The conference center – it was huge, but well-organized and easy to get around. All the sessions were in the same area, rather than traipsing from hotel to hotel. The rooms were big enough. For the first time in 6 years, I was able to attend every session I wanted to see and none were closed because they were too full. I loved the Sails Pavilion, it was a good meeting place, and because the Poster Sessions and Student Showcase was easy to find and get to, I viewed more of them then I usually do.
The city of San Diego – What a great city for a conference. The public transportation is assessable and easy to use. We didn't need to rent a car and were able to get every place we wanted to go – the zoo, Fry's electronic, and the ballpark. Our hotel was just a few blocks from the trolley and getting to the convention center was easy. Overall, the people of San Diego were friendly and helpful. We had several conversations with complete stranger just because they initiated. There was so much to see and do that we wished we had planned to stay a few more days!
Keynote speakers - Dewitt Jones was tremendously inspirational; I would have liked to listen to him more and see a few more photos. The $100 laptop was an intriguing proposition, which, when I first heard about it, I didn't believe would actually happen. But after listening to Nicholas Negroponte, I believe he has the passion and the drive to get it done, and I strongly support his project.
Concurrent sessions – Every one I went to taught me something new. And not just from the speakers, but the audience engaged with questions and suggestions. Overall, I feel that I have learned more this NECC then last year.
Open Source Lab – In the past, there were some Open Source email stations. This year there was an entire teaching lab. Very cool!
Opening 4th of July Reception – This evening was stupendous! The food, fireworks and fellowship truly set the tone for the conference. It was great to see all the families, and everyone was friendly and talkative. It was a nice way to wind down from end-of-the-year school stress and get focused on the conference.
Meeting MiddleTalk(Web) People – I've been talking to these people for 5 years on our listserve, I finally got to meet a few. Technology is a cool thing.
Online content – Most session presentation handouts are online, along with blogs and podcasting that extends the conference past the 3 days. It also cuts down on the amount of paper we need to carry home. Having the session outlines online also helps me choose the sessions I want to see. I think it has also cut down on the people walking out of sessions a little.
Wireless Access - I could blog during sessions and post immediately.
Volunteer Staff – They were friendly, helpful and easy to find.
Roomier vendor show – Although there was a lot of vendors, the area felt less crowded and easier to get around, even with the people with rolling-carry-ons.
Food – You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a Starbucks, with overpriced coffee and sweets, then add Mrs. Field's. With obesity rates skyrocketing, why are these the only kiosk vendors? The Cafe Express in the Exhibit Hall has slightly better fare, yet also very overpriced – an $8 sandwich with only meat and bread? Every NECC has had trouble with providing quick, yet nutritious lunches on-site. I don't want to miss a session, just to find lunch, so bringing snack foods are a necessity. The coffee breaks this year were scheduled at odd times – in the middle of sessions. The continental breakfast tables were hidden in the vendors and hard to find.
Closing Session – Although Kathy Schrock's presentation was interesting, I would have liked to see one with a little more umph and cheer-leading for the work we do as educators. Many of us are going back to schools and districts where we are working in isolation and in an uphill battle. I would've liked to seen a presenter with a lot of energy that would fire-up the audience to make the commitment and changes needed. Generally, I felt let down by the closing session. Even the preview of Atlanta was weak, there was no excitement or energy to the presentation. In the past the committee members made funny and enthusiastic skits, songs and presentations – and freebie tokens never hurt (bottles of water, flip-flops, beads etc).
Best Buy Bags – Best Buy gave away the largest and most useless bags in the world (and irritating). I saw them dumped throughout the conference center. The T-shirts were nice though.
Exhibit Hall – Designate an area for the vendors who are presenting complete free services - like Reading is Fundamental, The Department of Education, Answer.com, Target, Google etc. I wasted a lot of time talking to vendors just to find out that the service or product costs more than what my school could afford. Plus, I probability missed some good resources because I assumed they were fee-based. Also, extend the exhibit hall times. It is hard to justify to a principle the time spent in the vendor hall verses sessions. It would be nice if they didn't always compete.