Finding My Tribe at EDUCAUSE

By Michael Stephens |

“I’ve found my tribe.”

I surprised myself with the admission that I felt very at home with the attendees, speakers and organizers of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Conference 2010. I had never been to the conference before and I was rather nervous about my invited presentation. This was a step away from presenting in the library world. I'll confess that it felt a bit daunting. The theme of the conference was "Learning Environments for a Web 2.0 World,” and the featured presentations, concurrent sessions and “Experience IT” encounter groups centered around what it means to use technology in education today, and tomorrow. My session was an overview of what I think makes up “The Hyperlinked Campus” (based on my model of "The Hyperlinked Library") and the benefits of creative collaboration and immersive engagement in teaching. It was good for my own process to articulate the learning goals I have for my LIS students with technology and emerging trends in libraries.

Validation, however, is a also good thing. At EDUCAUSE LI, I found folks doing and thinking the same things I am doing and thinking at Dominican GSLIS. I found conversations about delivering course content and classroom interaction via mobile devices. I found a lively discussion of trends like “simple augmented reality” that will create dynamic, information-laden environments out of city streets or any other locale.

What I didn’t find was librarians. Some facts: the organizers reported at the start of the event that 40% of the 500 or so attendees were faculty, followed by 30% IT administrators. Librarians made up 7% of the registered attendees. In my opinion, that number should have been much higher. I would like to have heard more perspective from those folks actually working in libraries during the Q&A sessions.

I’m using Wordpress multi-user blogs to create class communities, and giving my students experience with tools like Twitter. I’m interested in incorporating a mobile device aspect to my classes. At this conference, I found faculty and IT folks actively exploring the same ideas, and others that went way beyond.

I think the reason I felt so connected to the folks attending this conference is that they are people who are also wrestling with bigger issues. Just as conversations about business, organizations and libraries have centered around the changes brought on by connected, always-on technologies, the folks working in higher ed are facing similar discussions.

I couldn’t help feeling that I had stepped into the midst of another group experiencing a sea change - growing pains of a sort as old models give way to new or evolved models that question “how we’ve always done it.”

The evening session devoted to the just released 2010 Horizon Report was wonderful. Grab the report, read it and ponder what it means for your library if you haven't already.

I felt even more in sync with this tribe in sessions like “Twitter Symbiosis: A Librarian, a Hashtag, and a First-Year Seminar” in which a faculty member, a librarian, and a student from Baylor University described their experiences embedding a librarian in the class back channel via Twitter to do on the fly support and reference throughout a class. Professor Gardener Campbell described what he encouraged in his teaching: laptop use, access to WiFi, and the ubiquitous use of Twitter. He would begin the class session with a “call to arms:” “Everyone sign into Twitter and say good morning to the librarian."


It pains me to imagine a classroom where instructors make students power down their laptops and devices. Sure, an errant eye might fall on Facebook while class is in session but it also opens a door to adding deep value via real time searches, interaction with librarians (if they are online as Baylor Librarian Ellen Filgo was for Campbell’s seminar), and a sense of community via Twitter hastags or a class web site. Campbell noted that students appreciated the feedback of the back channel during their presentations.

Keynoter John Palfrey, co-author of Born Digital, gave a thoughtful presentation on his work studying Digital Natives. The revelation that the room should have been filled with librarians as well as faculty and IT staff came when Palfrey acknowledged the issue of information overload facing the natives as well as all of us and noted that the wealth of information out there now available to young people via mobile device presents a key challenge for librarians: “In a world of information overload, who are your guides? Who are the people who help you find the most credible information when you need it?” Palfrey went on to say that librarians are in a perfect position to curate, collect resources and develop spaces for young people to find information and interact. I was the one who shouted “Amen” from the back by the power outlets.

Beyond session content, this conference was one of the most connected and open events that I have ever attended.
All of the keynotes and featured sessions were streamed live on the Web as they happened via Silverlight and then archived for free viewing at the EDUCAUSE site. The combination of speaker and slides in a Web browser window has made going back to view sessions I couldn’t attend most enjoyable. This content is free and readily accessible on the web. I’d like to see more of this in our library conferences--more streaming and recording and more FREE access. Go watch Palfrey’s session or one of the others listed below. It’s probably the closest to "being there” I’ve ever seen for capturing a conference.

The ELI conference is also a testing ground for emerging technologies. To build community before the conference, organizers used Pathable, complete with attendee profiles, dynamic scheduling, tagged interests and integrated Twitter/Facebook/Linked In. Google Wave also served as an experimental conference channel for discussion and sharing. I still found my favorite place to be was the Twitter back channel and hashtag #ELI2010. The sharing and commentary was positive, extended the discussion and highlighted the promise of what tech can bring to the learning experience.

Organizers used Google moderator to tap into what the crowd wanted to ask presenters. Questions were submitted and delegates in the room and afar--including attendees who viewed/listened via Second Life--could vote their favorites up to the top of the list.

I’m taking away a lot from three days in Austin, Texas with a tribe of educators and technologists. There was much to incorporate into my teaching and much to share on my own campus.

And I’d share this with you, readers: get to one of these conferences or check out the content online. Given the caliber of discussion and the trend-scanning, the long range insights should not be missed by library folk--especially those who work with young people in any capacity, those who teach future librarians, those who work in academic libraries, or those who recognize that technologies on the horizon will be here sooner than we think. Shouldn’t we have a hand in shaping their use in education and beyond?


Born Digital:
ELI2010 Presentations:
Gardener Campbell’s Blog:
Google Moderator:
Michael’s Hyperlinked Campus:
Twitter Symbiosis: