Reframing Engagement: A Virtual Approach to Community & Care


Taylor Kendal, OLC Innovate 2020 Engagement Co-Chair

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When it comes to opportunity and engagement, there’s much more than meets the eye for attendees of OLC Innovate, and though upended and virtualized, this year need not be any different. While we will be spending more time on Zoom and less physically zooming around the Windy City, rest assured that there will still be a range of opportunities to make this year’s event energizing, uplifting, professionally engaging, and personally relevant. Afterall, (re)imagining and building online experiences are what shaped this community in the first place. It’s in our DNA!

For many years, I took a rather mindless approach to “maximizing my ROI” at conferences. Arrange approvals and coverage for my time away, submit my session proposals, 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 not considered any other strategies, I carried on feverishly over-snacking, socializing, session-cramming, note-taking, and occasionally tip-toeing through the vendor hall for the latest swag. Was this really the best (the only) approach? Had I honestly considered what engagement could and should be?

Enter COVID-19 and the great virtualization. Like it or not, this year has forced us all to rethink our assumptions and look at the world through a fresh set of eyes. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, this pandemic has offered each of us a chance to reevaluate our approach to education and consider, at the most fundamental level, what really matters. As a dear friend and colleague Sean Michael Morris recently wrote in Fostering Community and Care at a Distance

Even in this moment, even in pandemic and tragedy and fear, we are all nonetheless—and in some ways, more so than when comfort and peacefulness abide—in a process of becoming more human. As we are confronted by the aches and diseases of our culture, we can be reminded that culture is distinctly human, and so part of our common project.

The OLC leadership team has worked tirelessly over the past few months to completely re-envision a digitally-immersive and inclusive common community project. A diverse collection of leaders, visionaries, and volunteers have come together to create a living/breathing digital ecosystem that breeds opportunity and allows us all to reframe engagement. Are you an unapologetic geek searching for a creative virtual outlet? The Innovation Studio will surely suit your needs. Are you a first-time attendee and/or new to virtual events? The Field Guide Program will still have you covered. Are you hungry for color commentary from your favorite OLC personalities? Join our unapologetically friendly series of guest hosts for OLC Live! throughout the event.

While we won’t be exchanging handshakes and hugs, OLC Innovate has evolved this year to offer an amazing range of opportunities sure to meet, and hopefully exceed, your expectations. That said, it’s up to you to lean into the community and curate an experience that truly suits YOU. By shifting our collective perspective and viewing this year’s conference as a unique opportunity to connect and engage in new ways, I believe we can all find a silver lining amid otherwise challenging times. OLC Innovate is, and always has been, what we each choose to make of it. I’m constantly amazed and inspired by the opportunities awaiting discovery if an active role is taken in shaping the experience; this year will be no different, regardless of the geographic distances that might separate us. 

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, and now a pandemic, bent my assumptions and reoriented me towards the importance of human connection and care. As engagement co-chair for OLC Innovate 2020, I invite everyone to join me in exploring a new (virtual) perspective. Don’t allow conferences to happen to you. Take an active role in connecting, growing, and pursuing the personally relevant opportunities within and among this amazing community. 

Dare to dream, stay safe, and I’ll see you online!

Registration for the virtual conference includes live-stream and on-demand recordings of nearly 300 sessions, including keynotes, featured sessions, education sessions, and industry showcases. The program also includes four targeted summits – HBCU, Research, Community College and the Leadership Network. There will also be opportunities to connect with peers through virtual social and networking activities including happy hours, game socials, guided meditation sessions, and networking coffee breaks.

Registration for OLC Innovate 2020 Virtual is now open. Learn more and make plans to attend today!


Taylor Kendal

Taylor Kendal, OLC Innovate 2020 Engagement Co-Chair


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