ANAHEIM, Calif. -- For many of the thousands who attend Educause's annual meeting each year, a highlight is reading the Twitter feed called EDUCAUSE HULK (in all caps, as are his tweets). He has been documenting and gently mocking the meeting since 2010. And while he's not completely secretive about his identity (which can be found online), he agreed to sit down with Inside Higher Ed and to let us unmask him, although we're not publishing his photograph to keep the paparazzi from making it impossible for him to get around the meeting.
He's Mike Richichi, assistant vice president for information technology and deputy CIO at Baruch College of the City University of New York. He was in IT at Drew University when he started the Twitter feed but has continued the alter ego as he switched jobs.
Richichi started to tweet as EDUCAUSE HULK without giving it much thought. He was on the airport shuttle to the 2010 meeting when he sent the first tweet, thinking of other parody Twitter accounts and wondering why there wasn't one for Educause. He writes elsewhere and maintains another Twitter feed with his name on it. Although his handle there is the Hulk-like @chairthrower, the personality is human, not HULK.
Something about the all caps, tweet-length comments, urging "puny humans" to behave and threatening to SMASH things, appealed to Richichi. "It's like what you have in literature and acting," he said. "If you put constraints on yourself, you have a certain creativity. I can figure out a way to explain a concept in a very direct fashion."
Many assume Richichi must annoy Educause leaders, but he said the association has been supportive. He revealed himself to Educause almost immediately after starting the Twitter feed, when he was at a committee meeting where other members were speculating who EDUCAUSE HULK really was. Richichi said he felt he needed to be honest with his colleagues and that most people who know him personally have known his Twitter identity for some time.
In keeping with his Hulk persona, many tweets state that something is about to be smashed or destroyed as Hulk walks through. But there are also substantive topics that come up consistently. One is a skepticism of the latest fad (or the latest fad of a few years ago).
EDUCAUSE HULK #EDU16 PRO TIP! REMEMBER MOOC! THAT WAS FUN!— EDUCAUSE HULK (@EDUCAUSE_HULK) October 12, 2016
Needless to say, he and others can remind you that MOOCs did not take over all of higher education.
And then there is the topic of vendors and their parties and events at Educause. This gathering is among the most commercialized in higher education, with video advertising hitting attendees as they arrive at the Orange County airport, and then various forms of marketing that are omnipresent at the meeting.
Hulk isn't afraid to attend vendor events but does note the conflicted relationship many here have with companies. The tweet below responds to a question he received on whether the great thing about vendor parties was free food, an opportunity to meet people or something to smash.
In the interview, Richichi described himself as having a "love/hate relationship" with vendors. He said all the advertising can be off-putting and that many people here feel bombarded with hard sells. And he realizes vendors wine and dine attendees with money that comes from their own institutions.
Because CUNY makes many of its major technology decisions systemwide, Richichi says he has better interactions with vendors than do perhaps some of his colleagues in that he's focused on how to best use technology and isn't here in shopping mode. He learns a lot from meetings with vendors and others who use the same services, he said. That might be different, he said, if everyone viewed him as a potential purchaser.
While the vendors serve important roles, he said, his advice for those who are overwhelmed is to just take control of their schedules. If people seek out good sessions -- and especially good conversations between sessions -- they can escape that feeling, he said. For him, Educause is not “vendor party. Vendor party. Vendor party. Vendor session. Vendor session. Vendor session.”
People shouldn't be intimidated by the various subgroups at Educause, he said, and should just start talking to one another. A few years ago, Educause started offering a CIO lounge so leaders of colleges' IT efforts could have their own space. Some saw it as an exclusionary move. EDUCATION HULK tweeted from there (with most of course unaware of his eight-foot-tall green avatar). And though he is not a CIO, Richichi said he had good conversations in the lounge.
A frequent exhortation of EDUCAUSE HULK is for attendees to reach out to those new to the meeting or higher education and to simply trade ideas. Richichi said he is focused on finding new ways to use technology to promote student learning and to improve completion rates. And that's the kind of agenda he said many here share, even if all the glitz may suggest otherwise.
"This conference is what you make of it."
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