How I Made the Most Out of Missing EDUCAUSE

The only thing worse than not being able to make it to a conference, that you really want to go to, is being able to make it to that conference but then having something get in the way.

Lately I’d been wondering if EDUCAUSE was the right conference for me to be attending now that I’m not in IT anymore. I’ve gotten the opportunity to attend some smaller more academically focused conferences and I’ve been wondering if maybe that is a better place for me. At one point I was the only person from my institution to go to EDUCAUSE and back then I thought it was really important because I do think that someone from an institution should go every year. However, that is no longer the case so I’ve been wondering if I’m still the right person. Still, I’ve made some good connections there over the years and I was really excited to be attending again.

I also wasn’t sure if EDUCAUSE was the right kind of conference for Virtually Connecting. I’ve been volunteering with VConnecting for a few months now and I’ve been attending EDUCAUSE for seven years and while I love them both dearly I was not sure if they were the right fit together. EDUCAUSE is so big and has such a large business presence. VConnecting is so home grown, small, down to earth. Would they work together?

Alan Levine was going to be visiting me, attending the conference, and VConnecting onsite with me. We took some time before the conference to see Columbus and I could not let him visit without showing him the Hocking Hills. When we were in the hills I could tell that something was not quite right with my health but I thought it was just an adjustment to the weather change.

On the 3hr drive to Indianapolis the weather turned bad and it was dark and stormy as we drove through the night. It was pretty scary driving and not a complete surprise that about an hour from the city we hit standstill traffic due to an accident on I70. I think we must have sat there in park for over an hour. It was tiring but we made the most of it. I was thinking I might have sung along with those classic rock tunes a little too loud though.

The next day was the first day of the conference and my voice was starting sound a little deeper than normal but I felt pretty good. The keynote was with Daniel Pink and he spoke all about how we should approach things differently in terms of rewarding creative work by allowing individuals more autonomy and ownership of goals. It was a good message but it did seem a little too easy. The virtual world was there and it was Maha Bali who started my questioning around it pointing out that not everyone has the self-efficacy to take on that ownership.

Our first VConnecting session was with Joe Murphy as virtual buddy and Bryan Alexander onsite whom I had never met before though I was a little familiar with his blog. It was an awesome conversation with reflections on the keynote, the differences between corporate training and higher education (kind of a great question for EDUCAUSE), and what Bryan learned in his session about futures envisioning. We had a few people tweeting at us who were onsite that wanted to know more about what we were doing and several of them actually showed up and listened in onsite. Pete Hoffswell (who I met last year at EDUCAUSE) ended up in the camera at one point and jumped in to say hi. Joe pointed out that we actually had physical lurkers and it was true – I’m not sure that has happened before. It was an awesome session and Bryan even gave me a fortune cookie at the end (how often do you get a fortune cookie from a futurist).

My voice was getting a little more gruff at this point but I thought for sure that I would be okay. We grabbed lunch and attended a few more sessions. At the end of the day I started feeling a little more run down but the opportunity to grab some drinks with some EDUCAUSE Review staff with Alan was too much for me to pass up. Besides I thought a hot toddy could be helpful.

Later that evening it was clear that this was not an adjustment to the weather change or something brought on by singing too loudly with the music. My voice was completely gone, my throat was sore and swollen, and all this was coupled with a headache and general malaise. Alan was scheduled to leave at 5am in the morning and he was feeling bad for me – he hinted that he could help more if I wanted. Normally, with my fierce independence, I would not ask for help in such a situation but I broke my rule, let my defenses down, and asked him if he would cover the next day’s VConnecting session and help me get back to Columbus. He said yes.

It was particularly hard for me to let the VConnecting sessions go. I had approached Kristen Eshleman and Amy Collier about being on that session back when we were all at dLRN together. I had really been looking forward to it. I had been working with virtual buddy Mandy Honeyman (whom I also met at dLRN) to get things ready for it for almost a week. We had also got several others that were at dLRN on the call including Cristi Motx and Chirs Gillard at the last minute Rebecca Hogue even joined. It was like a big dLRN reunion and it was all going on without me. I have written about how I felt that dLRN was the beginning of something that had the potential to grow larger and here it was happening right in front of me but without me. Again, we had some onsite lurkers and Tom Woodward, who I had met the day before but actually did not realize that I knew from twitter, jumped in to join the conversation. It was hard to let this session go and to step out but at this point I could not speak above a whisper so there was no way I could facilitate a conversation onsite or even participate virtually.

What I could do was view live. Even tweeting was hard because I had not purchased the hotel wifi and was watching from my phone. I did snap a few pics from my phone as a way to capture the moment without interfering with my ability to listen but listening was all I could do. I’m kind of grateful for this however because it was an amazing conversation.

As I imagined it was sort of like a dLRN reunion but it was more than that. The conversation had these strange intersections with my own life and interests. A few big take aways was the idea of the quantified self and how this whole notion of analytics is often used to quantify an individual when we might do better to try to use that information to build better teams or connect people with similar or contrasting views (there was some of this in Bryan’s session too). The other was this idea of participatory action research and how we could use this as a framework to involve campus constituencies in change. I’m not sure exactly how to do that – I’m new to PAR. But my MA research takes an action research approach and I’m quickly learning more about PAR particularly for the recommendations section.

I tuned in to the next day’s live session with virtual buddy Patrice Torcivia Prusko and Michael Berman onsite from the waiting room of the doctor’s office but could not really pay attention. So, I had to watch the recording later that day. This session was also hard for me to let go because I’ve followed Michael on Twitter for some time and had fun communicating with him in the past. We got to meet briefly at last year’s EDUCAUSE and I was looking forward to having another conversation. In the recording Michael touching on the very thing that had me wondering if EDUCAUSE was the right kind of conference for me to be attending every year bringing up questions about social politics of the conference. I still have not resolved that question but it was great to see that articulated by someone else.

In terms of my involvement with VConnecting this was a really interesting experience for me in finding value in what we do. In the past I had always put so much emphasis on the participatory nature of our work. I have referred to the live stream and to the recordings as the “television thing” in the past. It is true that this is about the least connected form of participation that VConnecting offers. However, after this experience I realize how important it is to offer this – even though I was not there either in person or virtually I was there in this other sense – I’m not sure what to call it but I do think that it is a form of participation. It is kind of lonely but I learned a lot and I hope that something can come from all of what I’ve learned from participating in this way.