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Notes From My Year of Going Almost Nowhere

4 observations inspired by not going to next week’s ASU+GSV Summit.

May 4, 2017
 
 

The ASU+GSV Summit is kicking off on May 8th. The event bills itself as “... the only conference during the year where you'll have access to the smartest and most influential Learning & Talent Tech minds from around the world.”  

Lots of people who I know, and some who’d I’d love to get to know, will be at ASU+GSV. 

But I am not going to ASU+GSV.

Next year our younger daughter heads off to college. This year I wanted to stick closer to home. 

Limiting professional travel is both a privilege and a challenge (more on this below), and I feel fortunate to have been able to maximize hanging-out time.

Some other edtech gatherings that I did not attend in 2016-2017 include:

  • The New Media Consortium (NMC) Summer Conference (June 2016 in Rochester)  
  • The Campus Technology Conference (August 2016 in Boston)  
  • WCET Annual Meeting (October 2016 in Minneapolis) 
  • The EDUCAUSE Annual Conference (October 2016 in Anaheim)  
  • The POD Network Conference (November 2016 in Louisville)
  • The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Accelerate Conference (November 2016 in Orlando) 
  • Reimagine Education Conference (December 2016 in Philadelphia)
  • The Educause Learning Initiative (ELI) Annual Meeting (February 2017 in Houston)  
  • SXSWedu (March 2017 in Austin)
  • The Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Innovate Conference  (April 2017 in New Orleans) 

What other edtech gatherings did I miss?

I also did not go to any company sponsored meeting. No BbWorld (July 2016 in Las Vegas), no D2L (July 2016 in DC), and no InstructureCon (July 2016 in Colorado). 

Despite my long desire to hang out with academic librarians, I missed ALA (June of 2016 in California) and ACRL (March 2017 in Baltimore).

Some notes and observations about staying off the edtech circuit:

1 - Professional Travel Is A Privilege (One Too Often Reserved for the Privileged):  

Going to conference is, more than anything, expensive. I am fortunate that I work at an institution that puts strong value on ongoing professional development and contribution to the larger field, and which is able to put resources behind this commitment. Every dollar spent for professional travel is a dollar less for other priorities.  Conference budgets are always limited, and there needs to be a strong institutional ROI (return on investment) to justify attending any event. 

Many of my colleagues at very fine institutions have very little money to attend conferences, and I know more than a few of my colleagues who self-fund their travel, lodging, and conference fees. Whenever I do attend a professional event with institutional dollars, I am aware of the privilege and the responsibility associated with that expenditure.

2 - Missing EdTech Conferences and Events Does Come With A Price:

The world of higher ed technology is a networked world.  We are a community of practice, with ideas and knowledge and experience passed from practitioner to practitioner. The only way that we figure out how to innovate on our campuses is to learn from our colleagues at peer institutions.  The world of higher ed technology is small, and that of digital learning even smaller. The cross-institutional relationships that one develops at conferences and events are vital to the productivity of our campus work. 

We go to conferences now less for professional development - as information transfer can happen remotely and asynchronously - but more for a shared process of knowledge construction. It is through the conversations with peers from other schools (and other organizations and companies) at conferences that we figure out how to do our jobs better. If you don’t go to conferences you miss out on most of these conversations. Moreover, the work that is being done on your campus to move education (and learning) forward becomes invisible if it is not shared.  

3 - The Direct Costs of Conference Going Represents Only Part of the Price:

At this point in my career, I am fortunate that I can sometimes shift the cost of professional conferences off of my institution. The registration fee is often included for invited speakers, and sometimes travel and lodging as well. Even when I’m lucky enough to get my conference paid for, however, attending still comes with a price. 

The work of the institution goes on when we leave campus. This means that our work does not stop. It is almost impossible to focus only on the conference during the conference. We all need to be on e-mail. We all need to deal with unexpected events. And whatever we don’t do while we were attending the conference needs to be done when we get back.  This does not mean that we should stop attending off-campus events and meetings. Only that we should be realistic about the price that we will pay.

4 - The Best Conferences Might Be A Different - And More Intimate - Type of Convening:

The conference that I did go to this year, and which was the gathering that I’ve been to in years, was a HAIL Storm. The full name was the event, hosted by the amazing folks at the University of Michigan, was Harvesting Academic Innovation for Learners (HAIL) Storm. You can read more of my reactions to the event, James Devaney’s (Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan) opening remarks, and Jeff Young’s take on the gathering.  

HAIL Storm was great because it was small, hands-on, and with peers and colleagues who are facing exactly the same opportunities challenges at their institutions that I face at my own. There are real challenges with these small and user-organized conferences, however. These challenges include the fact that a small event is an invite-only event, one that runs the risks of reifying the exclusivity and narrow self-interest that characterizes our larger postsecondary system.  Even if there is a way to find some balance between inclusivity, transparency, and intimacy - these small gatherings need to develop a sustainable organizational and funding model.   

What conferences and events did you attend this year?

Which one’s did not attend, but wish you could have made the trip?

Where do you plan to go next year?

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