#dLRN15 – Making Sense of Higher Education

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 have Adeline Koh and Mike Caulfield and Marcia Devlin all coming in as keynotes.

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.

Submit your 250 word abstract by June 1st to join us. And if you’d like to help us review submissions and make this conversation as rich as it can be, click here.

I look forward to it.

14 Comments #dLRN15 – Making Sense of Higher Education

  1. Jonathan

    Ha! I already sent you the entire paper (even though I’d rather die than read anything verbatim off a sheet of paper to an audience at this point in my career)! Actually, what Easy Chair made it appear that y’all wanted so you might look at the instructions if you’re really OK with a 250 word abstract.

    1. bon

      Wonderful! (on the already sent front)

      As for Easy Chair…my fellow committee members are on it, but apparently it’s not as easy as it looks. But yes, 250 words is TOTALLY OKAY. ALL WE NEED. (now i tell ya)

  2. Raul Pacheco-Vega

    Thanks so much for linking to my post, Bonnie, and also… for engaging in rethinking academia, as a collective. I’m not sure if I can make it but I definitely will try.


    1. bon

      The realities and complexities of who even gets to consider going to conferences is just…grim.

      I wish I could just invite half my Twitter feed and fund them somehow. That’d be wild.

  3. Emily

    Hi Bonnie – ummm, very interested to participate of course but…. if this is seriously about rethinking academia and digital learning and is being run by advocates of all things online….. do I need to finish the wording of this question? The planet is polluted, we have the technology to avoid flying in planes to be able to connect live and talk meaningfully…. ummmm, why a traditional conference that excludes, I don’t get it

    1. bon

      yep, it does dominate, Emily. thanks for the question…the only pushback i’d give it is i wouldn’t call myself an “advocate of all things online.” i’m more about using the capacity of networks where they’re fit for purpose…and i’m not totally sure they are here, in the sense i *think* you mean.

      it’s not that i wouldn’t love to see a shift on this front. we live on an island in the Atlantic Ocean a good 12 hours drive from Montreal, which is the nearest place major conferences ever come. we can’t *get* to a conference for less than about $600 in airfare alone….thousands for the west coast or Europe.

      yet i haven’t enjoyed my virtual experiences…because they don’t offer the value(s) i’m talking about above, no matter which institutional hat i’ve been wearing. i don’t go to conferences to watch people talk as if it’s a TV…i go to conferences to participate and connect. and setups like hangouts don’t scale past a small group of people. nor do the people with influence at the Board/VC/institutional admin/policy levels – the ones who mostly shape the directions of higher ed – tend to show up for hangouts or virtual conferences. so bringing “us” to a table that’s legible to them is totally fraught, from all kinds of perspectives even beyond what you mention. and i’m happy to own that. but i’m still also hopeful that it might be worthwhile. all formats exclude, in some way, and need to be chosen depending on goals and purpose.

      i wish i had a better answer for you but i don’t. there’s been lots of discussion about ways to scaffold distance participation that isn’t second-tier and truly makes online contributors a visible part of the conversation, particularly to more established power players who may be at the table but not necessarily on the Twitter backchannel, etc…so it’s a dimension but no, it’s not front & centre. we’re hoping/aiming to do some small-scale, intensive building of person-to-person ties and discussions between a few online & f2f participants…Rebecca Hogue, Maha Bali, and Dave Cormier had a discussion about this last week and some scaffolding will be done but no model has been decided on yet.

  4. Jessie

    Looks great!

    (The link at the bottom – over ‘250 word abstracts’ – comes up as an error page for me.)

  5. Sharon

    my response was similar to Emily’s. Research is not part of my day job at all and yet publishing and becoming better known outside my own organisation is pretty much the only way that I can get on. But there’s the catch. Because it’s not part of my job, I don’t get funding to travel unless I beg and I have a paper accepted, and then only one a year (so choose wisely). And I don’t get time to do the work needed to write either + my day job just builds up a backlog of problems from real people waiting for real answers if I do go away. If there was a way to publish and present, share experiences and build relationships and minimise the time and cost of attending, I would bite the hand off the conference organiser. But I agree, it’s easier to build those networks in person (although I love that being online allows me to reach out to people I’ve never actually met and somehow feel that I ‘know’ them… OK, it’s a deluded pretend relationship, but I am a frustrated academic bound to ground by time/funds/children with a real gratitude to the freedoms and opportunities offered online). So, keeping all body parts crossed that progress can be made. Until then, I’ll live life vicariously and continue to beg for scraps to try to get out more.

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  8. Nick Kearney

    You may find this idea odd. I worked in a Spanish speaking work group with participants from everywhere south of Texas and Spain for 5 years. In Second Life. It isn’t F2F, but it works, when we could we mixed in hangouts Skype, whatever. It was so rich.
    Nothing beats face to face, living breathing people, so I sent a proposal. But….virtual can work, and perhaps we who work online should be looking for ways to do that.
    Thankyou for all this, and the above post about shaming.


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