With the idea of stories being a connecting element throughout all of our conference activities, we are creating a variety of opportunities for you to share your story and to hear the stories of others. We’re calling this initiative #WeAreOLC. As the #WeAreOLC initiative unfolds, you will see a series of blog posts focused on how we (the members of the steering committee) are using storytelling to create a memorable and impactful 25th Anniversary experience. See all #WeAreOLC blog posts.
The capacity of story to reflect on the past and weave the future (Maddie) | A Mindful Experience (Adam) | Meaningful Collaborations (Katie) | Institutional Benefits with OLC Collaborations (Sherri) | Call to Action (Angela) | Call to Action (Sherri)
Megan Kohler, OLC Accelerate Program Co-Chair
The 25th Anniversary Celebration of the Online Learning Consortium’s Accelerate conference is about you, a valued individual dedicated to advancing the field of online learning. As a member of our community, we wish to extend our deepest gratitude for your contributions and for offering your support to this organization. One of the best ways we can do that is by sharing your contributions to this organization, the field of online learning, and to your students through an initiative we refer to as #WeAreOLC.
Over the past few months, we have been focused on capturing and sharing a snapshot of what our community looks like from the past 25 years, what it looks like today, and what we hope it will become in the future. In this, our final post in the series, we wish to highlight OLC’s legacy of dedication to its community by sharing a bit about the opportunities available to you as a valued member.
As Megan mentioned in the introduction of this post, at the heart of the #WeAreOLC initiative are stories. To me, though (and I know my co-authors here would echo me on this), this project — us telling our own OLC origin stories and reaching out to others to share theirs — was always about so much more than a hashtag or a series of blog posts. The truth is, we all have stories.
I wasn’t always working in educational technology nor in digital and online learning. In fact, as I prepared for my first OLC conference, I had lingering doubts in my mind about whether or not I would be able to fit in or whether or not the programming I was preparing would be well-received. I was riddled by the ever-looming fear that I was somehow not expert enough and that people wouldn’t take me seriously if they heard I was a graduate student (or that they might overlook my professional capacity due to my status as a graduate student). While these doubts and fears filled my thoughts, I also simultaneously began to recognize how immensely privileged I was and continue to be in my work with and on the OLC leadership team (e.g. the Steering Committee). I acknowledge the ways in which my background and my identities (e.g. I am a white, cis woman) have contributed to this privilege and also acknowledge that I am therefore responsible for accounting for this privilege in my work and in my relations with others in the OLC community.
I share this here…a small part of my story…so that when you meet me (which I hope you do!) you will know me not just as the Technology Test Kitchen or the Escape Room Chair, but also the person who loves donuts, the person who has tattoos and wears flat brim hats to work, the person who appreciates comic book art and loves dinosaurs, or perhaps the person who binges movies that come in series. My hope is that you will come to know me and the others at the conference not just for our job titles or our institutional contributions, but also for the humans we are beyond the work we do. This conference might draw thousands of people, but it is the participants, the engagement programs, leadership training, the volunteers, the staff, etc. that make the OLC what it is today. It is the stories we bring, the stories we share, and the stories we create together that contribute to OLC Accelerate being (without doubt) my favorite conference ever and the OLC more broadly the group of like-minded and fun individuals that I can’t wait to see each year.
A few major stories (mainly those related to digital and online learning) have bound us together for the last 25 years. But what I look forward to most this year is learning the stories that will propel us forward as we look toward the next 25: your stories. So leading up to, at, or even after OLC Accelerate this year, I encourage you to begin to share your story with others. In doing so, I myself realized that I was wrong in my fears…I did fit in and my programs and presentations were well-received. But I was able to see this because I took the time to dive in and get to know people at the conference. I attended the Speed Networking Lounges, spent time in the Technology Test Kitchen, went to the IDEA nights and luncheons, made time for a trip to Disney with colleagues and new friends, and enjoyed the Field Guide lunch…leaving the conference with stories I would tell and re-tell for years to come. It is only through this intentional storytelling work (i.e. sharing our own stories with others and actively engaging, listening and caring about the stories of others) that we will further build, push, and develop the wonderful, quirky, passionate, and innovative OLC community that I am so glad I found and can’t wait to welcome you into.
If you’ve been reading the stories coming in from the #WeAreOLC initiative, you might be thinking that your story is starting out much like Maddie’s, filled with fear and apprehension, wondering if this is the right fit. But her story is one of many that ends with finding a community that embraces and encourages your collaboration. So how can you have an experience like that? Well, the last few weeks leading up to the conference offer a chance for you to prepare yourself to get the most out of your conference experience and set yourself up to be a thriving member of the OLC community. Conferences, in general, can be big and overwhelming (Accelerate in particular) and it is not always easy to know where to start or what to do when attending. Going in with the proper mindset and a good plan is key to having a successful experience.
Here are five simple things you can do to prepare for the conference to ensure that you have the right mindset and a plan.
- Ask yourself, “Why am I attending this conference?”
Perhaps it is a way for you to network with others in your field. Maybe you are presenting your research. Or, you might have heard from a colleague how amazing OLC Accelerate is and you want to be a part of it. Whatever your answer is, knowing why you are going will help you figure out how to leverage your opportunities while there.
