The 33rd WCET Annual Meeting took place on November 2nd in our virtual platform. The event was a one-day conference which included two pre-conference workshops as well as post-conference sessions taking place this week and next. Although we were disappointed that we were unable convene in person yet again this year, our virtual Annual Meeting afforded many positives and a few challenges.
When the WCET team realized that the likelihood of meeting face-to-face was low, we brainstormed numerous options for creating a high-quality educational content, in a virtual format, that would be compelling enough to keep attendees engaged. Sound like a familiar challenge? We were up for it, that’s what we do and is in our mission and vision. We vetted our options with the WCET Steering Committee and landed on a one-day meeting with value added content before and after.
The format seemed to work well, and the early feedback is that attendees liked that they could block their calendar for the day and participate versus juggling the competing demands that we are all familiar with during multi day virtual events. This did pose some challenges, as our staff was spread across numerous sessions, supporting registration, and providing tech support simultaneously, but they are amazing and executed beautifully. Thank you WCET staff!
Condensing the conference program from 100 to 26 sessions meant that we had to creatively showcase good practices and shared challenges in digital learning in higher education. Our program team did this by developing sessions that incorporated perspectives from different institutions and roles in unique sessions like lightning talks. Attendees learned different approaches to tackling digital learning challenges on the topics of online student services, equity in course and assessment design, deep learning, badges, and microcredentials, and more.
The opening general session, Empowering Learners: Can Blockchain Technology Unlock the Full Potential of Transcripts and Credentials? featured higher education leaders discussing distributed ledger technology and the potential for democratizing learning by providing trusted and verifiable learning and employment records that a student owns. The speakers shared stories of impact and hopes for the future. The potential exists and the promise of NFT tokens for students and professors, digital transcripts, and more, are abundant. However, challenges such as interopability, cost, and scale, are a reality. This session gave attendees a lot to ponder and pushed our thinking at the outset of the conference.
The program was a strong mix of pragmatic solutions, roundtable discussions, and inspiration. The speakers were all incredible and covered an array of topics. It was truly difficult to select from the concurrent session options. I was only able to participate in a few since I couldn’t be in more than one Zoom room at a time, but I am thankful that one of the affordances of a virtual event is that the sessions can be viewed asynchronously by registrants so I’ll be catching up this weekend!
The Twitter hashtag, #WCET2021, lists several session snippets, Tweet-able tidbits, and some puppy pictures sprinkled in if you want some bite size highlights.
Another one of the upsides to the event being virtual is that travel funds were not a roadblock for access. Organizations were able to bring groups of attendees and several institutions brought teams of 25. We had more than 600 people register and welcomed over 400 people to their first WCET Annual Meeting; 62% of total attendees were first timers! Attendees came from institutions across the United States with nearly every state represented. The table below shows which states the majority of attendees came from.
The highlight of the Annual Meeting for me was the networking lunch, which was a sneaky cover for our Awards Lunch. Why didn’t we just say it was an awards lunch on the program? We knew that our awardees would connect the dots and know they were invited because they were going to receive an award, it’s always more fun to surprise an honoree! Our award recipients are incredibly deserving and very good sports:
- John Opper, executive director of Distance Learning and Student Services at the Florida Virtual Campus, was awarded the Dick Jonsen & Mollie McGill Award, presented by Mollie McGill, former deputy director of WCET, who made a special guest appearance.
- Our emerging young leader award, the Sally Johnstone Award was given to Chantae Recasner, dean of academic success at Northeast Lakeview College in Texas, by Russ Poulin, WCET’s executive director.
You can learn more about the awards and be sure to give a shout out to John and Chantae who do so much for the WCET community and learners in their states. A huge thank you to Tina Parscal the Chair of the WCET Steering Committee and associate vice chancellor for CCCOnline and Academic Affairs with the Colorado Community College System, for emceeing the surprise ceremony. Watch the celebration below.
The 33rd Annual Meeting and 2nd Virtual Annual Meeting was great no matter the format, because of the people- staff, speakers, and participants. WCET is an incredibly friendly and collaborative community of digital learning leaders and practitioners. The virtual format provided many benefits, but I for one am looking forward to talking over coffee with new and old friends at the 34th, October 19 – 21 in Denver, CO! We will announce the call for proposals in March so stay tuned to @WCET_info on Twitter or the WCET member community, MIX. We’d also like to know which locales you would like to see future WCET conferences take place. Tweet them or leave them in the comments below.
See you next year,
Membership and Programs