After EDUCAUSE 2011

I’ll open with the obligatory reminder that what follows are my own thoughts about my participation in the EDUCAUSE 2011 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia last week. The thoughts are mine and not grounded in any data other than my own opinions …and they do not reflect those of anyone else other than me. I should probably also note (for those who may not have attended a conference as massive as #EDU11) that…well…the conference is massive. I am just telling a little of my observations from my small corner of it – my take-aways.

What there was a lot of?

Mobiles, mobiles, mobiles – Numerous sessions focused on mobile devices and their #nextbestthingsinceslicedbread and #theywillchangetheworldofeducationasweknowit uses. Some were led by vendors, some by educators. A lot of people are thinking about mobiles and ‘mobile learning’ (whatever that is). The promise (as I understand it) is learning anytime anywhere (or as I heard it put at least once ‘all the time everywhere’…).


I get some of that – ability to look up factoids at a moment’s notice. I wonder about how that should be positioned alongside opportunity for deep attention : “…How can the considerable benefits of deep attention be cultivated in a generation of students who prefer high levels of stimulation and have low thresholds for boredom? How should the physical layout of educational environments be re-thought? With the trend toward hyper attention already evident in colleges and universities, these issues are becoming urgent concerns…” Katherine Hayles (2008) Will/can deep attention happen with mobile devices…or should we even be thinking/concerned about that? Is there an app for that?

Analytics, analytics, analytics – Same as for mobiles…much conversation about. I’ll confess I did not choose to attend sessions on either of these (mobiles or analytics). So I won’t say much about it. I am just observing that there is a good deal of conversation about analytics. I worry that in the fervor to analyze that narratives are not being included in the mix. I’ll say a bit more about that below.

Clouds of virtualization…Not going to even try.

What do I wish there had been more of?

I wish there was more conversation about the essences of things that technology can do…the ‘why’ part – especially in education. Sure, I love shiny new packages as much as the next person, but it is my opinion (fwiw) that until we explore the deep underpinnings of the RELATIONAL nature of education and the role technology has to play in that we won’t ‘get it’ at all. Okay, so maybe there were sessions where essences were shared…maybe I did not choose wisely. It is just my general impression that we continue to get lost in the bells and whistles, pointing and clicking and touching…and in the process miss the why. I wrote about some of this back in April. I won’t repeat myself more.

Along similar lines, I’d like to hear more about capturing the narratives of user experience. It is again my general impression that narratives of experience are mostly missing from analytics discussions. I’ll point to this wonderful exemplary work shared this week by Jon Becker at his Educational Insanity blog a work he calls The Best Dissertation Ever: Rethinking Girls. Stop reading….go over there and look. Read it. THIS is the kind of ‘essential’ work I mean when I say we need to be attending to… and capturing… this sort of narrative about the difference technology added to the educational encounter can and does make. Dr. Hughes-Decatur opens by noting that the paper is “…a compellation of what could be, of what is possible.” Indeed. I want to be clear here. The formatting is novel and interesting and structures our consumption of the work…but it is the essences that are captured that are so very powerful. We need similar works about teaching and learning with technology.

Which brings me to the next thing I wish I would see/hear more of in our ed-tech conferences: and that is the importance of ‘design’ thinking. Surely we all get that design affects use and consumption and interaction. And design of the educational experience – and I mean here the learning environment in the very broadest sense including not only the tangibles and materials and manipulatives – but also the how we (we=teacher and learner in community with one another) ARE WITH each other in the learning space and encounter…all of it…as well as the goodness of technology fit in a design. Thoughtful technology inclusion should be carefully considered. Use mobile devices if they fit into a thoughtful educational design….not because using a mobile device is the shiny trendy thing to do and everybody else is doing and if we don’t we are behind. Ask students to write in a blog – if that fits well into a good instructional design. Thoughtful, mindful design gets at those essences I mentioned above.

Okay, this is getting WAY longer than I intended. So, what was the best part of the conference for me? Predictably, it was the people. You know, the opportunity to meet new people and reconnect with friends that happens between the ‘official’ sessions you go to a conference to hear? I met Twitter friends irl for the first time…always so very much fun. I visited with old friends.

Conversations are always the best part, aren’t they?