5 Reasons Why College Hosted Professional Meetings Are Awesome

Are higher ed communities of practice changing how they gather?

April 25, 2018

Earlier this month I attended a convening of the Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners (HAIL) Storm group on the campus on CSU Channel Islands.

Later this week I'm headed to the campus of Arizona State University to participate in an unconference with fellow digital education nerds on the drivers shaping the future of learning.

This summer my own institution is hosting the Dartmouth Experiential Learning & Teaching Adventure (DELTA) Summit

What do all these convenings, unconferences, and summits have in common?

They bring together people working in similar roles at different institutions.  They are all small.  And they are all hosted by an institution of higher education.

Why are small, campus based gatherings so awesome?

5 reasons:

Reason #1 - Small is Beautiful:  I don't know about you, but I'm easily overwhelmed.  Navigating a conferences with hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of attendees can feel exhausting.  The best convenings are those that get the balance right between a diversity of perspectives (big enough) with the ability to have good conversations with everyone (small enough).  I'm not sure what the exact right number is for an ideal convening, although I expect it will be less than 100.

Reason #2 - Campuses Are Better Than Hotels:  My favorite thing in the world is to visit college campuses.  There is nowhere that I feel more at home than at a university.  Each time I visit a new school I come away with ideas that I can steal and bring back to my institution.  Convenings on campuses almost always include campus tours, classroom visits, and excursions to new active and experiential learning spaces.  There is also something wonderful about the action of the campus.  I love having a meeting in the midst of the students, professors, and staff doing their things.

Reason #3 - Conversations, Not Presentations:  I keep hearing that professional associations are going to change their formats to allow for more conversations, and less time being talked at.  This change is happening, but it is way too slow.  Small meetings on campuses with close communities of practice consist almost entirely of conversations.  There are very few panels (thank god!) or talks on "best practices", and more time to share challenges and build relationships.

Reason #4 - Costs:  Small cross-institutional meetings on college campuses are almost alway less expensive to attend than professional meetings.  There is not conference fee, or the fee is small.  Costs can be kept down, as there is no need to rent out a hotel or a conference center.  Often the host institution will absorb some of the costs for the events, as it is a good thing for a school to be at the center of a professional network.

Reason #5 - Creativity:  It is difficult for a professional association putting on a conference to take many risks with the events.  Attendees have paid big money to attend.  There is a history of how things have been done.  This is not true of peer driven meetings on campuses.  The organizers, who are colleagues and peers of all the attendees, are free to try new things.  They can experiment with the format and content of the gathering.  Some things will work, others will not.  Nobody is going to get uptight. 

These intimate gatherings of colleagues in a postsecondary community of practice on college campuses are my favorite professional events.  My expectations is that small-scale university hosted convenings for cross-institution colleagues will increase in frequency.  More of us will choose to spend our professional travel dollars to attend these types of convenings, and more schools will want to host them.

These small campus events represent a challenge to the traditional professional associations.  Participation in a meeting of colleagues on the campus of a peer institution may mean one less trip to a professional association meeting at a hotel or a convention center.

Professional associations will need to figure out how to respond to this trend if they hope to keep their meeting attendance robust.  This is particularly important for higher education professional associations whose business models depends on a combination of institutional dues and revenues generated during meetings.

If you are an experiential learning person, I hope that you consider applying to the DELTA Summit that will be happening this summer (8/6 to 8/8) in Hanover NH.  My guess is that nobody does creativity like experiential learning people.

What small campus events for your communities of practice have you attended?

Have you been hosting any of these sorts of convenings on your campuses?

How do you think our higher education professional associations should respond to the growth of small campus based gatherings?


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