Joe Ginese posed an interesting question today on Twitter with a follow up post on his blog. I had a number of thoughts, so I wanted to address them here where I could freely write. Twitter response wouldn’t do it in this instance.
Joe says, “We do conferences wrong and have been for years.“
Now he covers a number of issues, and I’m not going to rehash them all. Please read the article for yourself and either respond in the comments section or write a blog response.
First off – I agree with Joe’s general sense of how conferences can be intellectual roller coasters (he didn’t say that, but that’s what I thought of while reading his post). You go to a session and feel like “Yes, I totally came away with a new idea!” or “Man, that session wasn’t what I thought it would be” or “What a waste of time when I could have gone to that other session instead.” Up and down, up and down.
BUT, I do want to share what I was thinking with some of his key points.
“The point is, I look for ideas that can be applied immediately to my current position and I imagine many others do as well. I don’t go in with a learning plan or set of goals. Again, the ideas I gain will be for my institution’s development of their program offerings. It doesn’t make me a more developed professional; it makes me a good idea recycler.”
I whole heartedly agree and wrote a post about this topic myself not too long ago. I want to be an innovative creator utilizing the strengths of the institution I work for, not using someone else’s brilliant ideas.However, as with all things – there are exceptions.
At ACUI’s Annual Conference in Boston, I attended a quick session on iPad usage in Student Unions. This was a perfect session for me and was an example of a session that wasn’t a waste of time and had a ton of takeaways that will help me professionally and will help the office I work for. So many people want to know how to justify iPads, but don’t know how. I get asked all the time how we use ours in Campus Activities – but I know my usage may or may not be helpful for others. I did present about how we use ours for assessment, walk arounds during events, and etc. all utilizing Evernote in my “All About Technology” Pre-Conference session – but this other session I attended about iPads covered so many other items and did it quickly with programs and apps and etc. for attendees to research on their own. Current info, covered many different audiences and I could go check the relevant info out myself on my own time. This is a case of not recycling some one else’s ideas so much as this session provided concrete ways to improve my work flow and help the institution in terms of running our programs more efficiently, while being mobile. They highlighted apps to use, but let us come up with the ways in which to use them for our own programs and services.
“You know what else is not professional development? Hearing a former politician, activist, author give a room of practitioners a commencement style speech where we are thanked for our service and told that change starts with us. Right…you know how change starts? By taking the money we paid for your name and for you to speak for an hour and using it to fund grants for struggling institutions to apply for so they can develop new programs.”
Oddly enough, I would usually jump right on this train. Joe, I am usually the person at the table begging for fewer keynote speakers. However, I did want to point out one thing. If a speaker motivates us, thanks for our service – I cannot push them off just for this. As Student Affairs practitioners I believe we NEED motivation, we need to hear that the work we do is valuable. We don’t hear this enough. We don’t get that validation as often as we should, and its nice to hear it from someone outside our profession. Nothing wrong with a little motivation. I just appreciate it in doses.
“I would replace the marketplace with INSTITUTIONAL service providers and replace it with personal service providers. Valerie tweeted that she needed professional head shots done. Who doesn’t? I know I do. Let’s replace that booth that has some random software that organizes clubs and orgs in a new way with a professional photographer who is paid to be there.”
I agree with Valerie that having a someone provide head shots to attendees is an AWESOME idea. I need one of those myself. Tried snapping a photo of myself for my Twitter account in my hotel room only to be called out by someone who recognized the photos since they had them on their wall too.
But as to replacing marketplace vendors with personal service providers, again I take the middle and say a nice addition would be having both. To combine this thought with another one:
“And don’t tell me there isn’t money for it. I’ve attended regional conferences that offered trivia and other novelties for night entertainment. Good effort but really I’d much rather leave with a professional head shot, not a caricature. If I wanted novelties, I can do that on my campus almost every other week.”
I have to say I’d definitely approve of ditching the novelties at night and add more personal service vendors at the expo. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been to a NASPA or ACPA conference in a while, so I don’t know how beneficial (or not) the vendors are – but with ACUI – most of the vendors are very useful IF you’re running a Student Union. I myself am purely Activities in my position here at Binghamton U, so most of the vendors are not relevant. I would be happy to attend the Expo if there was more for me to do there (besides Lunch).
Lastly, I do have to say that if our institutions are paying for us to attend these conferences, they obviously want some return on their investment which means that they want you to come back with institutional ideas and something that will benefit them. Which is why I think folks are looking for those quick 3 ideas or whatever that they can come back with that they can implement right away to justify their attendance. Institutions should also value the learning and knowledge gained for the professional themselves. Oh my lord, I could go on for days!
To those of you losing confidence in conferences – let your voice be heard. If you want “unconference” sessions built into the conference like ACUI did (there was a session about Hunger Games!) then tell the folks in charge what you want! Demand stronger regional conference offerings. Suggest drive-in type events ONLY if they contain what you need from them. Get out there and volunteer! Commit to put your time and efforts out there to changing the way things are done. It’s possible. Our CPT changed the schedule to have regional dinners right after regional meetings (new) and then also started a conference wide service project (new). Every conference has an element of innovation allowed to it. Change is possible – it just takes someone out there to start it!