested efforts into more technology integration into the conference, there are certainly other technology practices at conferences outside of our field that will surely influence what conferences look like in the future. Once conference that almost exactly overlaps with ASCA every year is that of ISTE, the International Society for Technology in Education. I plan to go one year just to branch out and experience something new. I can’t help but wonder how a technology conference integrates technology!

Predictions for the Future

So, what do I imagine for the future of our conferences? Here are my two primary predictions to date:

#1 More Seamless Tech Integration

In the future I suspect that our conferences will have more seamless integration of technology and tech will be a less “clunky” aspect of conference participation. This might mean that devices can be charged wirelessly or even customized and issued with the conference for participants to keep. Much like we used to get flash drives full of conference handouts, maybe one day we’ll receive digital devices as part of the registration package.

Other conferences I know of use nametags that have digital features, such as allowing attendees to check in to sessions so data can be tracked. In the future perhaps these nametags will provide the same functions of a tablet and allows us to view the schedule of sessions, take notes and more. Such digital nametags could eliminate the use of business cards and simply be tapped together to share contact information.

I suspect projection methods and presentation methods will also shift in the future. Projectors will continue to shrink in size and presentation will be increasingly web-based with interactive features built in. Imagine your conference nametag allowing you to respond to polls, send the presenter questions or to play short games embedded into a presentation?

Virtual participation options will only continue and increase. Travel and costs are common barriers to conference attendance but many want the benefits of the professional development (check out this donation drive by my friends, The Counseling Geek (aka Jeff Ream) and Carol Miller that helps fund school counselors to go to ASCA conferences). I suspect virtual attendees will have access to even more sessions and options in the future than they do now and that virtual attendance will increase dramatically.

#2 Less Tech Distraction

I also predict the increase in mindfulness, mediation, yoga and many other practices will shape our use of tech at conference too. Recently I’ve been reading Thrive by Arianna Huffington and in her book she talks at length about the importance of time without technology distractions. She even has an appendix of anti-technology technologies that she recommends for helping to curb our digital addictions. This is an area I’m very intrigued by and starting to dig into.

I imagine future conferences will provide options for those who want to detox from their tech such as “device check” services much like a “coat check.” Some sessions or areas of conferences may also be designated as “tech-free.” I’m hopeful that there will also be dedicated spaces and times built into conferences for mindfulness practices that encourage attendees to take breaks from technology, networking and information overload.

There will be more emphasis in school counseling conferences on how to deal with generations of students who have grown up as digital natives and the impact technology has on their lives. I also anticipate sessions about how school counselors can work to achieve better balance with regard to their own technology use.

What Do You Think the Future of Tech at Conferences Will Be?

There are many more predications that can be made on this topic. If you have ideas, I’d like to hear from you! Please email me at erinmasonphd@gmail.com.