Reflections on the 2015 Educause Conference

Steve chatting with Martin Dougiamas

Donna Petherbridge, Lou Harrison & Steve Bader attended the EDUCAUSE conference in Indianapolis, Indiana, October 27-30, 2015. We wanted to take a moment to share some of what we saw and learned with our colleagues.

Words from the Wise: Some Notes from the Keynotes

Daniel Pink, author and host/co-executive producer of National Geographic’s Crowd Control was one of the featured speakers. His presentation was called The Cascade Effect: How Small Wins Can Transform Your Organization. This presentation was about how incremental changes/opportunities for creativity within an organization can make more of a difference in the long run than top-down, bureaucratic changes. And the speaker noted that the way we do performance reviews today in our organizations isn’t exactly very motivating . . . food for thought. He asked us to really think about the “why” when we are working on things, versus only thinking about the how, and challenged us to find daily purpose in our work.

Andrew McAfee spoke to us about The Second Machine Age. A key takeaway from this session was a reminder that the most creative/innovative ideas don’t necessarily come from your organizational HIPPO (e.g. the highest paid person in your organization). Sometimes, McAfee says, leaving it to the “geeks” is best—and he encouraged us to find ways to make space for individuals to innovate away from the work routine, and to be prepared for even more amazing/rapid changes that we couldn’t even imagine with the increasing reliance on technology.

Want some additional “wise words?” A number of these sessions are available online, see Here you can view several publically available sessions and read the social media recaps from each day to discern various perspectives on the conference.

Session Roundup: A few for thought

Steve noted several sessions that he enjoyed. The one he was most satisfied with was a poster session called, Agile Methodologies for Enterprise Service Deliver in Higher Education. He attended a similar session at a Moodle Moot where Minnesota University explained how they worked development cycles within the University’s governance and vetting process on a one year cycle. This session was delivered by Depauw University and outlined an approach using daily stand-up scrums and bi-weekly meetings with University stakeholders. Overall, Steve appreciates our approach greatly, but finds the postmortems and bi-weekly unit meetings used by Depauw to reflect and adjust their deployment strategies very valuable for time-consuming and high stake projects.

Poster Session URL: (contains PDF with crude drawing of process)

Steve also attended Blackboard’s session: Today’s Students Need More Than an LMS: A New Approach to Learning, delivered by Mark Strassman. The most valuable bit of knowledge gained from this session was the current misunderstanding of subject competency. They made the point that from course to course there is a blind hand-off of student competency; the student may have passed with a score of 80 but what does that translate into? And we need to move towards data-driven decisions that influence student success. Apparently Blackboard thinks they have already solved for this…

Web Professionals by Mark Albert from The George Washington University was also a worthwhile session. Steve noted that there was good discussion around the current mobile technologies, JavaScript frameworks and web-related tools in this session, but nothing really new to report.

Lou attended the Senior Director Seminar, a program with several seminars and meetings that provided a chance for several senior IT professionals to get together to compare notes and network and draw on each other’s experience. Also in attendance were Keith Boswell and Debbie Carraway from NC State, making NC State the best-represented group at the session.

One of Donna & Lou’s co-presenters, Josh Baron from Marist College, had another session Predictive Learning Analytics: Fueling Actionable Intelligence with Shady Shehata and John Witmer. It was a nice introduction to predictive learning analytics and described well the difference between predictive analytics and most rules-based systems.

Donna thought it was also worth mentioning the session about The IT Org Chart of the Future. Of particular interest in this session was a discussion about the new and emerging roles in IT that revolve around things like “Service Management” and “Social Media.” Yes, there are many IT roles that are still “traditional keep things running” kind of stuff; but there seem to be more opportunities for roles that manage and connect multiple people, both internal and external to the organization, to get work done.

What’s out there: Lessons from the Vendor floor

The Vendor floor had an expanded section this year called the Start-Up Alley (see the list of vendors from this link). Here you could do a walkabout of 24 ed-tech companies that were providing services in the educational technology space. From alternate LMS platforms to full-fledged instructional production/adaptive courseware, these companies provided even more alternatives for products that can be used in the online/blended learning space and simply affirmed that there is something new emerging every day that may indeed fill a need in a university’s edtech toolkit.

