I have way more Denver pics to share, but I wanted to post a few thoughts about Educause, the conference I attended and the whole reason I went to Denver in the first place.
I have wanted to attend ever since I started working in Higher Ed, but family and time commitments just didn’t work out. I’ve attended NERCOMP twice, and both times thought it was a great conference. The last one I went to was in March, and I came home with a list of things to work on, put into place, etc. (The biggest of those would be Canvas, actually. At the time I attended NERCOMP, the plan was to go with…. another vendor.. and all the stuff I heard about Canvas made me wish the stars had aligned that we had started our LMS search THEN and not months before, and anyway, LOOOONG story short, I’m pretty sure if not for NERCOMP, when the other option started to fall apart, it was my conversations and connections made in Providence that landed us where we are today.) So, it was a great conference, and I was really hoping that Educause would be the bigger, better, magnified version of NERCOMP…. and it wasn’t.
I’ll start with the good — it was a great venue, and had great food, and I never once waited in line for a bathroom. It was pretty well organized. I met some nice people.
But the bad… the Shirky keynote was great, but it wasn’t much of anything I hadn’t heard before. The sessions… varied. I tried to choose the ones that were focused on distance and hybrid learning, because those are big on our campus right now, but clearly, they are big on EVERY campus. The “4 questions not to ask” session was standing room only. (And I also noticed, on twitter, that other concurrent sessions seemed to be about asking those 4 questions, so there was some conflict in ideals with that. (Also, in a standing room only session, it sure would have been nice to have had the speakers use the chairs that were provided for them, instead of trying to find them in the crowd on the floor.) One session I hauled myself too had been cancelled, and the teaching & learning sessions were spread so far apart it took a while to find another. The most disappointing sesssion was on Thursday. “Making the Connection” was listed under teaching and learning. Now, if you click on that link, you can see all the details, and see that the presenter is the VP of software engineering for D2L. But if you were looking at the app, or the mini guide, you only get the session description, which sounded great. And honestly, it could have BEEN great — had D2L bothered to find someone, ANYONE from one of their client schools to share some real life examples. I’m sorry, but an engineering exec does not convince me, especially when he starts with “okay, this is a fake student and this is a fake university but here’s some things you might do…” Full disclosure: I bailed after about 15 minutes. If at minute 16, actual users descended from the rafters and started sharing real life experiences, well, I missed it. But I was so peeved that I had been snookered into attending a vendor presentation, with fake info, that I couldn’t stomach it anymore. I actually left that session and went to “Moving to the Cloud,” which was another vendor presentation, about Canvas by Instructure. But it was a marked contrast (and I am really trying to be even in my assessments here) because the four speakers were people who were using Canvas and were sharing their implementation stories. I could see some key Canvas folks sitting in the front row, presumably there to be able to answer questions, but it was a totally client led presentation. And the speakers shared the good, the bad, and the ugly about their experiences implementing Canvas. It wasn’t a sales pitch by an engineer who didn’t know how to talk teaching and learning. Another session that I was excited for was “Opening the LMS door to the community.” Since we have a strong focus on experiential learning, I was really excited about this, and it was in the teaching and learning track…. but it was all about the mechanics of it, how to configure user accounts for non students, etc etc. That’s not pedagogy. That’s systems maintenance. SIGH. So, that’s how the conference felt, all the way through. Like every session I attended was a missed opportunity to attend something better.
The two best sessions: Engaging Online Learners for Success: Beyond the LMS is the only one I took notes in. (And seriously, NERCOMP was a flurry of notetaking, both times.) The information was incredibly relevant to where my university is now, and the speaker was accessible, and I’ve already shared the notes I took with others on campus. It was great. The other was Instructional Technologies. When I walked into that session, I recognized a familiar face at the speakers table, and looked at my programs and didn’t see his name, but I was certain I knew who it was, so I asked when I had a chance, and yes, it was Dr Ruben Puentedura, whose SAMR model I teach to my undergrads, and who I have seen at ACTEM and MLTI student conferences several times in years past. So, yes, I traveled and spent thousands of dollars to have the best session be an extension of ones I’ve had for free, 8 miles from my house. (Or, for $100, 60 miles from my house. You get the picture.) In that session, though, I expressed my disappointment with the whole Educause experience, and after the session, I had several people approach me — some to agree and commiserate, and others to share info on other conferences that might be a better fit for someone with my interests.
Also, attending the Canvas party was a highlight — I was driving so it wasn’t for the free drinks, but I talked to several people there about Canvas, and what was working and faculty stories, and how we are implementing and all of that, and made some good connections with other new and some experienced Canvas users.
A caveat, I was not staying on site, and maybe that would make a difference. But I’m not sure it would — even at NERCOMP, where I stay right on site, I usually retire to my room with takeout at the end of the day (I have little kids! It means I can eat! in solitude! plus hotels have HGTV and we don’t have cable, so…) so it’s not like I missed some of that face time. And on the flip side, I am so glad I had my first (and probably last) Educause in Denver where I was able to spend so much time with my sister — had I had this experience and been by myself in a hotel in Philadelphia or Anaheim, I’d probably be reaalllly bummed (while watching HGTV and eating Indian food, but still.)
I really want to check out ELI next time, and I would really like to get a cadre of people to go to the Canvas conference in June, especially on the cusp of a full implementation. I also plan to keep NERCOMP in rotation, as well. But for the price — it ate all of my PD money for the year — I don’t want to do Educause again. I think it would be a great conference for the CIO/manager types, but for the teaching & learning side, I was pretty disappointed. Maybe I just didn’t hit the right rooms, or find my tribe, or whatever, but I am glad I experienced it, and can appreciate the smaller ones even more now.
Now just some bullets:
- Best swag: a usb car charger thing (that I gave directly to my sister who desperately needed one) and a mini power strip from FireEye were my favorite. Also some earbuds from Acquia, I had my bluetooth ones with me but realized corded might be better for the plane, so that was nice. The Canvas flask from the party was pretty nice, too, and thank you for the candy: so many.
- Worst swag: I attended a discussion in the learning theater about women in IT (That was great!) and then walked out and was immediately confronted with a booth that had drivers as a prize (golf club drivers, not software). Free t-shirts are men’s swag, too, I think. Stuffed animals can go either way, since we are all taking them home to our kids.
- Best prizes: someone won a car, so that’s pretty good, but I basically only drop my card/get scanned for cash gift cards, iOs devices, or kindles.
- I never know if I should act interested with the vendor when I’m dropping a card or just be straight up and tell them I make no purchasing decisions and I don’t care what they are selling, just want to enter the drawing/have a pen/etc. We’re generally both wasting our time with those conversations when they don’t understand what little (none) influence I have.
- I could never be in sales. Never, ever. Oy.