I’m just over 36 hours away at this point from being picked up entirely too early by a car service to head to Newark Airport to fly to Orlando, Florida for the EDUCAUSE 2014 Annual Conference. This will be my 9th EDUCAUSE Annual by my count, and this one is different because it’s my first as a member of the EDUCAUSE 2015 Program Committee. That means we get to have a meeting with our committee and the 2014 Committee, where they share their wisdom and give us advice for our next year. There’s a lot to do for next year and it will be great to get started.
Every EDUCAUSE conference for me has been about learning great new things, meeting new people, and reconnecting with people I already know. I try to go to as many sessions as I can, but I also allow myself to skip a session if I’ve met up with someone who I want to have a great conversation with. The “hallway track” is often the best part of the conference.
This is not my first year where I’ve also had committee work–I served on the Mid-Atlantic Conference Committee in 2007, as well as on the Current Issues Committee in 2009-2011.
Since 2010 my conference experience has kicked into high gear. Not only was I participating in the Hawkins Leadership Roundtable, but it was also when I first assumed the persona of EDUCAUSE HULK, which ended up being quite an exciting time for me. Besides stealthily posting as EDUCAUSE HULK, often literally from corners in the Anaheim Convention Center ( I kept my secret identity hidden until the last morning of the conference), I was very active on my own Twitter, and first fully experienced the concept of the “backchannel”, not as a distraction, but as an integral enhancement to the overall experience. Whether it was having a session spur further discussion (which the presenter often was tapped into and would further riff on it, in a way that was actually much more natural than raising hands and having to construct formal questions would have been), or just trying to keep up with the whirlwind of people who either wanted to talk to me, or wanted a witty remark, Hulk-style, I found that at the end of the conference I was more engaged and active than I had ever been, and had met many new connections, most of whom I am still in regular contact with to this day. EDUCAUSE HULK will be in the backchannel in Orlando, because there are things he can say that I cannot. I also hope he’s more approachable to first-time attendees, or to anyone who has trouble making connections at these kind of events.
Another highlight of my conference experience is the annual get-together with my classmates from my Frye Institute class (2006 represent!) Frye cohorts are special groups of amazingly talented people, who rely on each other for unvarnished advice, and can discuss topics that might not be best discussed in public. These are also some of my dearest personal and professional friends.
Heck, if I’m in a good mood, I’ll even venture out to the exhibit floor, talk to the vendors we’re working with, and perhaps–perhaps–visit one or two that I may want to do business with. I’ve always been uneasy about the vendor presence at EDUCAUSE–I understand that they’re critical to funding the event, but then again, all the money they put into it directly or indirectly comes from our operating budgets. Many vendors are true partners to the academic enterprise, and I applaud them; others are a touch too aggressive and crass. I know they won’t go away; and yes, we’ll continue to buy things from them, so it makes sense that we come together and talk shop sometimes. I’m just ambivalent.
So tomorrow I start to pack. Tons of questions–do I bring long sleeve or short sleeve shirts? How many devices to bring, and what kinds? Is it going to rain all week? Will I be running outside or on a treadmill? I’ve actually been planning my strategy for weeks now, and I think I have everything down.
When I get there the interactions will begin. Sometimes in the midst of the event I feel like I’m riding a wave, or a runaway train, and all I have to do is hold on and let the conference take me where it will. While I always seem to find the people I need to and have the conversations I want to, I never feel I’ve learned enough, and I always feel there’s stuff I missed out on. I think that’s just a normal consequence of the sheer massiveness of the event. If you think EDUCAUSE doesn’t have more than enough to offer you, then you’re probably delusional.
So, I look forward to the event next week, and helping start the work of creating the EDUCAUSE 2015 program (please look me up if you have any suggestions). If you’re going, I hope you find your experience rewarding and enriching, and I hope to talk with you about your ideas and hopes for higher education information technology.
Some last nuggets of advice:
- Introduce yourself. It can be hard if you’re an introvert, I know, but I’ve found nearly everyone, even if you think they’re an unapproachable “rock star” of the profession, to be warm and gracious. The worst that will happen is you won’t talk, but it’s far more likely you’ll be invited to dinner and/or drinks for further discussion.
- A corollary: If someone asks you to go to lunch, or dinner, or grab a cup of coffee, and you don’t have plans, say yes. This is how new collaborations are made, or professional colleagues that will last a lifetime.
- Get plenty of sleep and exercise, and drink plenty of water (okay, that one was more important in Denver, but it’s still good advice.) Even though vendors may be plying you with food and drink try not to overindulge.
- If you’re not using Twitter as a professional development tool, now is the time to start. Grab on to the #edu14 hashtag and enjoy the discussions. Every once in a while just drink from the firehose and watch the stream fly by. Just remember to stay focused–don’t use Twitter during a session to keep up with your other news, try and stay on topic with the conference. When it works it’s absolutely exhilarating.
- Have fun! There’s nothing wrong with having a good time while you’re learning new things and developing professional relationships that you and your institution will rely on in the future.