I always hope for that perfect storm of aligned experiences when sending a small group of organization representatives to a conference. In my mind, the students will be empowered with questions and ideas to pursue upon the return home; their energy ignites a new sense of motivation in their group; and they begin to pursue their new definition of the future.
Hasn’t happened for me yet, either.
Sure, our students had some great presentations and excellent experiences but nearly always my student groups struggle to accurately communicate the true picture of what they experienced. They struggle to not use too many “inside jokes” when describing their time at the conference and nearly always ended up engaged in a conversation about “why can’t we send more people next year?” Given that our travel funds are not likely to increase anytime in the near future, we needed a new plan.
So, my insanely talented staff member (that’s you, Matt!) says, let’s try blogging.
Our office now requires any students traveling to conferences sponsored by our department to blog each day while they are there. We create a blogging site for the group’s travels and make each of them the authors. I love the fact that those of us not attending the conference can keep track of their experiences and that we can comment and have dialogue while they are there. We also send the site around to our student affairs colleagues and division leadership so that they can get some insight into student experiences.
This has enabled us to document these travel experiences and now see, in writing, what we already knew about the impact of spending time with other students who are similarly committed to common goals. As one of our student orientation coordinators posted, “I don’t think I ever got completely used to everyone actually understanding ‘Orientation Speak’ and being able to have in-depth conversations about different aspects of their programs.”
The use of blogs has enabled our students to do more active reflection on these conference experiences and has allowed us to use the sites to help other students understand what the experience might be like the next time around. We get pretty active commentary from participants about what they like and don’t like about the conferences and, when warranted, our structured reflection topics allow for some time for them to pause during a busy conference and make meaning of this experience that the university has offered to them.
For our department, we reported themes communicated in these blogs as part of our annual report in hope of illustrating the impact that off-campus professional travel has on our student leaders. Themes of increased pride in our university, increased confidence in their own leadership efficacy, and enhanced sense of community with other student leaders certainly made this student affairs professional proud.
If you’d like to take a look at one of them, here’s a link to the blog from our delegates at the National Greek Leadership Association conference in Hartford, CT this year.
And just for fun…check out the Wordle the blog for our Student Orientation Coordinators’ trip to the regional NODA Conference (at the top of this post) and the Wordle for our Program Committee’s travels to the NACA regional conference (2) pasted below. Looks to me like they had a good experience…and had some fun along the way!
So, how do you facilitate reflection when your students travel? Any interested in blogging? If you are, let’s correspond and if our students attend the same conferences we can cross-promote their sites!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Jacob Patrick and #SAGrad Scholarship Reflections