Taking A Pause From EDUCAUSE

Why did you decide to go -- or not go -- to the big Annual Conference?

October 24, 2016

Are you going to EDUCAUSE?

2016 will be the first year in many years that I will not be attending the big EDUCAUSE Annual Conference.

It feels weird to not be going to EDUCAUSE. I’ve participated in the Conference throughout my edtech career. I’ve grown up (professionally) with EDUCAUSE.

So why am I skipping the Conference this year in Anaheim?

First, I want to say why I believe that investing the time and money to attend the annual big EDUCAUSE Conference is worthwhile. I'll almost certainly be back in future years, and I think that anyone making the investment to attend the Annual EDUCAUSE Conference should feel good about that choice.

The EDUCAUSE Conference is the only event that I know of where all of higher ed IT attends. EDUCAUSE is the place to catch-up with colleagues from across the world, to share what you are working on, and to learn from their experiences. EDUCAUSE is also the best place to get a sense of the edtech industry - to scope out new services and products - and to meet the people who work at the tech companies that we currently or might in the future do business with.

There is real value in getting the entire edtech community - from higher ed, to vendor, to foundation, to journalist people - all together in one place and at one time.  The density of information sharing is efficient. The ability to build, nurture, and deepen networks is essential for our shared work at the intersection of higher education and technology.

The other reason that I always go to the big EDUCAUSE Conference is the people of EDUCAUSE. I’m a big fan of the leadership of EDUCAUSE. John O’Brien, the president and CEO of EDUCAUSE, is extraordinarily well-respected and highly regarded in our higher ed community. His background as a professor and college president gives him insight into, and credibility with, our higher ed community. John is also a modest, curious, and engaging guy - a leader more likely to listen than talk.

The entire leadership team of EDUCAUSE is similarly made up of dedicated and passionate educators, colleagues who care deeply for the mission and well-being of our institutions and our profession.  The EDUCAUSE team works incredibly hard in their roles throughout the year - and especially tirelessly during the Annual Conference to always host a well-planned and flawlessly executed event.

So why am I taking a pause from EDUCAUSE this year?  3 reasons…...

1 - Fit?:

The Annual EDUCAUSE Conference "represents the best thinking in higher education IT”. True that.

What I find myself wondering about is if information technology (IT) is really the focus, or even the central mediator, of my work in higher ed?

The really interesting questions in higher ed seem to be about access, productivity, equity, inclusivity, relevance, and learning.

The really hard problems are about institutional and industry change.

The real challenges all revolve around leadership.

IT is embedded, enmeshed, and inseparable from all of these questions, problems, and challenges. Increasingly, however - (and at least for me) - technology feels like the least interesting aspect of our work.

The technological challenges pale in comparison to the economic, political, demographic, and leadership challenges that we all face.

All of my questions now are about organizational change, communications, and leadership. Technology is a part of all these questions, problems, and challenges - but not the main focus.

But I’m happy to be convinced that I’m getting this critique wrong - and the big EDUCAUSE conference really is the place to go to learn about learning and organizational change.

2 - Competition and Scale:

As my work as moved more towards the intersection of learning and organizational change - the number of conferences, convenings, symposiums, and events that would be useful to attend has multiplied.  Like all of you, my ability to attend conferences is constrained by time and budget - we need to pick and choose.

Increasingly, I’m looking to go to events that are more intimate - and have a narrower focus on the intersection of learning and organizational change.

The value that I get from conferences is all about building and nurturing a professional network. What I don’t want from a conference is content.  Let me read about best practices and program results in publications, reports, and blog posts.

What I want is conversation. The best conferences that I attend nowadays are unconferences. Conferences with a flexible agenda - created on-the-fly by the participants.

Admittedly, the Annual EDUCAUSE Conference is great for having lots of conversations. Since everyone goes to EDUCAUSE the chance that you will have deep conversations with a diverse group of colleagues is high. Even better, these conversations can happen across higher ed institutions, industry, foundations, and professional associations.

The scale of the Annual EDUCAUSE Conference works both for, and against, the goal of deep conversations. There are too many people to talk with. Too many sessions and events that you really should attend.  Too much going on to have quiet conversations.  Too much going on to think.

Is it wrong to not want to go to a conference because it is too big?  Like Yogi Berra complaining that nobody goes there anymore because it’s too crowded?

3 - Loyal Critic:

The final reason that I’m taking a pause from the EDUCAUSE Conference this year is that I’ve honestly grown weary of complaining about the EDUCAUSE Conference.

Each year I try to poke fun at EDUCAUSE - including the juicy target of the CIO Lounge.

Each year I go to the Conference and wonder aloud about the size and influence of the edtech / publishing industry presence.

Each year I get queasy by the size and money spent on the vendor floor.

Each year I get overwhelmed by the noise and the pageantry of the general sessions.

Each year I call for the leadership of EDUCAUSE to take more public, and possibly controversial stands, on the critical issues facing postsecondary education.

And each year I wonder if perhaps those of us working at the intersection of higher ed and technology should be a little less self-congratulatory about our accomplishments.

How much have those of us in higher ed IT contributed to lowering costs and improving access?

Have costs (and student debt) gone down during the time we have been working in higher ed IT?

How have we been able to impact trends around faculty autonomy and adjunctification?

Part of me wants the profession - including EDUCAUSE - to take a more self-critical stance about our role in higher ed change.  But that idea might make for a depressing conference.

I’m hoping that in the future that I can find a more constructive way influence the culture, priorities, and practices of EDUCAUSE.

The role of loyal critic of EDUCAUSE is not a role that I’m sure I want.

What some other role might be, as a participant and chronicler and influencer of EDUCAUSE, is not yet clear.   Maybe taking a pause from the big Conference will help me sort all that out.

Can you share your thought process about choose to attend - or to not attend - the 2016 EDUCAUSE Conference?

Perhaps I’ll see you at EDUCAUSE 2017.


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