Notes from the big hematology conference.

December 7, 2014
Over the last few days I’ve been in San Francisco, accompanying my wife to her American Society of Hematology (ASH) Annual Meeting.

Hanging out at this big conference has gotten me thinking about our big annual EDUCAUSE conference:
Place:  Okay, I’m calling it. San Francisco is the best conference city in the US. San Francisco is the anti-Orlando. Every conference should be held in a walkable city. Every conference venue should be in walking distance of restaurants, food trucks, and ideally a farmers market.  Every conference should be in a city with decent public transportation. Why isn’t EDUCAUSE ever in San Francisco? Is the Moscone Center the wrong size? Too expensive? If my evil plan to gain any influence at EDUCAUSE ever comes to fruition my first order of business will be to get the conference to San Francisco.
Scale:  If you think the 4,000 or so attendees of EDUCAUSE makes that conference too big to handle, you should come to ASH. There are 18,000 docs and PhDs here.  This includes people from 300 pharmaceutical, diagnostic, and medical supply companies. The total number of ASH attendees is about 27,000. This conference is enormous.   
Diversity: ASH seems to be orders of magnitude more diverse than EDUCAUSE. There is an amazing heterogeneity at ASH by ethnicity and national origin. Women seem to be better represented amongst the hematologists than what we typically see in a higher ed conference. The ASH attendees seem to be much better dressed than the conferences that I typically attend. 
Money: If you think that there is lots of money in educational technology, you should spend a few days with the hematologists. Edtech seems to be small beer compared to world of pharmaceuticals.  The U.S. spends about  $3 trillion dollars on health care. This compares to about $500 billion on higher education.  By this measure, we are about one-sixth the size of the health care market.  (Can you point to a source that offers a direct comparison between health care and post-secondary spending?).  From what I can see at ASH, there seems to be much more money in pharmaceuticals than in edtech.
Tribes:  The best thing about being at ASH is that I don’t know anybody. The world of hematology and the world of educational technology do not overlap. I will be very surprised if anyone who attended ASH is reading this blog.  It is good to remember that the issues so important to our tribe often have very little relevance to others.  We should always take the work seriously, but maybe ourselves a little less so. Educational technology is important, it is the field that I’ve devoted my career.  But compared to the work that the ASH attendees are engaged the world of educational technology feels a bit less consequential.
Do you ever go to conferences that you totally do not belong?
What is the largest conference that you have ever attended?
Are you also wishing for a San Francisco EDUCAUSE?


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