What We Learned at Connect: Chicago

Regular readers of this blog may recall that my NGLC colleague Holly Morris attended the first-ever EDUCAUSE Connect event in Portland last month and blogged about it here. As she noted, the regionally distributed EDUCAUSE professional development events this season include a range of innovations in program design, responding to feedback from participants in earlier years’ parallel events:

  • A game-changing shift from “presenters” to “content leaders,” each of whom seeks to lead participants in activities and discussion throughout the session rather than talking at the front of the room
  • Organization of the session in four learning tracks: Elevate Your Game/Career Development, Enterprise Systems/Admin IT/Cloud, Mobile/BYOE, and Online Learning
  • Strong emphasis on forming connections among those following each learning track
  • Use of a variety of tools and techniques to encourage the development of connections and articulation of progress among participants, including facilitators who remained with each track throughout, what-we-learned sessions for each track at the end of each day, a game in which participants accumulated “micro-rewards” - stringable beads - for contributing to discussions or interacting with content leads and facilitators, and issuing of digital badges for a range of conference-related accomplishments

EDUCAUSE Connect: Chicago began Monday with an introduction to the new program format, after which organizational strategist Kevin D. Jones, in his opening general session, invited participants to consider the possibility of failure as a necessary component of any serious effort at a new approach.

He said, “The more important innovation is to our organization or project, the more we must be able to tolerate failure.”

Making Connections

The content leaders throughout all of the subsequent sessions in all learning tracks were seeking to be innovative and, accordingly, most of them took risks: engaging the participants not only in dialogue with the person in front of the room but also with one another. Round tables rather than rows of seats filled each breakout room. As participants engaged with one another determining preferences and crafting plans for solving problems, they had a real opportunity to develop new connections professionally and even to become part of a developing cohort of those interested in the theme of the learning track that they were following.   

Designing Breakthroughs

NGLC is mounting a “zone defense” approach to these events: Holly Morris served as a content leader in Portland, I did so in this week in Chicago, and our colleague Kristen Vogt will follow along the same track – “Elevate Your Game/Career Development,” specifically – at Connect: Baltimore April 30-May 2. We’re each encouraging participants to engage in a design challenge, a take on how designing breakthroughs relates to career development.

Winning Pitches

In my Tuesday session, “Help Your Campus Consider a Breakthrough Model,” I identified some hallmarks of NGLC’s Breakthrough Models for College Completion – student success, competency approaches, technological innovation – and then invited participants to sketch out, individually, what a breakthrough in one of these areas would look like on their home campus. I also asked them to identify the first person on their campus whose help they’d need to move the idea forward – and then, after finding a partner to role-play that person, proceed to pitch the idea. I heard later that one person actually had pitched his breakthrough idea to someone in a more senior role on his campus later that same day – and I hope others will do so as well! Considering breakthrough ideas regularly has the potential not only to help individuals’ careers but also to improve the ways that higher education institutions serve their students and fulfill their missions.

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