The theme for this year’s League for Innovation conference
seems to be “where is everybody?”
Attendance seems visibly down from last year. Last year’s conference was in San Diego. This year’s is in Philly. I’m not saying
that’s the reason; I’m not saying that’s not the reason.
For reasons unknown, the Sunday panels started at 8:30 in
the morning. For folks from the West
Coast, that’s just cruel. I saw someone
I knew from California looking uncharacteristically ragged just after the first
panel, and couldn’t blame her a bit.
(Adding insult to injury, the rooms in the conference hotel don’t have
coffeemakers. Barbarians!) I’ve also seen fewer ipads this year than
last, which is probably another function of Philly as opposed to San
Jane Serbousek and Susan Wood offered a hopeful panel that
addressed the redesign of the developmental English and math sequences at the
community college system in Virginia.
(It was probably even more daunting in Virginia than it would be
elsewhere, given that Virginia has 23 community colleges but operates as a
single system.) They broke their
developmental math sequence into 9 1-credit modules, so a student who normally
would have coasted through the first half of the semester before crashing into
the second half doesn’t have to repeat the first half. In response to a question about financial aid
– I didn’t ask it, but I could have – they mentioned that some campuses use a 4-credit
“shell” course for registration purposes.
A student can complete anywhere from 1 to (theoretically) 9 credits’
worth of material, but registers for four.
It seems that the usual resistance to any sort of change was
somewhat muted; as Wood noted, “we couldn’t have worse results [than under the
current system].” Sometimes, innovation
is just another word for nothing left to lose.
As a courtesy, I’ll skip the second panel. Let’s just say it didn’t really work and
leave it at that.
A panel on first-time presidents looking back on their first
five years was by far the best attended I saw.
Two presidents spoke – Hal Higdon of Ozarks Technical Community College,
and Cheryl Thompson-Stacy of Lord Fairfax Community College -- and while there
wasn’t anything groundbreaking, they were both fun to watch. The takeaway: when your president starts to
refer to himself in the third person, it’s time to send out job applications.
For the first time in my memory, the conference actually had
a panel discussing ESL. It was
fascinating, since most of the few people there were ESL instructors
themselves. It quickly became clear that
there’s tension between their ESL department and their English department. I saw that at my last college, too, where it
led to all manner of indignation and blame-shifting but to nothing good. I was hoping to hear some discussion of ways
to improve student completion rates, but this seemed to be more about
addressing a lack of respect from other departments. That’s valid work, but it seems like a
second-order issue. Maybe next year.
In the interstices, I ran into my boss from my last
job. That’s the serendipity factor of
conferences that I’m not sure how virtual conferences could replace. I hadn’t seen him in years, so it was fun to
The keynote was by Cathy Casserly, addressing open
educational resources. Some speakers go
for analysis, some go for rhetoric; she went for concreteness. She argued that in an age in which “we are
all producers,” and the internet consists of “copies, copies everywhere,” the
print-era notion of copyright is unduly limiting. She championed Creative Commons licenses as
alternatives, and pointed us to such resources as openstax college, flatworld
knowledge, and Washington state’s Open Course Library. By her telling – and I haven’t investigated
them well enough to say – these and similar resources can help colleges and
their students get past the economic barriers characteristic of an age in which
information is held privately, rather than shared publicly.
It was a “hey, look at this!” speech, which isn’t typical
keynote fodder, but it worked.
Monday’s panels start even earlier. Suggestion to the Program Committee: keep time
zones in mind. And for heaven’s sake, do
something about the coffee…