A Year of Forward Momentum Begins: Reflections on the ELI 2019 Annual Meeting

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Each year, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Annual Meeting serves to both take stock of where the teaching and learning community is today and anticipate where it is headed.

time-lapsed photo looking down a blacktop highway
Credit: LIUSHENGFILM / Shutterstock, Inc. © 2019

It's hard to believe it's already been several weeks since the 2019 ELI Annual Meeting in Anaheim! As an ELI community member in previous institutional roles, I'd always looked forward to the annual meeting with fervent anticipation (and you may well share this sentiment).

It's no surprise why: the event presents us with the opportunity for a reunion with really smart colleagues from all over the world, a space to explore teaching and learning with technology, and a chance to learn from those whom we may only know by reputation. I was always proud to be a member of this community, to serve on committees such as the Leading Academic Transformation Advisory Committee, and to be offered presentation opportunities at the ELI Annual Meeting or in other digital programming like webinars.

A (New) Insider Perspective

This year, however, I saw ELI from another vantage point. I'd begun my new role as Director for Student Success Community Programs with EDUCAUSE months prior. While my first day as a member of the staff was well past the deadlines for proposal review and speaker selection, a lot of coordination and planning remained to be done.

Although I long assumed that the internal workings of these events are very involved, as an "insider" I nevertheless gained so much more respect for my new colleagues—some of whom had previously been invisible to me as an event participant. Anyone with event management experience can appreciate the often thorny behind-the-scenes challenges of meeting planning with the mission of providing an ideal member experience, in terms of both logistics and programming.

The details seemed to get increasingly intricate as the event grew closer, but the ELI team managed through them together—often along with our member community—with grace, urgency, and coordination. For example, when our Liberal Arts Community advisory group noticed two back-to-back preconference sessions bumping up to the conference's kickoff session, our team ensured that members attending these sessions would have time for lunch without missing any of the general session. We recognize how important it is for you to be able to remain engaged with community activities and network with colleagues—and who wants to do any of this on an empty stomach?

Logistics were just part of the story, of course. My new role came with some specific responsibilities. One involved presenting a few opening remarks just before the general session. When I got up onstage and looked out into the faces of the ELI community, I was again filled with immense pride to be a part of this cohort, and it gave me a broader sense of just how diverse and talented you are. Transitioning from an institutional member to an EDUCAUSE employee has long been a dream of mine, yet I continue to feel a deep kinship with all of you as we collaborate to solve some of higher education's wicked problems through the strategic use of IT.

Honing In on Student Success

Before the general session, community meetings and the newcomers orientation kept me busy. At the Liberal Arts Community meeting, the advisory committee facilitated a session of meaningful networking, where it became clear that the "student success problem" looks much different for liberal arts colleges, in which retention and graduation float at rates that some other kinds of institutions might envy. However, a powerful opportunity exists at these campuses to connect digital literacies, student success, and career trajectories. We might find more commonalities among liberal arts schools, R1 institutions, and community colleges if we use a different lens to examine student success. Lots of possibilities for further research here!

At the newcomers orientation, I was met with a large roomful of first-time attendees. As an institutional member, I always appreciated this session as a way to get the lay of the land, not only to learn how to take a more strategic approach to navigating the conference but also to make connections with others new to ELI. The room's age range was impressive: lots of young faces were in the mix! It's exciting to see the next generation of teaching and learning and student success leaders already participating in ELI.

Once the conference kicked off, student success was well represented with its own track. A few of the student success breakout sessions included:

  • Student Success: Dimensions, Priorities, and Collaboration for the Future explored nuanced definitions of student success, opportunities for collaboration across departments on campus for a more effective implementation of student success initiatives, and the things that keep us up at night related to student success.
  • In Where to Start with a Student Success Initiative, my colleagues Christopher Brooks and Leah Lang and I attempted to connect the dots among several EDUCAUSE research and analytics capabilities, including ETRAC, Core Data Service, and the student success maturity model, as well as examining common themes across reports like early iPASS insights and the recent collaboration between AIR, NASPA, and EDUCAUSE on Institutions' Use of Data and Analytics for Student Success.
  • Amelia Parnell, vice president for Research and Policy with NASPA, and Berenecea Eanes, vice president of Student Affairs from Cal State University Long Beach, led a session sponsored by CirQlive entitled 3 Critical Strategies for Influencing Students' Success. In it, they offered helpful perspectives on broader student affairs priorities as they relate to student success, including how one institution approached "innovative housekeeping" in collaboration with IT to break down silos and tools that don't communicate, leading to increased student voice and agency.
  • Finally, Susan Metros, the co-author of the iPASS: Lessons From the Field report and an accomplished IT professional and leader, invited me to co-present Integrated Planning/Advising for Student Success (iPASS): Lessons from the Field. In this session, we distilled actionable guidance from iPASS grantees about moving forward with a transformative technology-based planning and advising project. Most compelling were the themes around connecting to institutional strategy and vision, the importance of a visible executive champion and organizational buy-in, and strong change management practices through the institutional transformation process.

In between, I tried to attend as many member-delivered sessions as possible. It is always difficult to choose, because ELI sessions are always so high quality, but I tended to stick to the student success track to could soak up all of the brilliant work that's going on in student success analytics, thought leadership about data privacy and ethics, institutional collaboration, and evaluation.

You may have checked out one of my favorite experiences at the Annual Meeting: Braindating. For those who haven't tried it, think networking with the help of a matchmaker. The Braindate app enables you to list topics you'd like to discuss or to search topics entered by other users and then make a Braindate with an individual or a group. I met with folks I might never have crossed paths with, had I been left to my own devices. As an introvert, I loved the 1-on-1 mode and the chance to really dig into a meaty topic. I know I'll be in contact with many of my Braindates following the event.

The Power of Community

In seeking to define and support student success at EDUCAUSE, we aim to draw from your expertise and experiences. Our 2019 edition of the Top 10 IT Issues underscored its relevance, focusing on "organizing, standardizing, and safeguarding data so that we can utilize it to address our most pressing priority: student success." I'm delighted that several of you who are working in student success and teaching and learning have volunteered to serve on an expert panel to shape future programming for EDUCAUSE, with a report expected mid-year. In the meantime, we have some great programming lined up that begins to bridge teaching and learning and student success, and you'll also see more posts on this blog addressing this theme.

But it's through you, as members, that we can offer this amazing programming, so please do share your expertise and experiences early and often, whether your student success initiative has been a raging triumph or a roaring failure. I'm confident that together, we will create a platform and learning opportunities that will impact institutional strategy, collaboration, and transformation and ultimately advance the trajectory of higher education's teaching and learning mission and the holistic success of each student.

Kathe Pelletier is Director for Student Success Community Programs at EDUCAUSE.

© 2019 Kathe Pelletier. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.