For the first time in ten years, I was able to devote my entire week to the EDUCAUSE National Conference. Allow me to share some take-aways from the experience.
The general session speakers created a symphony of ideas that rose to a crescendo. Clay Shirky laid the groundwork. Communication modalities break paradigms, from the printing press to the Internet. Not everyone understands the implications or embraces the change. I am still reeling from the story of the student brought up on academic integrity charges for forming a virtual study group on Facebook. (I will explore this issue more in the series on Academic Integrity that I am currently writing for a NITLE publication.) His emphasis on openness resonates with so many voices in and outside of technology; the hope he places in its appeal would have been better refined if he had named at least some of the principal obstacles more clearly in the analysis: economically, class lines pulling to the extremes of the social structure, and legally, intellectual property laws, copyright in particular. I am still not sure I got the the connection between the title, "IT as Core Academic Competence" and the content of his presentation completely, but overall his presentation was a good primer, notwithstanding the lapse in etiquette, to say the least, in his "thanks, Mom" quip to President and CEO of EDUCAUSE, Diana Oblinger.
Thursday's general session got the blood flowing. First, the video demonstrating the need, challenges and opportunities of contemporary higher education is the single best representation of our collective big picture I have ever seen. If you watch nothing else of the available video from the conference, that should be the one. But do watch on, because Christine Flanagan and Elliot Masse in dialogue with Diana Oblinger filled in the picture. Flanagan's video of student talking about their struggles to obtain higher education choked the throat. No one who has felt the transformative power of education would be left unmoved by their stories. Massie brings meaning to those struggles with the spirit of inquiry and experimentation that education fosters, no matter what your major. Notably, the openness theme resounded, and on that note I almost leaped out of my seat with supportive enthusiasm when he chose "globalism" as his final word.
No doubt, as a historian, Ed Ayers would appeal to me. Since his Valley of the Shadow I have watched his work and career and could not be prouder that as a historian he defined digital humanities before the name was born. As dean at the University of Virginia and now President of the University of Richmond, he synthesizes form and substance of an academic career. His research on 19th Century Civil War and Reconstruction demonstrates the essential meaning of the humanities. I studied with the Genovese's, as we used to call Eugene and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese in the earlier years of their joint career, so the subject matter of slavery, emancipation and reconstruction comes now as second nature to me. That said, I don't take the metaphor for granted. For so many of us the opportunity to go to college, to learn how to learn, "to learn, and gladly teach" (Chaucer), to internalize the deep meaning of education so that no matter how mired one may be in the slings and arrows (Shakespeare) of administrative politics, one both endures and thrives. We re-enact our own emancipation on a daily basis in our work and renew our commitments to institutional missions out of a belief that those missions enhance the public good. Listening to him, I remembered instinctively why I became a historian. Listening to him, I remembered why technology enticed me; its transformative nature re-invigorated those early impulses. Listening to him made me think that after not too much longer, I might return more squarely to my academic roots, but, in the meantime, it reminded me of why we are here.
You can be too, virtually. Watch these presentations from links at this page: http://www.educause.edu/annual-conference/agenda-and-program
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