As I sit here at home in California and participate 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 other higher ed conferences are like higher education in some ways. This post is not 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 varies. For some, it’s to get a job by interviewing with campuses at The Placement Exchange (TPE) or connecting with potential employers at other universities during the conference. For some to learn new ideas via the sessions, for some to network and build their social capital, and maybe for some, they were asked to attend by their organizations, and yet for others, a chance to vacation and visit a nice city.

The cost of attendance can be considered expensive. I can’t attend this year 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 attendance costs is travel, accommodation, food, and clothes. Some folks paid independently, while others received assistance from their organizations or sponsors.

The conference is bound by time and location. While there are virtual sessions and recorded sessions are available 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 conference’s goals 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 of what they’ve learned, is there any definitive way to measure learning? How about personal development, which is one of the goals of student affairs?

The benefits you receive are based on how much effort you put into it. I am guilty of skipping sessions in past conferences (not NASPA) because they didn’t interest me or I had other activities planned. I felt guilty for doing that, given that my campus paid for my trip. This is not to suggest that learning also doesn’t happen outside those sessions. For this conference, I’m taking advantage of Twitter to learn and engage with those 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?