I sit here in front of my laptop watching the twitter back channel (#naspa13)  and wishing I could have been at the NASPA 2013 Conference in Orlando, Florida. I could have met some of my twitter connections for the first time. There is an immense value to face-to-face interactions when it comes to learning and building communities. I attended NASPATech in Rhode Island a couple of years ago where I learned a lot about technology in higher ed from other folks around the country. I also had good conversations between sessions, at meals, and on our walk to an ice cream shop in freezing temperature at night.

I have been thinking about the ideas of online student services and online education the last few months. It is with this mindset that as I look at the title of this year’s NASPA conference “Bold Without Boundaries”, I start to explore  how we as a profession can extend the boundaries of learning and building communities beyond the physical space  of the Marriott Hotel where the conference is held.

Attendees have many reasons to attend including the opportunities to learn and bring back new ideas to their institutions and to re-connect with grad school cohorts, former colleague.  There are those fortunate enough to have their travel and registration costs funded by their departments while there are others who paid out of their own pockets because they see the value of being at the conference. Just as an aside, I did not attend the conference because of the high cost of  travel and lodging.  Given that I work in the technology department in student affairs, the priority for trainings is towards technical conferences.  Learning and professional development are priorities for me so I have spent a lot of my own money and time outside work to develop ways to increase my student affairs, leadership, higher education and leadership/management skills. Because of financial and time constraints, I developed my alternative professional development system. I also buy and read a lot of books.

There are others however who either do not have the funding nor the time to travel. The question then is how do we extend the learning that happens in Orlando through alternative means to folks like me who are not in attendance.  In addition, is attending the national conference worth the cost?In a way, these question are  analogous to the questions facing higher education and student affairs today.

  • How do we use technology to effectively engage learners in the discussion and learning process?
  • How do we accommodate NASPA members (students)  who may not have the means to attend the conference in Orlando (on-campus) yet are interested in learning?
  • How do we extend learning and community building beyond the physical confines of the hotel (distance learning)  and beyond the three days of the conference (asynchronous discussions)?
  • What types of learning are suitable for online learning deliveries? There are topics that require dialogues and deep discussions while some sessions are informational.
  • How do we promote interests to support units within student affairs that may not see the relevance/value of attending NASPA conference?

For the last couple of years, I have “participated” in the ACPA and NASPA conferences from a distance,  mainly through twitter back channels.  From that perspective, here are  some of ideas to consider, not just for this conference but for others. The proposed ideas  may already exist,  not feasible to implement, but hopefully they make some sense.

  • Provide links to speaker’s bio, work, social media contacts when available so we may know more about their background and perspectives.
  • Session attendees have the option to add their contact info to a list so other attendees may contact them later, on the mobile app or through other means.
  • Attendee’s session notes be made available (with name or anonymous) to other conference attendees, on the mobile app.
  • Online track for sessions that can be attended by those not in the conferences. Actually, even ones at the conference who may not have the opportunity to attend because of schedule conflict or no seats available. These sessions could be recorded for viewing later.
  • Follow-up online discussions (Google hangouts, facebook groups, google docs, etc) after the conference.
  • Provide presentation materials, recordings, and related notes at a discounted price or free to NASPA members.

What I have written here is by no means a critique of this conference.  As a matter of fact, the quality and variety of topics being covered is amazing! The speakers are excellent, including my mentors, UCSB Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Dr. Michael Young and former Dean of Students Dr. Yonie Harris.  I am “favoriting” many of the sessions on the mobile app so I may go back later and either contact the speaker or do further personal research on the topics.

I wrote this post in the mindset of how I explore the future of student affairs and higher education.  How can we make education accessible to those who may not be able to afford the increasing cost of  formal education  and how do we use technology that is intentional and explored with pedagogy in mind? I get the argument that online as a method of learning may never have the same effectiveness of face-to-face. However, keep in mind that just like our changing student demographics who may not have the option or choose not to be on-campus, there are some professionals who are seeking to learn in ways that are within their financial means and in ways they are comfortable learning.

I would love to read your thoughts on how we can extend our  learning beyond Orlando, Florida and after this week.