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The Value of Conference Attendance with Twitter in Higher Education

by on February 26, 2013

Our latest post is from Tara Leigh Sands, Residential Coordinator for Fraternity and Sorority Affairs at the University of Rochester and a Doctoral Candidate.

Last semester, I had the opportunity to attend two National Conferences which appealed to my different identities. In November, I attended the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE) Annual National conference appealing to my doctoral student identity. Two weeks later in December, working on my practitioner side, I attended the Association of Fraternity and Sorority Advisors (AFA) Annual Meeting. Both experiences allowed me to tackle aspects of my student affairs identity and appreciate the new knowledge being shared while sharing with others.

At ASHE, I had the opportunity to engage with researchers in the field of higher education on critical issues and with those who share my own research interests (reverse transfer students, community colleges, and Indigenous students). This conference empowers me within my writing and also clarifies the need for higher education research. This year I had the opportunity to serve as a mentor for first-time attending graduate students. Realizing I had negotiated my own experience for the past four years, I was glad to share my experiences with the new graduate students. One thing I had learn was ASHE can be a little intimidating, especially when you debate how to introduce yourself to a key researcher in the field, especially when you love their research. It is relatively easy but still intimating as you realize you cite them often in your own research since most will want to support your own researcher identity. Additionally, at ASHE it is interesting and fun to discover the new hot topics as you sit in a session that is packed and follow another session on twitter. One of the new topics was twitter and how to use it with undergraduates. This session was interesting since the room was packed but only three people were using twitter during the session.  However, the topics I mostly attend focused on community colleges and the lack of research on the different aspects of community college attendance as well as the lack of research on Native Americans in higher education. This encouraged me within my own research and shows the need for the research. Overall, this conference allows me to rejuvenate myself academically and refocus within my own research.

The other one I attended is AFA which is a practitioner based conference. Here I have the opportunity to network with other practitioners in fraternity and sorority life both campus-based and headquarter-based. This is a great opportunity as I can share my experience with chapters and general fraternal life with others who are working in the field and may have experiences to share. The thing I appreciate about this conference is the opportunity to discuss topics with headquarters staff and grain their perspective to issues. Additionally, I learn about best practices and new programs being used on campus. One of the practices that I enjoy hearing about is assessment and how best to assess communities. This has become a hot topic with fraternity and sorority life. I always leave AFA ready to tackle change in the fraternal community and support the fraternal community on my own campus.

With both conferences, I participated in twitter conversations and tweeted on the sessions I attended. Twitter has added value to my conference experience, as I can attend one session and follow another session. I can also be at one conference and follow a different conference. The best conference moment I had on twitter occurred at ASHE, when I realized the person I had been tweeting with was right in front of me in a session. This created a new connection with lunch plans and a chance to share our knowledge with each other. Twitter helps make the conference more connected and opens the doors to your professional network. I enjoy that I can double/triple my learning from a conference by twitter feeds and there are times I am not even at the conference but can follow the feed and learn from others.

Overall conference attendance within higher education is crucial for professional development. The opportunity to gain new knowledge and add to your professional network is priceless when you need to change a community or have to call someone about an issue. I believe in encouraging conference attendance for it allows the opportunity to be rejuvenated and connects you with others. Conferencing with twitter opens more doors and increases learning in a time of budget issues and allows active participation. You do not have to be at the conference to learn about new knowledge anymore with twitter. Take the time to embrace your own professional development and learn about new areas and research. Use conferences to connect and learn. I look forward to my next conference experience to continue to add to my learning and network (#NASPA13).


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