Here’s a quick update on my brief visit to Dallas for the Innovations 2013 conference to present on a Textbook Zero project of a VCCS college that I will discuss at length

First, a little bit about my trip to Dallas. I have no illusions about air travel–I always take it as a given that something is going to go wrong, whether a delayed flight, badinnovations_2013 weather, or being stuck in a middle seat between two garrulous and unshowered seatmates. It was the first day of Spring Break for a number of Virginia colleges and universities so I ended up getting bumped from my midday flight on Saturday for one a few hours later.  This wasn’t too big of a setback since I was in no rush and it gave me some more downtime to tweak my presentation on the next day.

All was going smoothly with my new itinerary until we were just to about to take off (early!) from Atlanta. A huge thunderstorm was rolling over Dallas and we were notified that our flight was prevented from taking off until it passed. Unfortunately, it took 3 1/2 hours for the storm to move on, which my fellow passengers and I spent sitting on the plane on the tarmac. What was worse for me was how late it was when we finally landed in Dallas. By the time I deplaned, fetched my luggage, and fought off a horde of travelers for one of very few cabs at the airport at that hour,  it was almost 2 a.m. Adding to my pain was that it was also Daylight Savings Time so, when I walked up to hotel reception at 2 am it was actually 3 am.

This all goes to the point that I was not firing on all cylinders during my presentation the next day. Despite that,  it went well, I think. I was a bit “off” for the rest of the conference, however, and by off I mean terribly exhausted.

Anyway, as I said during my presentation, I think ‘innovation’ is the most overused word in education today, similar to  ’21st Century Skills’ from a few years ago. So, a conference called Innovations is at risk of promoting more buzzword-usage rather than truly innovative ideas. The opening session by Diane Oblinger, CEO of Educause, didn’t give me much hope. Here are my initial thoughts, posted in the comments section to a post on the Confessions of a Community College Dean blog:

While I liked [Dr. Oblinger’s] idea of the Connected College at first, the solutions she imagined… were almost exclusively “use Tech Tool X to solve Educational Problem Y.” What ails post-secondary, according to her premise, is we don’t use “the best technology has to offer.” Again, like so many of the thinkers in educational technology, she mistakes the symptom for the disease. Except for the collaborative gene-splicing tool–don’t remember what this was called–the tools she presented, both third-party and college-developed, were administrative: data analytics, college and career pathway tools, etc. Don’t get me wrong, without a doubt using these tools effectively would be of great benefit to community college students. But what Dr. Oblinger’s Connected College didn’t address, at least in much detail, was what happens in the classroom. How do we use technology to reinvigorate and re-imagine teaching and learning? Not even using “the best technology has to offer,” but implementing mundane, unsexy, and dusty innovations like blogs. Or Google Apps.

Her talk, like any good keynote, sets the tone for the rest of the conference. And for me, that tone was a general acceptance, even promotion of, the further commercialization of education. Not what I consider innovative. Perhaps my lack of sleep made me somewhat irritable, perhaps I chose my sessions poorly, so I would love to hear any other, divergent opinions of Innovations 2013. Overall, my experience didn’t give me many reasons to want to return to the conference next year.