Conference Engagement: A “You Do You” Approach for 2020

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Taylor Kendal, OLC Innovate 2020 Engagement Co-Chair

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OLC Innovate Attendees

When it comes to opportunity and engagement, there’s much more than meets the eye for attendees of OLC Innovate. For many years, I took a rather mindless approach to “maximizing” my investment at OLC conferences (and any/all conferences for that matter). Arrange approvals and coverage for my time away, submit a few session proposals (*cross fingers 🤞), coordinate logistics, and then frantically tweet, caffeinate, and hustle from session to session in an effort to get the most out of my experience. I just assumed that’s how conferences were meant to be done–never stopping to reflect. Having never considered another strategy, I carried on feverishly over-snacking, session-cramming, note-taking, and occasionally tip-toeing through the vendor hall for some swag. If this was the best (only?) approach to attending conferences, then why did I constantly feel unfulfilled and fiscally guilty?

Fortunately, after years of feeling rather unfulfilled and exhausted, I was introduced to another perspective; one I now find to be professionally relevant, personally fulfilling, and an institutional investment I can speak honestly about with my peers and/or supervisors. In 2016, I happened upon similar but separate evening conversations with Clark Shah-Nelson, Phylise Banner and Frank Tomsic (unknowns to me then, but friends and colleagues I now know to be part of the lifeblood that is OLC). They discussed their conference experience much differently than anything I had encountered previously. They spoke openly, honestly, and above all else, about the pursuit of human connection (wait, what about tomorrow’s sessions on the promise of VR?). Previously, I had always assumed that individual sessions were all that mattered, but a few heartfelt conversations with the right people and my view had been forever shifted (undoubtedly for the best).

I now know that the formal sessions, while vitally important as the intellectual foundation and conference scaffold, need to be viewed as supplements and cognitive catalysts within a much broader network of potential for peer connection and engagement. The OLC leadership team has worked tirelessly to envision an immersive, inclusive experience, not just a conference. The broad collection of diverse leaders, volunteers, and committees create a living/breathing ecosystem that breeds broad opportunity. Are you an unapologetic geek in need of creative, technology-infused reprieve? The Innovation Studio has you covered. Are you a gamer or coder needing daily doses of problem solving? Don’t miss the latest genius of the Escape Room. Are you a first-time attendee in need of some one-on-one support while getting oriented? The Field Guide Program was created just for you. Are you unable to make the physical trip to Chicago but want in on the action? OLC Live!, the virtual Slack community, and the option to attend sessions virtually is likely to suit your needs (and budget). 

OLC Innovate has evolved to offer a vast range of opportunities that stretch well beyond what you’ve likely come to expect from the traditional edtech conference, but it’s up to you to curate an experience that suits your unique needs. By updating our perspective and viewing conferences as opportunities to actively connect and engage, as opposed to vendor-fueled, presentation curation machines, the personal value potential quickly becomes limitless. OLC Innovate is absolutely what you make of it, and I’m constantly amazed and inspired by the number of opportunities that exist if you’re willing to take an active role in shaping and discovering them. I used to attend conferences passively, allowing yearly waves of new information to wash over me and be forgotten, but that was before a few seemingly trivial conversations bent my assumptions and reoriented me towards undiscovered human connection and value. As engagement co-chair for OLC Innovate 2020, I invite everyone to join me in exploring a new perspective. Don’t allow conferences to happen to you; take an active role in connecting with others and pursuing the personally relevant opportunities that truly engage YOU to the fullest. See you in Chicago and/or online!


Want to learn more about getting involved with OLC conferences? Join our webinar, “OLC Engagement: Volunteer, Connect, Grow! Part 1 – Conferences” on January 14th.


Taylor Kendal

Taylor Kendal, OLC Innovate 2020 Engagement Co-Chair

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