AECT is one of the premier organizations in the field of instructional technology. As a professional organization, membership and active participation in AECT is unique in that it is comprised of scholars, teachers, and leaders who are extraordinarily accessible and open to working with students. All of those names you read in research articles and books? They attend AECT and don’t mind chatting with students.
For example, at my first AECT convention in 2009, I attended a roundtable presentation for a research project on motivating mathematics students in online classrooms. The only people who attended the session were myself, a student colleague, and John Keller. Yes, John Keller, the man behind the ARCS model of motivation. When the conversation turned to John asking the other student and I about our research interests, the presenters did not mind the “hijacking” of their session at all. That 45 minutes forever changed my life as I had an intimate conversation with a leading researcher in our field. I still have the pages of notes I scribbled while he spoke, and those notes provided me with the literary foundation for my dissertation.
As graduate students, however, attending the AECT convention can seem like a daunting and expensive possibility. So, here are a few tips from a former pro:
- Register early to be a conference volunteer. The volunteer program for students is an amazing opportunity to see behind the scenes. It’s also a great way to make the registration fee more affordable. Full time volunteers (12 hours of service throughout the event) only pay $45 for the convention. Part-time volunteers (6 hours of service throughout the event) pay $125 for the convention. Either option is a significant savings over the $195 registration fee.*
- Find 3 of your new best friends and get a room together. One of the biggest expenses related to conferences is that of housing. So, start a discussion with your friends or other students in the program. Need to look outside the box? Post on the AECT Graduate Student Assembly Facebook Group that you need roommates. Splitting a $600 hotel bill four ways is definitely the way to go.
- When eating out, split an entree. It may sound simple and it may not be for everyone, but it’s a good idea. Conferences generally mean eating at restaurants for most of your meals. Your hotel room may or may not come with a mini-fridge and microwave. So, you can’t always expect to be able to eat leftovers. Plus, you may not have the time to run back to your room to eat. Consider eating with a buddy who has the same tastes. That $15 entree gets cheaper when you split it. Alternately, order a bunch of appetizers for the table, split the check, and everyone gets a little something different.
- Don’t be afraid to approach faculty. I add this tip with a caveat that there are no guarantees in life. However, approaching faculty who are working in your areas of interest may have multiple benefits. First, and foremost, there is nothing like asking the expert about your own ideas and getting constructive feedback. Secondly, there’s a decent chance that they’ll invite you to attend their next session or the chat they’re about to have with another leader or (even better) lunch/dinner. It doesn’t always happen this way, but I can vouch that at least one of my meals while attending AECT as a graduate student has been paid for by a faculty member in the field. The free meal was nice, but the conversation and memories are what made the experience amazing.
- Look for travel reimbursement opportunities. Every institution is different, but many offer travel funds for students who present at conferences. Check with your department, college, and graduate school (if there is one) to see what opportunities may be there. In most cases, you still have to cover the expense yourself, but that reimbursement check after you get back comes in handy. Also consider applying for one of the many AECT awards. It’s a bit late for this year. However, getting in your application for next year’s awards means receiving a check at the next convention. Get recognized for the awesome work you’re doing and get money to help pay for the trip? Yes, please!
*Conference Volunteering: if you decide to register as a volunteer, I urge you to take the responsibility seriously. Failing to meet your commitment will result in your advisor being notified of the incident and potentially being denied the ability to volunteer at subsequent events. That aside, volunteering is an amazing experience.
- Working Registration is a great way to meet everyone and put faces with names.
- If you want to work Tech Set-up, skim through the program and identify sessions you want to attend/presenters you want to meet. This kills two birds with one stone and provides you with the opportunity to talk with the presenter.
- Try to work all of your hours early in the week or late in the week to allow time for attending sessions. Keep in mind that your schedule is provided to you based upon a survey that you’ll complete prior to the convention. So, checking the online program before submitting the survey is very important.
I served as a conference volunteer for 1 year and a conference volunteer supervisor for 2 years as a graduate student. So, if you have questions or concerns, just drop me a message.