On September 29th, ACPA hosted the 2015 Presidential Symposium entitled Fulfilling Our Promises to Students: Fostering and Demonstrating Student Success. We spent a number of months planning an event that would involve as many people as possible. To achieve this goal, we had to expand upon the idea of an onsite event. And, we didn’t think live streaming alone would be engaging enough.  

We put on our thinking caps and came up with an innovative approach that combined the best of multiple delivery methods. We scheduled the symposium from 1pm-5pm ET to allow people from all time zones in the western hemisphere to participate. Our friends at the Fashion Institute of Technology hosted the onsite portion of the event in New York City. Rather than having a couple of keynote talks, each taking an hour, the symposium included seven streamed talks – each no more than 15 minutes – on a different topic related to college student learning. Only two speakers were actually onsite in NYC, the rest were distributed across the U.S.: Indiana, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, and Florida. We reached out to colleges inviting them to host “participation parties” during which they could watch the talks. Then, at different times during the symposium, they were able to have small group conversations on their campuses. This provided an opportunity for participants to apply what they were learning to their individual campus or department context. To ensure that cost would not be prohibitive, the fee was $99 per ACPA-member campus. Participating institutions came from all over the western hemisphere – from the University of Toronto in the north to the University of the West Indies in the south (just three miles from the coast of Venezuela); and from Seattle University in the West to Boston College in the east.

While my plan was to emcee the event, my role changed to that of participant. My mother passed away the week before the symposium and I was with family in Michigan tending to personal matters. Fortunately, I was able to tune in via live stream and by following #ACPAsym15 on Twitter. This role reversal allowed me a unique opportunity to join the symposium as a participant rather than planner.

I was able to observe the process as the symposium unfolded. And, it was remarkable. The speakers were engaging and highlighted important issues in college student learning. The talks themselves were perfectly digestible sizes. The short length allowed for more talks covering different topics.

The comments on Twitter filled the feed quickly and consistently; many times being posted faster than I could read them. Some people summarized main points in their tweets, which was particularly helpful for those not able to view the symposium. Some were having conversations with participants at other colleges. Others were raising questions and even challenging comments by the speakers. There was even a Twitter exchange between a participant and one of the speakers – Linda Suskie. During her talk, Linda provided tips on how to present data. She suggested that color-coding results would help others understand the data and thus be more likely to use it. Morgan Trussel challenged the tip by asking Linda via Twitter “what if your reviewer is unable to read the graph based on the color coding due to a disability?” Linda was able to respond quickly, suggesting the use of patterns instead of colors. Normally, this would be the type of question an audience member would ask the speaker in person, but it was asked virtually with the participant and speaker in two different places outside of the onsite venue. Communal learning was being leveraged to foster a level of engagement with a large number of people that wouldn’t be possible if we were all simply watching the talks.

Even more impressive was the learning that was happening on the individual campuses. There were three different opportunities for small group conversations on the individual campuses. There was also a “virtual discussion” via GoogleHangout. Workbooks provided to participants had suggested discussion questions, but some campuses chose their own. While the Twitter discussion slowed during those times, people were posting pictures of their campus discussions. Many photos showed whiteboards filled with writing and individuals huddled in small groups at tables.

I’m glad I was able to take part in the symposium as a participant rather than host so that I could experience and observe the communal learning that was taking place. It was powerful to witness and satisfying to know that our creative delivery method allowed us to engage as many people from more than 120 college campuses in an international conversation regarding college student learning. I am proud to call ACPA my professional family and be a part of its community of learning.

If you missed the symposium, but would still like access to the seven symposium talks and additional resources (that include six “bonus” talks), simply visit http://bit.ly/1gS2sFt to purchase an access pass.