Arriving in Dallas for Educause 06, I felt a bit lost from the moment we touched down. This sense of diffusion was the theme for my stay in Dallas for this huge conference, alleviated only by the people that I met or reacquainted with.
Had a surreal experience the first night grabbing a bite in a downtown tex-mex spot. The table next to me had Brittany from America’s Next Top Model eating fajitas with none other than Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Well, it certainly made Dallas seem like a small town.
The next morning in a rainstorm I remained adrift when misdirected to the Convention Center, heading miles in the opposite direction and twice more given a bum steer. Along the way I did enjoy seeing an old donut shop or warehouse signaling some history among the glass towers and vacant lots. Finally I was steered the right way from a guy in the doorway of an old building. Turned out I was at the infamous Book Repository, which I realized when he tried to sell me a JFK conspiracy rag.
Once inside the sprawling Center I was greeted by escalators and throngs of folks with Educause namebadges trucking the 1/2-mile from one session to another. Even after getting situated I’d find myself walking to one end before realizing I’d gone the wrong way, or scratching my head as I plumbed new corridors to find obscure meeting rooms.
Got my badge then off to find something interesting. I’d spent some time online pinpointing sessions of interest, but was admittedly hard-pressed. Overall this event is about IT, and I’m more of a new media guy.
In the middle of it all, of course, were the vendors on the floor. Signs hung from the rafters heralding huge IT companies like SAP or HP. BlackBoard had a central position and it gave me the willies just walking by, like some kind of black hole, perhaps due to their recent patents on key components of a learning management system, and consequent lawsuit of a competitor.
This was not the kind of conference I’ve become used to — the small un-conferences like BloggerCon where the audience posts session ideas and drives presentations. The recent Podcast Expo is mid-sized yet felt like a small community. At Educause I did not feel vibrancy or passion. It seems like a dead conference model and was simply too diffuse to get a handle on. It felt like this is where university Assistant CIOs are sold PeopleSoft enterprise products.
Obviously Educause was much more, and I’m still checking the blogosphere to realize just what I missed. Focusing on what I knew, checked out sessions on Mississippii State’s podcasting system (uses the Barix Instreamer just like us!) and iTunes U.
The main thing I wish I’d caught was Kurzweil’s keynote. I hear that he noted UC Berkeley’s open video program a few times. Gotta find a recording of that!
I knew that people walking by were the exact folks that I’ve been wanting to meet or should be meeting, but there was no way to tell. The namebadges had a large first name, followed in smaller print their full name, followed by their title, and finally their institution. It should have been the other way around. Since I’m aware of interesting efforts on particular campuses that should be writ large. Then I can get closer and either see what they do, or at least ask if they know the person who does.
The main thing I enjoyed was socializing and networking. Saw old friends like Cec from MIT’s OCW and Victoria from Duke by way of Stanford. Caught up with the product team from iTunes U, and put faces to names from Apple marketing. At the evening Apple event where I showed-off Berkeley on iTunes U met heroes like Tracey Futhey, CIO behind the Duke Digital Initiative and Lynn Johnston from UMich’s School of Dentistry.
On the vendor floor I was happy to meet up with Lectopia at the Apple booth. I had a blast with their engineers and a couple of their Australian clients when they visited us after the last WWDC. I’ve been meaning to write them up since. Their automated lecture capture/delivery software comes out of the University of Western Australia. It’s now getting a hold here in the states beginning with Duke. There is a real affinity between their system and our’s at UC Berkeley. It’s like we both have been developing these systems in parallel universes. Their system, however, is on steroids compared to our’s. Their software and hardware architecture produces multiple recordings at an incredible scale. They integrated podcasting way back in March 2005, I believe. What’s more, they already have iTunes U integration. Are you other automated capture/delivery companies listening? Lectopia rocks. Equally impressive is the progressive attitude toward coursecasting in Australia. I hear they’re redefining the concept of attendance in the Charter.
Another company that’s getting it is Anystream’s Apreso Coursecaster. They showed me a cool little Linux settop box that captures to H.264. The box has a small footprint, and clever hardware design including integrated ethernet hub and VGA splitter. I was happy that Founder Geoff Allen knew me from writings, for example our work with the Barix InStreamer, and listens to what matters to higher-ed. Good sign.
Too bad Box Populi wasn’t there. This might be a symptom having a presence at an overpriced booth. Another problem with the current large conference model. Anyway, their open-source software plus low-cost turnkey box really rounds out the automated capture/delivery systems worth serious consideration.
Not sure if I’d return to Educause, but the community was nice. I think the New Media Consortium is more up my alley. It’s in San Antonio this Fall.