Attendance at conferences for higher ed staff has been traditionally thought of as ‘professional development’.
Has the term professional development become outdated?
And is the idea of professional development limiting both how we think of higher ed staff, and how we design our conferences?
Perhaps we should shift our thinking about conference going as opportunities not for development, but for creation.
Here is my thinking. When I leave my campus to attend a conference, I am making that trip with the goal of creating something new. ‘
Most often, that creation is the development of a project, a proposal, or a plan. Sometimes, that creation has to do with research, design, and prototyping.
Almost always, the reason that I need to leave campus to engage in this creation is that the work is collaborative. Cross-institutionally collaborative. The work is with colleagues who are in similar roles and positions at peer institutions.
Professional conference going has evolved away from an event to consume existing information, and towards an opportunity to create new knowledge.
This shift in the meaning, purpose and activities of conference going is not reflected in how talk about – and budget – for these trips. Nor is it reflected in how most higher ed professional conferences are designed.
How would a shift in language from professional development to knowledge creation change how colleges and universities approach funding for non-faculty conference attendance?
A shift towards an expectation of production vs. consumption may alter how scarce conference travel/registration dollars are allocated. Creating explicit expectations around producing something of value for the institution / profession as a condition of funding may change how staff approach conferences.
An expectation of production could of course be satisfied by having a talk, paper, poster, or workshop session accepted into the conference program. Other modes of creation might be a commitment to synthesize, summarize and report on conference – via social media or through a presentation back on campus – for those who cannot attend the event.
Perhaps the active element of creation around conference going takes the form of contributions to the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL).
How does connecting non-faculty research productivity through the mechanism of conference funding strike you?
Is this a blurring of the lines between non-faculty and faculty? An unrealistic and unfair expectation on staff who already have too much to do, and too little time to do it?
Or a recognition that many higher ed staff are already part of the larger higher conversation, and that knowledge creation is not solely the domain of faculty?
In terms of higher ed professional conference design – what would change if these gatherings are thought of as enablers of scholarship (discovery), rather than venues for knowledge transmission?
Is it time to move away from higher ed professional conferences as opportunities to share best practices, and towards these gatherings as places where new practices are dreamed up?
Mostly, I’d like to see conference designs that put conversation – rather than presentation – at their center.
What would an educational technology (insert your discipline) conference look like if PowerPoint were banned? No slides allowed.
Could we demolish the presenter / audience dyad?
Professional development is something that seems to me that can happen online. Through our screens.
Knowledge creation, however, requires time and space and conversation.
Can you defend the idea of traveling for professional development?