Student Affairs Conferences & Higher Ed – Some Parallels

As I sit here at home in California and participating on the twitter back channel for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) 2015 national conference in New Orleans, it dawned on me that this conference and like other higher ed conferences is like higher education in some ways. By no means is this post an analysis of what’s right or what’s wrong with higher education or the NASPA and other similar conferences. They’re just observations.

The purpose for attending vary. For some, it’s to get a job by interviewing with campuses at The Placement Exchange (TPE) or by making connections with potential employers at other universities during the conference itself. For some to learn new ideas via the sessions, for some to network and build their social capital, and maybe for some, they were ask to attend by their organizations, and yet for others, maybe a chance for vacation and visit a nice city.

The cost of attendance can be considered expensive. I can’t attend this year just because of the combined cost of attendance.There are no shortage of literature and stories about the rising cost of tuition and attending higher education. Also, a big portion of the cost of attendance is on travel, accommodation, and food, and clothes. Some folks paid on their own while others received assistance from their organizations or other sponsors.

The conference is bound by time and location. While there are virtual sessions offered and the availability of recorded sessions after the event, it’s not the same as being in New Orleans.The sessions are generally presentations for about 50 minutes just like lectures and the level of interaction between the speakers and the audience can be limited.Technology is used to extend the conference but as it is used, is it considered transformative when it comes to using it for learning/education?

Learning is hard to measure. If one of the goals of the conference is to learn new ideas, how does one know how much and what they have learned? What’s the proof/measure of learning? Colleges provide diplomas as proof that the students met the course requirements and while tests may provide some assessment on what they’ve learned, is there really any definitive way to measure learning? How about personal development, which is one of the goals of student affairs?

The benefits you receive is based on how much effort you put into it. I am personally guilty of having skipped sessions in past conferences (not NASPA)  because they just didn’t interest me or I had other activities planned, and I felt guilty for having done that given that my campus paid for my trip. This is not to suggest that learning doesn’t happen outside those sessions as well. For this conference, I’m taking advantage of twitter to learn and engage from those who are in attendance.

As I mentioned above, these are just observations. What do you think about the state of higher ed and how conferences are held?




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