When it comes to opportunity, there’s much more than meets the eye for OLC Accelerate attendees. For many years, I took a very simplistic approach to maximizing my investment at OLC conferences (and any/all conferences for that matter). You, or your employer if you’re lucky, pay what seems to be an inflated registration fee, you book an expensive flight and hotel room, at a “discounted conference rate,” and then you frantically tweet, caffeinate, and scoot from session to session (with the occasional keynote reprieve) in an effort to maximize your return on investment. That’s how you DO conferences right? I had never considered another strategy, so for years I went on session-cramming and taking copious notes, which upon my return home, were presented to a supervisor (who never read them) only to be filed away remaining dormant until accompanied by another set of near-meaningless notes the following year. If this was how one was to DO conferences, then why was the approach consistently accompanied by a lack of fulfillment and feelings of institutional and fiscal guilt?
Fortunately, after years of empty exhaustion and shamefully “dominating conferences,” I was introduced to another perspective; one I now find to be professionally relevant, personally fulfilling, and an institutional investment I speak honestly about and am proud to take advantage of. In 2016, and what now feels like a serendipitous accident, I happened upon similar but unconnected evening conversations with Clark Shah-Nelson, Phylise Banner and Frank Tomsic (new to me then, but friends and colleagues I now know to have extensive OLC experience). They discussed their conference experience much differently than anything I had encountered previously. They spoke honestly, holistically, and above all else, about the pursuit of human connection (wait, what about tomorrow’s sessions on VR and chat-bots?). Previously, I had always assumed that individual sessions were all that mattered, but a few heartfelt conversations with the right people and my view has been forever shifted (thankfully).
I now realize that the formal sessions, while vitally important as the foundational conference scaffold, need to be viewed as supplements and mental catalysts within a much wider network of potential for connection and engagement. The OLC leadership team has worked tirelessly to envision a four-day experience, not just a conference. The broad collection of diverse leaders, volunteers, and committees create an ecosystem that breeds opportunity. Are you a geek in need of a creative, technology-infused escape? The Technology Test Kitchen has you covered. Are you a first-time attendee in need of some one-on-one support while getting oriented? The Field Guide Program was created just last year and just for you. Are you unable to make the physical trek to Orlando to experience Accelerate in person? OLC Live!, the virtual Slack community, and the option to attend sessions virtually may be just what you need (and that’s just the tip of an engagement iceberg). OLC Accelerate has evolved to offer a vast buffet of opportunities that stretch well beyond what you’ve likely come to expect from the traditional edtech conference; it’s up to you to take advantage of this appetizing reality.
By viewing conferences such as OLC Accelerate as opportunities to connect and engage, as opposed to vendor-fueled presentation curation machines, the inherent value and ROI quickly skyrockets. This event is absolutely what you make of it, and I’m continuously amazed by how many peripheral opportunities exist if you’re willing to take an active role in discovering them. I used to attend conferences passively, allowing yearly waves of new information to wash over me, but that was before my eyes were opened to what events like this could truly represent. As engagement co-chair for OLC Accelerate 2018, I invite everyone to join me in exploring a new perspective. Don’t allow conferences to happen to you, and instead, take an active role in pursuing the buffet of opportunities that help create a holistic, personally relevant, and truly engaging experience. Head to the front of the line, take a taste of everything OLC Accelerate has to offer, and don’t be afraid to go back for seconds.
Interested in learning more about how you can get engaged? Contact Taylor Kendal, jump into the Slack community, visit the SquadGoals Network (a constellation of networked educators, incubating new ideas and fostering connections, all in an effort to expand equity and access within higher education), and/or be on the lookout for a post-conference volunteer opportunities webinar which will be held Jan. 10, 2019 at 2pm EST. The buffet truly is all you can eat.
About the Author
Taylor Kendal is an instructional designer and teacher with 20 years of experience in project management, leadership development, digital/social media, and systems-level hacking of higher ed. His current focus is on bridging cultures of entrepreneurship and higher education, infusing agility into bureaucracies, designing awesome LX/UX, and building the future of higher education on the blockchain. @taykendesign