As I write this, the 27th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching and Learning (#DTL2011) is kicking off with the first day of pre-conference workshops. For several years I was a regular attendee of this fine conference, and I usually was a presenter for these same pre-conf workshops. Many people I know simply refer to DTL as “the Madison conference.”
I stopped attending altogether a few years ago. As the distance learning administrator for a 2-year school in Minnesota (no longer true), I couldn’t justify the cost of the conference given that there is almost nothing there for someone trying to learn new things that apply at 2-year colleges. The conference is very much focused on input from very learned people who hail from research universities (not that there’s anything wrong with that). If you want to sit through sessions with several dozen newly minted (or nearly-minted) PhD’s telling you about their research topic – then this is the place to be. I actually find that stuff to be interesting, but rarely applicable when I would return to the 2-yr campus.
During my last year of attendance, I realized that I was having a hard time finding sessions that were being led by people from community colleges (or other forms of 2-yr schools). So I went through the entire program and took a census. As memory serves, there were 135 different sessions to choose from and SIX (yes, 6) of them had presenters from two-year schools. I’ve done similar checks of the online schedules during each of the past few years and found almost identical results.
I just did it again. Here are the results with total number of sessions followed by 2-yr sessions in paren):
- Keynotes: 3 (0)
- Workshops: 20 (0)
- Demonstrations: 24 (2)
- Discussions: 32 (1)
- E-Poster Sessions: 12 (0)
- Lightning Sessions: 22 (4*)
- Information Sessions: 64 (3*)
- VideoShare Sessions: 9 (1)
In total, there are 186 different sessions scheduled at the conference (wow, that’s a lot), and 11 of them (or 9, if I don’t include the generous scoring as mentioned below) come from people at 2-year colleges.
* The asterisks indicate that I included one session that comes from one of the Florida state colleges that are no longer 2-year schools. I included them as 2-year schools since their tradition and experience still mainly lies in that arena.
With other conference choices that are much more relevant to community college people – why would they choose to spend their shrinking budget dollars on attending DTL?
Don’t get me wrong, someone like keynoter Clark Quinn will have valuable information and ideas for all attendees, no matter where they’re from. But still, if you want to learn about what’s happening at 2-year campuses (clearly a great source of information about DL), you need to hear from people who work in those schools.
Before I get accused of railing against this conference, let me tell you a couple of things. 1) The people who organize and coordinate DTL each year are absolutely fabulous – I love ’em. I got to know them fairly well during the years that I attended and they are totally first-rate. 2) The DTL conference is a very well-run conference. Good production value (like for keynotes, etc.), great location, friendly people, etc. etc.
In closing, let me suggest a couple of possibilities:
1) DTL should consider a separate track for people from 2-year schools and actively recruit presenters and attendees for these sessions. There needs to be more than 11 sessions sprinkled throughout 186 offerings. I know someone who could help with that task.
2) Failing #1 above, someone should organize an early August e-Learning conference specifically focused on innovations and best practices in the 2-year schools. Again, I know someone who could make this happen (so should I?)
(NOTE: your comments are welcome. I’ll turn off moderation for a day or two to allow immediate throughput.)