I've come to believe that at EDUCAUSE, there is the Conference and the conference. The Conference (large C) is what happens at sessions, the exhibitor floor, and the parties. The conference (small c), with an emphasis on the first two syllables (confer), consists of all the discussions that take place in hotel suites and in small rooms on the vendor floor.
The people who go to the conference, (small c), attend very few sessions, and don't have the opportunity to wander the exhibition space. These are the CIOs and the executives, the CTOs and the provosts, the Deans and the VPs. These are the people with the power to spend big money, initiate projects, announce new initiatives, and negotiate new partnerships. They have staffs. They do not travel alone. They have many direct reports. These are the decision makers. I am not one of these people.
For the first 7 years or so of my EDUCAUSE career, I've been attending the Conference (big C). And I love the Conference. 3 days of wandering from session to session, with lots of time on the vendor floor. I always came back from the Conference refreshed and energized.
These past two years I've been lucky enough to visit that other world, that other EDUCAUSE conference (small c). I've been tagging along with Scott Jaschik, (IHE's Editor and Co-Founder) on some of his meetings. At this point in my career (mid), I normally would not have the opportunity to participate in conversations with decision makers and big cheeses. This past week in Anaheim I found myself meeting with the CEO of Pearson, the President of Blackboard Learn, the Group President of McGraw-Hill Education, the US CTO of Microsoft, the Founding Director of the Campus Computing Project, and a Senior Program officer for the Gates Foundation.
I love these conversations, as they are opportunities to learn about how these leaders view the higher ed landscape, and to discuss the strategic directions they plan on taking their organizations. I'm also able to use these meetings to push on things that I care about, such as transparency and the need for companies to participate in the open education movement. My day job is largely about tactics and execution, so having the opportunity to talk on the strategic level with such smart and influential people is incredibly rewarding.
And frankly, I find it somewhat strange and disorienting that I'm able to have these conversations. An EDUCAUSE Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, the winner of some kind of Golden Ticket. But looking back on this week in Anaheim, I also miss the Conference - the ability to drift from session-to-session, the chance to take-in lots of information while not worrying about the daily work of meetings, e-mails, and small decisions, and the chance to bounce around wherever interest leads.
At EDUCAUSE 2010 I attended many fewer sessions than in the past, and my days were scripted and scheduled. Part of me misses the roaming.
How was your EDUCAUSE 2010? How has your Conference (or conference) going experience changed as your career has progressed?