It's common knowledge that attending conferences is a great way to share knowledge, get new ideas, make connections, and grow as a teacher or in any other profession. But often time, especially on a teacher's limited budget and schedule, conference attendance can be burdensome or all-together impossible, and no one can reap the benefits of the experience.
Enter: Virtual Conferences.
In our world of technology, information is available more efficiently and from more sources than ever before, and conferences are not excluded from that growth! Attending a conference virtually can have many benefits for teachers, students, and administrators alike.
Teachers do not have a lot of money, and neither do schools, so being able to ignore the cost of travel and enjoy typically lower registration fees as digital conferences makes a huge difference in the personal budget of a teacher or the development budget of a school or district (it's also better for the environment!). Additionally, teachers can attend virtual conferences without having to take time off from the classroom, which saves them time and effort writing sub plans, saves the school money that would be spend hiring a sub, and helps students to be able to continue learning and not be interrupted by the absence of their teacher.
At live conferences, it's easy to miss information or presentations because of distractions or meetings, and hand-outs, notes, and other paper materials often get lost before you get back to your hotel room. With virtual conferences, all of this information is much more accessible and can usually be accessed through the conference web platform for several weeks or months after the event. This allows attendees to not only experience the material the first time, but also be able to refer back to and reflect on it later. It's also easier to share ideas with other attendees because usually conversation occurs as a public comment stream, making more people's opinions and thoughts accessible to the whole group.
There's no getting around it, virtual conferences have some definite advantages. So let's take a look at some of the top 5 conferences that you can attend virtually!
The first virtual conference we'll highlight is the ASCD Whole Child Conference. While they haven't held a virtual conference in a few years, the ASCD has archives available from their last several conferences, which earn it a spot in our list. The Whole Child virtual conference archives offer insight into a Whole Child approach to education, which focuses around building well-rounded, secure, and engaged students in a safe learning environment. With topics covering issues such as LGBTQ+ inclusiveness, international panels, and parent engagement, this conference is a great introduction for educators who want to focus on their students as individuals and begin learning the basics of a whole-child approach to teaching.
Clocking in at number four is the International Society for Technology in Education's virtual conference. Hosted for the first time in 2014, the virtual conference offers a more accessible option to teachers unable to attend the ISTE In-Person Conferences. Combining highlights from previous conferences as well as previews of upcoming ones, the ISTE virtual conference is a good way for educators to catch up on what they missed or are going to miss in the in-person conferences. But because of its lack of original content and because it's only available to teachers with Society memberships, it's a good alternative to travelling but might not be the most convenient or educational choice.
The Global Education Conference is a week-long virtual event bringing together educators from around the world to share their expertise and engage in collaborative learning about how to improve teaching practices. What makes it great is that it's completely free and the international aspect encourages collaboration from many more philosophical viewpoints and the sharing of ideas across cultures. As it turns out, however, this conference's strengths may be its only weaknesses. With a full five days of free programming, the GEC offers over 260 General Sessions and 35 Keynotes. Even with archived sessions being available for conference participants to access later, it's impossible to learn everything at this conference and an attendee could easily spread themselves too thin or miss out on really exciting information that they may not be able to find amidst the wide range of options available for viewing.
Earning the number two spot on our list is the Discovery Education Fall Virtual Conference. Offering the unique option of attending online or in person at several regional events, Discovery Education's conference was definitely one of the most accessible that I found. Covering topics from teaching with cellphones to building a professional learning network, Discovery offers sessions to help teachers improve both their classroom effectiveness and professional development as individuals. To put icing on the cake, all of the virtual sessions and slides are archived and available for free on their Blog, regardless of whether or not you registered for or attended the conference in real time.
Hosted by faculty at the University of Michigan, the 4T Conference began as a grassroots effort in 2011 and has since grown to have more than 900 annual attendees. 4T is held in May and features three days of webinars by practicing K-12 teachers.
Several aspects of 4T stood out that made it the number one choice on this list. Because it's rooted in the mitten and completely free, it is both extremely accessible and relevant to teachers in this area. Teachers can also receive continuing education credits in the state of Michigan by attending this conference, which can be used as a concrete example of the conference's usefulness to administrators and school boards. But what really put 4T over the top was the fact that all of their presenters go through 12-14 hours of development training on how to instructionally design an interactive and engaging virtual classroom, guaranteeing that conference attendees get a high-quality experience at every session.