Of course, the vendor floor was filled with many partners that we already work with and/or are aware of in the information technology/educational technology space. During the conference, all of us walked around the floor, engaging in both impromptu and scheduled conversations. The vendor floor had the usual hodgepodge of booths, from wireless network companies to the big LMSs to ERP systems. It seemed this year that Information Security was a rather large focus, as a lot of new booths had information security themes and/or were new vendors to the conference. LastPass (a password management tool) is one good example. Also, there seemed to be a surprising number of niche LMSs focused on ease of use, cloud hosting, prescriptive release, and textbook replacement. Other than that, many of the booths were the same as in previous years. Lou took the opportunity to reconnect with current vendors and got to meet our new Blackboard rep and his new vice president. Steve took a look at Canvas again (as we are constantly hearing about it)—there have been some interface modifications since we looked at it, but nothing major in functional changes. Steve also noted that Citrix has come a long way with their virtualization and mobile app.

Both Donna & Lou spoke with Adobe about potential campus site licensing options for Adobe products, and Donna had a conversation with Top Hat about the current faculty on our campus experimenting with their polling tool. We plan on following up with the 5 faculty members currently using the tool to better understand why they have selected to pilot this product instead of using other tools as part of the IT Governance’s Academic Technology Committee relook at this space. Donna & Marc Hoit, NC State’s CIO, also chatted with Cisco. They have made a number of changes to WebEx and have asked that we look at it again for possible consideration for a broader use than it is being used now. Donna also got a demo of Collaborate Ultra—the new release of Collaborate that will be coming out soon. Initial impression—the new interface is very nice and has more of a “Google chat” feel, and the video/clarity is much crisper. Right now, though, there are some concurrent use limitations that will need to be addressed before we could transition to Collaborate Ultra from the version that we are currently running on campus, which is Blackboard Collaborate 12.6.6.

Giving Back

Donna and Lou, along with our friends Josh Baron from Marist College and Kenny Wilson from Jefferson College, gave a presentation about our current work in the learning analytics area ( We had around 120 people in attendance and the audience seemed quite engaged with the session, with many people remaining to ask us questions afterwards.

Steve, along with Dr. Ed Lindsay and our former DELTA colleague Amanda Robertson, gave a presentation about the gamification module that was developed in Moodle for Ed’s course (see Gamify! Play! Learn). Around 100 number of people attended the session, including Lou, and of course, the presentation was fantastic. A highlight of this session for Steve was engaging in a conversation after the presentation with Martin Dougimas, founder of Moodle.

Concurrently, Donna was in planning meetings with the 2016 EDUCAUSE Conference Program Planning Committee, which she was invited to serve on for the next year. The committee is comprised of EDUCAUSE members from across the United States, with several International members as well. The main threads of the committee’s meeting were to discuss our impressions of/feedback about this year’s’ conference, to look at the different conference tracks proposed for next year and to review the planning schedule, which will include a lot of work reviewing proposals and planning meetings with this group over the next year. If you are interested in being a proposal reviewer, please talk to Donna as she has a job for you!

Donna also worked a shift at the First-Timers Pit Stop. The Pit Stop was a designated area advertised to first-timer participants at the EDUCAUSE conference where experienced conference goers could provide some advice and direction about planning their day and help them get more involved with EDUCAUSE. This was the first time the conference has done this, and it was well received. EDUCAUSE is such a large conference, with 7000+ attendees, that it can be overwhelming for those that are new to the community. In addition, Donna got drafted into spending some time with Martin Klubeck, from the University of Notre Dame, to help work on some IT Performance Measurement Standards (still in draft form—and open for comments).

Collegial Encounters

Donna and Lou had a chance to catch up with both Joanne Dehoney and Sharon Pitt, both formerly DELTA colleagues (in case you don’t remember—both were once in the Learning Technology Director role in DELTA’s early days). Joanne is now Chief of Staff at Educause and Sharon is CIO of Binghamton University in New York. We had a blast catching up with them. In addition, Donna got to spend time with Information/Educational Technology Leaders that she met during a 2014 EDUCAUSE Leadership Institute, spending an evening exchanging ideas about emerging issues/trends and challenges in higher education, and of course, we enjoyed spending time with other NC State University colleagues who attended EDUCAUSE, including Keith Boswell, Marc Hoit and Debbie Carraway.

It’s a Wrap

EDUCAUSE was, as always, a wonderful, but exhausting, professional development and community building opportunity, where we got to spend time with colleagues from across the nation (and world). This is an opportunity that we would encourage our colleagues to consider—there will be a call for proposals before you know it, with proposals due for next year’s conference likely in January 2016!