06 March 2019 - Educause inspires an Agile approach for bursary winner

Educause 2018


In 2018, I was one of the lucky recipients of a ucisa bursary, which enabled me to attend the Educause conference in Denver, Colorado. The Educause conference is something that has been on my radar for 20 years, and it’s no coincidence that it is celebrating 20 years this year. The younger me would have been overawed at the sheer size of this event, but after having presented at and attended conferences for the last 20 years, I felt ready for it.

It is an absolutely enormous event, with around 8,000 attendees registered this year. That’s over ten times larger than most of the UK conferences in this area, which is why they need a venue the size of the Colorado Convention Centre to host it. I sought advice from past attendees (including past ucisa bursary recipients), and one common theme was “don’t be overwhelmed” as well as being prepared for very long days.

Educause brings together all of these thousands of people under the broad heading of technology in education, with a broad mix of attendees from junior learning developers through to project managers and all the way up to CIOs and CTOs. ucisa very helpfully hold an informal networking event for UK attendees, and this was very useful for putting faces to some of the people that I had been interacting with on Twitter in the weeks leading up to the conference.

I threw myself in headlong to each day, up at silly o’clock every day to take part in “braindates”, sharing experiences of learning technology with international colleagues from universities and colleges, and a nice guy from a start up company who are looking to get into the world of online learning with an interesting web tool.

The conference schedule was absolutely crammed with loads of conflicting sessions, and it’s the sign of an engaging conference when there’s so much to go to and too much to choose from. Sessions on learning analytics dashboards, student data, accessibility, ITIL, change management, projects and relationships, privacy and ethics and onboarding were certainly a varied bunch, with a good mix of listening and more interactive sessions where I made some contributions to the topic. The conference was utterly exhausting but hugely rewarding.

I came away from the conference with a head full of ideas, many of which will take some time to implement, but some of them formed the basis for some 2019 resolutions in terms of running projects and building relationships. My team are looking to run more Agile projects in 2019, and one of the key challenges is getting buy in from other areas of the university for this methodology. An Agile approach provides multiple opportunities for engagement throughout the project lifecycle. A “business ambassador” from the area of the business where the solution will be used is assigned to the project. The role provides the business perspective for all decisions related to the way the solution’s fitness for business purpose is defined and implemented. Working closely with the solution development team, the business ambassador guides the evolution of the solution, bringing other users’ input and ideas to the project as required.

As a true ambassador, the role is responsible for the day-to-day communication channels between the project and the business. The business ambassador must have the desire, authority, responsibility and knowledge to be able to ensure that the right solution emerges to meet the business need. This does not necessarily imply a senior position within the organisation, but a level of empowerment during the project to fulfil the role and an allocation of time to fully participate in the project as required. It was very useful to hear stories from other institutions about their approaches to this.

The conference hashtag #edu18 was a very busy one, and many of the conversations have continued long after the conference. I’ve expanded my personal learning network and have some new contacts on Twitter that I’ve been interacting with since the conference. During the trip, and since my return, I have shared my experiences of the conference on the ALT EMLT blog, the ucisa blog and on Twitter via my own account and the ucisa DEG account. I also spoke to a number of attendees at the recent ucisa DEG event on Immersive Environments about my experience and some of the technologies I had seen in Denver.

I have met with colleagues at various levels within the institution since my return, and have encouraged many of them to apply for a future ucisa bursary so that they might be able to take advantage of it in 2019 or beyond in order to help them with their own development goals. The ucisa bursary presents a unique opportunity for recipients to attend an event which can benefit themselves, their team, their department, their institution, and their wider network with the HE sector.