#ELI2015 in 7 C’s

Sharing our big takeaways from the ELI Annual Meeting.

February 12, 2015
What showed up for you as the big stories of #ELI2015? This is a hard conference to get a handle on. ELI is small enough that you think you should be able to keep track of the important discussions and key sessions, but too big to actually participate in anything but a small number of the discussions and sessions swirling all around.  I think that we think that we can keep a pulse on the conference by following along on Twitter. This is a hypothesis that I’d like to see validated.  
In honor of ELI’s indispensable 7 Things series, I offer 7 observations about #ELI2015.
Community: Unlike the big Annual EDUCAUSE Conference, the ELI meeting very much feels like one community coming together. We are the learning people. We are the people who use technology as a tool to improve learning. We know each other. Many of us have been working together for years on various learning efforts.  We are excited to welcome new members into our community, as we embrace and seek out new ideas and new perspectives. 
Confidence: The overall vibe that I picked up during the sessions, keynotes, meet-ups, and receptions at #ELI2015 was one of confidence. Confidence that a focus on learning is the right place to put our professional and creative energies. Confidence that higher ed leadership is coming around to the belief that investments in student learning constitute a competitive necessity. Confidence that the ELI community has been chipping away at developing models to support authentic learning for years, and that these efforts are bearing measurable fruits on our campuses. Confidence that 10 years from now the mission of the ELI community will not have changed, even as the modes of teaching and learning continue to evolve.
Concerns: Our appreciation of belonging to a close-knit and supportive community, and our confidence in the mission and future of both ELI and our work in learning technology, is tempered by some deep concerns around the composition of #ELI2015 attendees. We ask ourselves about how we can bring more of our colleagues from community colleges and other public institutions to this convening? We understand that the attendees at ELI are not representative of higher education as a whole. We worry about the unequal distribution of professional development opportunities for faculty and non-faculty educators across the postsecondary spectrum. We hope that our focus in on improving opportunity for everyone, but we worry that we are contributing to a replication of the existing class structure. We worry about the comparative lack of faculty at ELI, as well as the almost total lack of students. We love spending time with and learning from our closest peers, but are concerned that this collaboration comes at a price of inclusivity and diversity.
Continuity: I think that the ELI Meeting is striking a good balance between innovation / change and continuity. I’m happy that ELI does not chase the latest fads in meeting design, while at the same time the leadership (Malcolm and Veronica) are exquisitely tuned into the needs of the community. ELI is a gracious convener and a generous host.  There is a feeling that the details of the gathering have been sweated, and that very decision carefully thought through. I think that it is the continuity and consistency of ELI’s leadership that also makes room for experimentation in new methods of presenting and convening. No professional conference that I know about does more to experiment with different active and participatory methods of participant interaction. I expect that the method of the ELI sessions will continue to evolve, but the warmth and close community feeling of the annual ELI gathering will only persist.
Content: At #ELI2015 content was not king.  The real value add of the gathering comes from the conversations. From the discussions built into many (now most) of the conference sessions, to the dialogue that occurs in hallways, at receptions, and over dinner. I hope that we find ways to move even more content out of the annual meeting and into pre-conference materials and platforms.  The fear is that nobody will spend time with pre-conference content if offered. This is a reasonable but not insurmountable fear. If we made a concerted effort to chunk and modularize ELI content, and made it mobile friendly, I think we’d have a chance of having a critical mass arrive at #ELI2016 with shared language and knowledge base. How to get the ELI community to invest in creating digital content to facilitate analog discussion is a challenge that I’m not quite sure of how to overcome. But we should start small and work up.
Cities: My big complaint about #ELI2015 is venue. The hotel was fine. The city was not. EDUCAUSE as an organization should make a commitment to place. ELI should be held in a walkable city. The conference is small enough that we don’t need to be a a convention hotel. (We never set foot in the convention hall). New Orleans was a good choice. I vote for Boston, or San Diego, or Chicago, or Philadelphia, or Cleveland, or Pittsburgh, or Atlanta, or Portland, or Seattle, or Washington DC. I have high hopes for San Antonio in 2016. Please, no more Anaheim. No more Orlando. These places may be affordable to host a conference, but you get what you pay for.
Change: My final observation about #ELI2015 is one of change. Diana Oblinger gave a wonderful keynote address this week that she called “Designed to Change”. Her talk was amongst the highlights of the conference, and was an elegant and powerful bookend to her amazingly successful career leading EDUCAUSE. Discussions of change permeated the sessions and the hallway conversations at ELI.  There is excitement about the potential to find ways to improve student learning, while simultaneously improving access and maybe (just maybe) lowering costs. Constant change is the new normal in higher education, and no part of higher ed is changing faster than teaching and learning.  
What were your big takeaways from #ELI2015?


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