I sat at a lunch table earlier this week with some friends and colleagues at my institution and accidentally started a rousing conversation…about conferences.
I asked: What do conferences need to DO to be…valuable?
We all had different answers. In fact, we were perhaps in entirely separate conversations.
One staff colleague, affiliated with an association with an established and funded annual conference, said that conferences need to help get people into the learning/working mindset once the great annual social gathering is convened.
I can see that.
Other staff colleagues, whose positions are not affiliated with associations or any established conferences, but who have access to some annual or bi-annual funding, had a different response. Theirs focused on relevance and how they could find conversations aimed at giving them new conceptual tools while still recognizing that they have systems and practical limits they need to work within.
I could see that too.
Had we just reached out over the cafeteria benches to the rest of our colleagues around us, what other responses would we have gotten?
For faculty, sharing their work and research, both in sessions and in conversations with peers from different contexts, would’ve likely factored high.
For sessional or adjunct colleagues – whose $500 annual institutional budget for conference reimbursement is unlikely to even get many TO a major conference let alone reimburse registration or scholarly association or hotel or food fees – yet who also need to share their work and see what’s shaking up their fields in order to play in the academic prestige economy game of hoping to make more than 20k a year someday, the response might’ve mostly been laughter. Or weeping.
Same for the grad students.
Administrators might have had multiple different answers. I’m cynical enough to assume some would have been about the expense of conferences. I’ve been to enough conferences to half-nod and call that justified. I’m not so cynical as to think there aren’t other, strategic and vision-related answers that might have emerged from those corners.
I can see all those positions.
And then some of us in that cafeteria don’t even register on this list. Right now, I hold two separate part-time roles for which conference travel is not an official part of the budget. At this juncture, I pretty much go as an invited speaker or not at all. This is great work if you can get it, admittedly. However, when your jobs do not include “academic service” and one of them doesn’t include vacation, you come home and make up the days and time lost, which is rather like embodying the summit and the nadir of academic status simultaneously. And it’s not a position that’s often visible from the outside.
It’s hard to hold all our myriad perspectives in view, at once. Yet all of us in that cafeteria the other day – and many more, standing in spots I haven’t managed to articulate – are higher ed professionals.
We are, all of us, the people Raul Pacheco-Vega is referring to when he says “we need to rethink academia, but collectively.”
So I asked What do conferences need to DO? because I was thinking about re-thinking academia collectively. I was thinking about taking our conversations beyond Twitter and responses to op-eds we don’t control…I was thinking about making online ed more than training wheels, to quote Jonathan Rees; I was thinking that somewhere in the overall answer is the possibility that all the above groups and more end up sitting at the same tables, talking to each other about change, fulfilling at least a bit of all the purposes, all the answers.
I was thinking, basically, you should come to #dLRN15: Making Sense of Higher Education. If you can at all.
#dLRN15 – which will take place at Stanford on October 16th & 17th, 2015 – aims to “explore the most pressing uncertainties and most promising applications of digital networks for learning and the academy.”
Ambitious, definitely. But worth a shot.
We’re trying to explore five strands of conversation through the lenses of networks and change:
- The ethics of collaboration
- Individualized learning
- Systemic impacts
- Innovation and work
- Sociocultural Implications
We’re trying to make it about re-thinking academia collectively. We want “stakeholders” and grad students on the same panels. We want “research” outputs central but voluntary, because not all valuable contributions are formalized as research. We want Works-in-Progress. We want connections and a social gathering and recognition of limits and recognition of contributions…and we want to make good use of people’s time.
We want you.
Yes, you. You, the staff member. You, the professor. You, please, the adjunct and the grad student and the non-institutional scholar and the otherwise-contingent member of the academy – we have significantly-reduced rates for all of the above. You, the administrator. You, the person who doesn’t know what table you fit at.
We want all the things conferences are for, under one roof. We want to talk about higher ed, and futures, and how we can all learn to hear each other and make sense of it all.
I don’t know if we can do all that conferences need to do to be valuable. But we will try.
I look forward to it.