Every EdTech Conference Should Emulate the Energy of iPadpalooza

Nestled in the rolling hills of Austin, Texas, was the fourth annual iPadpalooza. This however, was not a typical EdTech conference. Perhaps the iPadpalooza tagline says it best, “It’s not a conference, it’s a learning festival.” With spirited dress-up days, food trucks, student presenters, filmmakers, and performers, immersive contests (as in, shed-real-tears-if-you-don’t-win) like the app-mazing-race, and a non-stop, killer list of presenters from around the world, I think the distinction is accurate for the three-day edu-rave that is iPadpalooza.


Carl Hooker, Director of Innovation for Eanes ISD, heads up the learning festival along with his passionate team of iVengers. In Guy Kawasaki’s second-day keynote he said, “A players hire A+ players,” and that is exactly the caliber of the group Carl and his team brought in to share ideas and lead learning during iPadpalooza.


It wasn’t simply that the presenters were all a bunch of “big name” edurati,, although many were. What struck me, was how the presenters made themselves accessible throughout the conference, going out of their way to deeply connect with the teachers, students, administrators, and parents in attendance. I witnessed presenters sitting side by side with attendees, taking selfies, sharing book recommendations, navigating folks towards the Twitter onramp, and letting down their guard for authentic, even messy, conversations. SXSWedu and iNACOl Conference leaders take note.

We need to know people are more than their current role or amount of Twitter followers. When those deemed “presenters” or “featured speakers” take the chance to really make meaningful connections everybody wins. However, it wasn’t until Eric Whitacre’s closing keynote that I had words for what I was trying to pinpoint.

In talking about all the unique stories of those contributing to the Virtual Choir, Eric said, “people are large.” People are multidimensional. They are more than the book they wrote or the TED talk they gave; they have diverse interests and experiences. That is, you’re not ‘just’ a teacher or ‘just’ a parent or ‘just’… He pointed to our shared reality of layer upon layer of humanity, each arriving and departing from one another, continually altering what life looks like. People are large, indeed.

iPadpalooza encouraged presenters to get out of their comfort zone through this year’s theme: “Keep iPads Weird.” Guy Kawasaki could not even get through his first couple sentences without bursting out in laughter at the unicorns and sheep in the audience on “Weird Wednesday.”  The schedule and session structure itself made way for unique opportunities such as 15 minute swift talks, longer in-depth workshops, and a “weird” strand where presenters were encouraged to try something completely new—adjust their learning design, present on a completely odd or just-for-fun topic (like Amy Mayer’s Weird Wonderful Selfies) as a learning experiment.

From a presenter’s perspective, I think these little pushes help to develop an innovative culture. It is the good kind of peer pressure, where everyone involved pushes each other forward. We all felt the need to actually try something new and model what many of us were talking about: creativity, innovation, and adopting a posture of experimentation.

Connecting, giving, sharing, becoming a part of something that is larger than ourselves makes a learning event worthwhile. Including, encouraging, and spurring on one another moves things forward. Choosing to collaborate instead of compete. Choosing to lessen instead of widen the space between presenter and attendee. Our posture determines our presence.

As I transitioned from iPadpalooza to ISTE, I was mindful to both model and experience authentic learning, sharing, and connecting.

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