A few weeks ago, Athabasca sponsored something called the Singularity U Summit, 2019, up in Edmonton, and invited alumni and students to attend. The event was free, but you had to sign up to get access to the video feeds of what was going on at the conference.
I did so, and I attended a few sessions, but overall I came away disappointed, partly by the quality of the sessions I saw (one had a head honcho from Google come out and present, and he promptly wasted about a quarter of his presentation time getting people to draw a picture that he later had them toss as being essentially meaningless), but moreso from the idea that AthabascaU would sponsor something that was simply so old school in presentation and delivery.
These days you can watch and interact with people composing live music in a different country. They can seek out instant feedback from an audience as they work, and adjust what they are doing in real time, but this presentation, supposedly about the “transformative impact that technologies will have on our lives and world” was stuck firmly in the technology of a guy getting up on stage and talking into a microphone with slides playing on the wall behind him.
Slides. Not even video. And with basically zero real-time connectivity to anywhere beyond the conference hall.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in viewing the conference, I just checked and the recordings of all the presentations are still available. You’ll need to log into the conference site and use the “generated” password of AthabascaUSU2019 to access them.
And I was thinking about this in terms of convocation, as it’s rapidly approaching. Convocation is the signature event for Athabasca University, and for the few students who attend, it absolutely should be. But why is it really the only event that AU holds for students? Most universities bring in various interesting or entertaining speakers throughout the year, and with modern video conferencing, there’s no reason why AU could not do the same thing. For AU though, if you’re lucky you’ll be able to catch a conference with the Writer in Residence (always worth it, if you can, the people AU chooses are chosen for a reason), and perhaps a town-hall type of gathering with the AU President, but that’s about it.
If the university truly wants to encourage more students, it has to start providing more offerings that will attract the type of robust, connected and engaged learners that will evangelize the university for them. I guess in that respect, the SingularityU conference was a first step, and perhaps I should be happy that they’ve even had that, but, in this day and age, I just expected more from a university that’s attempting to bill itself as planning for 2050.
In the meantime, however, the Voice Magazine is still here, as we interview a student that AU allowed to stay on the farm while she gets her education and enjoys videogaming, give you some insider tips on how to have a smooth convocation day if you’re attending, and provide a number of evocative articles to keep you thinking while you break from your studies. Be sure to check out this week’s Porkpie Hat, and Wanda Waterman’s article on kindness. You’ll enjoy the read!