Getting Ready for EDUCAUSE 2019

min read

With the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference just a few weeks away, now is the time to map out your schedule.

Clock face with the words "Time to GET READY"
Credit: iQoncept / © 2019

With the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference just a few weeks away, it is time to make final preparations. Now that my conference registration, hotel, and flight reservations have been made, I can begin planning my week at the conference. I've already started my conference calendar by entering my committee meetings, the keynote presentations, events, breaks, and my presentations. Over the next week, my administrative assistant will begin to gather contact information for all Montgomery County Community College staff attending the annual conference. A location for the team dinner will soon be selected and shared with the college conference attendees. The team dinner is an annual event for our college team attending the annual conference and is the only event during the conference that we ask all college attendees to participate in as a group.

Approximately two to three weeks before the annual conference, many of us receive emails and calls from vendors who will be attending the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference. For the vendors I am most interested in having a conversation with, I will make a note on my calendar to stop by their booths in the Exhibit Hall, and in a few cases I will reach out directly to the vendor to schedule a time to have a conversation. Two weeks prior to attending the conference, I will review the conference agenda and select the sessions that I am interested in attending as well as sessions that I believe would be of interest and importance to the college. One week ahead of the annual conference, a meeting is scheduled for those individuals from the college who are registered to attend. At the meeting, logistics are discussed and contact information for all college attendees is shared. The remaining meeting time is dedicated to a review and discussion of each staff member's session choices. The intent of sharing selected sessions is to provide the broadest conference coverage possible and to reduce the number of staff members attending identical sessions. This also provides an opportunity to align many of the sessions being attended with short- and long-term college initiatives and needs. At the end of the meeting, each staff member walks away with an updated calendar that reflects all sessions, meetings, and events for the conference week. In the few days before the annual conference, all that's left to do is pack!

Insider Tips

There is so much to cover at the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, and while planning in advance is key to a successful conference—it certainly reduces my stress level—there is also the need to be somewhat flexible. The unscheduled times at the conference can be as important as—or perhaps even more important than—the planned times. Having a conversation in a hallway may provide you with more information than the session you had planned to attend.

One of my favorite educational formats at the conference is the posters sessions. With more than 200 poster sessions offered over a two-day period, you can always find topics of interest. Because posters provide a graphical representation of session content, they are are easy to view and understand. In addition, the poster session format allows you to engage one-on-one with the poster presenter. This conversation often leads to an exchange of contact information and a follow-up conversation once you return to your home campus. For individuals who are not as comfortable asking questions in large group presentations, the poster sessions provide a more personal information-sharing experience. I usually identify 10 to 20 posters for each day and typically bring back to my institution several good ideas as a result of engaging in the poster sessions. Just keep in mind that poster sessions are offered for only a one-hour period on two conference days.

The Exhibit Hall is often overwhelming, and I find it helpful to review the information regarding all vendors participating before the conference. Some of the vendors will send information to attendees prior to the annual conference, and it is often worth a few minutes to review the material. My method for approaching the Exhibit Hall is to stop by some of the vendor booths of companies and organizations I currently work with and then visit vendor booths that provide products and services I would like to learn more about. One of the most interesting places in the Exhibit Hall is Start-Up Alley. I encourage you to stop by Start-Up Alley and engage with these entrepreneurs. This year, eight of the Start-Up Alley companies will pitch their business plans and product offerings in the Learning Theater located in the Exhibit Hall.

If you will be attending the annual conference with others from your institution, consider setting up a text message group so that you can easily reach your colleagues. Our team often uses group messaging to share information regarding new vendor offerings and to encourage other team members to visit the vendor. On the lighter side, it is also an easy way to invite others to join in evening activities. In addition, having contact information for colleagues can come in handy in case of an emergency.

Demonstrating the value of attending the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference is a way to help ensure ongoing support from your institution to attend future conferences. A few weeks after the Montgomery County Community College team returns from the annual conference, we meet and share our information. We decide what products we want to further explore and what new features or processes we learned about that we would like to share with the larger college community for implementation consideration. This information is also summarized and shared with the college leadership team and the president.

Getting the Most Out of the Conference

Over the years, I have found that the keynote presentations and session presentations provide valuable information and insight. In addition, there are so many opportunities for learning and engagement beyond the traditional sessions. As I previously mentioned, the poster sessions and the Exhibit Hall are worthwhile options to include in your conference schedule planning. A more recent addition to the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference is an activity called braindating. Braindates are one-on-one or group conversations on a topic of your choice. Last year, I participated in a braindate and found it to be interesting and engaging. EDUCAUSE will be posting more information regarding braindates for the annual conference in the next few weeks.

While there are a lot of session offerings, the conference is also about the people you meet. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. The EDUCAUSE community is represented by individuals throughout the United States as well as other parts of the world. While the conference size may seem overwhelming, I often suggest to first-time attendees or individuals who may know only a few people attending the conference to join one or more EDUCAUSE community groups. There will be more than 30 community groups holding open discussions during the conference. The community group conversations continue virtually throughout the year. Through participation in community groups, attendees often make lifelong friends in the higher education IT community.

The annual conference can be exhausting, and if you are like me you may need a little time to recharge. I usually try to schedule time with a colleague from another institution whom I haven't see for a while. In order to optimize our time together, I usually arrange to meet in the convention center space provided by EDUCAUSE. This year, the meeting space is called Work & Chat. This comfortable meeting space also provides a place to recharge your mobile devices.

Chicago Here We Come

Each year as the annual conference approaches, I look forward to reconnecting with friends and colleagues, and discovering new ideas, initiatives, and technologies that I can bring back my institution for consideration. I am excited to be participating in the EDUCAUSE Annual Conference. See you in Chicago!

For more information about enhancing your skills as a higher education IT manager and leader, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Professional Development Commons blog as well as the EDUCAUSE Career Development page.

Celeste Schwartz is Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Digital Officer at Montgomery County Community College.

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