Web Magazine for Information Professionals

Educause 2018

Richard Goodman gives a conference report from Educause 2018 held in Denver, Colorado, USA, a vast conference looking at the breadth of technology available for use in educational organisations and their libraries.

In 2018, I was one of the lucky recipients of a UCISA bursary, which enabled me to attend the Educause conference in Denver, Colorado. The Educause conference is something that has been on my radar for 20 years, and it’s no coincidence that it is celebrating 20 years this year. The younger me would have been overawed at the sheer size of this event, but after having presented at and attended conferences for the last 20 years, I felt ready for it.

It was an absolutely enormous event, with around 8,000 attendees registered in 2018. That’s over 10 times larger than most of the UK conferences in this area, which is why they need a venue the size of the Colorado Convention Centre to host it. I sought advice from past attendees (including past UCISA bursary recipients), and one common theme was “be prepared, don’t be overwhelmed” as well as being ready to cope with very long days.

Educause brings together many thousands of people under the broad heading of technology in education, with a broad mix of attendees from junior learning developers through to project managers and all the way up to CIOs and CTOs. UCISA very helpfully hold an informal networking event for UK attendees, and this was very useful for putting faces to some of the people that I had been interacting with on Twitter in the weeks leading up to the conference.

The backdrop to this conference is of a world which has various parts in chaos. In the UK HE sector, 2018 was a very tricky year, with a once-in-a-generation strike affecting much of the sector (concerning pensions), and institutions looking for more and better systems to support and improve the experiences of students whilst at university. Blockchain is background noise. Cloud is commonplace now. The MOOC bubble has burst (in the UK at least).

One of the big themes of the conference was around diversity, equity and inclusion. These are areas that have resonated in many places in the last few years, even though the political arena (in the UK and the US at least) appears to have veered off in the opposite direction to this agenda right now. The opening keynote from Michele Norris, talking about the Race Card project, reflected this theme. This is the first time I’ve ever been to a keynote at a venue that has seen Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, Elton John, Neil Young and Tori Amos taking to the very same stage.

I threw myself in headlong to each day of the conference, up at silly o’clock every morning to take part in “brain dates”, sharing experiences of learning technology with international colleagues from universities and colleges, and a nice gentleman from a start up company who are looking to get into the world of online learning with an interesting web tool. The tables and chairs inside the corrugated cardboard booths were perfectly pleasant. The 1970s “Barbarella” style swinging chairs were less conducive to a friendly chat.

However, nothing was as bad as the chairs made out of skis, which were massively uncomfortable and almost impossible to get out of! You might also spot some swings in the background - it’s hard to talk about serious subjects when wobbling around on a swing!

The conference schedule was absolutely crammed with loads of conflicting sessions, and it’s the sign of an engaging conference when there’s so much to go to and too much to choose from. I hope I made the right choices, but I’ll never know. Sessions on learning analytics dashboards, student data, accessibility, ITIL, change management, projects and relationships, privacy and ethics and onboarding were certainly a varied bunch, with a good mix of listening and more interactive sessions. The conference was utterly exhausting but hugely rewarding.

The exhibition was enormous. There were 333 exhibition stands to choose from, with multiple Google stands (including half a basketball court), an enormous Service Now stand and plenty of the usual suspects with massive stands (costing $57,000 for the largest ones!) Technology has become a tool which guides change and there’s big money to be made through securing a new contract with a new institution.

It was far more interesting to me to talk to the smaller providers and those in “start up alley”. Once you’ve seen the latest laptop from Lenovo or Dell or a Microsoft Surface, you’ve seen enough shiny fondle slabs to last you for a year. There were some familiar faces on the Moodle stand, as well as a few other suppliers who I could chat with about existing projects. It was very handy for one particular project we were working on at the time, as I could show something to the supplier which they could relay back to their implementation team, as we both happened to be in the same time zone for the first time in the project lifecycle.

There’s so much still to reflect upon and that will happen naturally over the next year when thinking back to some of these conference experiences and the presentations that were shared. There was a very lively social media community on the #edu18 hashtag too. Communication and collaboration have been key themes that have resonated long since the conference finished.

I’ll leave you with a last image of Colorado, a very slight glimpse of the Rocky Mountains that have always been visible from somewhere each day. This was the view from the A-Train (officially called the University of Colorado A Line for sponsorship reasons) from Denver to the airport.

A fantastic conference experience in an amazing city. Before coming here I would never have put Denver on my “cities to visit” list. Having been here, I’m eager to come back and explore more one day. It’s very much an “outdoor city” with so much provision for walking and cycling, far more than I’d been expecting. Wherever you turn, there are people speeding along pavements on scooters. You can explore so much on foot, or catch trains, buses and trams to get around the city and beyond.