- Create a set of objectives.
Objectives provide expectations and set yourself up with achievable goals to reach by the end of the conference. Much like designing a course, having objectives is important for creating your plan. And they give you focal points to help you remain in the right mindset for success. You want to aim for outcomes that are specific and measurable and that are going to benefit you professionally and personally.
- Write down a list of topics you want to learn about.
This could be anything from delving into a particular case study at your institution to seeing how a new technology works. Having these focal points for yourself, though, will help as you seek out opportunities for networking while at the conference and give you talking points as conversations come up.
- Do some research.
Map out sessions you want to attend, exhibitors you want to visit and people you want to hear speak. Make a list of the top ten sessions you want to see/do. Having this in mind before you get onsite will make your life easier. In fact, Engagement Maps (LINK) are curated pathways through the conference by topic and can make this even easier for you. Take a look!
- Participate in the Field Guide program.
This is especially true if you are a first-time attendee. This is an opportunity to instantly network and make a big conference seem a little smaller with the help of some expert guidance. At the Field Guide Power Hour you can collaborate with other conference-goers and further refine your plan of action.
Now you’re ready! You get to build your story now, and that story starts with being prepared before you even get to Orlando. When you attend OLC Accelerate you will see just how strong the OLC community is and how meaningful the collaborations can be.
We have all heard the phrase “It takes a village…” OLC conferences really do take a village to put together a successful event that our community will enjoy and want to attend year after year. From the steering committee to the track chairs; from the subcommittee members to the reviewers; from the session chairs to the Field Guides, and all the volunteers who dedicate their time, energy, and expertise to help create and execute a successful event, this is both a labor of love and the culmination of a year’s worth of collaboration, planning, and dedication not only to OLC, but also to the community of online, blended, and digital learning.
Over the past few years, OLC conferences have evolved not only to bring new and different session types that encourage engagement and interactivity but also to really focus on the engagement aspect of our events in order to provide varied options for attendees to make more meaningful connections and opportunities to collaborate.
Whether you are responsible for building an online program from the ground up, training faculty, or overseeing the academic rigor of your digital learning programs on your campus, something that is oftentimes an overlooked perk of collaborating with OLC is the ability to become an institutional member, where you immediately reap the benefits at your institution and with your colleagues. How so? One major component is the access to free training webinars, and discounted rates on training offered by the premier leaders in the field of digital learning–the same people you may engage with at our upcoming conference, in fact. You’ll get a number of other incredible benefits (quality scorecard, anyone?) to becoming an institutional member, and can share these benefits with your entire academic community. What better way to collaborate with OLC than to bring the content back home?
My fellow steering committee members here have shared myriad ways for you to connect, collaborate, and grow through the conference experience that OLC Accelerate provides. If you were to try just a mere smidge of what they’ve outlined here, this would undoubtedly provide you with an abundance of riches in the form of new knowledge and new networks to support your work promoting student success. You’ll leave with your batteries charged and a wealth of innovative methods and approaches to bring to your home institution. But what happens when you get back to the 9-to-5 and work threatens to erase that well of good reserved you built up?
#WeAreOLC is tied to the rich collaborations that extend way past the scope of our face-to-face time at conferences. It’s about connecting personalized learning networks throughout the year as a means of operationalizing those brilliant ideas sparked at the conference. Better still, it’s about working through those ideas throughout the school year and bringing your findings back to the conference the following year. A group of us frequent OLC volunteers even formed a community around this notion of keeping the fire of conference connections alive called the #SquadGoalsNetwork. The OLC gave us the foundation to build all sorts of amazing collaborations, and I encourage you to do the same.
Adam asked you to enter into the conference with objectives, and I’d like to co-sign that and ask that you also leave with objectives as well. How will you ignite the sparks of what you learn at OLC Accelerate into a blazing fire that can be shared within and across our field? And who will you ask to join you in this most critical endeavor? If you’re in need of a partner in crime, there’s a whole lot of us here ready to join you 😉
Over the last few years, OLC has made one stride after the next to expand our “community”, including working to define and redefine the concept of “community” within and for their organization. What is the OLC community? You are; I am; our campuses are; the Twitterverse is; and any space in which education and discourse may occur–that’s part of our community. It’s where we may share ideas through webinars, blogs, peer-reviewed papers, peer-reviewed and accepted presentations at conferences, and so much more. Are you looking for ways to get more plugged into the OLC community? Our volunteer activities page lists a plethora of opportunities–look through these, find your interests, and submit the interest form to join us virtually and in person. Come join our community and help us to grow.
If you haven’t found your “village” yet, consider this your invitation to join the OLC village.
|Adam Davi, Technology Test Kitchen Co-Chair|
|Angela Gunder, Virtual Engagement and OLC Live! Co-Chair|
|Megan Kohler, OLC Accelerate Program Co-Chair|
|Sherri Restauri, OLC Accelerate Conference Co-Chair|
|Katie Schuster, Director, OLC Conferences and Events|
|Maddie Shellgren, Technology Test Kitchen Co-Chair and Escape Room Chair|