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Grassroots Campus Convenings vs. Large Academic Conferences and Professional Association Meetings

With a thank you to Matthew Rascoff, and the Duke Learning Innovation team.

March 31, 2019
 
 

I’d like to start this post with a thank you. Last week, Matthew Rascoff and his team at Duke Learning Innovation hosted the HAIL Academic Innovation Collaborative Production Workshop. HAIL stands for Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners.

Matthew and his team could not have been more gracious, generous or energetic hosts.  The Duke campus has to rank among the top places in the world to think, convene, and write.  Thank you to Matthew and the Duke Learning Innovation team.

This is the fourth HAIL Storm (of five) gatherings that I’ve attended.  The first was on the campus of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in January 2017.  The second (which I missed) was at Stanford.  Subsequent convenings have occurred at CSU Channel Islands, Dartmouth, and now Duke.

Each time I spend my limited professional development time and money at a grassroots campus convening, as opposed to a conference organized by a professional association, I wonder if how higher ed people are gathering might be changing?

From what I can see, attendance at higher educational academic and professional conferences is more robust than ever.  The 2019 UPCEA Annual Conference had more people wanting to attend than could be accommodated. The 2018 EDUCAUSE annual conference had over 8,000 people registered, 3,000 of which were first-time attendees.  

Perhaps you can share some attendee trend data from the conferences that you attend?

What I wonder about is how it that attendance at large academic/professional events is growing, while the number of grassroots campus-based convenings (like HAIL) also seems to be expanding?

Some examples of campus-based convenings that I know about are ASU’s ShapingEDU, the Distance Teaching & Learning Conference at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the Digital Pedagogy Lab at the University of Mary Washington. 

What other campus-based grassroots academic convenings can you share?

There are some clear differentiators between a conference organized by a professional association and a campus-based gathering of an academic community of practice.

The first is size. Academic and professional conferences can get big.  The Modern Language Associate (MLA) convention peaked at 10,500 in 2002.  Why the numbers have gone down to just over 6,000 in 2018 is an interesting question.  

Campus-based gatherings seem to range from a couple of dozen to maybe a couple of hundred.  But they are small affairs compared to events like EDUCAUSE.

Size cuts two ways. A large conference will be more inclusive and diverse.  A small event will be more intimate.

A second difference between a sizeable disciplinary meeting or professional conference is costs. Campus-convenings can be less expensive, as in most cases the overhead for running the event is lower than at a large gathering.  Nor is there a professional staff to plan and manage the event.

On the other hand, it may be impossible for higher ed people to get funding to attend a grassroots campus gathering.  For many people in academia, travel must be justified.  It is often easier to get funding if one is delivering a paper or a presentation.  Speaking at a national conference is also important for career progression for many academics.  Small campus convenings may not count for funding or promotion.

What higher ed events have you attended in 2019, and where do you plan to go?

How do you decide which conferences and convenings that you will attend?

How has the way that you attend academic and professional conferences changed over your career?

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