3 Recommendations for New (and Returning) EDUCAUSE Attendees

Reflect, Relax, and Connect

September 29, 2014

How many years have you been coming to EDUCAUSE?  I was trying to figure it out, and I think I must be somewhere between 10 and 14 conferences.  Is that possible?

What advice would you have for first-time EDUCAUSE attendees?

I think you will get similar advice from lots of us.  We will tell you that there is too much to see - and that it is necessary to pick your sessions carefully.  We will tell you that the real value of EDUCAUSE comes in building relationships with colleagues from other institutions and from the companies that you do or may work with.  We will tell you to come up with a list of questions that you hope to answer, and to then map out your Conference plan based on your goals.

What else?

Here are 3 recommendations that I wish someone had given me back when I first started coming to EDUCAUSE:

EDUCAUSE Recommendation #1 - Build Time In for Reflection, Writing, and Sharing:

We should all be applying some of what we know about how we learn to how we attend conferences.  The reality is that we can only take in so much information.  We will forget upwardly of 70% of everything that we learn at the sessions we attend.  We will have challenges in changing how we think or what we believe about higher ed IT, as our prior beliefs and knowledge will frame (and often overwhelm) anything new that we learn.  

The key to getting the most out of EDUCAUSE is to do something active with all the information that you will be taking in.  Tweeting is a good start, but I’m not convinced that it is enough. (Mad Tweeters - please tell me that I’m wrong).  My recommendation is to build 20 or 30 minutes into each day that you are at EDUCAUSE to sit quietly and write down the big things that you learned.  Keep your synthesis to 3 or 4 big take-aways, and try apply these points to your work on your campus.  Quickly think through how the programs, practices, technologies, or partnerships could connect with your academic IT life.   

Finding 30 minutes a day to think and write at EDUCAUSE will be a challenge.  You will need to give something up.  One less session.  Back in the hotel a bit earlier from dinner and carousing.  But try to force yourself to make this trade-off. I also recommend taking the additional step of sharing your thoughts with some colleagues from your home institution.  A quick e-mail about what you are learning at EDUCAUSE, and how these thoughts might apply to the work back home, will be appreciated by all of your colleagues.

EDUCAUSE Recommendation #2 - Think of EDUCAUSE as a Multi-Year Project:

The EDUCAUSE Conference can be completely overwhelming.  Too many sessions.  Too many vendor booths.  Too many conversations.  Too much information.  My guess is that if you are EDUCAUSE today, that you will be at EDUCAUSE in the future.  So take your time.  Let yourself take in the larger feel of the Conference.  Don’t worry so much about maximizing every last drop of information from the sessions.   Let yourself go to talks that are outside of your current job responsibilities and areas of expertise.  Pretend that you have beamed down to an alien culture, and spend time observing the local customs and norms.

Over the years that I’ve been coming to EDUCAUSE my conference experience has changed.  Nowadays I go to less sessions, and spend more time having conversations.  I seek out colleagues at peer institutions.  I try to understand the thinking and the roadmap of the edtech vendors that we work with.  I ask lots of questions.

If I had known that my EDUCAUSE experience would evolve to such a degree then I think I would have enjoyed the Conference more in years past.  I would have been less worried about missing something, as I would have known that it takes years to really figure out the world of higher ed tech.  

EDUCAUSE Recommendation #3 - Talk to the EDUCAUSE Staff and Colleagues About Opportunities to Get Involved in the Association:

My third recommendation is to try and find time to chat with the folks on the EDUCAUSE staff.  Seek them out.  The people who work for EDUCAUSE are amazing.  Mission driven.  Caring.  Warm.  Scarily productive.  Knowledgeable.  Funny.  The EDUCAUSE people truly care about not only your Conference experience, but about you as an individual.  They will talk to you about your edtech career.  They will offer good advice.  They will try to connect you with both EDUCAUSE resources and with colleagues from around academia.  

What is less known, (or at least I didn’t figure it out until a few years going to the Conference), is that almost every EDUCAUSE staff member has strong roots colleges and universities.  More often than not they once held a leadership role in a higher ed institution.  Therefore, they understand the world from your perspective.  They joined EDUCAUSE because they believed that the Association was the best place to make a real difference in higher ed.  They probably started out as EDUCAUSE volunteers, and eventually “went native”, joining the Association full-time.

Figuring out opportunities to volunteer for EDUCAUSE is the best route towards understanding how EDUCAUSE works, and how you can get the most out of the Association.  There are lots and lots of opportunities to contribute.  A great place to start is as a proposal reviewer.  EDUCAUSE has lots of pieces to it, such as ELI and ECAR, so you will definitely be able to find your niche.

What advice would you have for first-time EDUCAUSE attendees?


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