Caveats: This is more a stream of consciousness/mind dump post at this stage; the goal is to get my initial thoughts and impressions out while they are still fresh in my mind.
My first impression of AERA 2011 was of how big it was. With 33,000 participants and I suspect about 600+ presentations – the session program was a tome running about 500 pages – the sheer size of it hits you in the face up front. Now don’t get me wrong, I am used to conferences that large, I am an Educause veteran after all. What made this so overwhelming was quite simply that I have switched disciplines as a doctoral student, and that I am in my first year of coursework; I just didn’t have the breadth or depth of content or experience to take it all in. As I discovered on my first day, I was not the only one, pretty much all of the first year students attending AERA for the first time that I encountered were in the same boat as me.
The predominant challenge for me, perhaps my first year peers as well, was determining which sessions to attend. When you are exploring your options, something either piques your curiosity or you have no idea what the topic even refers to. So, not surprisingly, some sessions were hit-and-miss, while others were incredibly useful and inspiring. It definitely took me a couple of days to find my rhythm and get into the groove.
Now, I might have done better if I had attended the orientation for new members & first time attendees, but a 7am start after a nine hour drive the previous day to get to the conference, and the attendant formalities of checking in, finding food, connecting with roommate, etc. had wiped me out. I think I would have slept through the alarm even if I had wanted to go. However, I did make it to the graduate student networking opportunity, which turned out to be a great opportunity to learn more about AERA, it’s various divisions and SIGS, the opportunities it affords graduate students, interact with subject matter experts, and connect with peers. This is a must-attend session in my book.
My pet peeve, if any, was the lack of wireless access in the session rooms, and other venues. I am a vociferous tweeter at conferences, and often use Twitter to save my notes into Evernote simultaneously, as also connect with people who might be interested in the same things as me. Not being able to do so really put a damper on things. It was also a little ironical since we were at an education research conference, discussing 21st century learners and skills among other things, and if there’s anything that’s a given with the current crop of students (for the most part), it’s probably ubiquitous wifi access. What the point in discussing wikis and Twitter in classrooms if we can’t have access to a Google Doc that would enable us to share session notes as we progressed through the conference?
So, what were my key takeaways? I have a better handle on how the whole “write-an-article-for-publication” process works thanks to a very interactive, hands-on session; I need to spend time perusing the various Special Interest Groups (SIGs) within AERA to identify those that will inform my research interests, and allow me to tap into a peer cohort for publication and service opportunities; I connected with some great people that I am looking forward to building relationships with; and I ended up becoming the secretary-elect for the Business Education & Computer Information Systems SIG. Pretty good for an AERA noob, wouldn’t you say?