I spent four days in Denver last week at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference. This was the eighth straight year I’ve attended this conference and I’ve learned quite a bit from each one. In my first few conferences, I attended a lot of sessions while, for the past two, I’ve spent most of my time in the exhibit hall talking to vendors about products we currently use, those we may use, and others that are quite cool but we wouldn’t necessarily use in Student Affairs.
We left Raleigh-Durham airport on Tuesday morning and arrived in Denver just after 11:00. Thank you, Southwest Airlines for the direct flight between RDU and DEN. We even had a slightly late departure from RDU, but still made Denver on time. I can only assume that our pilot broke some speed limit along the way to make up time.
After checking in to our hotel and finding some lunch, we had touring to do before the conference events started. Our first stop was at Great Divide Brewing where we tried some of their beer and got the tour of the brewery.After Great Divide, we had to visit the Falling Rock Tap House.
With over 75 beers on tap, it’s another great place to visit in Denver if you would like to try some of the local beer.
The full conference started on Wednesday morning with the keynote from Clay Shirky. EDUCAUSE always has great speakers for the keynote. In previous years we’ve heard from Jim Collins, Lawrence Lessig, Seth Godin, danah boyd, and Doris Kearns Goodwin. This year didn’t disappoint either. I’d seen a few of Shirky’s talks online, so the content of his talk really wasn’t anything new to me. I guess it would have been too much to expect that he’d have some new research or theory to present for us. Regardless, his talk was entertaining and informative. I learned that after the printing press was invented around 1440, erotic novels were printed by 1499 while it took until 1665 for the first academic journal to be printed. You can watch all of Shirky’s talk at the EDUCAUSE website to find out how this bit of trivia is relevant.
After the opening keynote, I did attend a couple of sessions in the morning. Over the past couple of years, I’ve found that I don’t really get a lot from most conference sessions and these two again failed to live up to their promise. I won’t point them out by name, but here’s the general issue I have with many sessions. First, they are too general. The information presented is mostly common knowledge to anyone who has been working in the field for more than a couple of years. These may be great for regional conferences, or those targeted for new professionals, but the content isn’t deep enough for an annual conference audience. Second, there are too many presentations that just talk about the steps that were taken to implement a new service or institute some change and fail to do any assessment of the project or to talk about what was learned. Where’s the answer to the “so what?” question.
After lunch, it was time to explore the exhibit hall and talk to some of the vendors we work with in Student Affairs.
We had a nice long talk with our event management vendor about how their product is being used on campus, then saw some demonstrations of new software from another vendor we are using for a number of systems within the division. All of this went fairly well, and was much more informative than the morning sessions that I attended.
Later in the day, I attended the first meeting of the Student Affairs IT constituent group. This is a new group for EDUCAUSE, and I hope we can use it to bring more attention to the specific needs of Student Affairs. As Student Affairs offices across the country implement more systems, we are moving away from providing local services into supporting campus-wide systems. This is a significant change that requires support from Student Affairs leadership, central IT organizations, national organizations, and the vendors who provide the systems. The rapid growth over the past few years is just the beginning. There is the potential for growth in all areas of campus that are not directly classroom related. In Student Affairs organizations across the country, we manage systems for housing, dining, health services, student conduct, career services, event management, and many more. The complexity of these systems will require additional skills and resources within Student Affairs departments, and organizations such as EDUCAUSE can be effective for advocating for these changes.
Wednesday night was a big night for vendor events. We attended the event at Wynkoop Brewing Company. Besides the good food and great beer, the highlight of the evening was the tour of the brewery, led by one of the brewers. This guy really enjoyed his job and was excited about the Wynkoop beer and all craft beer in general. He gave us a lot of historical background information as well as some great insights into brewing their beer. We even got to sample some of their barley, and beer, at the end of the tour. I recommend the Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout. What’s amazing about this brewery is how they can their beer. It’s still done by hand, two at a time. This is probably why you don’t get this beer outside of the Denver area.
Thursday started off with a visit to the Four Winds Interactive headquarters in Denver. This company provides digital signage solutions to a number of universities, so when they offered a tour of their offices, I accepted. Their offices are located in an old warehouse building in a part of Denver that’s undergoing revitalization so it reminded me a lot of the American Tobacco Campus and Durham. I spent an hour at Four Winds and was quite impressed with the many ways that digital signage can be used throughout a campus.
After returning to the convention center on Thursday, I spent the rest of the day talking to more vendors. Trust me, there were plenty of them to talk to and they all had the best product in their market space. I know because that’s what they all told me. But seriously, I looked at all kinds of stuff. I talked to people about furniture that could be used in student centers and offices to promote creativity and collaboration. I looked at solutions for event scheduling, including some cool features that allow people to book open rooms from interactive signs just outside the space. I also took a look at new hardware and software from some of the major vendors such as Dell, Microsoft, and Google. And finished up the day with a demonstration of WebEx Social from Cisco.
Thursday night didn’t seem to be so big on vendor events. Maybe they were looking for the traditional EDUCAUSE event that didn’t happen this year as well. I heard that didn’t take place this year because most people didn’t attend. I’m not sure if this is true, but I attended almost every one of these events in my eight years of this conference. I thought the one last year in Philadelphia was quite enjoyable. So without a major event to attend on Thursday, a small group met up with the help of some Twitter organizing and headed off to dinner. After dinner, I ran into a few other people and we ended the evening at the Yard House. The sign on the door read, “Largest Selection of Draft Beer in the World” so how could I not go there?
After the long nights on Wednesday and Thursday, getting up for that 8:00 session on Friday morning isn’t always easy. But I’m glad I did because the session I attended was one of the best ones I’ve ever attended, outside of a keynote. The session was titled “Some People Visit the Web, Some People Live There: The Effect of Online Residency on Digital Literacies” The research for this topic started as a rebuttal to Marc Prensky’s Digital Immigrant vs. Digital Native argument That’s one that I’ve always had an issue with, so this talk was great to hear. The basic idea is to analyze web use based on a spectrum that ranges from Visitors to Residents. Just watch this video to learn more about the concept.
Because of the digital immigrant vs. digital native discussion, and others like it we’ve mistakenly assumed that today’s students are experts at everything related to technology. This would not be correct, and David White explained the problem of this view when he said “We’ve lost a decade where we wrongly assumed that students who were good with technology were also good at using technology to learn.”
We even had some time during this session to develop our own personal mapping of how we use the internet to communicate and engage. I think this would be a great exercise to take back to campus to map out how we are using these within Student Affairs. It would be interesting to see the comparisons between how we intended to use them and how they are actually being used.
And finally, the conference closed out with the final general session of the event. Edward Ayers, President of the University of Richmond spoke on Discovery in a Digital World. Ayers is a historian who has done extensive work to digitize his research. You can also watch his talk on the EDUCAUSE website to hear about some of the really cool things he is doing with historical research and maps. He made a number of excellent points during his talk, but one that struck me was his belief that the problem isn’t that technology is being used in education, especially the humanities, but that we are using too few of its capabilities.
With the conference over, we killed a couple of hours before leaving for the airport by enjoying one final meal in Denver and visiting Colorado’s capital building.Then the very long drive to the airport (why is that airport so far from anything?) and another direct flight from Denver to Raleigh-Durham.
Oh, and one last word. MOOC!