What to Do and See at Educause 2019

It’s that time of year once more. Thankfully, Educause 2019 will not mean missing Halloween again. There was a lot of gnashing of teeth at my home the last time that happened with little ones openly weeping in their princess costumes. But the “car show” of ed tech is upon us once again and I hope to see you there!

Don’t forget to download (and use) the Educause Events App

Don’t forget to download (and use) the Educause Events App

As a primer, here are some things you may or may not have considered doing, seeing, or attending throughout the conference. As someone who has attended more than 15 Educause conferences over time, I feel like I have a decent finger on the pulse of how it works. You be the judge. Here are my recommendations for what to take in while in Chicago next week:

Sessions: I know, I know…sessions are more like playing roulette than professional development. The number of good presenters out there is in the single digits, making conference sessions SO much easier to play hooky from, perhaps taking in the Pier or the views from the Skydeck at Willis Tower. But remember that in addition to the number of other challenges education faces, there is a real struggle with innovation. Budgets, politics, and committees often have an unhealthy impact on the ability to find and try new things, so as to help the education experience. So conference sessions are often the only life-line available to see, hear, and get first-hand knowledge around new ideas. That means that even though the presenters may read their PowerPoint slides or struggle to keep people sitting in the room, you need to work the problem in your favor. Ask questions, stay around after, or at least grab the case studies and see if you can’t find the next “big” idea for your school. Here are a few sessions I think might prove to be worth our while:


1 - Where Good Ideas Come From: PBS host Stephen Johnson is going to talk about platforms, practices, ideas, and creativity. Remember that the key to innovation is associative thinking, which means asking how someone outside of your context might approach a problem or solution. This session should be a few of those served up on an entertaining platter. (8:30am - Skyline Ballroom)

2 - Finding Step-Change Innovation: A panel discussion from some heavy hitters in the ed tech space, this session looks like a smorgasbord of disruption ideas and examples. Fun! (Tuesday, 10:45am - W37b)

3 - Dessert Stations: What more needs to be said? (1:15pm - Halls F1, F2 - Level 3)

4 - Forget the Alt Text (When Accessible Does Not Equal Usable): With more and more digital experiences coming to our campuses, we are going to continue seeing more users with unique needs and importantly, we are going to see more and more lawsuits and fines because institutions have not considered those user experiences. This session looks to be a story / case study with a healthy number of lessons learned, ensuring you don’t have to learn them yourself. (1:15pm - Poster Session)

5 - Platform for Innovation (Modern Deployment Practices with Apple): My favorite Apple finding from one of their multi-year studies was that it takes around 4 years to genuinely transform an organization / institution with the use of technology. The resistance to change is just too much to overcome quicker than that most of the time. So, keeping with the theme of learning how other people might solve problems, this one looks extremely promising. (4:15pm - W179b)


6 - How to Reach Every Learner (The Science of Student Success): Whenever a presentation includes neuroscience as a basis for their recommendations, I’m in. When combining cognitive science with ed tech, doubly so. (11:45am, W185bc)

7 - Debunking Neuromyths: Sticking with the brain, as someone who researches and reports brain science to educators, it is just as important to know what is NOT true, as what is a worthwhile use of time. This session appears to promote just that kind of underpinning so that we can move educators away from “left-brain / right-brain” nonsense and into usable strategies for learning. (1:15pm, Poster Session)

8 - Enhancing Support with AI: Chat-bots still sit out on the fringe of usage in higher ed. Even though other industries have fully embraced their capabilities, education just doesn’t seem to know what to do with them. Perhaps this poster session will start to provide some direction. (4pm, Poster Session)

Thursday (Alas, I’m leaving Wednesday night, but if I had been able to stay around, I would have surely attended…)

Reimagining IT: A case study from Penn State and a presenter I know should prove to be a powerful session in remixing the university IT experience. (8:30am, W178a)


Exhibitors: In addition to the sessions that will be on-going, don’t forget the importance of visiting the floor. Again, I know how this can be hit or miss, but as someone who has purchased platforms and built out learning ecosystems, you have to kiss a few frogs to find those princes. But to those who kiss no frogs….well, perhaps you should attend the session about how to effectively close a university. (Gulp) So for those of you ready to see some innovation in action, here are a few booths / experiences you don’t want to miss:

1 - Wolfram Research Inc (booth 1556) should be something every institution seriously looks at. With STEM so predominantly needed in our world today, any assistance schools can get to make those subjects more interesting, searchable, connected to real life, etc., is a good thing.

2 - Start-Up Alley - do NOT miss your chance to see the latest and greatest up and comers to the ed tech scene. Spend some time with the start-up Freshman to envision what could be, but spend even more time with the Sophomores to get a sense of how ed tech is being shaped by companies with some early staying power. Check out Campus (G28) not only for their fun conference scavenger hunt game with cool prizes, but to better connect everyone to everything at your institution.

3 - Under the Ed Radar Pitch Competition: Watch this year’s newbies pitch their ideas to a panel of judges / experts and see who is crowned champion as you look for interesting innovation ideas. (2:15pm - Tuesday - Learning Theater)

Networking: Beyond the usual networking opportunities, let me see if I can make a recommendation. I know some people genuinely struggle with how to network whereas some people are completely at home engaging strangers. (There is actually a different way that introverts vs extroverts process information in the brain, so take solace in knowing you are “wired” like that.)

So, for those of you who would love to find some information, are seeking ideas, want to know how other schools are doing X, Y, or Z, I have a suggestion. Don’t worry about finding a bunch of people. Find one. Just make it the right one. And I’ll give you a recommendation for who that might be.

If you’ve read my stuff over the years, you know that I have straddled ed-tech-company-life and formal-education-role-life. But regardless of my circumstance, do you know who always has the better understanding of the big picture? Education consultants and ed tech sales people. Seriously. They know who is innovative in the space and the ideas that they have tried which both succeeded and failed. They know who is all talk and who gets things done. They know about the policies outside agencies are pressuring institutions with and they often know the strategies being used to skirt those policies.

Yes, seriously! You don’t need to go out of your way to meet 20 people, just find one who interacts with 200 of your peers. Pick their brain. Grab a drink or go to dinner. (Heck, if it’s a sales person, they may take you to dinner on the company…)

And as always, pick one thing in Chicago to see other than the inside of the convention center and your hotel room. Looking for an off-the-beaten-path gem? I love the Hoosier Mama Pie Company on Chicago Avenue. It’s ridiculously decadent and delicious…

Enjoy the conference and please stop me and say ‘hi’ if you see me! I’ll be wondering the halls, the exhibition floor, and more throughout. Enjoy Educause 2019!

Good luck and good learning.