DRAFT: POD Conference Report

The Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network in Higher Education’s 37th Annual Conference, “Pencils and Pixels: 21st Century Practices in Higher Education” was held October 24-28, 2012, in Seattle, Washington. This conference featured over 130 interactive, roundtable and research sessions, several plenaries, and poster sessions. So, a large conference. Highlights included:

Plenary: Michael Wesch: “The End of Wonder in the Age of Whatever”
As one might expect, given his viral videos on student engagement and the impact of the web on education, his presentation was a fluidly choreographed,  inspirational delight of talk and video with such toss offed lines as “In the TV age we talk about critical thinking; in the information age we talk about information literacy.” His emphasis returned again and again to the importance of learning through real-world experience—learning physics instead of learning the game of physics tests, for example. (As did Schneiderman with his “relate/create/donate” ideas of several years ago.) He suggested that the process, the research, and the act of creation was more important than ‘covering’ content, that focusing on groups of students and supporting them in actual practice, in a ‘quest’ as it were, was more effective than focusing on specifying a particular design for an end product.

Emory University iPad Experiments
Emory has several iPad projects whereby they loan iPads with pre-loaded apps to classes. These loans tend to be for six-week periods but not full semester. They work with faculty beforehand to determine what the specific uses will be, what kinds of assignments the students will be doing, how will they design assessments (not complex: essentially will they be taking notes, writing, communicating?). They have one class session dedicated to how to use the iPad, and encourage students to use Evernote and DropBox as a way to keep their data after the project. The session tended to focus on the logistics of how they do this (they have multi-unit carts with a Mac to do the syncing, using Absolute Manager to manage the images which they take from one iPad via iTunes), with insufficient time to discuss specific projects and assessment.

A Roundtable session for Instructional Designers, Faculty Developers and IT Supporters
This ended up being an odd session. It started off with the familiar “post-its on the wall” technique for group work, but it became increasingly clear during the discussions that
a) definitions for the three categories (ID, FD, IT) are hardening, but as is typical of such things
b) those definitions are clearly not identical across institutions and disciplines.
So, some people were adamant that the definitions they were working with were absolute and well-defined in the literature and that other uses were simply a result of sloppy speaking based on ignorance. However, these assertions while they caused some confusion and rolled eyes, were not challenged. Instead the talk devolved into pockets of tangential conversations, discussion of what universities had good job offerings, and a sum-up session that seemed more focused on which table’s representative could speak the longest.

Plenary: Alex Soojun-Kim Pang on “Contemplative Computing and Our Future of Education”
Pang’s long, wandering, but quite engaging talk focused on “distraction addiction” and its impact on education. Playing on the well-known quote that “pain is inevitable but suffering is a choice” he ended the session with “[internet/telecommunications] connection is inevitable but distraction is a choice.” In between was a session that recalled, fondly, those late-night scintillating dorm-room discussions on life, the universe, and everything. The questions that followed ranged from interesting to convoluted thesaurus-busting attempts to out-convolute the speaker. But seriously, it was a fun talk.

Helen Sword on Writing  (who I didn’t realize until after I got to the session that she is the woman responsible for the book/website ‘The Writer’s Diet’) has just published “Stylish Academic Writing.’ The talk was based on the hundreds of interviews she did as the research that went into the book. Many great ideas, charismatic speaker, check the web sites for more information. Think I’ll buy the book.

And my session: Digital Humanities and CTLs: A Logical Partnership
Most surprising were the number of people (about 25) who came to what was, in this conference, a relatively esoteric topic. However, according to attendees, they are actually hearing from more and more faculty with questions about how to integrate digital projects into their classes and are trying to determine the best way to support this. I had framed the talk in terms of “things we have tried that failed” which turned out to mirror the experiences some had already begun to have. Others had begun to consider some of those same approaches and appreciated learning of potential pitfalls and consequences ahead of time. As a nice bonus, Paul Martin was there and willingly added good comments about his CTL experiences at UVM! Here’s the PPT copy of the Keynote file: http://www.uvm.edu/~hag/presentations/2012pod/2012-POD.ppt
The slide show was brief and inserted in the middle was a discussion about DH themes and potential projects. Next I had them log in to my omeka.net space and start to build a collection. This included downloading/uploading some images and adding metadata. (And it actually worked!) We wrapped up with a discussion of how these ideas reflected or might aid their experience at their own institutions.

Of course, this conference was also quite memorable for occurring at the same time that tropical storm Sandy descended on the east coast, rendering the stay in Seattle three days longer than expected due to flight delays–an utterly small inconvenience compared to the disaster that Sandy left in its wake.

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