Reflections on Building Bridges 2015: A Washington-based EdTech Conference

Conference Impressions Overall

Overall, this has been a great amalgamation of library, IT, IR, faculty, and numerous other tech folks who work, largely, in higher ed. As faculty, it was nice, quite nice, to be in a minority. This enabled me to listen, hear, and observe how others use, see, employ, support, or make decisions about EdTech. For that, and the multiple perspectives, that was wonderful.

The Context

Set in Spokane, Washington, there were some lovely views. But honestly, riding in from the airport, I felt like I was being driven into a post-apocalyptic film. Maybe it was all the bridges that could serve as snipers' nests. Maybe it was the grey that reminded me of East Berlin, March 1990, that echoed of buildings. Maybe I was just tired. But I've rarely felt that I'd entered into an apocalyptic film scene.

Fortunately, the conference and the hotel were anything but apocalyptic. The Red Lion at the River van driver was friendly. Counter staff were friendly. The seventh floor room with a view over the park was lovely. Everything went killer smooth. In spite of my bad first impressions, this town was tight.

Downtown Spokane, or at least the 20 square blocks or so I puttered around in, were nice. Dug Auntie's Books, but didn't find anything to buy. No Bucky Fuller there. Le Sigh. However, there was a killer artisan shop inside Aunties. And there, there I found a lovely ceramic with a Raven theme. Killer, dude! Gift for my man!

Next was tacos. Fish tacos. When I mapped downtown Spokane, I sought out cheap eats. Taco El Sol appeared on the map. Went there. Ordered. Waited. And I waited a bit longer. Was it worth it--ever! Best fish tacos--fish grilled, my friends, not fried--I've had in over two years. And the lengua taco was sweet, too. All total, it was under $9. Fabulous lunch.

From there I quested for color pencils. That led me to a pretty run down part of Spokane near the stadium. It was grey. And, again, it felt like part of Eastern Europe 1991 but with American advertising. It was surreal, especially in terms of the aesthetics.

River--lovely. Park: gorgeous. People: friendly. No disrespect meant to Spokane, but that's how it felt.

The Hotel: were they and the conference responsive? Very much so. Tweeted concerns and requests, lack of tea during breaks or rooms being too hot, and they responded. Quickly. So, yeah, the infrastructure and support was pretty good. Hotel room was nice, too, but paying $115/night, before tax, was a bit taxing. Still, at least the WiFi worked pretty well.

Concerns. Did I mention this is an EdTech conference and, for some strange reason, almost all of us are using open public unsecured WiFi. In other words, a packet sniffers delight. Delight! Just seemed a bit strange to me. The other significant issue was the very non-diverse audience. It's obvious that EdTech has a long ways to go in recruiting and retaining more diverse participants and employees. Almost all presentations were practice-oriented; given the audience, this was probably a wise choice. I would like to see more InfoSec related presentations--perhaps an entire strand.

End ResultOne of the most organized, most enjoyable, and focused conferences I have attended. Great timing for breaks, session length, presentations, etc. Overall, it was a relaxing, enjoyable conference where I learned a lot and felt far less stress than other conferences I have attended.

Podcasts About #WSHETC15

I have several podcast reviews of specific sessions:

Tangent Runner 4: A bit about FedWikis and Social Rules at conferences

Tangent Runner 5: Discussing Siemens' Worry About (Corporate) Jackals

Tangent Runner 6: Forthcoming Reviews of Multiple Thursday Sessions

Getting Back Into It

I'll be honest: I received an email this morning about blog posts here at gz assemblage. That email reminded me of why I blog and what I've been missing out on. So, in the midst of all my other excuses, I decided to give vlogging a bit of a go--at least for this one.

Here it is:

Recovering from the PhD: Part 3: What You Want is not What You Think You Want or Pursuing Respect that Already Exists

While there were a number of options during doctoral work, there were also a lot of fences. As faculty, the ranges are very open and few fences exist. We are free to rapidly take on far too much work. This piece offers no clear solutions or ideas; instead, it contemplates academic opportunities in a wandering way. 


I am a sucker for titles. I admit that. I am also a sucker for collegial respect. If I think some task, committee, or project will produce or drive respect in my direction, then I'm much more likely to take it on--even if it is not directly related to my own work, understanding, research, or materials. This is not new for me. Like many of us pursuing or with PhDs, we are opportunity hunters, chasers, and consumers.

Chasing Opportunities

Hunting opportunities is much more fun than actually capturing or eating it. Opportunities not captured are the sexy partner teasing you, the appetizing 1,200 calorie dessert tempting you, the overpriced airport store accessory calling to your credit card and cool sense because you are bored out of your skull and want a new sparkly of your very own. 

Opportunities are there. Thousands of them. Millions of them. And, sadly, I never learned how to say no very well. Seeing an opportunity almost always meant that I should pursue it--after all, you never know if there will be another one, right? Wrong. There will always be more.

Feeding this desire is, of course, the insecurity of, "They've got to be confused. They must have mistaken me for someone else, but I should take it before they realize their mistake." And so we take it, snatch it, before they realize the "mistake" they made. But they weren't making a mistake. They knew you, your skills, and that's why you got the opportunity. While I think they don't realize how much of a doofus I am, what is actually occurring is that I am undervaluing my work, my achievements at such a level and assume that peers could not possible be right in offering the gig, opening, whatever to me.

Hopping the Opportunity Train

This goes round and round. Not valuing my own skill set or work, I'm happy to hop onto the first train that goes by because it appears to offer meaning, affirmation, and value to me. Instead of waiting patiently for topics that interest me or are directly connected to my work.

What appears to be delightful or interesting, while intriguing, may actually have little use or relevance in the long term. It's akin to skimming an abstract, thinking the article may be related to your paper, and then--eight pages in--you realize "No, no. This is kinda interesting, but no. I don't have time for this." Sorry, friend, but when you volunteer or engage in things in academic structures it's a wee bit difficult to unvolunteer. You're there.

Impacts of Accepting Opportunities

The legacy of your volunteering will not be ignored, either. Others may likely raise your name to serve in other, similar positions when bodies and workers are needed. I have witnessed this occur to several colleagues. While most of us are interested in serving our community, in giving back to our departments or divisions, there is a point where sacrificing time for the division or department encroaches on our own individual work.

When you think you are stepping up to a task to garner collegial gratitude or respect, it's important to understand that while that respect or gratitude may be there--hopefully so because that would indicate civil colleagues--that respect or gratitude may well dissipate. Getting props or thanks every so often is cool, but it does not feed the mind or soul like working on something that you actually care about.

Determining where the line is, where there's balance between researching and working on content you care about versus giving time to perform for people whose opinions you care about, is a vital one to flesh out. Learning how to articulate the differences between those has been a major component of my work the past two years.

Drawing the line between what I want to do for ego versus what I want to do and enjoy doing. I am still working on that.

Image Credits:

Door image:

Train image:

Editing Note:
For some reason, this post was listed as being published in May, 2015. No idea how that happened. It took a couple tries, but now it is listed around the time when I wrote it: late May 2014. Apologies if the date is not correct.